Many people criticize the “rise of the Nones” for its nihilism. “There’s no God,” full stop, is not a useful replacement for the comfort and guidance traditional religion seeks to provide.
Michael Werner’s thoughtful new book, "What Can You Believe When You Don’t Believe in God?" confronts this criticism head-on.
Werner believes in plenty. He believes in the lifestance many call “humanism,” which he puts in compelling historical perspective. He believes in knowledge, and how humankind can attain it, without the benefit of supernatural revelation. He believes in shared human values, and in a thoughtful process for developing them. He believes in “meaning.” Not, as some traditional religionists would have it, meaning found in a happy or tortured afterlife, but meaning in the here and now: making a difference because you have lived, and lived well.
Humanists who decline to be guided by invisible spirits must decide for themselves how to distinguish right from wrong – not always an easy task, as Werner points out. One of the most valuable facets of his approach is his guided tour through the minefield of ethical systems, and his ultimate settling on an ethical pluralism – “do what works.”
The pinnacle of Werner’s humanist belief system is civilization itself. Not just dry science – though all must start with that – but the full flowering of human emotion as expressed in art in all its exuberance.