From Publishers Weekly
The humanist chaplain at Harvard University offers an updated defense of humanism in response to the belligerent attacks on religion put forward by such new atheists as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Epstein's approach to religion is respectful, and for the most part, friendly. He sees liberal Christians, Unitarian Universalists, Jews and spiritual self-help gurus, such as Oprah Winfrey, as natural allies of humanists—though at times he seems impatient for them to admit they no longer believe in a transcendent God. A student of Sherwin Wine, the late rabbi and founder of Humanistic Judaism, Epstein's humanism is rooted in his mentor's essentially Jewish formulations. His most impassioned argument is with megachurch pastor Rick Warren and other evangelicals who believe secularism is the enemy and a moral society impossible without a belief in God. While such an argument may be needed, Epstein's book is marred by redundancies and a lack of organization that suggests it was hastily put together. (Nov.)
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Harvard’s humanist chaplain believes one can find purpose, compassion, and community without the existence of God. To suggest otherwise, he insists, is a form of prejudice. Yet half of all Americans, according to various polls, say they would never vote for a well-qualified atheist presidential candidate. “No other minority group in this country,” he writes, “is rejected by such large numbers” (approximately 15 percent of Americans—nearly 40 million—are atheists). Defining humanism as, simply, “goodness without God,” Epstein discusses why and how to attain it. Such humanism has, he says, roots in the ancient world and in regions as different as Asia and the Middle East. He traces it from the Epicureans to Spinoza to the Enlightenment and Jefferson’s pursuit-of-happiness doctrine. Humanists don’t deny the significance of God, but rather consider God to be the most influential literary character ever created. Throughout, he persuasively claims that the humanist approach to life can provide the nonreligious with purpose and dignity. A thoughtful account of an often contentious topic. --June Sawyers
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