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How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom Hardcover – September 11, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


How to Be Secular serves as an important reminder that, as I have noted in the past, we protect our rights to our personal beliefs by preserving the rights of our neighbors to believe otherwise. I agree wholeheartedly with Berlinerblau’s argument and highly recommend this powerful book.”
—Mario M. Cuomo, Former New York State Governor

“As someone whose faith is an important part of his life, I highly recommend this book and Berlinblau’s defense of religious freedom. With great insight and clarity, he explains why it is important to protect and preserve secularism as a philosophy and he then lays out a twelve step program to revive it.”  
—Ambassador Dennis Ross, Counselor to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former U.S. peace envoy to the Middle East

“In this new look at church-state relations in America, Berlinerblau manages to be serious and sprightly in equal measure. This is a call to reject extremism of any sort and return to the American genius for accommodation of our differences—even, indeed especially, our differences over the role of religion in our public life.”
—Elliot Abrams, former Deputy National Security Advisor

“This book brought tears to my secular Jewish eyes, it was so good. Berlinerbau is not just an astonishing secular thinker; he knows how to turn a phrase, and he knows how to keep the pages turning. Now put that down that tefillin and read it!”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story, among others

“As the nasty strife has heated up between religious leaders who intrude their particular values into public life on the one side and noisy atheists who insist that religiously-inspired voices should be banned from the public square on the other, I have looked for a book that sorts all this out in a reasonable and convincing manner. This is that book. Well-informed, even handed and crafted in a readable, engaging style, it shines a clear light into the murkiness.”
—Harvey Cox, professor of divinity at Harvard and author of The Future of Faith

“This insightful book is not designed to convince you of the non-existence of God or the afterlife; it exists to convince both the non-theistic and the religious that if we don't find a way to work together, we will all pay a heavy price. Berlinerblau makes a compelling, urgent case, with rigorous regard to history as well as a keen eye for the relevance of today's many new variations of fundamentalism.”
—Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

“Jacques Berlinerblau mounts a careful, judicious, and compelling argument that America needs more secularists—not only among nonbelievers but among believers as well. The author’s argument merits a wide hearing and will change the way we think and talk about religious freedom.”
—Randall Balmer, author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America, among others

“Passionately arguing secularism as essential for observance of the First Amendment’s religion clauses, Berlinerblau eloquently divorces it from absolute separation and atheism, traces its history, emphasizing the mid-twentieth-century period of its greatest influence and the expansion of civil rights that abetted, and advocates its revival.”

“Berlinerblau offers a solid history of secularism in America and a defense of its virtues at a time when conservative Christians attack it as a moral evil and advance the 'flawed' idea that one cannot be both religious and secular...An impassioned argument for 'a firm and dignified defense of the imperiled secularish virtues and moderation, toleration, and self-criticism.'”
Kirkus Reviews

“Berlinerblau succeeds in making concrete the current threats to secularism and offers a reasoned blueprint for an organized secular movement to regain its political power.”
Publishers Weekly

About the Author

JACQUES BERLINERBLAU, professor at Georgetown University and director of the Program for Jewish Civilization, is the author of four books. He has appeared on radio, television, and print, including NPR, CNN, Al-Jazeera, The Economist, The Jerusalem Post, U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post. He is the host of the webcast "Faith Complex," which appears on The Huffington Post and elsewhere.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547473346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547473345
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #990,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By April Blake VINE VOICE on April 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I wish "How To Be Secular: A Call To Arms for Religious Freedom" was on everybody's reading list, and that everyone approached this book with an open mind and a willingness to listen. In recent years, the meaning of "Secular" has been confused with "Atheist," and that's not at all what it means. Secular is a political approach. If a religious (or atheist) person had it in them, they can also be secular. This doesn't mean that "[people who believe in God] have no place in the public square," as a recent also-ran for President said. What it means is if we keep the government secular, we actually have MORE religious freedom- ALL of us, those who are seeking freedom OF religion, and those seeking freedom FROM religion.

Contrary to what many on the Religious Right have to say, this country is not a "Christian" nation. Many of the founders may have been Christians themselves, but they founded this nation as a place where everybody could practice his religion or not. They did this because there is no one way to see God (or a lack thereof), so giving one religion preference over another officially in the government impinges on the religious freedoms of those who do not share that worldview. Look it up. There is no "official" religion in the United States.

As this book states, keeping our government and government institutions- such as public schools- secular should NOT mean that "prayer isn't allowed here," but that if you want to pray, do it, but don't be obnoxious about it and insist EVERYBODY prays with you, and if you don't pray, don't, but don't be so offended when people do pray. People on both sides of the religion in public debate too often are like hypersensitive car alarms, reacting to the slightest perceived slight, and by reacting, I mean going the heck OFF.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Misanthrope™ VINE VOICE on August 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First, the most important thing to know about this book is that it is not about how to be irreligious, agnostic, atheist, humanist, or any other point on the non-belief to belief spectrum. It is simply a book on secularism, and the purpose is to explore how we can have or maintain a secular government in the face of trends toward theocracy in the last three decades. As a nonbeliever, myself, I am interested in the possibilities, and do not think it is productive to exclude others who think differently, when freedom to think differently is at stake.

Berlinerblau does a wonderful job of accomplishing this purpose, and he explores the origins of secular thought from Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation through John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. The point of this is to show that secular thought had religious origins, and the point was to allow people to approach their religion (or not) according to their own conscience, and not at the direction of the state or church power, as well as to protect the state and individual from the church. Secularism only addresses the relation between state and religion, but it does not imply that all religion is removed entirely from the state's sphere, any more than the state can be removed from religion's sphere.

In short, he laments that virtually all organizations calling themselves secular are identifying themselves with non-belief, exclusively. Since nonbelievers are a very small percentage of the population, and the most unpopular group in the U.S., it is virtually impossible to have any influence these days over keeping our government secular.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David J. Wilson on January 26, 2014
Format: Paperback
Several previous reviewers have provided excellent summaries of Berlinerblau’s very well done discussions of (1) the history of secularism in America, (2) the fact that, despite common belief, secularism is quite different from secular humanism and other forms of unbelief, and (3) the rise and fall of American secularism during the twentieth century and the following decade. Berlinerblau presents a strong argument that we secularists (and secularish, to use his term) have been losing out to the numerous, well-financed, well-organized and dedicated Revivalists (his term for the aggressive evangelical religious Right). The changing political complexion of the Supreme Court has recently made ineffective the strategy of using the courts to protect the freedoms of all religions as well as that of us unbelievers. It would appear that the Revivalists are well along on their agenda of establishing an America with an established, government-approved religion, evangelical Protestant Christianity.

Berlinerblau presents a possible strategy for opposing this push to establish a single religion. A major first step of this strategy involves bringing together a broad spectrum of those who view this development with concern. Secular humanists and other unbelievers, people of non-Christian faiths, and moderate Christians differ in many ways, but we all have a big stake in maintaining freedom of religion. Getting us to cooperate may be a bit like herding cats; it will require excellent leaders, and participants who are willing to focus on our common goal, not on our various religious and philosophical differences.
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