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What It Means to Be Moral

Why Religion Is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life

List Price: $28.00

September 10, 2019 | Hardcover | 6.0 x 9.0, 400 pages | ISBN 9781640092747
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The author of Living the Secular Life deconstructs the arguments for a morality informed by religion, urging that major challenges like global warming and growing inequality are best approached from a framework of secular morality

In What It Means To Be Moral: Why Religion is Not Necessary for Living An Ethical Life, Phil Zuckerman argues that morality does not come from God. Rather, it comes from us: our brains, our evolutionary past, our ongoing cultural development, our social experiences, and our ability to reason, reflect, and be sensitive to the suffering of others.

Through deconstructing religious arguments for God-based morality, and guiding readers through the premises and promises of secular morality, Phil argues that the major challenges facing the world today, from global warming and growing inequality to religious support for unethical political policies to gun violence and terrorism—are best approached from a nonreligious ethical framework. In short, we need to look to our fellow humans and within ourselves for moral progress and ethical action.

PHIL ZUCKERMAN is the author of several books, including The NonreligiousLiving the Secular Life, and Society without God. He is a professor of Sociology at Pitzer College, and the founding chair of the nation’s first Secular Studies program. He lives in Claremont, California, with his wife and three children.


Praise for What It Means to Be Moral 

“Sociologist Zuckerman (Society Without God) presents a prodigiously well-supported argument against religion . . . A comprehensive introduction to religious skepticism.” —Publishers Weekly

“A thoughtful perspective on humans’ capacity for moral behavior.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In this brilliant, provocative, and timely book, Phil Zuckerman breaks down the myth that our morality comes from religion—compellingly making the case that when it comes to the biggest challenges we face today, a secular approach is the only truly moral one.” —Ali A. Rizvi, author of The Atheist Muslim

“As humanity moves forward, using science and reason to better understand the universe, many people nevertheless reflexively assume that ancient religions are needed for ethical living. Phil Zuckerman dismantles those assumptions brilliantly in What It Means to Be Moral, demonstrating that morality is perfectly consistent with secularity, that hope for a better world need not be reliant on outdated theology.” —David Niose, author of Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans

“Most of us nonbelievers know morality when we see it, but that’s no help when yet another devout friend or family member asks, ‘How can anyone know what’s good—let alone do it—without God?’ Phil Zuckerman’s surprisingly entertaining new book, on the other hand, is a huge help. Zuckerman doesn’t just explain how and why secular morality works; he makes a powerful case that it works better than any and every religious code and is uniquely suited to help us solve the world’s biggest problems. Here’s your chance to stand tall and answer the naysayers, once and for all, literally for goodness’ sake.” —Bart Campolo, coauthor of Why I Left, Why I Stayed

“Phil Zuckerman skewers the sacred cows of religious infallibility and God-based morality with biting wit and alacrity. He provides engaging historical, philosophical, social, and personal examples to bolster his argument that relying upon theistic interpretations of morality and ethics amounts to ‘moral outsourcing.’ Taking aim at the highly subjective, crazy-quilt nature of religious moralism, Zuckerman convincingly refutes the so-called universal truisms, values, and codes imposed on mere mortals by omnipotent deities. In so doing, he provides a solid case for humanistic morality as an antidote to the blind dogma and bigotry fueling the United States’ increasingly polarizing political climate.” —Sikivu Hutchinson, author of White Nights, Black Paradise

“In this book, Phil Zuckerman provides an important argument for and examples of moral living without God. His depiction of secular morality offers readers a view into the meaning and depth of human encounter in and with the world. There is no anger or dismissiveness in his narrative—simply insights, sharp and compelling. I highly recommend this book.” —Anthony B. Pinn, author of Humanism and the Challenge of Difference

Praise for Living the Secular Life

“A humane and sensible guide to and for the many kinds of Americans leading secular lives in what remains one of the most religious nations in the developed world.” —The New York Times Book Review

“ Groundbreaking . . . A persuasive and comprehensive look at the growing contemporary phenomenon of people who choose to live without religion, but with ethics and meaning in their lives.” Publishers Weekly, A Best Book of the Year

“Phil Zuckerman is without a doubt the leading American sociologist of secularism. And with America secularizing more rapidly and profoundly now than in any previous era in our history, Zuckerman’s work has become essential reading for everyday people who want to understand religion—and the nonreligious—in this country. ” —Greg M. Epstein, author Good Without God

“Here at last is a clear, concise, and compassionate guided tour of the world’s fastest-growing way of life. Zuckerman isn’t trying to prove everyone else wrong. On the contrary, he’s helping the secular community better understand and comport itself, and helping the rest of humanity understand that we’re on their side too.” —Bart Campolo, author Things We Wish We Had Said

“For secular people seeking deeper insight into their own worldview, or religious people seeking to better understand the rise of irreligion in society today, this book is indispensable. An engaging, powerful read.” —Peter Boghossian, author of A Manual for Creating Atheists

“Zuckerman is a sociologist who in this groundbreaking book writes clearly, offers unobtrusive statistical support, and provides a persuasive and comprehensive look at the growing contemporary phenomenon of people who choose to live without religion, but with ethics and meaning in their lives.” —Publishers Weekly, A Best Book of the Year

“The author brilliantly weaves stories and reflections together with empirical sociological research to create a rich portrait of secular America . . . Highly recommended for all readers, both religious and nonreligious, seeking a more accurate understanding of this ever-growing segment of the American population.” —Library Journal

“In this fascinating work, Zuckerman, 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.” —Publishers Weekly

“With recent polls reporting 30 percent of Americans are nonreligious, while other studies find atheists the least-trusted people in the country, isn’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 happily . . . He also shows that secularism isn’t bipolar—believer or nonbeliever—but includes many with some supernatural beliefs but who aren’t religiously observant . . . May one more prejudice fall.” — Booklist

“As Zuckerman makes clear, without resorting to smugness, secularity is not nothing but rather a way of living that enhances moral virtues and promotes human decency.” —Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Society without God

“Much that he found will surprise many people, as it did him.” —The New York Times

“Most Americans are convinced that faith in God is the foundation of civil society. Society without God reveals this to be nothing more than a well-subscribed, and strangely American, delusion. Even atheists living in the United States will be astonished to discover how unencumbered by religion most Danes and Swedes currently are. This glimpse of an alternate, secular reality is at once humbling and profoundly inspiring— and it comes not a moment too soon. Zuckerman’s research is truly indispensable.” —Sam Harris, author of Waking Up

“[Zuckerman] tells of a magical land where life expectancy is high and infant mortality low, where wealth is spread and genders live in equity, where happy, fish-fed citizens score high in every quality-of-life index: economic competitiveness, healthcare, environmental protection, lack of corruption, educational investment, technological literacy . . . well, you get the idea. Zuckerman (who has explored the sociology of religion in two previous books) has managed to show what nonbelief looks like when it’s ‘normal, regular, mainstream, common.’ And he’s gone at least partway to proving the central thesis of his book: ‘Religious faith—while admittedly widespread—is not natural or innate to the human condition. Nor is religion a necessary ingredient for a healthy, peaceful, prosperous, and . . . deeply good society.’” —Louis Bayard,

“Despite this book’s weighty topic, with its conversational writing style, Society without God is amazingly readable, even fun. It presents rigorous arguments that are deceptively simple to understand, but that are, when you think about them more deeply, quite transformative.” —PopMatters

Society without God is a colorful, provocative book that makes an original contribution to debates about atheism and religiosity.” —Arlene Stein, author of Shameless: Sexual Dissidence in American Culture

Society without God is both a sociological analysis of irreligion and Zuckerman’s apologia pro vita sua. He wants us to know that, contrary to the deeply held beliefs of some Americans, a society without god can be a good society and an irreligious person can be a moral person, too. To his credit, Zuckerman provides enough nuance and detail to allow a skeptic like me to see what Peter Berger called ‘signals of transcendence’ in the society without god he portrays.” —David Yamane, author of The Catholic Church in State Politics

Society without God offers a unique perspective on the active debate regarding the necessity of religion . . . By turning to one of the most secular societies in the world, Scandanavia, Phil Zuckerman offers an empirically grounded account of a successful society where people are happy and content and help their neighbors without believing in God. The book is fluently written and highly illuminating. It offers an accessible entry to important questions in the study of religion and secularism.” —Michael Pagis, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“For those interested in the burgeoning field of secular studies’ or for those curious about a world much different from the devout U.S.—this book will offer some compelling reading.” —Publishers Weekly

“In an anecdotal and eminently readable manner, Zuckerman offers a novel idea within the study of religious sociology.” —Library Journal

Praise for Faith No More

“Everyone knows, deep down, that there is a conflict between reason and faith-between having good reasons for what one believes and having bad ones. This conflict finds its most poignant expression in the lives of men and women who have lost their belief in God despite their best efforts to maintain it. Faith No More offers a fascinating look at these lives, and at the myriad ways in which thoughtful people can come to their senses.” —Sam Harris, author of Waking Up

“With Faith No More Philip Zuckerman has given us a fascinating look at how individual contemporary Americans raised in various religions awakened out of a belief in the supernatural . . . It is a wonderfully informative and provocative study and should be read by everyone interested in the real experience of religion and irreligion.” —Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History

Faith No More helps us understand the diverse routes people take to irreligiosity and the dilemmas they face in a culture that often condemns them. Far from being kneejerk atheists, it turns out that the most secular Americans have actually spent a lot of time wrestling with their faith. Documenting their journeys and placing them in sociological context, this book establishes Phil Zuckerman as one of the most sophisticated analysts of secularity today.” —Arlene Stein, Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University

“This could-be-dry content proves immensely engaging because of Zuckerman’s jargon-free exposition and his seamless incorporation of interview material rendered apparently verbatim-verbal tics (‘like,’ ‘you know,’ etc) and all-in the manner of a good documentary film.” —Booklist

“Zuckerman’s writing is engaging and straightforward, which makes for enjoyable reading . . . [Faith No More] is laudable for its rich interview data, readability, and insight into the lived experiences of American apostates.” —Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

“This is an absorbing book that puts flesh on the bones of recent identifiable trends in American nonbelief and, in turn, profoundly questions the assumption of a ‘spiritual turn’ in Western societies. Moreover, it provides distinctive insights into the complexities of belief, nonbelief, doubt and scepticism.” —Social Forces

“Zuckerman here builds on his previous work which examined ‘Society without God,’ that is, Nordic countries which rank amongst the least religious places in the world. In this book he combines qualitative interviews and rich descriptions to produce an interesting and well written book.” —Catholic Books Review

“The interview data are valuable for research on irreligion in America. The book will probably be enjoyed most by readers who, like Zuckerman’s subjects, have lost their religion. These readers are likely to feel encouraged that they are not alone, that it takes courage to do what they have done, and that life can be good without religion.” —Sociology of Religion

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