What's the book about? I tried to sum it up on the back cover. I started with the observation that people who believe in the tenets of a religion, get real benefits from their religious practice. If they didn't, they wouldn't bother! (For more on this point, see below.)
But what about us skeptics? Can we tap into the same benefits—without having to swallow untenable dogmas? I was sure we can, and I set out to find out how!
About the Cover
The cover design is by Dany Galgani, a superb illustrator whose work you can see at galgani.com.
The cover elements are: a galaxy as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, alder leaves, and a mayfly. It's based on these words from Chapter 2:
Our lives, compared to the stars, are tinier than a mayfly's life compared to the alder tree's. Yet we can describe the birth and death of stars!
About the Author
I'm a retired techie, a bike rider, some days a Buddhist, a compulsive explainer, an amusing, if occasionally pompous, speaker.
I was a programmer at IBM in those high and far-off times when computers weren't personal. With the dawn of the PC revolution I became a free-lance writer and columnist, and published several books including Inside CP/M, Dr. Dobb's Z80 Toolbook, and The Programmer's Essential OS/2 Handbook. Later I contributed to software and hardware manuals at Informix and at Silicon Graphics.
In retirement I want to continue to use the skills of research and organizing that were useful in explaining computers, but to apply them to subjects that are more worthy—or at least, less ephemeral. Secular Wholeness is the product of two years research amid the rich resources of the Green Library at Stanford and the Internet.
If you like, you can contact me by email.
Where Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens Get It Wrong...
When I started writing Secular Wholeness atheists were a lot quieter than now. It was at once a pleasure and a worry to watch the rapid ascendance of the "new atheists" like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennet, P.Z. Myers, and Christopher Hitchens.
It is a pleasure to see these guys bring so much popular attention to the flaws, the basic silliness of religious dogma, and to the evils that religious belief can bring about. And I don't disagree with them.
But they aren't pioneers; the great Robert Ingersoll was ripping up religion in sold-out lectures in 1870, using language that makes Christopher Hitchens sound mild-mannered. Tom Paine demolished the inconsistencies of the Bible a century before that. The emptiness of religious thought has been obvious for a long time—to anyone who wants to see it.
Yet religious belief rolls right on. I started this book asking, Why? Why do smart, sensible, practical people keep on putting time, effort, and money into religious practices? Any anthropologist has an immediate answer: they do it because their investment repays them with valuable goods that they don't get elsewhere! Of the modern atheist writers, only Dan Dennett gets this; and he only wants to study it. (You can read my negative review of his Breaking the Spell.)
None of the new atheists seem to see that atheism will never be an alternative until it can compete with the genuine goods that religion offers. See, religion isn't true, but religions work...as delivery systems for psychological benefits. Every church is a one-stop shop for an array of useful, important, mental and emotional comforts. That's the main reason the religion habit is hard to kick: if you give it up, you give up all kinds of fellowship, emotional comforts, and useful certainties.
But are people who have no religion denied those comforts? Of course not! We just have to be a little more flexible in our shopping. Secular Wholeness is a sourcebook showing where you can get the very goods for which believers sell their souls (or at least their consciences), and at a much lower cost.