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Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  4,202 ratings  ·  527 reviews
What if religions are neither all true or all nonsense? The boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved on by Alain's inspiring new book, which boldly argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false – and yet that religions still have some very important things to teach the secular world.

Religion for Athei...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 12th 2012 by Hamish Hamilton (first published January 1st 2011)
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Tulpesh Patel
With Religion for Atheists, De Botton’s intention appears to be to reinvigorate Auguste Comte’s project for a new ‘religion of humanity', but seems to think that if atheists steal all the best tools for indoctrination from religious tradition without calling it ‘religion’ then it’s all fine.

Chapter one is titled Wisdom without Doctrine, yet one of the most common ideas presented throughout the rest of the book is that atheists should adopt the highly prescriptive approach of religions, which dic...more
"Hi, my fellow atheists, my name is Alain and I'm a Philosopher."

"Hi Alain. Sounds like a fun job."

"You have no idea. And when I say 'my fellow atheists', I include you lot over there who may believe in something in general but don't live actively religious lives."

"Uh, really? OK, hi."

"I wanted to talk to you about something I'm sure you, as atheists, can relate to. You know how life without religious faith is grey, stressful, depressive and focused solely on selfish personal gain? And we all ag...more
In the arc of human history, religion was the source of moral and ritualistic doctrine until the Enlightenment when reason eclipsed it. Alain de Botton asks if on the altar of reason, secularists have forgotten the subtle, complicated, and intelligent aspects of religion which should not be abandoned along with the doctrine, but revitalized with the imprint of secularism.

The author identifies some of the lessons of religion including communal support, cultural influence, and financial power. He...more
Simon Howard
I really like Alain de Botton and his accessible, absorbing approach to philosophy. But I really didn't enjoy this book, I'm afraid.

The structure of each chapter the book is very formulaic:
a) Identify a positive aspect of religion
b) Muse that this is lacking in modern society
c) Propose a secular solution

The majority of his arguments collapse at stage b. For example:
a) Churches get strangers talking to one another
b) Restaurants don't
c) Set up new restaurants

The problem, of course, is that the as...more
This book made me think of an essay I read a while ago by a fellow named Morozov about the market for pop-nonfiction which has arisen to satisfy the demands of TED Talks. He found Hybrid Reality to be a string of absurdities, cloaked in irrelevant factoids and incorrectly applied buzzwords; his critique of their book seems to me equally applicable to Religion for Atheists. Botton writes with the meandering fatuousness of a man who doesn't have much to say about much but would like be thought a T...more
Happy Easter and all of that. I've been writing, I want to say working but that would be disingenuous (this is more like logographic vomiting than a worked on review), review for weeks now. I'm going to try to cut it up (I mean edit, it) and maybe add something new and call it a review. This will possibly be the last time I make mention to the fact that I'm writing this now, as opposed to a few weeks ago when most of this was written. Any mentions to Easter that might pop up were probably writte...more
Alain de Botton suggests that if you are an atheist with an open mind, you may still see some benefits of religion. It may be possible to construct a humanist religion, as suggested by Auguste Comte--that lacks faith in a supernatural being--but supplies some very real benefits of organized religions. In particular, de Botton looks closely at Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. He shows how these religions are ideally organized to attract members, and that atheists can learn from these structure...more
Jun 06, 2012 Kristina rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one. Alain de Botton is obnoxious.
Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton is one of the most horrible, annoying, anti-atheist book I have ever read…and de Botton is an atheist (or so he claims. I suspect he is a secret Christian). Throughout this book, de Botton reveals himself to be a smug upper-class Brit with nothing but disdain for people in general. I find it unbelievable that he is an atheist because the whole premise of this book is based on the most egregious misconception...more
Adam Higgitt
Many people say they believe in some sort of higher being or essence but reject organised religion. Alain de Botton flips this on its head, arguing that religious rituals are important in helping us to be live better lives but insisting that God is a fiction.

de Botton's basic idea is one I personally find attractive. The triumph of secularism certainly appears to have shorn us of a variety of ways to reflect on our places in the universe and connect more meaningfully with others. His example of...more
Mary Johnson
"Religion for Atheists" tackles questions of the soul in a secular world. As someone for whom religion once structured my worldview (I was a Catholic nun for twenty years and have since left religion altogether), I agree with Alain de Botton's analysis that religion has much to offer unbelievers--not for its stories of the supernatural, but for its response to genuine human needs through community, art, education, and architecture over millennia.

De Botton's prose is lucid and precise. The book's...more
Clif Hostetler
This book is written by an atheist for atheists. The author bases his comments on the premise that supernatural claims of religion are false, but that religion still has many things to teach the secular world.

The author, de Botton, in the book’s introduction recounts that he grew up in a atheistic family environment. I suspect that gives him the freedom to study the merits of religion free from a personal history of rejecting childhood religious teachings. He thus is perhaps able to objectively...more
Sarah Clement
This is a beautifully written book, with some wonderful sentiments. This is not a book for people who struggle to see the positive aspects of religion and focus instead on its negative influences. I understand that view, but it certainly gets tiring, and reading this book was a refreshing change. This is also not a book for the extremely pious, who would balk at the suggestion that humanity can pick and choose amongst the teachings of religion, and translate them to a secular society. However, i...more
Martin Pribble
After all the negative press I’d heard about the latest book by Alain de Botton, I was less than eager to read it. Sure it was about atheism and religion, so in theory it should be right up my alley, but the reviews I’d heard from people, combined with de Botton’s TED talk, “Atheism 2.0″, and the apparent reports that he intended to build a “Temple to atheism”, had me wondering if this book was worth reading at all. I have read work of his in the past; “The Art Of Travel” and “The Architecture o...more
Christopher Myrick
I don't disagree with de Botton's overall points about the value of art, tradition, family, ritual or community. However, neither do many other atheists (nor, for that matter, do his other boogieman... those dreaded libertarians). Much of his thesis is built on straw-man arguments about how the secular and materialists devalue these lofty and important things. He not only lacks evidence for this, but doesn't even back his personal musings with any particularly useful anecdotes. It is true that m...more
Despite the title, Religion for Atheists is in no way an attempt to convert non-believers. Stated bluntly, and up front, de Botton writes that “of course no religions are true in any God-given sense.” As such, there are no arguments about the truth of religion; de Botton begins with a basic assumption of atheism, and from there proceeds to examine religious traditions and rituals with an eye to incorporating them into secular culture, in order to enhance community, compassion, education, art and...more
Susan Leonard
I was really looking forward to reading this but wish i hadn't bothered. I've read 1 other book by Alain which i thought was amazing so had high expectations, and as an atheist who already agrees with the central idea - that secular society can learn from religions - was looking forward to reading Alain's ideas.
For me, Alain protests too strongly the positive benefits he thinks society should adopt from religion, but misses half the argument ie any negative aspects (eg pedophilia scandals, atti...more
The “purpose of this book,” writes Alain de Botton, “is to identify some of the lessons we might retrieve from religions.”

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 p...more
Megha Guruprasad
I was eager to read this book after having watched a rather unsatisfactory TED talk by the author on the subject. It is addressed to atheists who've given up on religion in its entirety, now having to deal with the absence of a number of balancing systems previously catered for by religion.

I'm not sure how legitimate a concern this is, but of this I'm sure- anyone could've done more justice to this subject than this guy has.
Not only is the entire text dry, witless and repetitive, most of the ide...more
I had worried that de Botton would not be a proper philosopher - that he would be vague, or not rigorous, or faddish - but this is a good and even important book.

The book might be summarised as follows. Religion recognises, and has ways to deal with, man's deep neediness; and secular society presently lacks those tools but could adapt them from religion - without itself becoming religious. De Botton makes a variety of concrete suggestions as to how this could be done.

The case is well made and m...more
I read a copy in Dutch. Disturbing new insights for people working in the academic world of art, literature, history, heritage and museums.
I've had this book on my to-read list for sometime and finally stumbled across a copy. It has some interesting ideas even if I think the suggestions for what to do with them are somewhat naive. The basic thesis is that if we assume there isn't actually a god, why did humans invent religion anyway? Lots of reasons, and those reasons are still very valid ones from an atheistic perspective. De Botton goes beyond the traditional arguments of "community-building" to talk about religion's influence on...more
Robert Bor
This author came warmly recommended by a friend, hence my attempt to delve into his work.

Let's assume you're an atheist, like I am. Besides the obvious question whether God exists, you may or may not believe religion is largely a force of trouble, or just may have more disadvantages than advantages.

What the author does, is to delve into the aspects of religion that he deems benign forces for which secular society has no proper answers. Yet. Mr de Botton proceeds to outline a number of secular in...more
Outdated scholarship on Plato's Republic often commits one of two errors: historical readers either attack Socrates' ideas for their supreme impracticality and the ease with which the ideal world could slide into totalitarianism, or they assumed that the dialogue was a work of high philsophical farce, a tongue-in-cheek experiment in reasoning. Plato can be undeniably wrongheaded, and Plato can be whimsical; we wouldn't expect anything less from history's most significant philosopher. But any cri...more
This book was a real eye-opener for me. While I wouldn't describe myself as particularly religious and I wouldn't call myself an atheist either, I found the ideas and suggestions Alain de Botton puts forward in this book to be incredibly thought-provoking. He describes with eloquence and humor the ways religions have, in the past, provided guidance and support for mankind and how we, in the 21st Century, are lacking much of this. There is a void that has opened up that needs to be filled where t...more
I wanted to like this book, I really did. I agree entirely with the premise--that there are valuable tactics used by religions that secular people and institutions could be enriched by. But so many of de Botton's arguments seem to be built on strawmen.

Just a few:
- religious communities are more heterogeneous than secular communities;
- religious people are kinder in general than secular people;
- secular society is overrun with optimists that need a reality check.

Maybe it was because I disagreed...more
There is so much wrong with this book that I scarcely know where to begin.

Let's start with the poor editing. I've never seen a book so poorly edited in my entire life. Double spaced, large fonts, thick margins and a picture every second or third page all seem to deliberately inflate the page count. Sometimes the pictures have nothing to do with the text, rarely to they have captions, and never do they actually illustrate a point or add anything to the text being presented. For example a...more
I like the idea of this book. It's easy as an atheist to denounce all of religion, while failing to recognize that something that has existed throughout human history must fulfill some basic human needs. I like that de Botton lays out for the reader what good religion can offer, without belaboring the veracity of the underlying beliefs driving religious practices.

This is, unfortunately, also the book's failing. If religion is so important to humanity, it certainly makes sense for atheists to try...more
I think the most important thing to note first off is that you don’t necessarily have to identify as an atheist to get something out of this book. Alain de Botton is the staunchest of atheists- so much so that he refuses to even enter into the discussion of whether a god exists, but rather starts his argument from the assumption that all the more mystical aspects of religion are complete nonsense, then moves on to look at how else religions might be useful in helping us to live a better life. He...more
Alan Bevan
I agree with De Botton's fundamental point - that religion does offer a social benefit. If there was no such benefit, it would not be so entrenched across the world.

This book reminds me of Karen Armstrong's point in 'The Case for God' in which she argues that religion provides a scaffolding for discussing and teaching abstract concepts about morality.

De Botton is very respectful of the social benefits of religion, despite not believing in the underpinning supernatural constructs. Perhaps a more...more
Damon Young
De Botton's suggestions have been mocked as 'absurd', but this is a vague criticism at best. Psychoanalytic chain shops and medicinal travel agencies are no more or less absurd than drinking a saviour's blood, confession, singing to a flag, or eggs delivered by rabbits. The only question is whether or not they work to encourage mindful, independent atheist life. If de Botton's orgies and scripted feasts seem odd, the success of his School of Life demonstrates that the best-selling author and bro...more
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Alain de Botton is a writer and television producer who lives in London and aims to make philosophy relevant to everyday life. He can be contacted by email directly via

He is a writer of essayistic books, which refer both to his own experiences and ideas- and those of artists, philosophers and thinkers. It's a style of writing that has been termed a 'philosophy of everyday lif...more
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“[T]he unsympathetic assessments we make of others are usually the result of nothing more sinister than our habit of looking at them in the wrong way, through lenses clouded by distraction, exhaustion and fear, which blind us to the fact that they are really, despite a thousand differences, just altered versions of ourselves: fellow fragile, uncertain, flawed beings likewise craving love and in urgent need of forgiveness.” 11 likes
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