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Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe Hardcover – October 27, 2009

4 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

What Nonreligious People Believe
Read the first chapter of Good Without God by Greg Epstein [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1St Edition edition (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061670111
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061670114
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A lot of books have been written in the last few years exploring whether or not there is a God. This is not one of them.

Refreshingly, Greg Epstein starts a step further down along the line of debate. His premise, stated simply, is this; However they got there, there is now a significant portion of the population who simply do not believe in God. And yet most of them (including himself)live what would be thought of by most as perfectly "good" lives, raising their children, taking care of their parents, helping out in the community, and the like. They are people you would like to have as neighbors. So if they don't believe in God, why do they act in this way? Why aren't they all out marauding, looting and pillaging? If not God, what do they believe in?

Of course, there is no one answer. But in a straight-forward, learned, yet conversational style, Epstein takes us on a brief tour of the history of non-religious based thought and ethics (which extends back as far as religious history.) He then turns to explaining a simple, rational, functional basis for exploring morality and ethics in society, and how one can do this by synthesizing the lessons of history and human experience, aided by science and research. But Epstein's emphasis is on the story of the human experience. He recognizes there are needs beyond cold rationalism to find out what is important in life. There is a place for a sense of awe, for humility, for art and nature. But he finds it in places other than a belief in God.

Epstein knows that atheism is a negative statement, that is to say, a statement of what is not believed rather than what is believed.
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Format: Hardcover
My favorite independent bookstore in the whole world is owned by a brother/sister pair of atheists. On separate occasions, each of them reached for Good Without God when they saw me walk in, held it up, and said "Hey, you might be interested in this book." It made me fear that I have something ungodly about my appearance. But you know, they were right. I DID find this book interesting. Rather than get caught in a withering cross-fire from atheists on one side, and devout believers in God on the other, let me take cover behind the always popular FAQ format.

FAQ's about Good Without God:

Q. A bit about the author?
A. Greg Epstein is the Humanist chaplain/rabbi at Harvard University. He has a B.A. in Religion and in Chinese, and also a Master of Arts in Judaic Studies, both degrees from the University of Michigan. He's a musician and has played in a rock and roll band.

Q. Greg Epstein does not believe in a God, does he have a theory as to why so many people do?
A. Yes, he does. Perhaps his most interesting theory is the "God is a Mental Spandrel" hypothesis. A spandrel is the somewhat triangular space that exists between two adjacent archs. Envision the row of arches often seen in the interior of large cathedrals or mosques, often lining the sides of the church: there is a pillar, then an arch that connects to the next pillar, then an arch to the next pillar, etc. Often, the space between each arch is filled in with masonry, and subsequently richly illustrated with designs or drawings. These filled in spaces are called spandrels. The God spandrel, Epstein conjectures, is based on two evolutionary traits of the human brain, both deeply ingrained. The first is Causality. If we humans weren't good at causality, we wouldn't be good at surviving.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The release of a Greg Epstein's book, Good Without God, is a welcome resource for anyone who wishes to have more than just a superficial idea of what it means to be a humanist. In his discussion, Epstein reaches out to a wide range of people: nonbelievers, nonreligious, atheists, agnostics, anyone who do does not feel that their morality is derived from a belief in a god. Even the progressively religious can be humanist, or at least friendly allies, since the basic framework for being a humanist is to seek the best in yourself and others, and to believe in your own ability to make a positive difference in the world.

Good Without God does not focus on criticizing faith based beliefs; rather it seeks to bring an understanding of the natural goodness of humanity. It emphasizes the need for humanists to carve out a space in society in which like-minded, concerned, nonreligious citizens can come together to share their beliefs, celebrate life, and collaborate in making the world a better place for everyone. As a group, we should look for and expect more than simply toleration from society. Rejecting and refusing to accept alienation from religious communities and making our collective voices heard is an important theme in the book. As Epstein emphasizes "being a good person in a vacuum is not a very satisfying experience". We too, crave fellowship with people in a forum that is inclusive, supportive, and one in which we can grow together.

Morality is not about sinners and saints, heaven and hell, damnation and punishment. It's about alleviating unnecessary suffering and promoting human flourishing and dignity. As the Author emphasizes, "Not a single version of the golden rule requires a god".
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