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Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe Paperback – Bargain Price, October 26, 2010
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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. This leads him to spend the later chapters in an explanation of Humanism, a "lifestance" (his word, which I like immensely) rather than a religion, encompassing a view of life in which compassion, joy, service and human interaction is lived and celebrated for its own sake. One of the strengths of the book is that this Lifestance is not presented in a confrontational mode. He does not shape this explanation in terms of "this is better than religion" although it is clear it makes more sense to him. Rather, it is presented as a "here is what I believe, and more importantly, why it makes sense to me" fashion. He is quick, and even eager, to point out that many of the ideas that shape Humanism are recognizble in religious traditions as well. These lessons are not to be tossed out just because one doesn't believe in God. Some still make sense, some do not. His emphasis throughout is that the important thing is what people do and how they behave to each other.
The books of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens argue that belief in God makes no sense. If your question is whether there is a god, then read those authors (and their religious counterparts.) But if you are now at a place where that question is settled, the question that then presents itself is- how do I live my life? Greg Epstein provides an answer in this excellent book, which is sure to be a work that will resonate for years to come.
I did not give the book a full five stars because I took issue with some of his theological positions. Certainly, with all the research put into the book, he could have taken the time to open a JSB or an annotated Bible, or Bible commentary, to look and see things like "Satan" in the Book of Job was not the devil Christianity created. I feel, if we want more education and educated opinions to help build the bridge between faith and lack thereof, we need to start with ourselves.
That aside, this was a very worthwhile read; part sociology, part history, and even part memoir, this book makes a solid case for goodness without a deity and examples for how to get the message out.