Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe by Greg Epstein

Epstein is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University. This New York Times bestseller is a treasure trove of information about Humanism. His chapter titles say it all: “Can We Be Good Without God?”; “A Brief History of Goodness Without God”; “Why Be Good Without God? (which includes an interesting excursion into Camus’ The Plague); and a “how-to” guide to ethics and Humanism. Appendices include writings from noted Humanist thinkers and a list of Humanist and secular resources.

The radical right has tried to trash the ideas and ideals of humanism recently, so if you are curious about the truth, this book is a must read.

Essentially, “Humanists believe in life before death,” and Epstein adds a definition of “Humanism as a progressive lifestance that, without superstition, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment, aspiring to the greater good of humanity” (xii-xiv).

Some work has been done recently in the psychology of religion, and Epstein writes that, “for most, religion is not about belief in an all-seeing deity with a baritone voice and a flowing beard. It is about group identification – the community and the connections we need to live. It is about family, tradition, consolation, ethics, memories, music, art, architecture and much more” (xiv). Humanists believe in all these good qualities of wonderful and fulfilled life.

Epstein has written a fascinating history of Humanism dating back to its roots among the Epicureans – three centuries bce – through the Renaissance to the 20th century.

I have added this book to my “Desert Island Shelf,” because I know I will want to go back to it many times in the coming years. 5 stars

--Chiron, 12/24/11

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