The boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved on by Alain de Botton's inspiring new book, which boldly argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false - and yet that religions still have important things to teach the secular world. Rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them - because they're packed with good ideas on how we live and arrange our societies.
Blending deep respect with total impiety, de Botton (a non-believer) proposes that we should look to religions for insights into how to build a sense of community, make our relationships last, get more out of art, overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy, and much more.
For too long, non-believers have faced a stark choice between either swallowing peculiar doctrines or doing away with consoling and beautiful rituals and ideas. At last Alain de Botton has fashioned a far more interesting and truly helpful alternative.
©2012 Alain de Botton (P)2012 Audible Ltd
A good set of ideas which were well presented. Aside from the fact the reader sounds almost as self righteous and smug as Richard Dawkins, this book had some interesting things to say and made a whole load of logical sense. I refuse to be an atheist or humanist because the way they vilify religion is almost worse than religion itself. Maybe this book has the answer?
Two words that traditionally should never be mixed would be 'religion' and 'atheist'. However Alain de Botton gently attempts to persuade the reader that the term 'religion' should not be viewed in such a negative light by attempting to draw what's best from it and asserting that Atheists may do well to adopt these values. He suggests that things like community, song, sense of belonging, congregation, art and architecture are all things which non-believers may well not be maximising to their best effect.
A very interesting read.
This book had an interesting idea but never got into it in any depth. The author, having set out the central hypothesis, that the ritual and certainty of religion can be helpful for our well-being and mental health, then spends the rest of the text rhyming off a disjointed list of possible examples.
A fascinating concept but not one it takes a whole book just to outline and summarise.
Many people say they believe in some sort of higher being or essence but reject organised religion. Alain de Botton flips this on its head, arguing that religious rituals are important in helping us to be live better lives but insisting that God is a fiction.
Secularism, he says, has shorn us of ways to reflect on our places in the universe. His example of marriage is a good one: when a couple wed their friends and family are there, investing in their relationship. Once the ceremony is done, the couple are left to their own devices, with little of what social workers would call "support networks", much less other formal occasions during which to nourish the bonds. Secular liberalism is good at telling us what we free to do, but falls short in offering guidance about what we ought to do.
But there are problems. Liberalism has shied away from this didacticism in part because the prescriptions of the religious proved to be wrong in many cases, preventing us from doing what we should (such as show equal respect for gay people) and encouraging us to do things we shouldn't (like persecute non-believers). AdB does not adequately square how such traps are to be avoided if and when we return to such direct moral instruction as he suggests. At times, he also appears to offer conclusions on the secular life based on hunches. He suggests, for example, that people forget the lessons of great works of secular art, while the date-bound ritual of the religious equivalent is sooner remembered because one is required to revisit it. He may be right, but where is the evidence?
The argument is also weakened by some of de Botton's remedies. He wants to do away with the study of history because he contends that that the discipline merely teaches bald facts and shies away from attempting to connect the past with deeper meanings.
This is where his manifesto falls down. For while the idea that we need ritual in our lives is bold, it is too small to change society as he demands.
This is a beautiful little book wonderfully narrated by Kris Dyer. The author is challenging our liberal, secular, capitalist society to put our human needs back to the forefront, and to do this by taking the best of what religion has to offer. As an atheist he immediately renounces the need for a supernatural deity to guide our search for happiness but instead describes how the institutions and rituals of religion can show us how to interact with our fellow flawed human beings. Introducing ourselves to strangers, atoning for our misdemeanors and dealing with life's ups and downs are all abilities we have lost in our modern urban world, and religion gave us techniques to deal with. (I particularly enjoyed his idea of challenging how we have put the written word on a pedestal - and the lone intellect - whilst removing the need for emotive and concise public rhetoric so that ideas can be put into the reach of all people.) So overall an interesting and thought-provoking read with a mixture of the scholarly and personable.
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