A Review of Grace Without God: the Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age by Katherine Ozment.

By Rev. Dr. David Breeden

A question from one of her children sends Ozment on a five year quest. As they watch an Eastern Orthodox procession, one of her kid’s asks, “What are we?”

The question brings her up short. Ozment long ago lost any attachment to her childhood Presbyterianism, and her husband is a secular Jew who occasionally performs a smattering of the rituals he learned as a child.

Ozment realizes that traditional religions hold nothing for her or her family—“Many of us live in a liminal state, between the religious life we knew and the new life we are creating.”

Can the place once taken by traditional religions be taken by something else, “an alternative to God-given meaning”?

Ozment tours the land looking for answers among various groups that have sprung up to replace traditional religion. She visits older attempts at filling this void, such as Unitarian Universalism and Ethical Cultural Societies. And newer attempts, such as Sunday Assemblies and the Secular Student Alliance. Along the way, she embraces a new identity: secular humanist.

What is it that religions have given people? Ozment looks to neuroscience. Studies show that religious people report more happiness and live longer lives. What does science tell us about that? The key to a long and happy life doesn’t have to do with a particular view of god or reality, but rather a sense of belonging and collective purpose.

Traditional religions also supply healthy activities such as “synchronous group rituals”—singing, chanting, and prayer. And then there is that sense of awe and wonder that religions have claimed exclusive rights to. Far from being the exclusive domain of a particular religious viewpoint, these are part of human psychology and can be triggered in many different ways.

Ozment isn’t after simple answers, however. What about death? What is the meaning of death and how do we grieve outside the confines of tradition? Ozment discovers a wealth of secular resources, from Humanist Celebrants who can be found to www.GriefBeyondBelief.org.

But what about the human need for ritual after the belief in god is gone? Ozment friends resources for both daily rituals and holidays. Individuals and families can “make your own Sunday” and make their own holidays. It’s the attention we pay, not the age of the tradition that makes meaning.

Despite the spectacular rise in the number of secular people, the alternative organizations remain small, and the available resources are scattered and difficult to find. Ozment’s quest informs that journey, and she provides a number of resources.

Can people be good without God? This book celebrates the proposition that we might even be better without that baggage from the past. Grace Without God deserves a wide audience as the secular movement gains both strength and cohesion.

https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062305114/grace-without-god

 

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