By David Brooks
Over the past few years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people who are atheist, agnostic or without religious affiliation. A fifth of all adults and a third of the youngest adults fit into this category.
As secularism becomes more prominent and self-confident, its spokesmen have more insistently argued that secularism should not be seen as an absence — as a lack of faith — but rather as a positive moral creed. Phil Zuckerman, a Pitzer College sociologist, makes this case as fluidly and pleasurably as anybody in his book, “Living the Secular Life.”
Zuckerman argues that secular morality is built around individual reason, individual choice and individual responsibility. Instead of relying on some eye in the sky to tell them what to do, secular people reason their way to proper conduct.
Secular people, he argues, value autonomy over groupthink. They deepen their attachment to this world instead of focusing on a next one. They may not be articulate about why they behave as they do, he argues, but they try their best to follow the Golden Rule, to be considerate and empathetic toward others. “Secular morality hinges upon little else than not harming others and helping those in need,” Zuckerman writes.
As he describes them, secularists seem like genial, low-key people who have discarded metaphysical prejudices and are now leading peaceful and rewarding lives. But I can’t avoid the conclusion that the secular writers are so eager to make the case for their creed, they are minimizing the struggle required to live by it. Consider the tasks a person would have to perform to live secularism well:
Secular individuals have to build their own moral philosophies. Religious people inherit creeds that have evolved over centuries. Autonomous secular people are called upon to settle on their own individual sacred convictions.
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