LIVING THE SECULAR LIFE by Phil Zuckerman

LIVING THE SECULAR LIFE

New Answers to Old Questions
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Zuckerman (Sociology and Secular Studies/Pitzer Coll.; Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, 2011, etc.) seeks to sever the association of secularity with nothingness.

The author understands the human impulse for religious guidance and has experienced “the intangible benefit of such a communal act”—e.g., when a congregation gathered in a serene gesture of solace for a couple whose baby had just died. Zuckerman also doesn’t come from a place of pure rationalism, though that has its place: “It’s simply a matter of a lack of evidence.” Living an ethical and generous life emerges from the creation of a framework out of experience, a comprehensible base from which to find meaning, without any moral outsourcing, and paying attention to one of those little truisms (and one of Zuckerman’s go-to beacons), the golden rule, empathetic reciprocity. His writing is both sturdy and inviting as he explains the traits he has observed in secular America: “self-reliance, freedom of thought, intellectual inquiry, cultivating autonomy in children, pursuing truth...and still enjoying a sense of deep transcendence now and then amid the inexplicable, inscrutable profundity of being.” Look to your conscience, he writes, which is both complicated and cultivated, without “a simple, observable, obvious origin.” It is a construct whose components are comprised of experiences that meld the civil with the rational and meaningful. Throughout the book, the author chronicles his interviews with secular and nonsecular people, trying to ferret out the sources of their worldviews. He is a hungry interviewer, but he also steps back and scrutinizes his findings to demonstrate how “[w]hat it means to be secular—and the cardinal virtues of secular living—are…deeply important matters to recognize and understand.”

As Zuckerman makes clear, without resorting to smugness, secularity is not nothing but rather a way of living that enhances moral virtues and promotes human decency.

Pub Date: Dec. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1594205088
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2014




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