Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Religion for Atheists- Alain de Botton

Religion for Atheists: A Non Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion-Alain de Botton

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 312
gender: M
nationality: Switzerland
year: 2012
Non fiction

What if religions are neither all true nor all nonsense? The long-running and often boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved forward by Alain de Botton’s inspiring new book, which boldly argues that the supernatural claims of religion are entirely false—but that it still has some very important things to teach the secular world.

It should come as no surprise that this has ruffled feathers on all sides!

I've always had a bad personal relationship with religion-spirits and pseudo-historical leaders all strike me that absolute wrong way but as an archaeologist I've always been drawn to the interplay of religion, politics, and communal systems. It's an interplay that continues to this day and I've never identified as an atheist precisely because there are aspects of religion that seem to be necessary to communities from ancient to modern-there are aspects that seem to be integral to human existence since they pop up as needs that must be satisfied. In the past, they've been often been met by religions but there is no need to rely on it in the future or in my personal life.

So yes, I already have an affinity with de Botton's thesis. However, I do disagree with the implication of his formulation of it. He seems to find secular society impoverished and religious societies as rich which at times seems highly naive. My personal dissatisfaction with religion sometimes hinges on religion's failure to deliver on some of the things de Botton tells us to incorporate into our lives and his incorporation of religious ideas into our societies sometimes fails to address why they've already failed as well as sometimes just seeming a bit NewAgey-hokey (like Temple to Introspection). I mean, he completely lost me in his last chapter on institutions...we already have highly failed versions of those! Also, the book is heavily Roman Catholic influenced.

But even with those misgivings I loved it because some things like community and aesthetics need to be said. Throughout he preaches clarity and introspection and displays it in his writing which is clear and precise. Community (non-virtual) for instance is clearly lost to us in this modern world of alienation and pure privacy. Some of de Botton's suggestions are such that we can actually work to learn from and it's true that there is a distinct secular failing to organize rituals that make us want to go to meetings...

Above all, I loved his chapters on aesthetics and architecture. As you can see from my 617 entry strong architecture tag and my not-lightweight ecclesiastical tag, I spend a lot of time appreciating the aesthetics of places of worship so I give you a few quotes:


Ugly buildings were shown to contain equivalents of the very flaws that revolt us at an ethical level. No less than people, ugly buildings can be described using terms like brutal, cynical, self-satisfied or sentimental. Furthermore, we are no less vulnerable to their suggestions than we are to the behaviour of ill-intentioned acquaintances. Both give licence to our most sinister sides; both can subtly encourage us to be bad.”

Beauty alludes to, and can remind us about, virtues like love, trust, intelligence, kindness and justice”

Everyone who has ever looked at pictures of beautiful art to lift their spirits can probably relate. And this is just my personal example of the moment that this book spoke to me. I think this is a book people should read with an open mind (and resist judging on the merits of his suggestions alone).

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