- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 5 hours and 5 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.com Release Date: March 6, 2012
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B007HRU0DQ
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Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion Audiobook – Unabridged
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I recommend this book to anyone who has read Dworkin's "Religion Without God and anyone who has sought out other atheist material. And anyone who has read this book should read the Dworkin book!
De Botton in this short and eloquent book attempts to underscore, for the secular world, what he sees as the value of religion for all of society. He does so in a writing style that befits a bemused and observant Montaigne in his tower. De Botton is ever the practical philosopher, extracting lessons where others see perhaps only a pedestrian or cement edifice.
The greatest power of de Botton's message in "Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believers Guide to the Uses of Religion" is its non-invasiveness: for this is not a dogmatic sermon from a devout believer. Rather, it is the quiet petition of a thinker who sees in religion inherent value for believers and non-believers alike.
De Botton sees in religion humanity's most noble and effective attempt to deal with life's most perplexing questions.
He sees in religion an institution, a set of rituals, and a way of seeing the world that can offer value to anyone willing to approach and engage with its true essence, in an open-minded and useful way. Belief in every single one of its tenets is not a prerequisite to deriving value from its efficacy.
"The essence of the argument presented here," continues de Botton, "is that many of the problems of the modern soul can be addressed by solutions put forward by religions, once these solutions have been dislodged from the supernatural structure within which they were first conceived."
To make the case for religion (and de Botton's argument is not made on behalf of any one religion, but rather for all religions), de Botton highlights the ways in which religion can offer clarity and understanding. The book is structured into the following chapters: Wisdom, Community, Kindness, Education, Tenderness, Pessimism, Perspective, Art, Architecture, and Institutions.
In the chapter "Education" for example, de Botton attacks the way in which modern University's teach the Humanities. Some of the arguments he makes are not unique, for they can even be encountered, for example, in the book of a person from within Academia (Mark Edmundson in "Why Read?"). Nonetheless, de Botton's message assumes its own purport in the context of the his broader argument.
De Botton contends the modern University has lost its footing- teaching technical knowledge at the behest of moral education and wisdom. "We have implicitly charged our higher education system with a dual and possibly contradictory message: to teach us how to make a living and to teach us how to live. And we have left the second of these two aims recklessly vague and unattended."
Humanities departments have drifted towards the teaching of style and form over that of wisdom. Edmundson would argue, and de Botton would certainly agree, that education should not get fully lost in the teaching of technical skills. It is losing sight of the forest for the trees.
Ultimately, what is knowledge if it does not teach us how to conduct our lives better? Is analyzing the rhyme and meter of "Hamlet" ultimately worthwhile if its comes at the expense of understanding what Hamlet's existential questions and struggles say about our own human experience? Why are modern universities so reluctant to enter the realm of morality and values? And if there are reasons Universities cannot venture there, what is left to fill the void, to answer our soul's deepest need to make better sense of the world around us?
In a world less hostile to the overall merits of religion, de Botton envisions universities that offer courses "in, among other topics, being alone, reconsidering work, improving relationships with children, reconnecting with nature and facing illness." Universities can learn from religion, argues de Botton, by embracing life's toughest questions, as religion- at very least- attempts to do.
De Botton does not reserve his criticism to the realm of Education. In a similar fashion as he did with Education, de Botton highlights how scientists, philosophers, writers, and other thinkers, in their refusal to institutionalize their ideas in a way that large swaths of humanity can embrace, memorize, and practice, ultimately cheapen their value. Free from any institution, the intellectual prevents his or her own ideas from ever growing into a practical guide for the inquisitive, and yet busy, person of today.
"Religions bring scale, consistency and outer-directed force to what might otherwise always remain small, random, private moments," contends de Botton.
"Thinkers must learn to master the power of institutions for their ideas to have any chance of achieving a pervasive influence on the world."
In this way, the community of religion repudiates "the limits of the lone intellectual". So often intellectuals assume a certain snobbery, if not overtly, at least through the limited audience that they choose to reach through a use of elusive language over a more memorable, popular form. De Botton contends religion more practically understands the limits of the human mind, and the constraints that life puts on its attentions, so much so that the messages of religion are distilled into a form, and communicated through institutionalized practices, so as to ensure their perpetual propagation.
Regardless of your religious leanings, this book will prove worth the read. Alain de Botton, if nothing else, provides a vision of the world that is inclusive, humane, engaged, empathic, and enlightened. He highlights the similarities of religions, rather than their differences. Further, he demonstrates how religion offers lessons for non-believers and believers alike. In so doing, he shows perhaps a better way forward- a way in which humanity can find more common ground, and a greater understanding for one another.