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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!
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...
Published 19 months ago by April Blake

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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A call for arms? Or a call for surrender?
The title of the book is "How to be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom". Unfortunately the only call you hear in the book is to surrender to the Revivalists' arguments and demands. The basic message of this book is this: "being secular is too unpopular, and its roots in the Constitution are unclear. Therefore let's adopt a new attitude (called `Secularish' by...
Published on October 6, 2012 by physics lover


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, April 14, 2013
This review is from: How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Hardcover)
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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. The argument sounds like a parking lot full of Civics with their perimeter alarms screaming. Nothing gets accomplished because nobody can hear one another, nobody can think. They can only yell about how their rights are being attacked- ATTACKED!!!

"How To Be Secular" offers a voice of reason and speaks to all sides in this argument. The message is that by allowing the government and its institutions to be secular isn't a taking away of rights. By letting someone exercise their religious freedom, it does not mean your right to your religious freedom is diminished. It just means everybody gets a fair shake. It's putting more back into the hands of the individual to decide, instead of allowing some religious (or not) person at the top telling us all what to think and do. It's exciting and unsettling.

This book is well-written, well thought-out, smart, and easy to read. It doesn't talk down to anyone. It doesn't stoop to name-calling and derision. It assumes intelligence on the readers' part, which is what we all need to remember to do: assume intelligence, speak and listen with respect, and THINK.

Please, make this book a must-read for yourself. There are infinitely many ways to see the world and its higher powers. This book helps explain how to be comfortable accepting the validity of everyone's individual opinion without feeling as though your own rights are threatened.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars [Political] Secularism = Disestablishmentarianism, August 11, 2012
This review is from: How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Hardcover)
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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. Because of this, it is important for secular groups to not forget the portions of the population that have always had much interest in keeping the relationship between government and religion impartial -- religious and quasi-religious citizens from varying traditions that do not want the government telling them what or how to believe. This would consist of an easy majority, since the Revivalist Christian Right probably is no more than about a fourth of the U.S. population. Wouldn't the other three-fourths prefer to not be under a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, with all that could entail?

This is a political book of an academic slant, and as such, Berlinerblau's recommendations make good political sense. He stresses the difference between political secularism vs theological secularism, the former being the object for which he's aiming, which would be desirable for all parties involved, since it would allow for maximum freedom to think and act as one wishes, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others, or bring disorder on the state.

A couple of other interesting points he covers are regarding how these things are handled elsewhere, such as in France, where the government is somewhat hostile and controlling of religion, compared with some other European countries that have established religions, yet allow freedom for other religions (and they're not such bad places to live for nonbelievers). The Soviet Union was extremely hostile and controlling of religion, and when that experiment failed, religion came back with a vengeance. Religion won't be going anywhere anytime soon, regardless of what the New Atheists say.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Secularism = belief in religious freedom for all, not just the most powerful, January 26, 2014
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David J. Wilson (Belleville, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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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. For us unbelievers this will involve disassociating ourselves from those atheists who are unwilling to “play nicely with other children”, feeling compelled to do their best at all times to stamp out the “curse” of religion—that anything less is betraying one’s principles. The author warns of the need not to become overheated in these matters! Let me add that for all involved it will require a level of religious tolerance such that we can work together, respect each other, treat each other with courtesy, perhaps even like each other, even though each of us is absolutely positive that the others’ religious beliefs are totally dead wrong. With an important mission and a dose of good will this can be done.

In his last chapter Berlinerblau outlines twelve tactics for achieving this mission, which is the disestablishment of religion—of having rules of government that create as level a playing field as possible for all religions, including the various forms of unbelief. 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. The author’s tactics sound reasonable; a few of them are (1) broaden your base of support, (2) choose only significant issues to fight about, (3) understand the value and etiquette of coalitions, (4) work against anti-atheist prejudice, and (5) work for disestablishment, not total separation, as a realistic goal.

Berlinerblau’s book is a must read if you are at all concerned about America’s recent drift away from the constitutional principle of disestablishment and the damage this drift may inflict upon America's diverse, pluralistic population.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book, January 6, 2014
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This review is from: How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Hardcover)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book getting to know the history and challenges of being a secularist. The word secular is poorly defined by most in large part due to the effort to inculcate religion into the fabric of the government. After reading this book I have become much more aware of religion in government which, in the long run, will lead to disintegration of whatever remains of the democratic ideal.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sane not anti- religious call for moderation, tolerance, - separation between the political and religious realms, February 24, 2014
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Safeguarding Religious Pluralism, October 20, 2013
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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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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking.........., August 5, 2012
This review is from: How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Hardcover)
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When I started reading this book I was quickly reminded of Thomas Jefferson, and his letter to some Baptists concerning his belief in the separation of church and state. It was at a time when the colonies were made up of various denominations who were getting tax support from folks in the community and in some cases as with the Baptists, the money was only going to non Baptist denominations. Thus Jefferson believed this was wrong and that the best way for religion to flourish would be with a hands off action on the part of the government.

And this is where having a secular mindset benefits those of us who attend church, or some other religious place of worship. The author reminded me of how one needs to set aside the emotion and get back to what the Founding Fathers envisioned. And that we as a nation would do well to get back to original intent which would mean more protection for all people no matter what religion they practice in their home or place of worship.

To be secular does not mean to be anti religious. It means bringing the do unto others as one would have done to them to life. Respect others so one may be respected in return.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Thoughtful and Well Argued, July 29, 2012
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Book Fanatic (Houston, TX, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Hardcover)
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I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fighting the rise of the religious right and their agenda to establish their brand of religion and goals on the rest of us. The author, Jacques Berlinerblau, takes great pains to define what secularism should be and what it should not be. The key point being that secularism includes believers and in fact a secular America would include the vast silent majority of moderate believers (mainly Christians in the U.S.).

This is not the secular America envisioned by extreme atheists who have lately come to define the movement. This is an extremely thoughtful book and the argument is carefully composed and supported.

Recommended.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars continues a discussion, July 28, 2012
This review is from: How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Hardcover)
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The author seeks to reassert a basic principle of American constitutional law, the 1st Amendment prohibition of an official religious "establishment" in the United States. He takes great pains with terminology: he distinguishes "separation of church and state" as an interpretation but not actually in the Bill of Rights (an idea he has carried forward from Philip Hamburger's "Separation of Church and State" book of 2002).

The author traces the separation, such that it is, from Reformation times to its peak in mid-20th Century America and then its rapid decline in the face of a new period of religious revivalism. He does provide some good talking points in how the separation came about in the early days of the Republic, and about the intellectual founders of that separation -- Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Locke, Roger Williams, and Martin Luther (!), who felt that neither religion nor the state were well-served by commingling. (The author doesn't include de Tocqueville among those five, oddly enough, even though "Democracy in America" did have some striking observations on that).

The author does try to redefine and parse secularism in its various forms, and coins words like "secularish" to locate those religious types, notably, liberal religions, that might see a reason to prevent an official establishment of religion, which, given today's electorate, probably wouldn't be theirs. He talks about accomodationism. He does try, perhaps too strongly, to separate the more-notorious (and rare) militant atheists from secularism in general. Okay, he's trying to reframe the debate with new terminology, and he does try to break the secularism=atheism rhetoric, and he does say that anti-atheist prejudice can spill over against other forms of secularism. It still needs some patient reading to follow it. At least he understands that the secular "movement" in fact has been disorganized, tepid, and itself in separate fragments.

His grasp of the underlying legal principles seem sound (I've published a law review article on the Establishment Clause and religious tax exemption, so I know he has hit no wrong notes). He understands the Supreme Court rulings on school prayer, on disestablishment (the Walz and Lemon cases) and the gradual shift in Supreme Court thinking on religion. He does pose, in his final chapter, a way that American secularism might recover.

A worthwhile, informative and timely look at religion and the U.S. public forum. Recommend.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent primer on religious freedom, December 28, 2012
This review is from: How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Hardcover)
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First off all, this is NOT a book about being atheist or anti-religious. It will not discourage you from your belief nor will it even suggest that belief is unhealthy. What this book is, however, is a discussion about how a society can successfully be secular. The author stresses finding a secular center that allows society to function without religious influence all while allowing everyone to practice or not practice religion as they see fit. Brilliantly argued and logically laid out, this is a book for everyone, from the most religious right to the new atheist. It is simply a fantastic manual for secular logic.
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How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom
How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom by Jacques Berlinerblau (Hardcover - September 11, 2012)
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