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Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion Paperback – January 8, 2013
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Q&A with Author Alain De BottonQ: 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.
“Commonsensical and insightful. . . . The wealth of knowledge and felicity of phrasing that de Botton brings to his task make for a stimulating read.” —Seattle Times
“Quirky, often hilarious. . . . Focusing on just three major faiths—Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism—he 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
“Compelling. . . beautifully and wittily illustrated.” —Los Angeles Times
“A wonderfully dangerous and subversive book.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A new book by Alain de Botton is always a treat. . . . De Botton is literate, articulate, knowledgeable, funny and idiosyncratic.” —Forbes.com
“De Botton writes at his best when he confronts our abiding human frailty. . . . If only all writers wrote with such unabashedly kind intentions.” —Huffington Post
“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.” —The Atlantic
“The eminently quotable de Botton holds forth on the deliberately provocative premise that ancient traditions can solve modern problems. . . . The premise he is testing is a worthy one: The secular world worships consumerism, optimism, and perfection to its doom, and would do well to make room for a little humility, community, and contemplation instead.” —Boston Globe
“[De Botton] demonstrates his usual urbane, intelligent, and witty prose. . . . This book will advance amicable discussion among both believers and disbelievers.” —Library Journal
“Highly original and thought-provoking. . . . De Botton is a lively, engaging writer.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Illustrates many functions performed by religion that we still require in absence of religions, and society can be seen suffering now from the decline of moderate religions. Read morePublished 18 days ago by Amazon Customer
Having heard part of de Botton's talk on TED radio, I hoped for more. As an atheist, I share his attraction to religious art, music and architecture and to some aspects of ritual. Read morePublished 28 days ago by Judith Kerman
Critique religion (Mostly Christianity and Judaism ) without putting religious people down.
Love his writing. Needs better pictures.
Interesting topic and much learned here.
Highly recommend for those curious about the future of mankind.
A clever book in search for spirituality for those who can accept miracles only in their poetic sense.Published 4 months ago by Zbig (Zbigniew ZEMBATY)
As a deeply religious person, I found Religion for Atheists very thought-provoking and stimulating throughout. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Tim Holmes
De Botton brilliantly analyzes the advantages that humanity has derived from religion over the years, and proposes that the best aspects of religious art, music, architecture, and... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Timothy K. Garfield
Excellent read, not just for Atheists, I learned a lot more about religion and history!Published 6 months ago by N. Uhl
We can do well without the supernatural, bigoted nonsense from the ancient world. But coming together regularly, in an atmosphere that inspires wonder and transcendence, that... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Robert K. Mateja