Monday, December 6, 2010

Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe

Book Club... And Then Some!

Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe   


by Greg M. Epstein

Book Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Greg M. Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard University, writes in his introduction, “If you identify as an atheist, agnostic, freethinker, rationalist, skeptic, cynic, secular humanist, naturalist, or deist; as spiritual, apathetic, nonreligious, ‘nothing’; or any other irreligious descriptive, you could probably caount yourself what I call a Humanist” (p. xii).  If you are any one of these, or, perhaps, call yourself a Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or Jew, and enjoy a challenging, interesting, well-written book, then I recommend this one.

The reason this book is such a refreshing read is because Epstein is not at all concerned with whether or not there is a god.  Many other authors have attempted to answer that question.  David K. Chivers writes in his review, “Refreshingly, Greg Epstein starts a step further down along the line of debate. His premise, stated simply, is this; However they got there, there is now a significant portion of the population who simply do not believe in God. And yet most of them (including himself) live what would be thought of by most as perfectly "good" lives, raising their children, taking care of their parents, helping out in the community, and the like. They are people you would like to have as neighbors. So if they don't believe in God, why do they act in this way? Why aren't they all out marauding, looting and pillaging? If not God, what do they believe in?”

Epstein adds, “The point is that as a Humanist, you’d be in distinguished company, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Lennon, Winston Churchill, Margaret Sanger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Voltaire, David Hume, Salman Rushie, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Confucius, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Wole Soyinka, Kurt Vonnegut, Zora Neale Hurston, Mark Twain, Margaret Meade, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Einstein, Darwin, and more than a billion people worldwide” (pp. Xii-xiii).

Epstein defines humanism as “being good without God.  It is above all,” he writes, “an affirmation of the greatest common value we human beings have: the desire to live with dignity, to be ‘good.’  But Humanism is also a warning that we cannot afford to wait until tomorrow or until the next life to be good, because today—the short journey we get from birth to death, womb to tomb—is all we have.  Humanism rejects dependence on faith, the supernatural, divine texts, resurrection, reincarnation, or anything else for which we have no evidence.  To put it another way, Humanists believe in life before death” (p. xiii).  Now, that is something to celebrate!

So, where does Epstein go from here?  There are 225 pages and six chapters; thus, chapters average about 37 pages each.  Here are the chapter titles:

    Chapter 1: Can We Be Good Without God?
        2: A Brief History of Goodness Without God
        3: Why Be Good Without a God?  Purpose and The Plague
        4: Good Without God: A How-To Guide to the Ethics of Humanism
        5: Pluralism: Can You Be Good with God?
        6: Good Without God in Community: The Heart of Humanism

The book flows well, the ideas are sound, the explanations clear, and challenges to your thinking occur often.  If you enjoy a book of substance and strength that offers clear, well-structured arguments this is an excellent choice.

Barbara L. Warren, at, writes, “This is a well-articulated, thought-out, and respectful (of religious people) book. I have read it twice and gained new insights both times. It's comforting to know I'm not alone in my beliefs, while feeling encouraged to act in meaningful ways. The author is a Humanist without animosity or the kind of hatred I so often feel toward those of us who no longer belive in a supernatural, all-powerful being.”

Another reviewer with whom I totally agree, Ryan Rabac, of Orlando, FL, writes,  “Epstein provides a refreshing approach to living a nonreligious lifestyle that doesn't target or simply try to defend other beliefs. I especially appreciated his broad cultural and literary knowledge, including that of Camus, my favorite writer. His writing style is clear and emotionally truthful. He is a real inspiration.”


This book is available from Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. 

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