â€śAn insightful mixture of academic research on shifting American religious views, his own experience as a parent, and interviews with others facing moral crises without Godâ€¦ this book is a humane and sensible guide to and for the many kinds of Americans leading secular livesâ€¦.â€ť â€”Susan Jacoby,Â New York Times Book Review
“In this fascinating work, Zuckerman (Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion), professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, explores the moral and ethical foundations of secularism, addressing the question of whether you can live a good life without God or religion. Anecdotal evidence abounds; interviews with former religious adherents who have moved into secularism, both within and outside their religious communities, offer a compelling argument for the non-necessity of God in the pursuit of a moral life. “â€”Publishers Weekly
“With recent polls reporting 30 percent of Americans are nonreligious, while other studies find atheists the least-trusted people in the country, isnâ€™t it high time to blow away the myths about the nonreligious? Answering affirmatively, the sociologist founder of the first secular-studies program at Pitzer College presents real secular people as peaceable, productive, and living happilyâ€¦.He also shows that secularism isnâ€™t bipolarâ€”believer or nonbelieverâ€”but includes many with some supernatural beliefs but who arenâ€™t religiously observant. And thereâ€™s not a proselytizer or zealot among this groupâ€”the point being that secular people are not allâ€”indeed, hardly everâ€”Christopher Hitchens or Madalyn Murray Oâ€™Hair. May one more prejudice fall.” â€”Booklist
â€śThe author brilliantly weaves stories and reflections together with empirical sociological research to create a rich portrait of secular Americaâ€¦.Highly recommended for all readers, both religious and nonreligious, seeking a more accurate understanding of this ever-growing segment of the American population.â€ťâ€”Library Journal
We can call it the â€śmatter of moral outsourcing,â€ťÂ and it comes from Milton, age forty-six. Miltonâ€™sÂ take on secular morality goes something like this:Â People who base their morality upon their beliefÂ in God, or who think that morality comes fromÂ God, are guilty of â€śmoral outsourcing.â€ť Moralityâ€”in the view of secular people like Miltonâ€”isÂ essentially about the decisions andÂ choices one personally makes forÂ oneself, based on contemplation,Â weighing of options, understandingÂ alternatives, accepting possible consequences,Â and navigating complexÂ life questions via oneâ€™s own conscience.Â Morality is about listeningÂ and adhering to oneâ€™s own innerÂ moral compass concerning what isÂ right or wrong, just or unjust, compassionateÂ or cruel, and then actingÂ accordingly in relation to others.
But if God is the source ofÂ morality, then a person doesnâ€™tÂ need to consult his own innerÂ moral compassâ€”one simply looks to God for direction.Â And looking to God for guidance about how toÂ be moral is basically absolving oneself of doing theÂ heavy lifting of moral deliberation. It is obedientlyÂ deferring to a higher authority. It is seeking moralÂ guidance elsewhere, outside of oneâ€™s self.
To many secular men and women, that is, inÂ essence, a major abdication. A serious eschewal ofÂ ethical duty. A deep deferment of moral decisionÂ making. It is, in short, a cop-out. Secular moralityÂ allows for no such cop-outs; you have to make yourÂ own choices about how to treat others and how toÂ live your life in a way that reflects your own personalÂ conscience. That, many secular folk will argue, is trueÂ morality. In the words of philosopher and humanistÂ Stephen Law, â€śIt is our individual responsibilityÂ to make our own moralÂ judgments rather than attemptÂ to hand that responsibility over toÂ some external authority.â€ť
By predicating his moralityÂ upon his own conscience, MiltonÂ gets by quite well, or at least as well asÂ most of us. And one obvious benefitÂ to the secular morality embraced byÂ people like Miltonâ€”at the larger,Â societal levelâ€”is that it is less likelyÂ to lead to blind obedience to thoseÂ in positions of authority or to mobÂ mentality. When people such asÂ Milton refuse to outsource their moralityÂ and instead rely on their own conscience, theyÂ are much more likely to foster independent thinking,Â personal responsibility, skepticism toward hegemonicÂ propaganda, and a sober self-awareness of why oneÂ chooses to do right over wrongâ€”all of which areÂ virtues highly compatible with and indeed essentialÂ for a healthy democracy.