Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions

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9780143127932: Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions

“A humane and sensible guide to and for the many kinds of Americans leading secular lives in what remains one of the most religious nations in the developed world.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
Over the last twenty-five years, “no religion” has become the fastest-growing religious preference in the United States. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have turned away from the traditional faiths of the past and embraced a moral yet nonreligious—or secular—life, generating societies vastly less religious than at any other time in human history. Revealing the inspiring beliefs that empower secular culture—alongside real stories of nonreligious men and women based on extensive in-depth interviews from across the country—Living the Secular Life will be indispensable for millions of secular Americans.

Drawing on innovative sociological research, Living the Secular Life illuminates this demographic shift with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals, offering crucial information for the religious and nonreligious alike. Living the Secular Life reveals that, despite opinions to the contrary, nonreligious Americans possess a unique moral code that allows them to effectively navigate the complexities of modern life. Spiritual self-reliance, clear-eyed pragmatism, and an abiding faith in the Golden Rule to adjudicate moral decisions: these common principles are shared across secular society. Living the Secular Life demonstrates these principles in action and points to their usage throughout daily life.

Phil Zuckerman is a sociology professor at Pitzer College, where he studied the lives of the nonreligious for years before founding a Department of Secular Studies, the first academic program in the nation dedicated to exclusively studying secular culture and the sociological consequences of America’s fastest-growing “faith.” Zuckerman discovered that despite the entrenched negative beliefs about nonreligious people, American secular culture is grounded in deep morality and proactive citizenship—indeed, some of the very best that the country has to offer.

Living the Secular Life journeys through some of the most essential components of human existence—child rearing and morality, death and ritual, community and beauty—and offers secular readers inspiration for leading their own lives. Zuckerman shares eye-opening research that reveals the enduring moral strength of children raised without religion, as well as the hardships experienced by secular mothers in the rural South, where church attendance defines the public space. Despite the real sorrows of mortality, Zuckerman conveys the deep psychological health of secular individuals in their attitudes toward illness, death, and dying. Tracking the efforts of nonreligious groups to construct their own communities, Zuckerman shows how Americans are building institutions and cultivating relationships without religious influence. Most of all, Living the Secular Life infuses the sociological data and groundbreaking research with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals and demonstrates how readers can integrate these beliefs into their own lives.

A manifesto for a booming social movement—and a revelatory survey of this overlooked community—Living the Secular Life offers essential and long-awaited information for anyone building a life based on his or her own principles.

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About the Author:

Phil Zuckerman is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He is the author most recently of Faith No More and Society without God, and he blogs for Psychology Today and the Huffington Post.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

And there it was again: the whole notion of “nothing.” It came at me twice in the same week, and from two different people.

The first time it came up was with Jill. We were standing and talking on the curb outside the studio where her son and my son both take cello lessons. Jill is in her early forties, from San Francisco, and she recently sold her modern furniture store in order to be at home more with her kids. We often chitchat when cello lessons are over and our sons are busy playing in the nearby bushes.

The other day as we were talking, religion came up. That was when Jill expressed what I’ve heard so many times before: “I just don’t want my kids to be ‘nothing.’”

Jill is one of tens of millions of Americans who are nonreligious. Her mom was Buddhist and her dad was Catholic, and she was raised with a fair amount of both traditions. But by the time she got to college, she knew that she didn’t believe in God. Sure, maybe there’s something more out there—who can say? But religion just wasn’t her thing. Her husband felt the same way. And all was fine for several years.

But lately, with her kids being three and six, things have somehow started to feel different. Jill is a little worried. She told me that she was considering sending her kids to some church, perhaps the local Catholic church. But I could tell that she was conflicted. When I asked her why she was contemplating sending her kids to church if she didn’t feel 100 percent about it, she said, “I want them to get some morals. I think that’s important.”

“But your children can develop a healthy, durable morality without religion,” I replied.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But still . . .”

Being a secular parent myself, and having studied the hills and dales of secular culture for some time now, I know what gnaws at Jill. I’m quite familiar with the angst that many such secular Americans experience: the feeling that maybe one is making a mistake by raising one’s kids without religion. Even though Jill is living a meaningful, thoughtful, and ethical life without religious faith or affiliation, she nonetheless feels that if she doesn’t impart some sort of religious identity to her kids—if they lack religious involvement—then they will be . . . nothing.

Oh, and immoral to boot.

A few days later, the matter of “nothing” confronted me again. This time it came from a religious woman. Her name is Beverly. She is in her late sixties. She describes herself as “just Christian.” We met at a picnic being thrown by mutual friends at a park near Pasadena. She asked me what I did for a living. I said that I was a professor at a small liberal arts college. She then told me that she was the programming director at the religious center of a large university, a place where students from all walks of faith can find community, attend services, meet with clergy, and so on. Beverly loves her job. She helps arrange religious events, she coordinates panels and discussions, she sets up volunteering and charitable opportunities, among other things.

When Beverly asked me what I studied, I said, “Secular people.”

Pause.

“You know,” I continued, “people who live their lives without religion. . . .”

And then she calmly replied, “Well, without religion, you’ve got nothing.”

Now, mind you, there was nary of hint of snark or derogatoriness in her comment. It was said kindly and openly, a genuine expression of this woman’s lived experience, inner faith, and personal orientation. To Beverly, life without religious faith and involvement would be empty, desultory.

This association of secularity with nothingness runs deep. Many people assume that a life lived without religion is not only somewhat void, but intrinsically problematic. After all, how does one deal with death without religion? How does one cope with life’s troubles? Develop morals and ethics? Find community? Experience a sense of transcendence? These are extremely fair questions. And yet the idea that religion is the best and/or only option out there when dealing with such matters is simply untenable. The glaring truth is that millions of people live their lives without religion—and they do so quite well. They aren’t living aimlessly, adrift in a vacuum of nihilistic nothingness.

Jill may not know it, or she may not conceive of it in terms of clearly articulated precepts, but her secular lifestyle is actually very moral and deeply grounded in ethical conduct. How she interacts with those around her on a daily basis, the choices that she makes as a mother, wife, neighbor, businesswoman, and citizen, and the ways she reacts to and appreciates the world around her—all of these are linked to developing and expressing an empathetic spirit, caring about others and the wider world, being responsible and upstanding. And they are very much linked to the secular sensibility. For as the stories of the many nonreligious men and women presented in this book will illustrate, there are actually specific key virtues of secular living, and prominent pillars of secular culture, that enhance moral rectitude and promote human decency.

As for Beverly, while I didn’t want to get into it at the picnic, what I would want her to know is that religion is definitely not the only avenue for people to live good, meaningful, or inspired lives. There are other, secular options.

A life lived without religion is not “nothing.” There are common attributes, characteristics, traits, and values one finds among nonreligious people, and within secular culture, that directly enhance individuals’ ability to cope with life’s troubles, allow for moments of fulfillment and existential awe, and even increase societal well-being.

Indeed, the foundational components of a secular orientation are both abundant and laudable: from encouraging pragmatic, reasonable problem solving to fortifying oneself against groupthink and a herd mentality, from deepening our attachment to the people and things of this world to sparking a soulful appreciation for the majesty of nature, from encouraging scientific inquiry to manifesting a humane empathy, from fostering a mature morality to engendering a serene acceptance of mortality, secularity offers individuals a rich, proud wellspring of both wisdom and wonder. And as the many men and women you’ll meet in the pages that follow will attest to, being secular is an affirming worldview and positive, purposeful life stance.

What it means to be secular—and the cardinal virtues of secular living—are thus deeply important matters to recognize and understand, and their importance is all the more timely given that the number of nonreligious Americans is precipitously rising. Indeed, the recent spike of secularity has been a truly remarkable phenomenon, unprecedented in our nation’s history.

BACK IN THE 1950s, fewer than 5 percent of Americans were nonreligious. By the 1990s, that figure was up to 8 percent. Then it jumped to 14 percent in 2001, 16 percent in 2010, 19 percent in 2013, and as of the latest national surveys, it is up to 30 percent today. This means that the number of nonreligious Americans has increased by well over 200 percent over the last twenty-five years, making it the fastest-growing “religious” orientation in the country.

More than a third of Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine now claim to be nonreligious. In the early 1970s, only 9 percent of Americans said that they never attended religious services; today, nearly 25 percent say as much. And there are currently more people in this country who were raised in secular homes—without any religion—than there are African Americans. Such a surge of people eschewing religion is truly remarkable, and helps explain why Time magazine recently cited the dramatic increase of Americans claiming “none” as their religion as one of the ten most significant trends changing American society.

I am fascinated by this trend. And in my work as a sociologist and professor of secular studies, I have sought to thoroughly explore secular people’s approaches to life, to probe the ramifications of their worldviews and perspectives, and to shine a light on their experiences, joys, and challenges. I’ve done all of this with an eye toward connecting such information to the broader social scene, both here in America and in the world at large.

My primary investigative method has been to conduct in-depth interviews with nonreligious people from all over the country and from all walks of life, representing a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, occupations, sexualities, and class backgrounds. And I’ve purposely sought out people exhibiting a wide array of secular orientations, from the firmly convinced to the mildly befuddled, from the staunchly atheistic to the serenely indifferent. I’ve interviewed people who have devoted their lives to secularism as well as people who have hardly given it a thought prior to our discussion, and many others in between such extremes.

I have found my interviewees through every imaginable channel: by searching secularist Web sites to find potential informants, by going to humanist gatherings of various shapes and sizes and getting to know the people involved, by pursuing individuals I’ve come in contact with at various conferences, by tracking down people from stories I’ve read in the newspapers, and by pursuing any and all leads that come my way via professional and personal contacts and networks. Such qualitative research, especially when corroborated by relevant statistics and bolstered with quantitative data, offers the best possible window into people’s lives and worldviews, allowing their contoured stories and personal reflections to come forth—stories and reflections that are unique to each man and woman, and yet simultaneously relevant for countless others.

What I have learned, and what shall be illustrated throughout the chapters ahead, is that while secular Americans may have nothing to do with religion, this does not mean that they wallow in despair or flail about in hapless oblivion. To the contrary, they live civil, reasonably rational, and admirably meaningful lives predicated upon sound ethical foundations.

Secular Americans are undoubtedly a remarkably diverse lot, exhibiting a wide spectrum of identities, beliefs, dispositions, and proclivities. But as I’ve been able to glean through my research, most do share certain key traits and values, such as self-reliance, freedom of thought, intellectual inquiry, cultivating autonomy in children, pursuing truth, basing morality on the empathetic reciprocity embedded in the Golden Rule, accepting the inevitability of our eventual death, navigating life with a sober pragmatism grounded in this world (not the next), and still enjoying a sense of deep transcendence now and then amid the inexplicable, inscrutable profundity of being.

For most nonreligious men and women, to be secular ultimately means living in the here and now—with exuberance, relish, passion, and tenacity—because this is the only existence we’ll ever have. It also means being committed to making the world a better place, because this world is all we’ve got. Being secular means loving family and friends rather than a deity or savior. Being secular involves seeking to do good and treating others right simply because such behavior makes the world a better place for all. Being secular is about finding joy, splendor, and fulfillment in newborn babies and thunderstorms, peaches and tears, harmony and inner thighs, algebra and forgiveness, squid and irony, without attaching any supernatural or divine masking tape to such inexplicable wonders of life.

And in line with what one of the leading lights of American secular humanism, Paul Kurtz, emphasized in his many books, essays, and speeches, most secular folk deeply believe that education and scientific discovery have the potential to enhance life, that democracy and respect for human rights are essential elements of a good society, that justice and fairness are ideals worth enacting, that the earth is to be valued and protected, that honesty, decency, tolerance, integrity, love, altruism, and self-responsibility are attributes to be cultivated, that creative and artistic expression are vital to the human experience, and that life, though at times beset with horror and despair, is intrinsically beautiful, wonderful, sublime.

No doubt most religious people can wholeheartedly agree with the above sentiments. But many of them—perhaps people like Beverly—don’t know that secular individuals actively advocate and embody such principles and beliefs. And many others—perhaps people like Jill—don’t quite understand just what it is about being secular that strengthens and emboldens these principles and beliefs.

THERE HAVE BEEN countless books extolling the philosophical rigor of atheism or polemically assaulting, deriding, and/or condemning this or that aspect of religious life. But what I offer here is something altogether different: a positive view and encouraging vision of real secularity that is developed “on the ground,” in ordinary life, by and among ordinary people. I will explore how secular Americans get on and how they get by, how they confront death without the promise of eternal life, how they face tragedy and confront life’s difficulties without the comfort of religious faith, how they find community beyond the walls of church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, how they raise their kids—in sum, how secular people navigate their lives.

Of course, many secular Americans have rejected religion for very specific and staunch reasons; they are ideologically, philosophically, or politically motivated to embrace the secular life and they know its value and promise. However, many other nonreligious people are more passively secular, with less pointed intention or self-reflective awareness. People like Jill. And thus for the less consciously secular, or the newly secular, or the reluctantly secular, I hope that this book offers some guidance—a road map of sorts—that can ideally help such people navigate life lived without God or congregation. For those Americans out there living secular lives but feeling not quite sure just what that even means or ultimately entails, may the pages that follow be of use, for matters both existential and practical.

But I also hope that this book will be illuminating for the majority of Americans out there who are happily religious—people like Beverly. I hope that the stories and experiences of the people profiled in the pages ahead, as well as the concomitant analysis, will positively influence the way that they make sense of and understand their neighbors, colleagues, and relatives who, for whatever reasons, do not or cannot share their religious faith and involvement. And in this vein, I further hope that the information, data, and discussion that follow will serve to counter some of their negative stereotypes and shake up a few of the many misconceptions out there concerning atheists, agnostics, humanists, skeptics, and other such freethinkers.

For example, a lot of religious Americans don’t like or trust people who don’t believe in God because they assume that atheism is the same thing as being without morals. This assumption is so widespread that in many surveys atheists come in at last place when Americans are asked to rank members of certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups as potential spouses for their kids. And a recent national poll found that 43 percent of Americans said that they would not vote for an atheist for president, putting atheists in last/worst place, behind Muslims (40 percent of Americans said they wouldn’t vote for a Muslim for president), homosexuals (30 perc...

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A humane and sensible guide to and for the many kinds of Americans leading secular lives in what remains one of the most religious nations in the developed world. The New York Times Book Review Over the last twenty-five years, no religion has become the fastest-growing religious preference in the United States. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have turned away from the traditional faiths of the past and embraced a moral yet nonreligious or secular life, generating societies vastly less religious than at any other time in human history. Revealing the inspiring beliefs that empower secular culture alongside real stories of nonreligious men and women based on extensive in-depth interviews from across the country Living the Secular Lifewill be indispensable for millions of secular Americans. Drawing on innovative sociological research, Living the Secular Lifeilluminates this demographic shift with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals, offering crucial information for the religious and nonreligious alike.Living the Secular Lifereveals that, despite opinions to the contrary, nonreligious Americans possess a unique moral code that allows them to effectively navigate the complexities of modern life. Spiritual self-reliance, clear-eyed pragmatism, and an abiding faith in the Golden Rule to adjudicate moral decisions: these common principles are shared across secular society. Living the Secular Lifedemonstrates these principles in action and points to their usage throughout daily life. Phil Zuckerman is a sociology professor at Pitzer College, where he studied the lives of the nonreligious for years before founding a Department of Secular Studies, the first academic program in the nation dedicated to exclusively studying secular culture and the sociological consequences of America s fastest-growing faith. Zuckerman discovered that despite the entrenched negative beliefs about nonreligious people, American secular culture is grounded in deep morality and proactive citizenship indeed, some of the very best that the country has to offer. Living the Secular Lifejourneys through some of the most essential components of human existence child rearing and morality, death and ritual, community and beauty and offers secular readers inspiration for leading their own lives. Zuckerman shares eye-opening research that reveals the enduring moral strength of children raised without religion, as well as the hardships experienced by secular mothers in the rural South, where church attendance defines the public space. Despite the real sorrows of mortality, Zuckerman conveys the deep psychological health of secular individuals in their attitudes toward illness, death, and dying. Tracking the efforts of nonreligious groups to construct their own communities, Zuckerman shows how Americans are building institutions and cultivating relationships without religious influence. Most of all, Living the Secular Lifeinfuses the sociological data and groundbreaking research with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals and demonstrates how readers can integrate these beliefs into their own lives. A manifesto for a booming social movement and a revelatory survey of this overlooked community Living the Secular Lifeoffers essential and long-awaited information for anyone building a life based on his or her own principles. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780143127932

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A humane and sensible guide to and for the many kinds of Americans leading secular lives in what remains one of the most religious nations in the developed world. The New York Times Book Review Over the last twenty-five years, no religion has become the fastest-growing religious preference in the United States. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have turned away from the traditional faiths of the past and embraced a moral yet nonreligious or secular life, generating societies vastly less religious than at any other time in human history. Revealing the inspiring beliefs that empower secular culture alongside real stories of nonreligious men and women based on extensive in-depth interviews from across the country Living the Secular Lifewill be indispensable for millions of secular Americans. Drawing on innovative sociological research, Living the Secular Lifeilluminates this demographic shift with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals, offering crucial information for the religious and nonreligious alike.Living the Secular Lifereveals that, despite opinions to the contrary, nonreligious Americans possess a unique moral code that allows them to effectively navigate the complexities of modern life. Spiritual self-reliance, clear-eyed pragmatism, and an abiding faith in the Golden Rule to adjudicate moral decisions: these common principles are shared across secular society. Living the Secular Lifedemonstrates these principles in action and points to their usage throughout daily life. Phil Zuckerman is a sociology professor at Pitzer College, where he studied the lives of the nonreligious for years before founding a Department of Secular Studies, the first academic program in the nation dedicated to exclusively studying secular culture and the sociological consequences of America s fastest-growing faith. Zuckerman discovered that despite the entrenched negative beliefs about nonreligious people, American secular culture is grounded in deep morality and proactive citizenship indeed, some of the very best that the country has to offer. Living the Secular Lifejourneys through some of the most essential components of human existence child rearing and morality, death and ritual, community and beauty and offers secular readers inspiration for leading their own lives. Zuckerman shares eye-opening research that reveals the enduring moral strength of children raised without religion, as well as the hardships experienced by secular mothers in the rural South, where church attendance defines the public space. Despite the real sorrows of mortality, Zuckerman conveys the deep psychological health of secular individuals in their attitudes toward illness, death, and dying. Tracking the efforts of nonreligious groups to construct their own communities, Zuckerman shows how Americans are building institutions and cultivating relationships without religious influence. Most of all, Living the Secular Lifeinfuses the sociological data and groundbreaking research with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals and demonstrates how readers can integrate these beliefs into their own lives. A manifesto for a booming social movement and a revelatory survey of this overlooked community Living the Secular Lifeoffers essential and long-awaited information for anyone building a life based on his or her own principles. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780143127932

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Descripción Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Nº de ref. de la librería 9024570

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