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Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion Hardcover – March 6, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 3rd prt. edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307379108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307379108
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Q&A with Author Alain De Botton

Q: Is it possible to be a good person without religion?

A: The problem of the man without religion is that he forgets. We all know in theory what we should do to be good. The problem is that in practice, we forget. And we forget because the modern secular world always thinks that it is enough to tell someone something once (be good, remember the poor etc.) But all religions disagree here: they insist that if anyone is to stand a chance of remembering anything, they need reminders on a daily, perhaps even hourly basis.

Q: What do you think of the aggressive atheism we have seen in the past few years?

A: I am an atheist, but a gentle one. I don't feel the need to mock anyone who believes. I really disagree with the hard tone of some atheists who approach religion like a silly fairy tale. I am deeply respectful of religion, but I believe none of its supernatural aspects. So my position is perhaps unusual: I am at once very respectful and completely impious.

Q: Are you nostalgic for the deeply religious past?

A: Like many people, of course I feel nostalgic. How is it possible not to feel nostalgic when you look at 15th frescoes or the rituals of an ancient carnival? However, we have to ask: how should I respond to my nostalgia? My thought is that we can use it creatively, as the basis for a rebirth, for the creation of new things, for the creation of things that later generations will feel nostalgic about... So it frustrates me when people say things like, 'Well, they knew how to build in the 15th century, now it is impossible...' Why! Anything is possible. We should not sigh nostalgically over religion, we should learn from them. We should steal from them.

Q: If we were to replace religion with a secular equivalent, who would be our gurus?

A: We don't need a central structure. We are beyond the age of gurus and inspirational leaders. We are in the age of the Wiki structure. This means that it is up to all of us to look at religion and see what bits we can steal and place into the modern world. We might all contribute to the construction of new temples, not the government, but the concerned, interested individual. The salvation of the individual soul remains a serious problem--even when we dismiss the idea of God. In the 20th century, capitalism has really solved (in the rich West) the material problems of a significant portion of mankind. But the spiritual needs are still in chaos, with religion ceasing to answer the need. This is why I wrote my book, to show that there remains a new way: a way of filling the modern world with so many important lessons from religion, and yet not needing to return to any kind of occult spirituality.

Q: Don't you think that, in order to truly appreciate religious music and art, you have to be a believer--or, at least, don't you think that non-believers miss something important in the experience?

A: I am interested in the modern claim that we have now found a way to replace religion: with art. You often hear people say, 'Museums are our new churches'. It's a nice idea, but it's not true, and it's principally not true because of the way that museums are laid out and present art. They prevent anyone from having an emotional relationship with the works on display. They encourage an academic interest, but prevent a more didactic and therapeutic kind of contact. I recommend in my book that even if we don't believe, we learn to use art (even secular art) as a resource for comfort, identification, guidance and edification, very much what religions do with art.

Review

Praise for Religion for Atheists
  
“Highly original and thought-provoking book..... de Botton is a lively, engaging writer."—Publishers Weekly starred review  
 
“Quirky, often hilarious …Focusing on just three major faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism — [de Botton] makes a convincing case for their ability to create both a sense of community and education that addresses morality and our emotional life.” –Washington Post 
 
“One has to appreciate his pluck as much as his lucid, enjoyable arguments, and this book, like his previous titles, is a serious but intellectually wild ride. If anyone can ‘rescue some of what is beautiful, touching and wise from all that no longer seems true,’ it’s de Botton.” –Miami Herald 

 “[De Botton] demonstrates his usual urbane, intelligent, and witty prose, always entertaining and worth reading…this book will advance amicable discussion among both believers and disbelievers.”
—Library Journal

“His approach, entertaining and enlightening, provides the thoughtful reader with endless enjoyment and an insight into de Botton's beliefs as well as his generous appraisal of the beliefs of others…brings insight and understanding to how religion may enhance the lives of nonbelievers.” –Shelf Awareness

“In earnest and lyrical prose, de Botton illuminates the practical functions of religion in a secular context…compelling.” –Kansas City Star

“A new book by Alain de Botton is always a treat…De Botton is literate, articulate, knowledgeable, funny and idiosyncratic.” –Forbes.com

“[De Botton] is a master of the well-heeled, chatty and above all reasonable tone…Religion for Atheists is provocative and well-intentioned.” –NPR 
 
“A wonderfully dangerous and subversive book.” –San Francisco Chronicle
 
“De Botton writes at his best when he confronts our abiding human frailty…I can't help but wholeheartedly recommend de Botton's new book. It provokes thought…what continuously separates de Botton apart is his genuine attempt to alleviate loneliness and sadness in a harsh world. If only all writers wrote with such unabashedly kind intentions.” –Huffington Post
 
“Much of the book is common-sensical and insightful, as de Botton rescues ‘what is beautiful, touching and wise from all that seems no longer true’…the wealth of knowledge and felicity of phrasing that de Botton brings to his task make for a stimulating read…Written with de Botton's customary humor, grace and melancholy, Religion for Atheists may not always convince. But it always engages.” –Seattle Times
 
“Provocative and thoughtful …Particularly noteworthy are de Botton's insights on what education and the arts can borrow from the formats and paradigms of religious delivery.” –Atlantic 
 
“Compelling…beautifully and wittily illustrated.” –Los Angeles Times


Praise for The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Exquisitely written . . . A perceptive philosophical meditation on work, with its extraordinary claim to provide, along with love, the principal source of meaning in our lives.”
—The Boston Globe
 
“The workplace as subject matter brings out the best in de Botton’s writing . . . His wit and his powers of ironic observation are on display throughout [this] stylish and original book.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
 
“Like a combination of Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace and pop philosopher Thomas Moore, de Botton’s dense, pensive prose expresses a palpable preoccupation with finding better ways of living in our bewilderingly estranged age.”
—Salon


 
Praise for The Architecture of Happiness
“A perceptive, thoughtful, original and richly illustrated exercise in the dramatic personification of buildings of all sorts.”
—The New York Review of Books
 
“With originality, verve and wit, de Botton explains how we find reflections of our own values in the edifices we make . . . Altogether satisfying.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

More About the Author

Alain is the author of seven non-fiction books that look at the great questions of ordinary life - love, friendship, work, travel, home - in a way that is intellectually rigorous, therapeutic, amusing and always highly readable. His goal is to bring ideas back to where they belong: at the center of our lives.

Customer Reviews

And we all know that things weren't always so nice and pretty as they seem today.
R. Pokkyarath
While I don't agree with all the things Alain de Botton says, he has a lot of interesting ideas, and the book as a whole is very thought provoking.
R. Ennals
Religion also helps us create community and can help us reflect on our moral character.
Greg Linster

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

114 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Kazuma on January 30, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Alain de Botton's new book "Religion for Atheists" is a bold attempt to convince atheists, or those who don't believe in the existence of God, that it is possible to derive important lessons from religions around the world without accepting any supernatural claims they might make. Mr. de Botton is unequivocal about his atheistic stance, and frankly says that he doesn't believe in any supernatural being or phenomenon. But this atheistic position that many people probably adopt today, he claims, should not prevent them from appreciating the effective ways religions have provided to meet what he calls the needs of souls that tend all too often to be left unattended in our secularized world but remain none the less existent.

Based on this central principle, he refers to various fields ranging from education to architecture and shows us how religions have traditionally interpreted or dealt with the problems typically associated with those fields. For example, we tend to assume that the purpose of education is to impart valuable information. Hence our puzzlement over a university lecture that focuses exclusively on certain obscure literary works of a foreign thinker who died several thousand years ago, however much importance its lecturer argues they have. This kind of situation happens because of the fact that education has forgotten its original mission: to fill the moral vacuum that was left by the ebbing of the influence of religion. Religions used to teach each of its adherents how to find happiness, how to deal with suffering, and how to become a better, mature person---a kind of therapeutic pedagogy, the need for which remains as strong as ever despite the fact that we are now living in a godless, secular world. Mr.
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88 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Peter FYFE on February 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
It's refreshing to read a book by an atheist that acknowledges religion isn't a complete waste of time and space and may in fact offer much that enriches human experience and helps us live together nicely (if only we could leave out the ridiculous stories and exploitative hegemonies!).

With deftness, wit, and a wry tone, de Botton explores some of religion's greatest hits, including wisdom, community, kindness, tenderness, perspective, education, architecture, and art. He shows us how effective religion is at what we might call a customer-centric approach to presenting itself and suggests many secular institutions like universities, art galleries, and museums might be much more effective at engaging us with our culture if they borrowed a few tips from the assorted god squads. My favourite is his suggestion that we order human knowledge and learning in easy to grasp thematic ways (stuff about love, loss, marriage etc) rather than the dull, inaccessible academic boffin way (19th century x-ism, early 20th century z-ism etc) we're all so fond of.

What's implied here is that we have a soul (psyche, imagination, heart, whatever) that used to be fed and sustained by religion, a soul that is now starved and in need of sustenance, a soul that needs regular doses of meaning and wisdom so we can make it through the day, a soul we ignore at our peril, a soul that rewards those who care for it, if only we could remember how to do that.

It's not all plain sailing, and some of de Botton's suggestions ring the "yeah, right" bell. But even when his answers are a big wobbly, the questions are smack on the money and must be asked, pondered, and contemplated. So read on, as I did, and dare to imagine how we as a secular society can better meet our great need for a life filled with soul, perhaps with a little help from religion's vast experience.
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150 of 179 people found the following review helpful By R. Pokkyarath on March 6, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
OK, so this is the crux of the book's message:
While we are materially very well off today, our souls are parched and under-nourished more than ever. Our secular societies haven't been able to provide the kind of soul nourishment that religions used to. So, even though we should dismiss the super-natural elements of religion, its cosmological stories and so on, we should embrace its moral, ethical and its institutional contributions. The author talks about how religion teaches us kindness and tenderness and points out the positive role played by religious art, architecture and institutions in guiding humanity. As the author says, "We are most of us lambs in need of good shepherds ..." and institutionalized religions and its caretakers can act as shepherds guiding us sheep.

I agree with the author on some of the points while I found myself disagreeing with many. I agree that there is nothing but supreme goodness in the teachings of the founders of some religions, say, Jesus and Buddha (though none of these founders claimed to be super-natural beings). I personally start my day by reading notes I've compiled from the writings of the Stoics. I think most reasonable people would agree that Buddha's teachings or the Sermon on the Mount, the message of kindness, compassion, eliminating the vices of pride and wrath, can only help us lead better and richer lives. However, I cannot seem to agree with the completely positive outlook the author seems to have on the institutionalized versions of these religions.

Institutionalized religions took the founder's teachings as the kernel and, after adding a layer of tropes and myths, built around it a mighty organizational and power structure. Granted, they have made many contributions.
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