Author: Alain de Botton
Title: Religion for Atheists
Publication Info: New York : Pantheon Books, c2012.
An erudite atheist, de Botton makes a good case for religion. Not for the belief in god or the supernatural, but the basic fact that humans invented religion and carried it down through the ages that it must serve some good purpose. In this book he proposes adopting some of the best elements of religion to secular purposes. In chapters on subjects such as community, kindness, education, tenderness, pessimism, perspective, art, architecture, and institutions. he identifies the best of religion and make proposals for how these things may be adapted. For example, he proposes agape restaurants where people dine and converse with strangers and universities where people read books to learn from their emotional content instead of literary analysis. At times the ideas are silly, but I really like de Botton’s approach and open mind. As a religious person myself, I find that extreme atheists (really, anti-theist bigots) are one side of the same coin of religious fundamentalists. It’s good to have ideas that move beyond the tired arguments of the extremes and work toward the betterment of humanity.
“In a world beset by fundamentalists of both believing and secular varieties, it must be possible to balance a rejection of religious faith with a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts. It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: first, they need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of love ones and to our decay and demise. God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away….” p. 12
“The true risks to our chances of flourishing are different from those conceived of by liberterians. A lack of freedom is no longer, in most developed societies, the problem. Our downfall lies in our inability to make the most of the freedom that our ancestors painfully secured for us over three centuries. ” p. 77
“‘The object of universities is not to make skillful lawyers, physicians or engineers. It is to make capable and cultivated human beings.’ – John Stuart Mill” p. 100
“Secular education will never succeed in reaching its potential until humanities lecturers are sent to be trained by African-American Pentecostal preachers.” p. 131
Recommended books: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism) by Frank Schaeffer.