Religion for Atheists

Religion for Atheists

A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion

Book - 2012
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Random House, Inc.
From the author of The Architecture of Happiness, a deeply moving meditation on how we can still benefit, without believing, from the wisdom, the beauty, and the consolatory power that religion has to offer.

Alain de Botton was brought up in a committedly atheistic household, and though he was powerfully swayed by his parents' views, he underwent, in his mid-twenties, a crisis of faithlessness. His feelings of doubt about atheism had their origins in listening to Bach's cantatas, were further developed in the presence of certain Bellini Madonnas, and became overwhelming with an introduction to Zen architecture. However, it was not until his father's death -- buried under a Hebrew headstone in a Jewish cemetery because he had intriguingly omitted to make more secular arrangements -- that Alain began to face the full degree of his ambivalence regarding the views of religion that he had dutifully accepted. Why are we presented with the curious choice between either committing to peculiar concepts about immaterial deities or letting go entirely of a host of consoling, subtle and effective rituals and practices for which there is no equivalent in secular society? Why do we bristle at the mention of the word "morality"? Flee from the idea that art should be uplifting, or have an ethical purpose? Why don't we build temples? What mechanisms do we have for expressing gratitude? The challenge that de Botton addresses in his book: how to separate ideas and practices from the religious institutions that have laid claim to them. In Religion for Atheists is an argument to free our soul-related needs from the particular influence of religions, even if it is, paradoxically, the study of religion that will allow us to rediscover and rearticulate those needs.

Publisher: Toronto : Signal, c2012
ISBN: 9780771025976
Branch Call Number: 210 DEB
Characteristics: 320 p. :,ill., map, ports. ;,21 cm.


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Feb 04, 2014

I like how his meaning was to say that the religious world cannot live without the non-religious world and vice versa. I don't believe in extremes, and it's good to have both, like two wings on a bird.

Dec 15, 2013

Food for thought, but more of an appetizer than a main course.
The book's strongest portions are the ways it points out how modern secular society neglects community and spirituality and shows how customs and ceremonies of more religious societies in years past tended to these needs. What the book does not do well is present how they can be addressed by nontheistic spiritual institutions.

That said, anyone interested in nontheistic spirituality and the history of atheism would enjoy this book. Just don't expect a clear guideline on how to practice it in your daily life.

Aug 31, 2013

"The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true." So commences this book by Alain de Bottom, who was "brought up in a committedly atheistic household", but who notes that his staunchly secular father is buried in a Jewish graveyard. The author clearly loves the good ideas, rituals and social and artistic arrangements of religions - specifically Buddhism, Catholicism, and Judaism, all three of which religions he demonstrates a convincingly deep knowledge. He claims that a well-rounded atheism would benefit to learn from these religions in areas of building community, making relationships last, overcoming feelings of envy and inadequacy, and identifying personal meaning. His analysis is insightful and often humourous, if perhaps his suggestions for specific transfer of ideas is at times weak. An easy read but challenging ideas.

Jan 17, 2013

In the first few pages, I was sure I was going to give this book 4 or 5 stars. The Introduction and the first chapter, on "community", really resonated with me. I thought I was reading a book about how atheists can participate in religious activities without having to believe the supernatural elements underpinning them. But what it became was a book about how atheists could adapt religious approaches to education, art, travel, and other activities to a future, utopian secular society. It's less a "how-to" manual for the here-and-now than a rumination on what might be.

That's not to say there isn't food for thought here. Alain de Botton argues that people are lazy, self-centred, forgetful, and generally... common. He says religions figured this out centuries ago and, over time, developed methods for instilling social cohesion, good behaviour, kindness, and similar virtues in a population that is inherently resistant to such things. He paints a rather dismal picture of human nature, but if you accept that picture, his arguments for how to mould human nature into something a little more peaceful and socially aware does, sort of, make sense. I can't imagine how such drastic social changes would ever be enacted in modern societies, however.

Ultimately, this is not a very practical book; there's not much you can do with de Botton's arguments other than agree or disagree with them.

compelledto Jul 25, 2012

Fantastic read, but not for reading on the beach.

Jul 13, 2012

Raised as a Catholic and having moved leftward as an adult to the United Church, I believe that the author over-idealizes Christian religion and under-emphasizes the hypocrisy of fundamentalist religions. However, he does make some very good points about the fact that we can still learn some valuable things from various religions. I especially like his assertion that universities should move towards more emphasis about teaching about relationships, death, etc and how we can learn from all of religions, literature, cultures, etc about such things, rather than just focus on a dryer study of the history of the classics etc

Apr 24, 2012

Although I am a big fan of Alain de Botton, I am not a fan of "Religion for Atheists". I didn't even finish the book, which is really saying something considering I love his books. The book is neither here nor there with respects to his position. He admits that religious doctrine is untrue, but that we can still learn a lot from it-community, kindness, education, tenderness, how to combat pessimism, perspective, art, and architecture - these are the things that religion has "given us" and that we should refrain from being too harsh with the institution, despite is evident folly. I disagree. We as humanity didn't learn these things from religion - religions took them from humanity. Kindness? Are you serious? De Botton truly must read the Scriptures more closely.

Religions have used secular virtues to control their populations and do what they felt was the work of their Lord. They have stolen ideas, stories, beliefs, and rituals and traditions to "win souls", not to enhance society. Why else would they, as de Botton pointed out, build their churches directly on top of Pagan temples? We have nothing to learn from religion because all that religion has learned it learned from the everyday lives of people. Religion should be grateful to humanism, not the other way around. His argument is like saying a dog should be happy to learn about the art of survival from its ticks and fleas.

Apr 05, 2012

Some of de Botton's earlier books have been useful but this one is just a beat-up. The original thoughts he has are mostly just silly.

Mar 30, 2012

A worthwhile read for people on any point of the debate. Provides remarkable insight into the value of much religious practice.

debwalker Mar 10, 2012

"...a wonderfully provocative book."
Clifford Orwin
Globe and Mail

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