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

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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: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #270,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

This is an extremely thoughtful book and the argument is carefully composed and supported.
Book Fanatic
Of necessity there will always be areas at which religion and government interact; these interactions should be governed by the principle of the level playing field.
David J. Wilson
Mr. Berlinerblau contends that the so-called 'New Atheist' movement, with its stridently anti-religious rhetoric, has sullied the secularist brand.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 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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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David Wolf 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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Format: Kindle Edition
This book is a wise balanced call against intolerance and extremism- whether of religious believers or non- believers. It traces the origins of secularism historically and sees its roots in the religious world. It takes Locke's famous remark 'Everyone is orthodox to himself' as basis for understanding why religious orthodoxy should not dictate operations in the political realm. It shows also how extremism and intolerance of all religious belief on the part of atheists can provide a different kind of mistaken 'orthodoxy'. Berlinerblau is alarmed by the role fundamentalist religion has had politically in recent years in impinging on the lives of the great majority of Americans. He argues in favor of a Secularism which is moderate, balanced, self- doubting, tolerant of the views of others. In his way of understanding the concept Secularism is not something automatically opposed to religious belief. There can be according to him religious believers who nonetheless share the view that seperation of State and Church is the right way for democracies to operate.
PS I appreciated the author's criticism of the kind of Atheists who see no value in religion, and who naively believe all the worlds problems will be solved if Religious belief would only disappear.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Consultant on October 20, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very helpful to understanding the threat of radical evangelicalism to religious pluralism, i.e., freedom of and from religion, in America. I would summarize Berlinerblau's central concern thusly: "Secularism" has been equated with scientific atheism and agnosticism, by evangelical revivalists, and painted as the enemy of religious pluralism.

Berlinerblau goes on to point out that secularism began with Martin Luther, and shows how it is in fact the guarantor of religious pluralism. While dealing with the worldly as distinct from spiritual dimension ("render unto Ceasar. . .", etc), secularism (in and of itself) makes no statement about personal religious choices, such as religion A, B, C, or no religion, that may certainly inform how one votes or with whom one chooses to associate in ones private life.

If people are becoming less submissive to scripture, it is due in large part to advances in science answering questions about where we came from, what we are, and where we are going far better than tribal creation myths (and their various scriptures) ever could. Efforts to prevent further advances in science thus became a priority to the secular antagonists, a minority, who infiltrated government and secular institutions before those who value religious pluralism, i.e., secularists even saw them coming.

Berlinerblau offers a prescription to the many diverse groups (the overwhelming majority of Americans) who value a government that protects freedom of and freedom from religion -- this includes people of moderate faith and all those deriving their ethics from human experience and empathy -- to recognize that secularism is the key political value they hold in common, and build coalitions to ensure such a government thrives. Rather than wasting time proselytizing to each other -- simply ensure that science, reason, and freedom of conscience can continue to speak for themselves.
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