The spiritual life (no God required)

No religious affiliation? Welcome to a rich and vibrant community

Re “Has secularism gone too far?” (Ideas, Dec. 24): Zachary Davis quotes a colleague who says those who are religiously unaffiliated are spiritually “homeless,” suggesting that their spirituality is aimless, adrift, and in need of a meal. As one of the religiously unaffiliated, my spirituality has a wonderful home in the life I try to lead every day.

Davis goes on to say that religions can “help us learn to care for people who are different than us.” I guess religious authority structures such as the Spanish Inquisition, the Puritans in 17th-century New England, the Moral Majority, and ISIS missed this memo.

The family of five in which I grew up includes individuals who, at one time or another, as adults have been, or are currently, secular humanist, Methodist, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Episcopalian, Quaker, Unitarian, and agnostic. Yet we all have shared a common rock-solid set of core values that cherishes caring for all fellow humans and animals, personal and community responsibility, and the inherent worth of every individual. This value system has traveled with us across these many spiritual houses, and has manifested itself in many ways, but its spirituality has never been without a home.

Geoffrey Patton


Notion that atheists are without morality is offensive


Zachary Davis’s piece on secularism touched on some critical questions about the implications of an increasingly isolated society, where people pursue their own narrow economic and personal goals to the exclusion of their connections to the broader human endeavor. Religions have certainly provided essential communal connections throughout human history, but of course they have also promoted tribalism, intolerance, and worse.

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Davis seems to imply that only religious practice, presumably God-based, can lead one to focus on making a better world. However, many “religious” Americans do not focus on “a better world,” unless they are referring to an afterlife where present injustices and inequalities no longer matter.

A moral compass may emanate from religious practice, but the notion that atheists are without morality is highly offensive. People tied to strong secular traditions, such as the Jewish secularism practiced in Workmen’s Circle for the past 100 years, are indeed working for a better world, for the benefit of actual people living in the world as it is now, not in the afterlife. It is justice with a human face and without reference to a supreme being.

It can be a daunting pursuit, as Davis points out, but our morality says that we do not have the luxury of throwing up our hands and pointing to a farther shore.

Bob Follansbee


Argument disparages a belief system built on caring

I take deep exception to the way the Ideas piece “Has secularism gone too far?” profaned a belief system that promotes love and caring. I was particularly angered by the insinuation that secularism was somehow connected to Nazi beliefs just because secularists liked Richard Wagner’s music. In fact, many Catholic and Protestant religious leaders stood by and turned a deaf ear to the Holocaust.


I am a secularist but not an atheist, and have defined my belief system as secular humanism. My belief system, and that of my many fellow secular humanists, is based on embracing all of the members of our human race independent of borders, language, skin color, ethnicity, or any other minor division.

The religions that are based on the concept of there being a God, which are translated into specific mandates, acceptable behavior, and modes of interaction, have resulted in positive communities. Unfortunately, these same religions have also been the driving force in justifying a “me vs. you” mentality and facilitating discrimination, war, and murder, from hanging witches to murdering Rohingya Muslims.

I found Zachary Davis’s antisecularism argument to be an unfair, narrow view of this belief system, which is the fastest-growing in the country.

Steve Cowell


Stop giving me that old-time religionism

Just in time for Christmas, yet another desperate antisecular attack by a divinity student.

Zachary Davis, like many religionists, assumes his own conclusion that religion and spirituality are a necessary part of human existence and provide the motivation for good deeds, good feelings, and good fellowship. He cites examples of people going to gyms instead of churches as the latest in a centuries-long lament about the decline of religion and morals. And in a final leap of logic, he conflates secularism, via the music of Wagner, with Nazism.


As a lifelong atheist-secularist, I have been doing just fine, thank you, finding value in the world, doing good works, and creating meaningful community. Instead of asking whether secularism has “gone too far,” perhaps Davis should consider why religion has run its course.

Sanford Pooler