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Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  404 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
David Brooks, The New York Times
"As secularism becomes more prominent and self-confident, its spokesmen have more insistently argued that secularism should not be seen as an absence — as a lack of faith — but rather as a positive moral creed. Phil Zuckerman, a Pitzer College sociologist, makes this case as fluidly and pleasurably as anybody in his book, Living the Secular
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 4th 2014 by Penguin Press
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carol I can't understand how people can actually believe in a god as a supremely powerful being, all knowing, all compassionate and ever present...and still…moreI can't understand how people can actually believe in a god as a supremely powerful being, all knowing, all compassionate and ever present...and still come to terms with the total mess of contradiction such views present. Perhaps it is the result of historic indoctrination?
I think people who live secular lives have some notion of imposed morality passed down via religion and society it resides within, but most of us develop a variant of this based on right, wrong, fairness and empathy for other living things and the planet we reside within.(less)
The God Delusion by Richard DawkinsGod Is Not Great by Christopher HitchensThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganLetter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
Notable Atheist Books
336th out of 360 books — 863 voters
Life Beyond Belief - A Preacher's Deconversion by Bob RipleyChristianity Is Not Great by John W. LoftusHoly Bible - Best God Damned Version - Genesis by Steve EblingIn Faith and in Doubt by Dale McGowanLiving the Secular Life by Phil Zuckerman
Hemant Mehta's Best Atheist Books of 2014
5th out of 14 books — 6 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Clif Hostetler
This book provides a humane and sensible guide for Americans leading secular lives. Thus this book is addressed to the fastest growing segment of the American population when classified by religion (or non-religion). A book such as this is needed because the United States remains one of the most religious nations in the developed world, and prevailing attitudes (especially in certain parts of the country) toward non-religious people are generally negative. Such people will find encouragement and ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
A number of people lose their religious belief in the face of logic and evidence and say "what now?"
Many drifted out of faith or were never in its grasp. How does one as a member of the most despised group of Americans, Atheists make their way in a society saturated in the supernatural. This book has some good advice in navigating ones way in a world of believers.
The first thing a nonbeliever will have to contend is that they believe in nothing. Not believing in the supernatural doesn't mea
Dec 21, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: heathen-reading
This is one of the more enjoyable atheist books that I've recently read. It covers all of the major aspects of life people experience from a secular viewpoint. It's nice to read something that's empowering and adds a zest to living, something that makes me glad to be a secular citizen, instead of focusing on how much religion sucks. There aren't enough guidebooks on how to be a good atheist/agnostic/skeptic, but this is a great one to utilize. I'd love to dive into the author's secular studies ...more
Oct 26, 2014 Nicholas rated it really liked it
Shelves: goodreads-win
Goodreads win. Will read and review once received.

This was really interesting to read and very easy to follow. It was also pretty easy to understand what the author was talking about in this book. It was a short and quick read. It was a very informative read and I did enjoy it quite a bit. A good read that I plan to pass along to some friends and family.
Dec 19, 2014 Correen rated it liked it

It is a good book. I am too old for this book but am pleased there is an excellent writer who is explaining the belief system. I have lived a secular life for many years and found nothing in the book that added to my experience. This would not have been so forty or fifty years ago when I could find little on the topic (Unfortunately, I had not heard of Ingersoll.)
Jan 07, 2015 Donald rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction

For the most part, I found the book confirmed what I suspected. The world is getting more and more secular and, I am glad for that. The author convinced me that the United States is at about 35% secular with more and more people checking the "none" box on religion. Given statistics that show the more secular countries of the world rate higher on nearly every factor that represents human well-being, and the more religious countries/states rate at the bottom of all positive factors and highest on
Dec 08, 2014 Marsha rated it really liked it
I received this book through first reads giveaway.

I found this book to very interesting. I really wish that many in the religious community could read this. They may look at those who are not religious in a new way. This book seemed to reinforce my personal beliefs of the larger, non-religious community. It also helped me to better communicate my point of view to my religious friends. I would definitely recommend this book for believers and non-believers alike.
Joe Sampson
Mar 29, 2015 Joe Sampson rated it it was amazing
Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist, has interviewed a number of atheists and agnostics and found that, contrary to what some religionists believe, secular people lead meaningful, happy, empathetic lives.
♥ Ibrahim ♥
It is a helpful book but the iron is, both sides, secularists and people of religions have serious misconceptions about one another.
Oct 12, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
An excellent book about the joys, benefits and challenges of living as a secular (non-religious) person in today's society. The author is a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California who studies religious and secular trends in society. In my life I have come to agree that religion isn't the only way or even the best way to be good. Here are some quotes based on his research...

"Despite opinions to the contrary, nonreligious Americans possess a unique moral code that allows
Jun 22, 2015 Emily rated it did not like it
For context, I am both a non-religious person and a college student studying comparative religion.

I am really hating this book.

While I agree with the premise that secularity is absolutely a phenomenon worthy of study just like religiosity, the author and I then precede to completely diverge. I think that his arguments are very poorly constructed and without nuance of self-awareness. An actual sentence from the book reads: "And we can only surmise how Sally's kids will turn out-her "nothings," w
Matthew Frederick
Jan 26, 2015 Matthew Frederick rated it liked it
While someone struggling with accepting that a secular person can be moral, lead a fulfilling life and satisfy the human yearnings that religion supposedly meets may find this work useful, a confident atheist will not. Although outside of the work's target audience, I found reading it to be a fairly pleasant romp through the diversity of life and experience. Some of the lives that it profiles make for interesting reading, and they help provide the quick portrait of the changing religious and ...more
While I didn't learn any brand new facts about the nonreligious in America, this was an interesting and more positive/affirming take on what it means to reject or ignore religion. It was quite short so I feel like there would have been room for/I would have liked some deeper analysis into the values that secular people share (gay rights were mentioned several times but other values tended to get only a passing mention). Otherwise, I enjoyed his perspective and felt like it gave me some room to ...more
Rebecca Dougherty
Feb 08, 2015 Rebecca Dougherty rated it liked it
When I heard Mr. Zuckerman on public radio after I already began this book he came across as more argumentative than in the book. Toward the end, he talks a bit about his fear of flying, but I would have liked to have heard more about his own feelings of what happens after death. Perhaps he speaks more to that in his other writing. He got a bit too touchy feely for me personally at the end, and I thought the anecdote about the guy who's "higher power" is Bruce Springsteen was pretty funny, but I ...more
Jul 16, 2016 Eric rated it really liked it
Hooray for secularism! I enjoyed this book and am glad to read of the growing demographic. Zuckerman stresses the positive things secularists stand for rather than being defined by the lack of belief in a deity, which I appreciate.
Dec 22, 2014 Ruth rated it it was amazing
I will buy this book to rekindle my inspiration for living a secular life. "Secular based on the faces of others. Our moral compasses flicker, calibrate and adjust themselves in relation to the suffering we may or may not cause other people."
Jan 18, 2015 Isabel rated it it was amazing
Phil Zukerman puts into words the feelings and conflicts experienced by secular humanists as they live their lives in a non-supportive world.
Rosemary O'Neill
Mar 18, 2015 Rosemary O'Neill rated it really liked it
This just resonated with me right now. He makes compelling arguments in an interesting and positive way. I'm sold, if I wasn't already
Feb 02, 2015 Becky rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, read2015
Nothing earth-shattering, but it was interesting.
Jul 30, 2016 Sydney added it
Non-Religious people are good too :)
There are very few books that I wish everyone would read, but Living the Secular Life is one of them--whether you are totally committed to a devoted religious life or you are an open atheist--because in it, Phil Zuckerman successfully bridges the ever-widening gap between those who believe in God and those who don't.

I love this book on a very personal level. As someone raised in an intensely religious family, who is now struggling with the faith of my youth but reluctant to give up my community
Mar 17, 2016 Vince rated it really liked it
In Living the Secular Life, Mr. Zuckerman carries on where he left off in his 2009 work, Faith No More, by detailing the foundations for arriving at ethical and moral values independent of religion.

He starts with the history of the axiom of "treating others as you would have them treat you," since it predates our familiar religious texts. He builds on this to conclude at the end of the book, "Philosophically, secular morality is not based on obedient faith in a mysterious deity, nor is it linke
Martha Ware
Sep 18, 2016 Martha Ware rated it liked it
I had heard this guy interviewed on NPR's RadioWest program and he intrigued me. Reading his views on life made me uncomfortable but I think that's precisely why it was important for me to read. I got inside of the brain of someone who believes almost completely opposite of me on all things, and yet I understood him. I'm sad for him but he's not sad for himself at all, so there's no need for me to take that view. I appreciated having a look into a world that is becoming increasingly our own - ...more
Mar 04, 2015 Charlie rated it really liked it
This book fills a niche among offerings from the irreligious. Most of them are quite negative, ranging from arguing against certain religious beliefs to attacking religion itself as a societal ill on par with a virus or a poison. Their negativity is somewhat justified in that a-theism is not a religion or a replacement for religion, but just a negation of it. Yet, such works do leave a whole, for religion can take up quite a large portion of a person's life. Remove it, and what will fill the ...more
Dec 14, 2014 Sally rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was definitely out of my normal sphere of reality. I was curious to see what the author had to say about secularism. He sees the world as stacked against atheists, giving examples of people who have to put up with Christians inviting them to church, saying grace at meals, celebrating Christmas, etc. I felt like Alice fallen through the rabbit hole when I read about how atheists are nobler and wiser for having come up with their own system of morality rather than relying on what others ...more
Dec 30, 2014 Gary rated it liked it
This book is mostly a series of anecdotes based on first person accounts from persons who consider themselves secular and why they embrace that world view. There's nothing inherently wrong with using anecdotes for telling a consistent story and this book does a good job while doing it. I found all the characters profiled interesting and worth learning from.

There are two ways I try to understand my place in the world and the world view that I have. One is by looking at fact based non-fiction boo
Sep 27, 2015 HC rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 stars. I can't decide if I'd rather he published this as a lengthy magazine article, or just cut back a chapter or so worth of information, some of which was redundant. There's some beautiful writing in the "Trying Times" and "Don't Fear the Reaper" chapters, but some of the earlier chapters were repetitive and the points not well-argued.

I think Zuckerman and I see secularity a little differently. He establishes at the beginning of the book that being secular involves denying anything super
David Teachout
Mar 02, 2015 David Teachout rated it it was amazing
I'll start with a quote from page 212:

"A lack of belief in God does not render this world any less wondrous, lush, mystifying, or amazing. A freethinking, secular orientation does not mean that one experiences a cold, colorless existence, devoid of aesthetic inspiration, mystical wonder, unabashed appreciation, existential joy, or a deep sense of connection with others, with nature, and with the incomprehensible. Quite the contrary. One need not have God to feel and experience awe.

One just need
William Nist
Feb 06, 2015 William Nist rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religious
If you are troubled by the term "Atheist" as a self-descriptor, Zuckerman's book may ease your mind. The author is a sociologist and looks closely at the issue of morality in so-called religious and non religious societies. Guess what? By most all standards, the more "Christian" society is the non-religious society. This analysis is an especially strong part of this work, and it goes a long way to make the Positive case for Atheism, which the author transforms into the less offensive term ...more
Jun 01, 2015 Joseph rated it liked it
When I found out about this book I was very excited because it touches on a subject I'm very interested in. Can people live good, ethical, fulfilled lives without faith? The answer to that question is an absolute yes. Zuckerman's writing style is very accessible and he comes across as a guy you could sit down with and have a pleasant conversation about these matters. I have to say though it wasn't as good as I had hoped. One of my main issues is that he references many names and quotes them ...more
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Philip "Phil" Zuckerman (born June 26, 1969 in Los Angeles, California) is a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He specializes in the sociology of secularity. He is the author of several books, including Society Without God for which he won ForeWord Magazine's silver book of the year award, and Faith No More.
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“I’ve written this book to explore and illuminate the lives, values, and experiences of just such people, and to offer a glimpse at how we raise our kids with love, optimism, and a predilection for independence of thought, how we foster a practical, this-worldly morality based on empathy, how we employ self-reliance in the face of life’s difficulties, how we handle and accept death as best we can, how and why we do or do not engage in a plethora of rituals and traditions, how we create various forms of community while still maintaining our proclivity for autonomy, and what it means for us to experience awe in the midst of this world, this time, this life.” 2 likes
“What does and should unite us as Americans is our adherence to and respect for the U.S. Constitution—and that’s about it. Love of, belief in, and a willingness to defend freedom, liberty, and democracy: government by the consent of the governed. But as for metaphysical, spiritual, otherworldly, religious, or transcendental matters—is there a God? What happens after we die? Why are we here? How does karma operate? Who was Jesus? Where does chi reside? What is the Holy Ghost? How can we best mollify jinn?—the answers to such questions, whatever they may be, are not what define us as Americans, as citizens, or as human beings. And to suggest—as more and more politicians seem to be doing—that to be a good, decent American requires faith in a Creator, or to imply that Christian values are the only values, or to argue that our laws are given to us solely by God, or to constantly denigrate nonbelievers as somehow less-than-welcome partners in the American enterprise . . . that’s all, quite frankly, very un-American.” 2 likes
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