James Woods in the New Yorker Reviews George Levine's "The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now"

James Woods in the New Yorker reviews with enthusiasm George Levine's "The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now".

The book appeared five months ago, so New Yorker as usual is slow  to comment on the new. The gingham cover design of Levin's collection  recalls another book, "The Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book" although we first thought it was imitating "The Joy of Cooking" but it is not -- and anyway what is that fluffy art all about? We take covers much more seriously after conceiving and designing our own day-bright art for our new book.

Can we leave aside the cover and consider the contents? Woods does so with poetic elegance. His review is virtually an elegy for secular living.

We lament that the book is not sold as a Kindle edition. In this secular, scientific age we ask, What is that all about? From the review, the book sounds like a spiritual secular  trip, and we were ready to embark on it via instant whispernet downloading. No luck.

Here is the publisher's summary:
Can secularism offer us moral, aesthetic, and spiritual satisfaction? Or does the secular view simply affirm a dog-eat-dog universe? At a time when the issues of religion, evolution, atheism, fundamentalism, Darwin, and science fill headlines and invoke controversy, The Joy of Secularism provides a balanced and thoughtful approach for understanding an enlightened, sympathetic, and relevant secularism for our lives today. Bringing together distinguished historians, philosophers, scientists, and writers, this book shows that secularism is not a mere denial of religion. Rather, this positive and necessary condition presents a vision of a natural and difficult world--without miracles or supernatural interventions--that is far richer and more satisfying than the religious one beyond.

From various perspectives--philosophy, evolutionary biology, primate study, Darwinian thinking, poetry, and even bird-watching--the essays in this collection examine the wealth of possibilities that secularism offers for achieving a condition of fullness. Factoring in historical contexts, and ethical and emotional challenges, the contributors make an honest and heartfelt yet rigorous case for the secular view by focusing attention on aspects of ordinary life normally associated with religion, such as the desire for meaning, justice, spirituality, and wonder. Demonstrating that a world of secular enchantment is a place worth living in, The Joy of Secularism takes a new and liberating look at a valuable and complex subject.

The contributors are William Connolly, Paolo Costa, Frans de Waal, Philip Kitcher, George Levine, Adam Phillips, Robert Richards, Bruce Robbins, Rebecca Stott, Charles Taylor, and David Sloan Wilson.


MDS 62-2 said...


"We take covers much more seriously after conceiving and designing our own day-bright art for our new book." A little modesty please. You must acknowledge Bruce Brown's cotribution to your cover.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Acknowledged here and now, and homage paid to the film in the text of the book and in the sources page. Glad someone noticed!