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Customer Review

68 of 81 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Inanity to the Max (nicely packaged though), November 7, 2012
This review is from: Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion (Hardcover)
This may be one of the most ineffective theses I've ever read. What Alain de Botton purports to do is explain to atheists why they shouldn't completely poo-poo religion and should instead take the pieces that are useful/good and make use of them in their daily lives... what he does instead is provide chapter after chapter of ways that we should remake society in inane and controlling ways.

To give a few examples of his frustratingly simplistic set-ups and comparisons:

In the first chapter (on community) he claims that nowhere in secular society do we have a chance to mingle and talk with other people in the way that people in a church do. But his examples are terrible: "...the commuter trains, the jostling pavements, the airport concourses...". Are those really the only places you can "typically encounter others"? What about at a conference? Or at a sporting event? Or at a political rally? Or at ANY location where you're not trying to get from one point to the other as you are in his examples...

In the section on education he makes a number of overblown statements about how we forget everything we learn in college because it's not repeated over and over and over and because it's not done in a call and response manner the way some sermons are. He goes on to generalize and call all professors boring while claiming that all preachers/pastors/priests are the most exciting speakers on the planet.

This is the kind of language he uses: "Secular education will never succeed in reaching its potential until humanities lecturers are sent to be trained by African-American Pentecostal preachers."

He then describes his ideal universities and museums where we don't learn about things in terms of their historical value but instead only learn about them based on how they affect the human condition.

In the section on Institutions he compares the annual revenue in dollars brought in by the Catholic Church, Proctor and Gamble and... James Patterson... in order to make the point that books just don't get to people the way that established institutions like churches and corporations can. But this is like comparing the revenue from Microsoft and a single iPhone app and then saying that this proves that Apple doesn't matter. Why not throw in a publishing company if we're comparing corporations? His whole point is that an established "brand" provides a shortcut for getting the word out, but that's exactly why most authors are published by publishing companies and not self-published. Oddly enough he then goes on to say that universities are a good example of how well this model works, even though in his very first chapter he complained that universities are completely broken.

These are just a few small examples that really stuck out to me but the entire book is filled with these types of arguments. I wanted to like this book as I really though the premise sounded great but de Botton doesn't actually do what he says he'll do. Instead he just lists ways that religious structure is awesome and derides "secular" society... which really turns out to be "modern" society given how much time he spends decrying all the technology we currently use.

This is basically a poorly written screed against contemporary society dressed up with a cool title and fancy packaging (all the pictures are nice and make you feel like you're reading a much longer book than you are). I don't really see who the audience for this book is - clearly not the religious... but I can't see what the non-religious get out of it either.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 10, 2013 2:23:24 AM PST
soulboy13 says:
I haven't read the book yet, but I think that what he meant by his remark on African American preachers is that their conviction in their delivery of the sermon is something that many educators could use to great benefit. WE all have unpleasant memories of the tedious lecture or lesson, or the bored sales assistant who couldn't give a fig if you buy the product or not.

Posted on Feb 23, 2013 8:07:18 PM PST
Doubting Wes says:
Interesting point of view. I tend to agree that secular people have trouble getting their message out, but they don't have the sizzle of some organization that can offer you everlasting life or complete enlightenment. Have not decided if I will buy this or not. Have to read a few more reviews.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 29, 2013 11:11:33 PM PDT
jb says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 29, 2013 11:15:22 PM PDT
jb says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 30, 2013 3:46:20 AM PDT
soulboy13 says:
Really. What is the purpose of your reply? Please clarify.

Posted on May 4, 2013 7:24:11 PM PDT
"poorly written screed" -- poor logic? maybe. poorly written? not a chance.

"What about at a conference? Or at a sporting event? Or at a political rally?" for developing community? >>> The reason these do not match religious meetings (otherwise known as "going to church") is that these secular events do not occur every week at the same location and same time, etc.... In other words, conferences, sporting events, political rallies, and the like are one off events where you are unlikely to meet the same people twice.

Agree with the last sentence, however. No audience for this book other than a few souls who wonder why modern life is so empty.

Posted on Sep 4, 2013 1:02:16 AM PDT
Ivo Jimenez says:
Interesting points. One question, are you or were you a religious person? I've found this book very interesting and identified with it a lot. I was a christian protestant for 12 years (now I'm an agnostic)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 4, 2013 6:09:39 AM PDT
Z. Freeman says:
I do see your point Mr. Contrarian. Which is why I also said "Or at ANY location where you're not trying to get from one point to the other as you are in his examples..." A few examples of more frequently occurring non-church events: running club, book club, trivia night at a bar.

However, I think the seeing the "same people twice" argument is not what de Botton is making here. He's not arguing that you have to go to the same church EVERY week and talk to the same people - he's arguing that at church you get to mingle and talk to people and have connections (unlike those secular sidewalks and airports). So I think a sporting event is a valid example.

My main point here is that he doesn't address secular events where you actually talk to and interact with people. He compares going to church with "jostling pavements" as if walking down the sidewalk is the secular answer to sitting in a pew. It's a false comparison (like most of the secular/religious comparisons he makes in this book).

Posted on Oct 1, 2013 2:11:12 AM PDT
Eleth says:
Thank you for this review. While I personally think there is something to be gained by not outwardly bashing and insulting people based on beliefs of any kind, I am not for what seems to be the "apologetics" this book seems full of.

I, for one, never socialised in church, and if the kind of crap I put up with there counts as the best humanity can offer (which it doesn't), we're all in trouble.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2013 6:50:18 PM PST
Sean Byrnes says:
As I recall from that chapter, de Botton's point is that at a church, historically, one has a non-trivial interaction with the entire cross-section of one's local community. All of your examples include just a highly-selected subset of the community (of course, in this secular age that is now true of most churches as well). He goes on to argue that the non-trivial interaction is only supportable because it is highly ritualised (in fact, one is able to feel a sense of connection precisely because one is not allowed to mingle and to talk to people!) To be frank, I think that you missed his point completely.
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