Ridley's Reviews > Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe

Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein
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Nov 07, 2009

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bookshelves: 3-star, non-fiction, read-2010, ebook
Read from February 08 to 11, 2010

Epstein's book is a refreshing break from the self-conscious atheism of Dawkins et al. The focus on what atheists do value, rather than on what we don't, was thought-provoking.

Now, Dawkins may be obsessed with debunking creationism and Hitchens with shocking you into submission, but at least they're engaging. This work is much more scholarly and amiable in tone and substance, which is all fine and good, but it's not something to get people fired up to join the Humanist movement. Nor is it a page-turner for some light entertaining reading.

It reads more as a pragmatic guidebook. Epstein spends little time on whether or not god exists, as what people think either way isn't important to his thesis, he's only concerned with how to live a good life without the guiding influence of gods. He is speaking to atheists who wonder what defines their values, since they reject any value set not grounded in human reason. He makes no effort to convince believers they're mistaken.

This is where the book excels. The survey of various ethical and moral philosophies is enlightening. Thinking about how exactly we know right from wrong, as we all surely do, was an enormously helpful exercise. He deftly disconnects goodness from divinity through comparing and contrasting thousands of years of the world's religions and philosophies. He leaves no question of our ability to live just, moral and fulfilling lives guided by nothing larger than human dignity.

It's when he devolves into a listing of Humanist beliefs, practices and politics that he started to lose me. I'm a liberal blue stater, but even I cringed at his Obama worship and constant avowal of liberal issues like gay marriage. I may love Obama and gay marriage, but I'm sure many atheists don't as they're far from universal values. The author's politics are writ large and detract from what should have remained a general survey of what nonbelievers value and why.

The drier prose and occasional grandstanding don't detract from the useful self-examination, however. I'd just suggest most people skip the last 1-2 chapters unless they bleed blue. As an ethical survey and source of Humanist organizations and additional readings, this work is an excellent resource. Epstein just doesn't have a future in political entertainment.
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Reading Progress

02/08/2010 page 40
14.71% "Liking this so far. A bit less "Screw you Jesus! I'm a rebel!" than Dawkins, et al, but still a solid case for atheism."

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Davina (new) - added it

Davina D. Good review. I bought this book recently and my husband is currently reading it. He has mentioned some of the issues you brought up. I'll probably get to it after my BDB fix! lol


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