Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions
By Phil Zuckerman
These quotes are all from the book, selected by David Nelson for discussion starters.
More than a third of Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine now claim to be nonreligious…. Secular Americans are undoubtedly a remarkably diverse lot…but 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.
Being secular means:
- Living in the here and now – with exuberance, relish, passion and tenacity
- Committed to making the world a better place
- Loving family and friends rather than a deity or savior
- Seeking to do good and treating others right
- 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.
As history has repeatedly shown, when too many people in a society look for moral guidance outside of themselves, ignoring their own conscience in favor of heeding some external source of moral instruction, the results are often quite unsavory, if not downright bloody…Strongly religious Americans tend to be the most racist, moderately religious Americans tend to be less racist, and the group found to be least racist of all are secular Americans.
THE GOOD SOCIETY
It is actually among the more secular societies on earth that we find the greatest levels of social harmony, civility, freedom equality, peacefulness, and prosperity, while it is among the more religious societies that we find the greatest levels of destitution, chaos, insecurity, inequality, oppression, immorality, and poverty.
Causes of rising secularism:
- Presence of the religious right and the backlash it has engendered
- Reaction against the Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandal
- The dramatic increase of women in the paid labor force
- The greater acceptance of homosexuality in American culture
- Ubiquity (capacity of being everywhere) of the Internet
Nonreligious parents are more likely to value and seek to cultivate autonomy in their children, rather than obedience…Secular parents were more likely to stress the importance of rational problem solving, not harming others, and pursuing truth.
Humanist Community Project’s mission is “to develop opportunities for connection, ethical development, and the celebration of life based on human reason, compassion, and creativity, not religious dogma.” Humanism rejects belief in heaven, hell, God, gods, and all things supernatural, which at the same time affirming belief in the positive potential for humans to do and be good, loving, and altruistic.
Secular people employ nearly all of the same coping strategies that religious people employ when life is rough: they rely on Family and friends, or they seek counseling and professional guidance. But unlike the religious, who turn to the god they believe in, secular people lack that otherworldly option.
DON’T FEAR THE REAPER
To the secular sensibility, life is not illusory, nor is it riddled with sin, nor is it the less significant precursor to some other more resplendent, pearly, or fiery realm.
Atheist, Agnostic, Secular Humanist are acceptable titles…I’m an “aweist.” Aweism encapsulates the notion that existence is ultimately a beautiful mystery, that being alive is a wellspring of wonder and that the deepest questions of existence, creation, time, and space are so powerful as to inspire deep feelings of joy, poignancy, and sublime awe.
Being secular does not mean hating religion or seeing religion as the problem. We just don’t see it as the solution, either in the realm of politics or in our personal lives. Secular men and women value reason over faith, action over prayer, existential ambiguity over unsupportable certitude, freedom of thought over obedience to authority, the natural over the supernatural, and hope in humanity over hope in a deity.