Self-help topics covered from a secular viewpoint include:
I have to agree with Cortesi that a secular life expands and enhances the richness that life has to offer. Although he doesn't spend much time critiquing or contrasting a secular life with a religious one, the few thoughts he does offer on the subject are well put. For instance, the diminished role that mental gymnastics has to play when viewing the natural world from a secular viewpoint provides a greater peace of mind and sense of reasonableness to the world. On this thought I'll close my review with a quote from page 18.
If, as some people like to say, "everything happens for a purpose"--some very uncomfortable conclusions have to follow. For one, we would have to acknowledge that the same plan that produces splendid specimens like us also mandates children with Down Syndrome, spina bifida, and neonatal cancers, to mention only three of many tragic possibilities. And, in order to give some people their natures, the plan requires that their formative experiences should include disaster, privation, and physical and emotional abuse.
It seems to me that this idea alone is a good deal less comfortable to live with than existential dread. I would much rather think that things like birth defects, diseases, and child abuse are the outcome of contingent circumstances, than think that some supernatural being plans [or allows] them.
from the publisher:
Some of the smartest people in America are unmoved by conventional religions, but they need not do without the comforts that believers draw from their creeds. So claims David Cortesi, who applied professional research skills and the rigorous logic of a computer programmer to a search for rational, secular sources for the benefits of religious belief. The result, a “sourcebook for skeptical seekers” is Secular Wholeness: A Skeptic’s Paths to a Richer Life.
“I’ve always been a skeptic and rationalist,” says Cortesi, “which puts me in good company as so are two-thirds of American scientists, by a recent survey. Yet I’ve known many devout believers, not least my late parents, and it’s plain that a genuine religious practice confers benefits. I set out to show that those same benefits are not uniquely religious, but are accessible to anyone, whether they find religious stories convincing or not.”
Some of the benefits usually found in a religious practice, but shown in Secular Wholeness to also have natural sources, include:
- Existential validity, the sense of belonging in the world, a special challenge for rationalists because it means coming to terms with being a “mere accident” rather than an intentional creation.
- Community: the religious devotee is automatically a member of a supportive group, while the skeptic, for his or her own longevity and happiness, has to create one.
- Ethics: “Some American writers have said flatly that you can’t be a moral person without religion, which is just nonsense,” asserts Cortesi. But creating and justifying a personal code, let alone living up to it, is not simple.
- Facing death: a clear-eyed appreciation of death neutralizes fear. The book shows how we can prepare to comfort the bereaved and serve the dying, and it urges readers to prepare to leave a legacy of serenity and love to their survivors.
Additional chapters include essays on meditation, on the value and pursuit of mystic experience, on constructing meaningful family rituals, and on what science knows about happiness. The book offers an extensive bibliography, end notes, and indexes.
“The examined life is never easy,” the author says. “A devout person’s religious practice occupies a big slice of life, and a secular life practice, to produce equivalent security, contentment, and health, needs as much. But the benefits are there for the taking.”