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Good Without God: Why "Non-Religious" Is the Fastest-Growing Preference in America

Authors Phil Goldberg and Greg Epstein share their provocative views on why a quarter of Americans now call themselves agnostic, atheist or nonreligious.

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Goldberg: derived directly from the scientific research on TM back in 1970. I was one of subjects in Benson’s first study -- just because I was hanging out at the Cambridge TM Center.

McNally: Why did you write American Veda?

Goldberg: I actually wanted to write this book 25 years ago. I could see that principles coming here from India -- the philosophy of Vedanta and the practices of yoga and meditation -- were transforming people’s lives. I saw it seeping into other areas of the culture in subtle ways – psychology, healthcare, the study of consciousness, even physics and the arts. I saw people affected by these teachings without even knowing it.

McNally: Like fish in water, we talk about “karma” and don’t think about where it comes from….

Goldberg: I suspect this is a much more important phenomenon than people realize. First, more people are affected by what we’ve imported and absorbed from India than is generally recognized. Second, it is affecting how people see the world in a way that I think is potentially transformative to the culture.

The spirituality that we’ve absorbed and adapted from India is a needed antidote to the foolish polarization of atheists on the one side and biblical literalists on the other. It offers a way of being spiritual that is rational, reasonable, and sensible -- and matches the kind of pluralistic globalized world we live in today.

McNally: One quote that really struck me in the book: In 1952 Arnold Toynbee says --

Goldberg: -- “The catholic-minded Indian religious spirit is the way of salvation for all religions in an age in which we have to learn to live as a single family if we are not to destroy ourselves.”

McNally: We’ve just come out of World War II, we’re living in the age of the bomb, and at that moment -- years before any significant wave of Vedanta appears -- he sees its more open and pluralistic approach fits challenges we face now in the 21st century.

Goldberg: Religious extremism running amuck. People needing to believe – for whatever pathological reasons -- that their way is the only way, and they’re going to impose it on others. And here’s this ancient teaching that there are many valid ways of being spiritual in the world, including secular, including scientific.

McNally: Early in the 1990’s in his book, Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be, Walter Truett Anderson said the real clash is not between two religions or between two truths. It’s between those who can see more than one truth and those who cannot. In the past, it used to be my truth against yours. Today, whatever your one truth may be, your confrontation is with modernity -- which says there are many.

What are some other principles of Indian spirituality that have come to infuse American society?

Goldberg: The first we’ve been speaking of is “one Truth, many names.” Along those same lines is an individuated approach to enlightenment, in which the individual spiritual seeker -- or the secular seeker of self-development -- should and must carve out his or her own way.

You don’t just “choose your religion.” You also choose the nuances of your personal spiritual life -- the practices, the approaches that serve your individual perspective, your personality, your inclinations. This is fundamental vedantic, yogic teaching.

McNally: And that’s why there are four major paths of yoga? And each will be most appropriate for a certain kind of person?

Goldberg: As outlined long ago in the Baghavad Gita: Bhakti yoga is devotional; Karma yoga is the yoga of selfless action; Jnana yoga is yoga of the intellect, of understanding and study; Raja yoga is a sort of psycho-spiritual approach that emphasizes practice, meditation and so forth. But they overlap significantly and lean in different directions at different times.

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