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

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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 Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because they're packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. Blending deep respect with total impiety, Alain (a non-believer himself) proposes that we should look to religions for insights into, among other concerns, how to:

- build a sense of community

- make our relationships last

- overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy

- escape the twenty-four hour media

- go travelling

- get more out of art, architecture and music

- and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs.

For too long non-believers have faced a stark choice between either swallowing lots of peculiar doctrines or doing away with a range of consoling and beautiful rituals and ideas. At last, in Religion for Atheists, Alain has fashioned a far more interesting and truly helpful alternative.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2011

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About the author

Alain de Botton

99 books13.1k followers
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 www.alaindebotton.com

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 life.'

His first book, Essays in Love [titled On Love in the US], minutely analysed the process of falling in and out of love. The style of the book was unusual, because it mixed elements of a novel together with reflections and analyses normally found in a piece of non-fiction. It's a book of which many readers are still fondest.

* Essays In Love (1993)
* The Romantic Movement (1994)
* Kiss and Tell (1995)
* How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997)
* The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)
* The Art of Travel (2002)
* Status Anxiety (2004)
* The Architecture of Happiness (2006)
* The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)

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Profile Image for Tulpesh Patel.
48 reviews68 followers
March 30, 2012
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 dictate precisely what, when and how we should learn, think, communicate and even eat. If that isn’t doctrine, I don’t know what is.

This is a book where papal edicts are seen as a good thing, as they create and ensure uniformity. Everyone thinking and doing things the same way because someone in a position of knowledge (read power) decrees it apparently trumps the plurality of ideas and practices that stem from individual, rational, scientific thinking. People thinking for themselves is apparently just too messy. How de Botton cannot see that adopting the dogmatic approach of the religious is the very antithesis of the ideal of free-thinking that he apparently loves, is beyond me. Who exactly sets the rules in de Botton’s secular vision is conveniently left out, but Comte ended up calling himself ‘the Great priest’, so we can see where this might take us.

When asked on Facebook what I thought of this book, my immediate reaction was: “I'm surprised that it got published; it's poorly reasoned, barely cogent religious apologia. Just awful.” There is the odd phrase that catches the imagination, for example “Religious codes began as cautionary precepts, which were projected into the sky and reflected back to earth in disembodied and majestic forms”, and I found the writing accessible, but that’s as much as I have to say that’s positive about this book.

My initial idea for writing a review of this book was to list and dissect each idea, but actually my criticism would just be the same for all of them, namely “atheists already do that, and often do it better”. I feel plenty of community spirit sitting in a cramped pub with the rest of my skeptical friends; attending weekly talks at the Humanismens Hus is my weekly sermon; I tweeted only last week that looking at the moon immediately calms me down and gives me a sense of perspective when I get worked up over trivial things; and I don’t see how a walk through a National Trust garden with my wife is any different to ‘Zen walking meditation’. Much of the book just reads like I am being told that I don’t enjoy art, relationships, learning, eating, museums or walks in the park in the right way. I’m apparently not getting the most out of my life because, unlike faithful Christians, I am doing it all wrong because no one told me how to do or think things properly.

The whole book is predicated on the flawed and distressingly common assumption that those without religion are missing something vital – that they have a hole in their lives that only religion, or something like de Botton’s poorly realised simulacrum, can fill. In order to justify his thesis, de Botton seems to be at pains to point out how empty, materialistic and misanthropic ‘our’ lives are, but in the process errs far too close to the flimsy quasi-psychoanalysis favoured by exploitative self-help manuals and awful Paulo Coelho books.

de Botton concedes that his ideas are anti-libertarian and most definitely paternalistic, but does not seem to see the accompanying condescension, or if he does, doesn’t mind. “Just like children, therefore, we need assistance. Knowledge must be fed to us slowly and carefully, like food cut into manageable bites.” is one of innumerable instances where there infantilising nature of religion, which I take to be a wholly bad thing, is actively advocated.

Many, if not most, of his ideas are absurd, but there is one example I want to give because it genuinely made me laugh out loud. (Come to think of it, there was a second occasion where I laughed, when I read his whine that that ‘there is just too much news’ these days). de Botton seems to think that adopting the excitable, feverent call-and-response approach so loved by Evangelical and Baptist Christians in the lecture theatre, in response to what he caricatures as the lifeless, disinterested monotone of the majority of university lectures, is the true path to understanding Montaigne and Keats. Hallelujah, Praise Goethe! Even in cases where I half agree with him, for example the idea that university education has become a product-oriented service that is moving away from the lofty ideals of learning for learning’s sake, he constantly undermines himself with half-baked, wholly unworkable ideas.

One of the more notorious of de Botton’s suggestions for re-appropriating religious concepts is the idea of building a ‘temple to atheism’ in central London. The idea was swiftly, and rightly, torn to shreds as soon as it came to light (but not before, of course, fuelling publicity for this book). John Gray summed up the whole thing very nicely in the Guardian “Rather than trying to invent another religion surrogate, open-minded atheists should appreciate the genuine religions that exist already. London is full of sites – churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship – that are evocative of something beyond the human world. Better spend the money that is being raised for the new temple on religious buildings that are in disrepair than waste it on a monument to a defunct version of unbelief.”

It’s a minor point, but one I feel one worth mentioning, that every third page of Religion for Atheists is taken up with a photograph, either of a religious artefact or an irrelevant and poorly realised mock-up of one de Botton’s ideas. A rant about poor university teaching accompanied by a picture of a student asleep at a desk, for those without the imagination to know what a bored student might look like. A few graphs aside, the illustrations add little or nothing to the text and prove to be little more than padding. Take the 90 or so superfluous illustrations away and the whole volume would be a third shorter and a much truer reflection of the flimsiness of the ideas within.

The book would also be more accurately titled Judeo-Christian Religion for Atheists, as save for a couple of nods in the direction of Buddhism, all the other major world religions are completely ignored. This, de Botton explains early on, was the result of a conscious effort to focus on ‘comparing religion in general to the secular realm’. How Islam, as the second largest religion in the world, with arguably a much greater influence on current culture and thinking than Buddhism, doesn’t figure in this, I don’t know.

That said, de Botton has stated many a time that he prefers a non-combative approach to discussing religion and I think this was just an excuse to avoid the inevitable overblown controversy caused by a small group of easily offended Muslims. In a New Humanist interview with him about the book, he explained that “There has been a lot of intolerance from Islam and then a lot of intolerance from people attacking it. I thought the best response was just to ignore it”. By taking a so-called ‘non-combative’ approach, de Botton is just another willing participant in the self-censorship that means that Islam is all too rapidly developing immunity to serious critical discussion, whilst Christianity, and pretty much all other religions, remain fair game. Salman Rushdie’s non-appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival after threats of violence from Muslim activists and the lack of support from the festival organisers is a recent example of this in action.

De Botton’s central thesis seems to be that over-optimistic atheists have too much freedom to think for themselves (and consequently think about all the ‘wrong’ things). I can’t for the life of me think of a reason why complete intellectual freedom, and arriving at understanding for yourself rather than having it drummed into you, is a bad thing. The narrow, dictated wisdom of religion is precisely what has held us back and is the cause of much of the strife caused by the religious. Why would we want any of that? In arguing that atheists should use religion’s tools of indoctrination, Religion for Atheists is scraping de Botton of an empty barrel.
Profile Image for Bjorn.
790 reviews148 followers
February 10, 2016
"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 agree that the world was better back when nobody was poor and everyone always helped each other out, and that religion - in particular catholicism, since they have shiny shiny robes - without exception brings out the best in man and would be the perfect basis of society if not for the annoying factual detail that God doesn't exist, am I right?"

"...Do you need a hug?"

"OK, let's start in this end: For thousands of years, we invented religions to fill basic needs of community, moral guidelines, inner balance, etc. And just because some of us don't believe in God anymore, those needs don't just go away overnight."

"That's probably a good point. Which is why we - "

"So I came up with this brilliant idea! Since there is absolutely nothing in secular society to fulfill those needs, we can simply steal them wholesale from religions! Let's build atheist temples, let's introduce atheist saints - for instance, fashion designers and bankers - and build new organisations with dogma that's as fixed and immutable as that of the Catholic church or McDonald's, to tell us how we should act towards ourselves and others. Clearly this 'freedom' thing isn't working out, as I'm sure we all agree, and what we need is a stern parent to tell us exactly what's good for us and what's forbidden. If it works for five-year-olds, it has to work for adult society too."

"Wait, what - "

"And build restaurants where you have to follow a liturgical script and tell the waiter about your deepest doubts to be allowed to order! And tell married women they're no longer allowed to say 'no' to us in the bedroom!"

"Because marital rape is happiness, gotcha. And 'us'? I thought you were speaking to all your fellow people here, not just 50%?"

"What's your point? Oh, and as a gold star for those who follow my rules, at the end of every year we get an ORGY where we get to have sex with anyone we want!"

"You're joking."

"Absolutely not. Look at this picture in my book where a young woman blows an older man at a huge party. Look how happy he is!"

"...You're not joking."

"And what about the universities? What kind of society are we building, anyways?"

"You mean how they just focus on careers and professions and not enough on humanities?"

"Au contraire! Did you know - I couldn't believe it myself at first when I visited an actual university, I tell you, I was shocked - that we teach university students to think critically about things like literature and history? That's obviously got to go. Today's literature is completely, to quote myself, 'ungodly,' and all that modern culture teaches us is to think in abstracts and question structures rather than just give us clear and simple rules on how to live! Christianity, on the other hand, has realised that people must be told - "

"Fine. So what do you, as an atheist philosopher, suggest we read?"

"Well, quoting myself again, 'twelve verses from Deuteronomy' should be enough. Oh, and artists and film makers and writers shouldn't be allowed to think for themselves just because they know how to paint or photograph or turn a phrase, but just like when the Pope ordered the Sistine Chapel from Michelangelo, they should get all their motives handed to them from - "

"Let me guess: self-appointed philosophers?"

"Couldn't have said it better myself!"

"I really really believe that. So basically, you want to combat the increasing polarisation of society into various dogmatic cults by starting a dogmatic cult of your own?"

"Oh no. My suggestions are perfect for all."

"And by 'all' you mean 'Alain', don't you?"

"No, it's just as generally applicable as... well, how everyone would choose Natalie Portman over Scarlett Johansson since Natalie's eyes reflect the calm we never got from our hypochondric mother. Uh, mothers."

"Oh dear god."

"Well, if you insist..."

"OK, efuckingnough. Honestly, you have a few interesting points somewhere, but your argumentation is ridiculous. Your versions of both secular and religious society are as parodically exaggerated as those of any religious fundamentalist. You pull arguments from thin air and apply copypasted out-of-context bits of religions you happen to find personally appealing like you were selling snake oil, with no hint of acknowledgment of how well they've worked or gone wrong during the past few thousand years, or why a lot of us have put considerable effort into moving away from a society controlled by arbitrary rules made and imposed by the few. Basically, you come across as terrified that society might change, and that if people stop listening to the pope, they might stop listening to you as well, and you're making a hell of a good case for doing so without even realising it. Honestly, your contempt for humanity at large doesn't bother me nearly as much as your contempt for your readers."

"It's interesting you should say that, because after reading the reviews of my book, I've come up with ten commandm... uh, virtues of modern men. Look, 'politeness' is number five. HA! Now what do you have to say?"


"Hey! Where are you going? What about my temple?"
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews67.8k followers
August 12, 2020
Literature For Religionists

Like de Botton, I am an admirer of religion and a despiser of religious organisations. For me, religion is a primary motivator and source of ontological poetry, that is, language which seeks to relativise language by pointing out that language does not capture what is not-language. Religious poetry in all its forms - speech, liturgy, architecture, music, and literature - makes a consistent point regardless of sect, culture, or epoch: Reality, whatever it is, is not contained in words. There are things beyond what can be talked about; and what can be talked isn’t easily connected to anything else.

Therein lies the paradox of religion: religion contradicts itself as soon as it is expressed in words, musical notes, or bricks and mortar. What lies beyond expression, which is actually all experience, eludes any attempt to bring it into language of any sort. This contradiction in no way reduces the beauty of the words, notes or buildings but it does reveal these for what they are, the apparently universal aspiration of human beings to transcend our own limitations. The artefacts we produce in our transcendental quest are, like all poetry, literally useless.

Religious organisation arises from the attempt to establish that religion is useful, that it is somehow necessary for spiritual survival, for moral living, for ultimate salvation. This attempt at justification then typically ramifies into education, physical health care, and other practical social goods. Religious organisation thus seems not just beneficial but also necessary to society. It, of course, is not as demonstrated by the progressive and very successful secularisation of these institutions.

And this is where I part company with de Botton’s appreciation of religion. He believes religion is and should be useful. Religion, he says, creates necessary social bonds; it gives comfort to those in pain; it makes sense of an otherwise confusing and chaotic existence; it changes people for the better. Whether or not these claims for religion are true, they are effects not of religion but of religious organisation in its pursuit of usefulness.

Literature has many of the same effects for many people through its own, generally non-religious, organisation. In literary organisation, however, such activity is known for what it is: commercialisation, that is, the selling of a commodity on the basis of its usefulness, or at least a claim to its usefulness. Literary organisation, like its religious counterparts, absorbs the talents of individuals and directs those talents to promote organisational advantage. Aesthetics are treated as a branch of economics.*

Implicitly de Botton approves of this subservience of beauty to profit. Beauty has no uses. And like real religion, it emerges from its organisational matrix largely by chance and only through struggle. Most literature, like most religious expression, is idolatrous, that is, it inhibits the impulse to go beyond language in the search for reality. They confirm the familiar and the conventional.

Real religion, as real literature, is iconic rather than idolatrous. It points elsewhere, past whatever uses, purposes, and intentions we have adopted. It disconcerts, discomforts, and undermines our certainties, particularly our certainties about language. To paraphrase some of the most important Christian theologians: ‘Whatever we think about God, He is not that.’ Substituting the concept of Reality for God, one can say the equivalent about literature.

I am reminded of Adam Levin’s observation in his novel Instructions: “ ..it is good to do justice because God will kill you and your family whether you do justice or not." So, Alain, neither God nor Reality have any use whatsoever... except perhaps in shaping what usefulness means at all.

*What is actually being sold is often the aesthetic criterion which is then ‘incidentally’ met by the commodity. For example “Buy DAZ because it makes clothes whiter” is an attempt to establish whiteness as the criterion of choice for washing powders, largely because DAZ is very good at that. It may also be terrible for the fabrics, fade colours, and pollute the environment. So the commercial imperative is to dominate the choice of criterion; sales will then follow inevitably. So books are sold variously on the basis of pace, innovation, celebrity recommendation, etc. And religious organisation is ‘sold’ on the various goods it provides to society, ranging from ‘truth’ to ‘mental health.’ Real religion, however, according to Karl Barth, the most important theologian of the 20th century, is its own criterion and has no other uses than itself. According to Barth the sale of religion based on its usefulness is idolatry. De Botton may know something about books. He may also be familiar with religious organisation. But he knows very little about religion.
Profile Image for Simon Howard.
605 reviews14 followers
April 13, 2012
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 assignment of this quality to restaurants is arbitrary. There are plenty of secular places and events, from knitting circles to Skeptics in the Pub, where strangers are encouraged to talk and interact. I simply don't accept the premise that this is a function of religious society that is absent from secular society.

a) The church guides us on practical life skills
b) Universities teach fact-based courses like history, with little regard for life skills
c) Change universities' curricula

I studied at a university with an Institute for Health and Society and a Campus for Ageing and Vitality: I don't accept the premise that universities only offer impractical courses.

And so it goes on. Almost every chapter is built upon one of these illogical leaps - and, not only that, but the structure of the book gives little expression to the downsides of the prescribed form of living encouraged by religion, and its secular reversioning encouraged by de Botton.

Overall, this was a disappointing and frustrating read from one of my favourite authors. I sorely hope he returns to form!
Profile Image for Peiman E iran.
1,394 reviews673 followers
February 10, 2017
‎دوستانِ گرانقدر، آقای "الن دو باتن" در این کتاب مشکلاتی که جوامعِ مختلف درگیرِ آن هستند را بیان نموده، و پس از آنکه بیان می‌کند ادیان و مذاهبِ مختلف چگونه سعی در حل این مشکلات داشتند و هیچگاه موفق نشدند، راه‌ حل ‌های سِکولار و غیر دینی را برای حل این مشکلات ارائه میدهد... ولی به هر حال بحث در مورد همان سؤال تکراری است که: آیا اصلاً دین واقعیت دارد!!؟؟ این کتاب برایِ آنکه اعصابِ خواننده را به هم نریزد، از همان ابتدایِ کار، از این بحثِ بیفایده گذر میکند، چراکه هر انسان خردمند و آگاهی میداند که هیچ دینی از جانب خدا برای انسانهای روی این کره خاکی در نظر گرفته نشده و هیچ پیامبری نیز از طرفِ آفریدگار نیامده است، و تمامی کسانی که خود را پیامبر نامیدند، دروغگویانِ کلّاشی بیش نبوده اند... مهم خِرد و اندیشۀ شما بزرگواران است و به قولِ اندیشمندِ بزرگ که یادش در جان ما همیشه زنده است، <زکریای رازی>، خرد است که پیامبر و راهنمایِ شماست.. همین و بَس
‎عزیزانم، آنان که کتاب دین را تدریس میکنند، خردشان را در گردابِ حماقتِ خود، قربانیِ جهل خویش کرده اند. این عرب پرستانِ بی وجدان، کاری با شما میکنند، که شعور انسانی شما، در فهمِ خودتان سرگردان خواهد شد؛ اینان، دروغهایِ رنگین و پُر از ننگِ خویش را، با لباسِ "الله" میپوشانند تا خزعبلات و مهملاتِ خود را، هرچه بیشتر موجّه جلوه دهند، تا شما را در فهم هر استدلالی کور کنند... و امامان و پیامبرانشان را با تمامِ کوچک بودنشان، بزرگ و مقدس جلوه میدهند تا شما نتوانید در موردِ آن کوچک ها و کوچک زاده ها، تحقیق و پژوهش بنمایید... و بدانید که خردی که با متوسّل شدن به دین بخواهد خود را سامان دهد، در فهمِ عقلانیِ امور دچار مشکل خواهد شد... دین، در پناه خِرد انسانی رشد کرده، و چرت و پرت ها و مهملاتش را سامان داده، ولی خودش عملاً قاتلِ خرد و شعورِ انسانها شده است
‎پس دوستانِ خردگرایِ من، تا میتوانید از متولّیان دین و کتاب هایِ بی ارزش و خطرناک و به اصطلاح آسمانی آنها فرار کنید... چراکه نه آن خدایانِ دروغینِ آنها و نه این کتابهایشان، هیچیک بودن و شدنِ شما را در هستی، قابل تعریف و فهم نکرده است و نخواهد کرد
‎امیدوارم این ریویو برایِ شما خردگرایان، مفید بوده باشه
‎<پیروز باشید و ایرانی>
Profile Image for Marc.
3,022 reviews1,010 followers
April 26, 2020
The bottom line (and also the closing sentence) of this book is simple: "Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone". A self-proclaimed atheist who - spread over 300 pages and illustrated with numerous photographs - delivers an extensive eulogy to religion: what a provocation! And it doesn't stop there: this book also is a merciless settlement with modern secular thinking. Constantly de Botton points to the great shortcomings of atheism (and I assume he also accounts for agnosticism and something-ism): it does not meet the undeniable needs of the human soul. According to him in particular Romanticism, with its hyper-individualism and its aversion to old institutions, was responsible for the turn away from religion and thus for the disregard for the human need for community spirit, meaning, comfort, moral examples, ritual acts, etc. This is, of course, historically utter nonsense, because Romanticism in the 19th century on the contrary provoked a religious revival. It typifies this book fully: de Botton really messes up and approaches both religions and atheism as if they are unambiguous and unchanging phenomena (just like the adherers to these convictions often do themselves).

Not that his analysis is completely without merit: he rightly attributes to religions a number of traits that, for centuries, have indeed played a positive role and still do. As said, the author believes that this is primarily the recognition of human weakness, the human sense of nullity and inadequacy, the need for comfort, forgiveness and a moral example, and the commitment to the wider community. De Botton also nicely illustrates how religions have developed a whole arsenal of techniques that confront man with his shortcomings and suggest convenient ways to escape them; ‘balm for the soul’ is not a pernicious thing to him. And of course, religions also know to drive man (in a gender neutral way, that is) to the highest level of excellency, hrough a whole range of techniques in art and education. Not coincidentally these are the chapters that are the most extensive and best elaborated in this book.

But at the same time this is a very one-sided approach to religions. De Botton is so eager to show the good sides of religions, that he completely ignores the pernicious role they have played in stirring up fear or excessive guilt, pleading fatalism and unconditional obedience to rulers, not to mention the fanatical exclusivism that has fuelled endless bloody conflicts and wars. Another point of criticism is that he limits those religions, for practical reasons, to almost exclusively Christianity (and especially the Catholic variant). Judaism and Buddhism are only occasionally mentioned, and the world's 2nd religion, Islam, remains completely unmentioned. He also pretends that all the good practices he cites were and are universally characteristic of the religions involved, completely ignoring the historical and geographical character of religious features.

Finally, I find it truly testifying to intellectual laziness when de Botton proposes that secular life should simply take over the interesting chunks of religion without that 'weird hocus pocus' attached to it. This really is too easy, because just that ‘weird hocus pocus’ has in many cases been the source of inspiration and the breeding ground for those so-called positive qualities, and you cannot just put them aside. Do not misunderstand me, I'm not saying anything here about the 'truthfulness' of religions (the famous 'adaequatio'-issue); like de Botton, I find a discussion about the real existence of a God nonsensical and beyond issue. But the core of religions is that the meaning of human existence is placed with something that transcends man, and each of them has translated this intuitive feeling into magnificent stories, rituals, and ethical guidelines. Take that away, and you end up with the list of soulless acts and techniques that de Botton suggests. In one of his closing chapters he briefly presents the secular religion elaborated by the 19th century positivist Auguste Comte; it is the perfect illustration of how meager his alternative is. No, despite some merits, this book is a real disappointment, although I admire the courage de Botton had to tackle such a delicate subject.
Profile Image for Mary Johnson.
Author 3 books44 followers
March 12, 2012
"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 use of photographs and white space makes this series of essays something of a secular illuminated manuscript, a book of meditations on being human.

As the best religions do, de Botton's book appeals not only to the mind, but also opens a human response through aesthetic beauty, playfulness and an appeal to the emotions and imagination. De Botton envisions a world both free from religion's superstitions and open to the needs of humans for community and inspiration. I enjoyed dreaming along with him.
Profile Image for Jacob.
17 reviews8 followers
November 15, 2012
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 Thinker and rewarded with speaking engagements. His arguments are unsubstantial, and when he seems to be coming close to actually saying something, he throws out a red herring and runs off in pursuit. It was thus very amusing to me to find out that he did a TED Talk about this book almost immediately after it was released.

The most cringe-inducing example of this has got to be Chapter VII, "Perspective." He says that Job should be an important text for atheists. He recaps the plot of the Book of Job, quotes from it, and gives a cursory summation of its implications. We then jump to talking about Spinoza. He concludes this section by saying, "Our secular world is lacking in the sorts of rituals that might put us gently in our place." Which alright, fine, whatever, I don't agree but go on. He mentions Jewish rituals which might gently put us in our place in the cosmos. He says that we should look to distant galaxies for a sense of scale. Then, apparently frightened by the notion of having to explain how this would be implemented and how it might affect society, he babbles about how far galaxies are from us for three paragraphs. I don't know, maybe if you're in search of profundity it sounds pretty good? I can see the byline for his speeches now, "An effortless synthesis of Old Testament faith, secular Judaic thought, and Sagan-like secular philosophy." But if you're just a guy skimming through a book a Christian on Facebook told you to read it's not very impressive.

The parts of this that I actually found personally irritating were the bizarre assumptions of what naturalists feel about the world.
"For some atheists, one of the most difficult aspects of renouncing religion is having to give up on ecclesiastical art and all the beauty and emotion therein."
What?! Who says this? No one says this. Either source someone saying, "I do not enjoy Bach because he is a filthy deist" or call the book, "Judeo-Christian Tradition for Idiots," because I can't think of a prominent atheist thinker saying that they dislike religious art because it is religious. That said, the chapter is somewhat redeemed by his hilarious position that avant garde is bad because you have to have a grounding in art history to enjoy it, and that we'd be much better off if we just stuck with circa Renaissance realism.

Oh, speaking of Judeo-Christian, that's the other thing. There's no Islam or Hinduism here, I guess because as a secular Jew from a Christian society writing about anything else would require research, which is hard. There's some nods towards Buddhism, but I got the feeling it was an afterthought, like oh, I need to incorporate a third religion so I can claim to be comprehensive.

That is actually a good summation of the book, it is a bunch of subjects cobbled together in a sleight-of-hand attempt at appearing wise and far-reaching. I recommend reading it if you want a few inadvertent laughs and a mild headache.
Profile Image for Kristina.
1,202 reviews463 followers
June 4, 2016
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 about atheists: we are incapable of compassion, kindness, morality, ethics and spirituality due to our inability to believe in miracles, gods, angels and other magical creatures and magical thinking. Because of this, he posits that we (atheists) should and must adopt certain guidelines from religion in order to bring back those missing qualities into our secular lives (minus the gods). The book is divided into ten chapters which cover the areas of secular life that de Botton insists should be restructured to be more meaningful. Although I found this book to be incredibly offensive to the intelligent reader at every turn of the page, I will address only what I found most troubling. Here is a summary of de Botton’s consistent problems:

a. Over-generalization. De Botton over-generalizes everything. Every person (particularly atheists) fit into the one category he created. His world does not allow for variances in thoughts, beliefs or practices. This is why I don’t believe the man has ever spoken to another human being out of his own socio-economic class. He appears to have gotten his theories about other humans by observing them in a public market, as if we were zoo animals.

b. He ignores the many negative aspects of religion and ascribes nothing but positive motives to religions’ many rules governing thought and conduct. Apparently the idea that religions have excellent (and unsavory) reasons for controlling persons’ thoughts and actions never occurred to him.

c. The terms “secular/secularism” and “atheist/atheism” are used interchangeably. These words do not have the same meaning. It is quite possible to want to live in a secular society and yet be a religious person. For freedom of and from religion to be possible, we must live in a secular society.

d. Here is de Botton’s derogatory view of atheists: “We have grown frightened of the word morality…We flee from the idea that art should be uplifting or have an ethical mission…We have no mechanisms for expressing gratitude…We resist mental exercises…Strangers rarely sing together” (apparently he has never watched the many Youtube videos of flash mobs gathering in public locations to sing; page 14).

e. The “solutions” de Botton proposes to adapt religious practices for secular society are so ridiculous and unpractical as to be useless. He also manages to be offensive to both believers and atheists alike when praising what he views as a good aspect of religion but what seems to me to be its worst. For example, he is impressed by how profitable religious organizations are when he compares the Catholic Church to the McDonald’s fast-food corporation and insists atheists also must have organizations that are big profit machines.

De Botton mourns the state of the secular community. As far as he is concerned, we are all in our little worlds and no longer connect with our neighbors in meaningful ways. We rarely see or speak to people who are different from us and because we don’t interact with people outside of our own sphere, we dislike and distrust them as “others.” Oddly enough, de Botton uses city life (London) as an example of this. If he had used rural villages or small cities as an example, I would have (somewhat) agreed. However, cities—particularly larger cities such as London—are prime examples of melting pots of many different kinds of people from all areas of the world living together. To me, cities are the great leveling field of wealth and poverty. On New York City’s swanky Fifth Avenue, the wealthy must walk the same sidewalks as the poor or middle class. Many of the city’s inhabitants ride mass transit together, eat at the many excellent delis and interact with each other. It’s difficult to continue to think of the black/Hispanic/Middle-Eastern man as “other” if you see him every day on the train and once in a while share a newspaper. Large cities are the best example of strangers mingling on a daily basis. However, according to de Botton, a successful community is a religious community and he cites a Catholic Mass as the perfect example. De Botton says that no matter what a person looks like or what his native language is, he is accepted into the religious community. This is clearly his idea of the perfect community—strangers (supposedly) breaking bread together, singing together and greeting each other despite their (possible) differences. This is a lovely idea but de Botton clearly overlooks the fact that these strangers all have one thing in common that overrides any differences of skin color or manner of speaking: common ideology. While the church may welcome the funny-looking guy into their community, they do so because he believes what they believe. If it is revealed that he perhaps doesn’t agree with them on the question of abortion or homosexuality or another important tenet of that particular religion, he may be kicked out of that community as an “other.” The religious community can be just as unforgiving, unfriendly and closed-off as he perceives the secular community to be.

His solution to the lack of connection and fear of the other within the secular community is to create Agape Restaurants. At these restaurants, you are seated at long tables with strangers and the food is served by passing dishes around the table. A guidebook, based on the Jewish Haggadah or the Catholic missal, will lay out rules of how to behave at the meal. “The Book of Agape would direct diners to speak to one another for prescribed lengths of time on predefined topics…One would be privy to accounts of fear, guilt, rage, melancholy, unrequited love and infidelity that would generate an impression of our collective insanity and endearing fragility” (46). This idea of having “guidebooks” to help us think, speak, act, and eat certain ways is a persistent theme throughout this book. De Botton is clearly obsessed with the need to control people’s thoughts and actions and is greatly impressed with religions’ ability to do so over many years.

Another side to community that de Botton thinks is important is harmony. So of course you would naturally think of religions when you think of harmonious living, right? He wants to promote a day of atonement/apologies when we apologize to others for our hateful comments or wrongful actions. He also thinks it is important to understand that life is difficult and full of rules and regulations that must be followed and that (following the example of the medieval Feast of Fools in which persons were allowed to be drunk and sacrilegious for a day), certain days of the year should be designated as days to let chaos reign so we can be exempted from having to be rational and faithful. I thought that’s what the weekend was for? As an example of this, there is a drawing on page 67 showing naked people fornicating (and smacking each other with whips) on a dinner table at the Agape Restaurant with this caption: “Yearly moment of release at the Agape Restaurant.” Uh, yeah. As if atheists don’t have enough problems. He wants us to advocate having a day of debauchery? That’s ridiculous.

Much of what de Botton writes is so ludicrous I think surely the man must be joking. I even scribbled that at the top of one page: “Tell me this is a joke.” The whole book to me is one long gag, albeit a very unfunny one. In his chapter regarding education, de Botton advocates “doing away with fields like history and literature, ultimately superficial categories which, even if they cover valuable material, do not in themselves track the themes that most torment and attract our souls” (121). Is it possible for me to express how much I despise this man? Really, history and literature do not address the themes that “torment our souls”? I find this hard to believe. Perhaps not every aspect of history or every book taught is going to address everyone’s needs, but surely even the most hard-hearted person can take away something from those subjects of study. He also believes that all professors drone and all students are bored and no one in a secular university is excited about learning. The prescription to this is, of course, religion. Humanities lecturers (why just the humanities? Is it okay to be bored in science class?) need to be trained by African-American Pentecostal preachers so that lectures can be given in the same rousing style as sermons: “now-tearful students fall to their knees, ready to let the spirit of some of the world’s most important ideas enter and transform them” (132). De Botton, please look up the word “melodramatic” in a dictionary.

After reading this terrible book, I am struck by how delighted de Botton is with the idea of controlling people’s actions and thoughts and having our daily lives organized based on one religious edict or another. He clearly doesn’t trust the great unwashed masses of secular humanity (it’s often difficult to know if he means atheists or people in general) to be able to handle their own affairs, think for themselves, come to their own spiritual insights, or feel emotions without being told how and when to do these things. Every one of his secular solutions involve rules, guidelines and some other form of control/monitoring. This to me is a scary idea; one of the reasons I am an atheist (aside from the whole supernatural aspect) is I don’t like how religious organizations try to control their followers’ thoughts and actions. I am perfectly capable of thinking and feeling without religious guidelines.

The other overwhelming realization I gain from this book is how ridiculous de Botton is. Not just for his idiotic “solutions” of Temples of Tenderness and travel agents who will study your soul and send you somewhere to revive your inner spirit, but how he oversimplifies and generalizes everything. He has no respect for people in general and in particular his continued use of the word “secular” when he must mean “atheist” shows his lack of true sensitivity and understanding. Here’s a paragraph sneering at “secularists”:

It is the secular whose longing for perfection has grown so intense as to lead them to imagine that paradise might be realized on this earth after just a few more years of financial growth and medical research. With no evident awareness of the contradiction they may, in the same breath, gruffly dismiss a belief in angels while sincerely trusting that the combined powers of the IMF, the medical research establishment, Silicon Valley and democratic politics could together cure the ills of mankind (185).

And this guy says he’s an atheist? I think he’s a jackass. In every chapter of this awful book, de Botton displays no understanding of atheists nor of the differences between secularism and atheism; he insults the intelligence of the reader (supposedly his target audience of atheists) by insisting people cannot get meaning from art, literature, or architecture without some kind of religious-inspired guidelines; shows his creepy eagerness to develop guidelines and programs to control how people think and act in almost all life activities; and completely ignores the negative consequences of religion on society. He is smug, self-satisfied in his own superiority and obnoxious. This is the most aggravating book I’ve read in a long time. I don’t recommend it unless you too want to see how extremely ludicrous he is. This review could barely touch on the many instances of boorishness, idiocy and complete craziness contained within the covers of this deplorable book.
Profile Image for Koray.
194 reviews50 followers
January 9, 2021
“…Dinler içimizi saran yalnızlık hissiyle ilgili çok fazla şey biliyor gibiler…” / “...Hıristiyanlık, bedenlerimiz acıya ve çürümeye karşı dayanıklı olsaydı hepimizin birer canavara dönüşeceğini kulağımıza fısıldar...” / “...Yalnızca dinler, ruhun gereksinimlerini yüksek miktarda paraya çevirmeyi başarmışlardır...” / Yıkıcı güçlerimiz yaşlandıkça artar; Çoğumuz merhametli bir sürüye ve iyi çobanlara gereksinimi olan koyunlarız aslında..." Dinin seküler dünya için ne ifade ettiğini ve önemini çok iyi ele almış Alain de Botton. Ben de bir Panteist olmama rağmen, dinin, insanın hangi pratik ihtiyaçlarına cevap verdiğini zaman zaman düşünürüm. Bu kadar tapınak niye var, bu kadar insan neden illa bir dine inanmayı tercih ediyor diye. Bu kitapta tüm bu soruların cevapları gayet açık ve güzel bir şekilde açıklanmış. Dini eleştirmek yerine, onun yöntemlerini ve amacını anlamaya çalışmalıyız. İnanan veya inanmayan herkesin okuması gereken bir kitap olduğu konusuna en ufak bir kuşkum yok. Kitaptan aldığım notları, buraya sığmadığı için, seçerek ekliyorum buraya:
“….Hem inançlı, hem de inançsız grupIardan oIuşan köktenciIerin işgaIine uğramış bir dünyada, dini inancın tamamen yok sayılarak reddedilmesini, kimi dini ritüelIere ve kavramlara saygı duyarak dengeIemek mümkün olmalı….”
“….Tanrı öImüş olabilir; ancak onu yaratmamızı zorunIu kıIan çok önemIi konular hâlâ varlıklarım koruyorlar ve bizden çözüm bekliyorlar, üstelik de yedi ekmek ve balık hikâyesindeki kimi bilimsel tutarsızlıkları fark etmeye davet edildiğimizde de yok olmuyorlar…”
“…Ancak çok sayıda inanç sistemi, tam da bu yüzden, inananların servis edilen tabaktaki her şeyi yemeleri konusundaki anlamsız ısrarları sonucu çökmüştür….”
“…Bu kitap bazı dinlere haklarını teslim etmeyi amaçlamıyor, o dinlerin kendi savunucuları var. Temel amacı, dini hayatin seküler toplumun sorunlarını çözmede verimli bir biçimde kullanılabilecek kavramları içeren kimi yönlerini incelemek. Sorunlu bir gezegen üzerinde, sona ereceği kesin olan bir varoluşun yol açtığı kriz ve alanlarla karşı karşıya kalan çağdaş zihinleri avutmayı başarabilecek birkaç yönü damıtmak için dinlerdeki tüm dogmatik yönleri ateşe vermeyi amaçlıyor. Çok uzun bir zamandır gerçekliğini yitirmiş olanlar içinden, güzel, dokunaklı ve bilge olan birkaç şeyi kurtarmayı ümit ediyor…”
“…Topluluk ruhunu, dini temellere oturtmadan yeniden yaratmak mümkün müdür?...”
“...İnsanların birlikte huzur içinde iyi bir hayat sürmelerini sağlayacak düzenle ilgili her türlü soruyu yanıtlayacak, kesinliği kuşku götürmeyen, iyi davranış kurallarını hiçbir zaman belirleyemeyeceğiz...”
“..İnsan öldürmenin ve para çalmanın yanlış olduğunu söylemek kolaydır; ancak birine aşağılayıcı laflar etmenin ya da cinsel açıdan onunla hiç ilgilenmemenin sonuçlarıyla ilgili ahlaki uyanda bulunmak için zengin ve zeki bir hayal dünyası gerekir...”
“...Dinlerin ahlak yaklaşımında, bir çocuk gibi davranılmaya hararetle karşı çıkan kişi, henüz olgunluğa erişmediğini gösterir. Liberter düşünce, özgürlük saplantısı yüzünden çocukluğumuzda sınırlara ve rehberliğe duyduğumuz gereksinimin hâlâ içimizde var olduğunu ve paternalist stratejilerle çok fazla şey öğrenebildiğimizi görmezden gelir. Fazlasıyla büyümüş olduğumuz için bizi canımızın istediğini yapabileceğimiz düşüncesiyle baş başa bırakmak, ne çok kibar, ne de çok özgürleştirici bir harekettir...”
(Her bilgi bizi değiştirir ve geliştirir. Hatta bazıları kişiliklerimizde iz bırakır.)
“...Karolenjler kimdir? Fenomenoloji nasıl oluşmuştur? Emerson ne istiyordu? Bu tür bilgilerin biz farkına varmadan kişiliklerimizin duygusal açıdan gelişmesine katkıda bulunduğu bir gerçektir, en azından özel hayahmıza yansımaları olur bu bilgilerin, ailemizle birlikteyken ya da tek başımıza doğada yürüyüş yaparken onların etkisiyle değiştiğimizi hissederiz...”
“...Hıristiyanlık ise daha en başta içimizdeki karmaşıklığa odaklanır, hiçbirimizin nasıl yaşayacağımızı bilmeden bu dünyaya geldiğimizi söyler..”
“...Ego, bedenin varlığının, onu duyusal tatmin projelerinde kullandığı zamanlar dışında, pek de farkında değildir; çünkü karşısına çıkan her şeyi kendi amaçları için bir araç olarak görüp kötüye kullanma alışkanlığına sahiptir. Ego, bedenin kırılganlığına karşı gizli bir öfke besler aslında, bu kırılganlık onun midesini bulandırır. Bedenden tek istediği, ona verdiği görevleri yerine getirmesi, sırt kasları itaat ve endişeli bekleyişle gerilmiş bir halde masasına eğilerek öylece durmasıdır. Ancak şimdi egodan denetim gücünü, doğumumuzdan beri arka planda sürüp gittiği halde çok ender fark edilip takdir gören o nefes alıp nefes verme eylemine devretmesi, böylesine sıradan ve doğal bir eyleme boyun eğmesi istenir. Şaşkınlığa kapılan ego, öylesine bir karmaşanın içine düşer ki beklenmedik olaylar sonucunda sefil bir handaki sert bir şiltenin üzerinde yatmak zorunda kalan bir kraldan farkı kalmaz. Egonun istekleri yerine nefes almaya odaklandığımızda, ego da bilincimize türlü görevler yüklemeyi bırakır ve böylece normalde farkına varmamıza izin vermediği kimi unsurlar bilincimize sızmayı başarır. Her zamanki ilgi alanlarımızla hiçbir ilişkisi olmayan, hem iç dünyamızdaki hem de dışarıdaki şeyleri fark ederiz. Nefes almaya odaklandıktan sonra uzuvlarımızın, bedenimizi destekleyen iskeletimizin ve içimizde sürekli dolaşan kanın farkına varırız. Yanaklarımızın ne kadar hassas olduğunu anlarız birden, odadaki hava akımlarını hissederiz, giysilerimizin kumaşının cildimizdeki yumuşak dokunuşlarıyla ürpeririz....”
“...Bilişsel olduğu kadar duyusal açlık da çeken varlıklar olduğumuzu gören dinler, zihinlerimizi etkilemek için her türlü yöntemi ve kaynağı kullanmışlardır. Çağdaş eğitim yaklaşımlarına ters düşseler de benimsedikleri yöntemlerin çoğundan, elek gibi olmuş zihnimize teolojik ya da seküler düşünceleri aktarmayı amaçlayan bir plan hazırlarken kesinlikle yararlanılmalı. Bu teknikler, incelenmeyi ve uygulanmayı fazlasıyla hak ediyorlar; bunu yaparsak hayatımızın kalan kısmında bir önceki kuşakların bir ya da iki hata daha az yapma şansını yakalayabiliriz...”
(Ateizmin büyük hatası)
“...Zayıflıkları nedeniyle doğaüstü güçlere sarılan inananlara saldırmanın şehvetine kapılan ateistler, hepimizin hayatının bir parçası olan zayıflıkları görmezden gelme tehlikesiyle karşı karşıyalar. İnsani olarak nitelenip onurlandırılması gereken kimi gereksinimleri çocuksu gereksinimler olarak sınıflandırabilirler; ancak çocuksu olan duygu ve düşüncelerle gerçek bir hesaplaşma yaşamadan insan olgunlaşamaz ve her yetişkin de arada sırada bir çocuk gibi teselli edilmeyi ister...”
(Ateizmin diğer hatası, bunalım anlarında kendimize nazik olmamız gerektiğini söyleyen dini görmezden gelmektir.)
“...Hayatımızı yoluna sokabilecek sevecen bir anne ya da ilgili bir babanın dünyada bir yerlerde olmadığını bilmek, onların bir biçimde var olmasını deli gibi istediğimizi görmezden gelmemizi gerektirmez. Din bize bu tür bunalım anlarında kendimize karşı nazik olmamızı öğütler. Böyle durumlarda, ümitsizliğe ve korkuya kapılıp şaşkın bir halde birinden yardım isteyerek ağlarız -görünürde hiçbir şeye inanmıyor olsak da, annemiz uzun zaman önce ölmüş olsa da, babamız bize vakit ayırmayan, zalim biri olsa da, artık dünya üzerinde sorumlu bir yetişkin olarak yaşıyor olsak da...”
“...Yaşadığı çağdaki teknolojik ilerlemeden -özellikle de teleskoplardan ve onların başka gezegenlerle ilgili verdikleri bilgilerden-büyülenen Spinoza, kendi dışımıza çıkmak için hayal gücümüzü kullanmamızı ve amaçlarımıza ne kadar ters düşse de düşünce gücümüzü evrenin yasalarına teslim etmemizi söyler. İşte tam da bu noktada Spinoza'nın önerisinin Tanrı'nın Eyüp'e verdiği öğütten o kadar da uzak olmadığı anlaşılır: Yaşadığımız acıları önemli bir varlık olduğumuza dair kapıldığımız yanılsamadan güç alarak canlı tutmak yerine temeldeki hiçliğimizi görüp kavramalıyız. Tanrı kavramını reddeden bir toplumda yaşamanın en belirgin tehlikelerinden biri şudur: Bu tür bir toplum, bireylerine olağan sınırların ötesinin de var olduğunu sık sık anımsatmaz ve bu eksiklik yüzünden bireyler hayal kırıklığı yaşayıp kendilerini mahvettikleri dönemlerde ne yapacaklarını bilemezler. Tanrı öldüğünde insanlar -kendilerine çok fazla zarar vererek- psikoloji sahnesinin merkezini işgal ederler. Kaderlerini kendilerinin belirlediğini düşünürler, doğa kurallarına karşı gelirler, toprağın ritmini unuturlar, ölümü yadsırlar, erişip denetim altına alamadıkları şeylere önem vermez, onların değerlerini anlamaya çalışmazlar; bütün bu yanlış davranış biçimlerini gerçekliğin sivri köşelerine sertçe çarpana kadar sürdürürler. Seküler dünyamız, bizi kendi yerimizde kibarca tutmayı başaran türdeki ritüellerden yoksundur. Zihnimize şu düşünceyi bize hiç fark ettirmeden yerleştirir: İçinde bulunduğumuz şu an tarihin en önemli anıdır ve hayattaki her şeyin ölçüsü insanların elde ettiği başarılardır -sonunda da doğal olarak kendimizi dipsiz bir endişe ve kıskançlık girdabında buluruz...”
“...Sanat müzeleri bizim yeni kiliselerimiz olmuştur. Bu benzetmeye dayanan savın, insanı büyüleyip kendini kabul ettirme olasılığı çok yüksektir. Ne de olsa müzeler ile kiliseler arasında dikkat çekici sayıda benzerlik vardır. Müzeler, tıpkı kiliseler gibi benzersiz bir statüye sahiptir..."
“...Düşünme Tapınağı: Utangaç ve uçucu düşüncelerin doldurmasını beklemek için inşa edilmiş bir yer. rahatsız edici olsa da, kesinlikle belli aralıklarla yalnız kalmalarını telkin eder. Modern Düşünme Tapınağı da bu felsefenin izinden gidecektir: Düşüncelere dalmamız için ideal ortamı yaratacak, hayatımızı başarıyla sürdürmek için gerekli olan, ancak her an bir konuyla meşgul olan zihnimizde arada bir, insanlardan kaçan ürkek geyikler gibi sessizce belirip yok olan derinlerdeki sorunlarımızı çözmemize aracılık edecektir...”
(Seyahat sadece bir rahatlama aracı değil, aynı zamanda varoluşsal bir iyileşme aracıdır.)
“...Bu tür bir kutsal mekan, bir başkentin enerjisine adanmış olabilir, bir başkası da ıssız bir çölün sakinleştirici sükunetine, bir üçüncüsü de tropik güneşin gücüne adanabilir. Bu tapınaklar, onlar olmadan bir türlü tam kavrayamayacağımız o yerlerin ruhlarına ev sahipliği yaparlar ve bir araya gelerek seyahatin yalnızca bir eğlence ya da rahatlama aracı değil, aynı zamanda varoluşsal bir iyileşme aracı olduğunu anlamamıza yardımcı olurlar...”
(Ruhlarımızı eğitmek için seküler tapınaklara ihtiyacımız var.)
“...İnsanların ne kadar farklı gereksinimi varsa, bu dünyada o kadar farklı temada tapınağa yer vardır. Asıl önemli olan nokta, dini mimarinin temelindeki amaçlan canlandırmak, onları hayata geçirmek için çabalamak zorunda olmamızdır. Bu amaçları, insan biçimindeki tanrısal varlıklara adanmış kutsal mekânlar aracılığıyla değil, önemli duyguları ve soyut düşünceleri vurgulamak için tasarlanmış seküler tapınaklar aracılığıyla yerine getirebiliriz. Bu tapınaklar, tıpkı Ortaçağ Hıristiyan kasabalarında gökyüzüne yükselen kiliselerin sivri kuleleri gibi, umutlarımızı anımsatma işlevini yüklenecektir. Mimari üslup, boyut ve biçim açısından farklılık gösterecektir -tapınaklar, küçük kulübelerden hangarlara kadar uzanan farklı biçimlerde olabilir, geri dönüştürülmüş lastik parçalarından ya da altın tozlu tuğlalardan yapılabilirler, ofislerle dolu binaların yanında yükselebilir ya da caddelerin altındaki ışıklandırılmış mağaralarda gizlenebilirler-ancak hepsi kutsal mimarinin en eski amacıyla bağlantılı olacaktır: ruhlarımızı eğitmek ve onların bozulan dengelerini düzeltmek için, akıllıca tasarlanmış, üç boyutlu bir mekâna girmemizi sağlamak...”
“...Comte'un her şeye rağmen bırakmayı başardığı miras şuydu: Seküler toplumun kendine özgü kurumlara gereksinimi vardır; bu kurumlar, insanların siyaset, aile, kültür ve çalışma ortamının karşılamadığı gereksinimlerine seslenerek dinin yerini alacaklardır...”
Profile Image for Ceyda.
47 reviews8 followers
February 28, 2018
İnsana kendi benimsediği düşünceleri sorgulatan kitapları seviyorum. 'Atesitler için Din' de biraz öyle. İnsana hem inancını hem de inançsızlığını sorgulatıyor. Bununla birlikte seküler ve ya inançsız insanlar üç büyük dinin (müslümanlık-hristiyanlık-musevilik) hangi özelliklerinden faydalanabilir, hangi öğretilerini kendine ilke edinebilir ve bunları niye yapmalı bunlardan bahsediyor Alain de Botton. Bunu yaparken de ne dinleri sertçe eleştiriyor ne de inançsızlara dini çiğ bir şekilde sunuyor. Dinlerin birleştirici, affedici, insanı erdemli biri olmaya iten öğretilerini hep sevmişimdir. Farklılıklardan beslenmek her zaman güzel...
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,056 reviews681 followers
May 20, 2019
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 an 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 search the field of religion for insights into how they can build a sense of community, make our relationships last, overcome envy, survive feelings of inadequacy, and reconnect with the natural world.

The following chapter titles indicate the areas of human endeavor that the book examines: 1. Wisdom without Doctrine, 2. Community, 3. Kindness, 4. Education, 5. Tenderness, 6. Pessimism, 7. Perspective, 8. Art, 9. Architecture, and 10. Institutions. This book comes across much as an extended essay that is probably not all that convincing to dedicated atheists. However, those readers who truely appreciate the merits of poetry, music, art, literature, and study of history will be the individuals most likely to comprehend the message of this book. That is because those are the people who can appreciate the ways that the liberal and fine arts along with religion can enhance the human experience even though they do not sustain corporeal life in a direct tangible way.

Interestingly, and unbelievably, this book has many photographs scattered amongst the text. I'd guess there are about a hundred different photos. I think the author is trying to stimulate the reader to ponder beyond the text. In other words, read between the lines.

Below are some quotations from the book that caught my attention:
"The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true ..." (p11)

"We learn from religion not only about the charms of community. We learn also that a good community accepts just how much there is in us that doesn’t really want community ..." (p66)

“Christianity is focused on helping a part of us that secular language struggles even to name, which is not precisely intelligence or emotion, not character or personality, but another, even more abstract entity loosely connected with all of those and yet differentiated from them by an additional ethical and transcendent dimension—and to which we may as well refer, following Christian terminology, as the soul.” (p113)

“The secular are at this moment in history a great deal more optimistic than the religious, a something of an irony given the frequency with which the later have been derided by the former for their apparent naivety and credulousness. It is the secular who’s longing for perfection has grown so intense as to lead them to imagine that paradise might be realized on this earth after just a few more years of financial growth and medical research with no evident awareness of the contradiction they may in the same breath gruffly dismiss a belief in angels while sincerely trusting that the combined powers of the IMF, the medical research establishment, silicone valley, and democratic politics could together cure the ills of mankind.” (p183)

“A pessimistic world view does not have to entail a life stripped of joy. Pessimists can have far greater capacity for appreciation than their opposite numbers for they never expect things to turn out well and so may be amazed by their modest successes which occasionally break across their darkened horizons. Modern secular optimists on the other hand with their well developed sense of entitlement generally fail to savor any epiphanies of everyday life as they busy themselves with the construction of earthly paradise.” (p188)

“It is telling that the secular world is not well versed in the art of gratitude." (p188)

"For atheists one of the most consoling texts of the Old Testament should be the book of Job which concerns itself with the theme of why bad things happen to good people. A question to which entreatingly it refuses to offer up simple faith based answers. Instead it suggests that it is not for us to know why events occur in the way they do. That we should not always interpret pain as punishment, and that we should recall that we live in a universe riddled with mysteries of which the vagaries and our fortunes are certainly not the largest or even ... among the most important.” (p196)

"Our secular world is lacking in the sorts of rituals that might put us gently in our place." (p200)
The following is the author's own description of the purpose of this book:
"It has been the purpose of this book to identify some of the lessons we might retrieve from religions: how to generate feelings of community, how to promote kindness, how to cancel out the current bias towards commercial values in advertising, how to select and make use of secular saints, how to rethink the strategies of universities and our approach to cultural education, how to redesign hotels and spas, how better to acknowledge our own childlike needs, how to surrender some of our counterproductive optimism, how to achieve perspective through the sublime and the transcendent, how to reorganize museums, how to use architecture to enshrine values — and, finally, how to coalesce the scattered efforts of individuals interested in the care of souls and organize them under the aegis of institutions.(p311)
The following link is to an interview with the author, Alain de Botton, from the public radio program "On Being" with Krista Tippett:

The following quotations are not from this book. Nevertheless I include them here because they speak to the same subject.
“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. ” (Voltaire)

“I think religion is so much more than belief in God. It is about community, it’s about being moved by certain historical narratives, it’s about self identity within the group, it’s a place to bring your existential dilemmas. Although I reject a belief in God I accept the many impulses that bring people to a religious community.” (Rebecca Goldstein, author of the book, 36 Reasons for the Existence of God: a Work of Fiction , spoken on the “Here and Now” radio program on 4/22/10)

An interesting link:
Why Losing God Hits Some of Us Harder
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,503 followers
April 5, 2013
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 structured organizations.

What are these benefits? A most important benefit would be a sense of community. A church/synagogue/temple acts (or at least, should act) as a gathering place where people are welcomed, even strangers. A sense of belonging is nurtured, without degrading those people who choose not to belong, the "others". In contrast to fundamentalists, de Botton's approach requires a large degree of tolerance. Another benefit is to learn how to cope with pain, suffering, and strong emotions. Such coping skills are possible even without belief in a supernatural being, or in a "predestined plan".

De Botton is not interested in defending religious beliefs or atheism. He certainly does not try to prove or disprove the existence of a supreme being. He assumes that atheists do not believe in such a being, so he starts from there. He develops ideas for how secular institutions might fill in the gaps in religious institutions. For example, many corporations have a culture, or an ethos. Why can't household-name corporations run--de Botton wonders--"... a therapy unit or a liberal arts college"? And what could such corporation-run schools teach? Well, de Botton mentions that it is not difficult for a university to teach as much physics in a few months as Michael Faraday ever knew. So, why shouldn't it be possible to teach wisdom, leading "... to insights related to the self-aware and moral stewardship of the soul."

De Botton presents lots of ideas such as these. These ideas sound wonderful, but are they practical? My main question about this book, is whether it is really possible for secular institutions to fill the gap of religious institutions. Perhaps they can--we won't know until such ideas are tried.

The book really hit home, as I sat in an airplane bound for Portland, with a connecting transfer at Chicago,
"It can be hard to stay hopeful about human nature after a walk down Oxford Street or a transfer at O'Hare."

Profile Image for T.D. Whittle.
Author 3 books186 followers
February 10, 2020
There are many things to like about Botton's book, for both religious and irreligious readers. He has a beautiful way of noticing and explaining the value of religion, and why it is a great loss to humanity to toss out the wisdom and traditions of the Church, along with beliefs in the Divine. His argument is that one need not embrace the supernatural in order to benefit from what religion has offered human beings over many centuries: a life of unified purpose, a sense of community, a focus on others that distracts us from our natural egocentricity, an idea of love that is more than just self-satisfaction, a system of ethics, meaningful rituals to mark the passage of time, gratitude, artistic beauty and grandeur, comfort in our suffering, and a healthy pessimism about humanity and life on Earth that (paradoxically) gives rise to joy in unexpected pleasures.

Botton focuses strongly on the Catholic Church, to good effect, in my opinion, due to its long history of impacting Western culture at every level: educationally, politically, psychologically, spiritually, aesthetically, etc. Botton goes chapter by chapter, offering an analysis of what he thinks secular humans could borrow from religious institutions and traditions, and why he thinks that it is necessary to do so. As with the pull towards religion, though, one must believe that something is missing in order to go searching for it. Botton believes that something is indeed missing, at humanity's soul level.

I was a bit confused by this, as he is an atheist who repeatedly refers to the soul, without explaining what he means by the term. I came to feel, whilst reading, that by soul, he means the same thing, essentially, that spiritual people mean: the intangible yet vital core of "self" that is located within, but is not the same as, our physical bodies. And yet, since he holds no belief in immortality, how would he differentiate that from "mind"? I am not sure. Most believers in souls would say that souls are transcendent and can exist outside the body. Botton clearly does not believe in any kind of life of the soul outside the body, or outside this one human lifetime he believes us to have.

He offers up a post-Enlightenment vision of what a secular humanist approach to religion might look like: art museums that are organised, not in dry categories based on historical and geographical origin, but in ways which promote and encourage our identification with art, and which are most likely to produce emotional exultation. So, the Metropolitan Museum, or the Louvre, would have halls of Contemplation, halls of Suffering, halls celebrating the Joys of Childhood, or similar. Modern architecture, too, would be less dreadful, and we would take seriously the evidence that how a city—or a school, or an office, or a home—is designed and structured can have a profound impact on the mental and physical health of its inhabitants.

Botton writes intelligently and well, and his arguments are sound. And yet, I could not help but feel, at the end of it all, that his vision contains a profound blind spot: what religion really offers, to its believers, is God, and that the belief in the Divine is the heart and soul of the thing that makes everything else possible (the comfort, the joy, etc.). Remove God from the Church, and we are left with nothing but an exquisite corpse. If He was never there to begin with, then we are left standing alone in what may be a beautiful building, but is certainly not a sacred* space.

While I agree that many things could be improved by implementing some of Botton's ideas, most especially regarding considerations of the impact of bad architecture and planning on human lives, and regarding the provision of secular but lovely spaces for quiet reflection, the final chapter of his book left me believing that his theory, if fully realised, would be doomed to fail. Based on the ideas of Auguste Comte, a French philosopher who advocated fruitlessly during his lifetime for a Church of Humanity, Botton suggests the building of institutions which honour humankind's hopes, sufferings, and achievements. The idea is that these would be churches stripped of religious sacrament but borrowing from religious liturgical rituals. Others who came after Comte were influenced by his ideas, and two such churches were eventually erected.

These churches are called "positivist" because, presumably, their members believed/believe in the Enlightenment idea of continual human progress towards the goal of perfecting the species, the world, and what-have-you. That idea in itself, to me, is so naive and fanciful as to beggar belief. By now, it would seem obvious that we do not, as a species, continue to improve, however much we have achieved (and continue to achieve) technologically and scientifically. I say this not as a pessimist but as a lover of humankind and the world, yet one who sees—as many do—that we are forever going to be flawed creatures behaving in the way that flawed creatures behave. We are beautiful and ugly, loving and hateful, courageous and cowardly, intelligent and stupid -- a bag of mixed nuts.

Botton's idea of building churches and other secular institutions as a kind of shrine to humanity, where we might go (in essence) to worship ourselves, seems to me to be a fatal flaw in his book. Besides, we have New Age thought for that, which is nothing if not a perpetual gazing at and adoration of the Self, whereby we try to convince ourselves that we are little gods and goddesses, whilst swallowing whole the worm in the heart of the apple.

I see and appreciate that Botton's intentions are good; nevertheless, the end result when one constructs a religion in which the only beings deemed worthy of worship are ourselves is that we are left right back where we started: restless souls, hollow at our core, who know that it is not ourselves for which we long, but for some being greater than ourselves, more loving and forgiving and wise, who will embrace us with an ineffable love and grace that eludes us here on Earth. Declaring that God is either dead or non-existent does nothing to address that yearning, and I am not convinced by Botton that it is possible to fulfill human spiritual needs with non-spiritual resources. Perhaps some people do not have such yearnings or needs, but then I suppose that anyone reading this particular book might at least be grappling with the feeling that something is missing, in ourselves and in the world, and that the fault is unlikely to be in our stars.

I'll end with one of my own favourite pieces of secular art, l'Implorante from Camille Claudel's L'Age mûr, which is palpable in its effect. It's one of the most powerful depictions of longing I know.

L'Age Mûr (1885-1913) de Camille Claudel - Musée d'Orsay L'Age Mûr (1885-1913) de Camille Claudel - Musée d'Orsay

* Where "sacred" means: 1. Dedicated to or set apart for the worship of a deity. 2. Worthy of religious veneration: the sacred teachings of the Buddha. 3. Made or declared holy: sacred bread and wine.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,106 reviews1,803 followers
April 9, 2012
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 written today though.

As the comment from Vicki below sort of shows (see comment number 4) talking, or even thinking, about religion is difficult thing. When I was at work and saw her comment my first reaction was 'what the fuck? (apologies to Vicki, you did make yourself clear in the later comment, but I'm just talking about my initial reaction), why am I getting some comments about the soul with a sort of God in the Gaps sort of argument, and why am I getting a religious troll for a book I haven't even reviewed yet, aren't there other reviews of mine that someone can find to berate me for my views on religion, like one where I give an opinion? And hell I even saw earlier today there are other reviews for this book on the site, why don't you go tell them what you think and wait for me to review the book, or at least give it stars before jumping on me. And then I thought, and what is this soul stuff? Who said anything about the soul, is the soul mentioned in the title or synopsis of this book? This book has nothing to do with the soul, it's about the uses of religion, in a more (I'm going to throw up a bit in my mouth using this word) sociological sort of way than in any of the dogma, beliefs or tenets of any actual religion.

I went off track a bit. Already. Shit, this is going to be one of those reviews.

What the comment shows is that when you mention religion it's sort of a grab bag of things that can be thought of. Vicki jumped on the idea of the soul, and how it's possible the soul exists and we just don't have the capabilities of measuring it yet (I sort of disagree with this, I don't believe in Cartesian duality, and I'll blab on about this in greater length if I ever get around to finishing and reviewing the pamphlet sized essay by Sam Harris on Free Will). In a spirited and sort of draining argument with MFSO we went back and forth at each other about religion, with neither of us really accepting the other's viewpoint on my thread for Atheism in Christianity (the argument sort of left me drained to the point that I couldn't bring myself to finish the book, well I could finish the book but I had no interest in writing a review for it, and I figured if I just abandoned the book then I wouldn't feel obligated to review the thing). It's not that MFSO and I really disagreed all that much (I don't think, I haven't gone back and read the thread), as much as he (possibly quite correctly) saw Christianity as a big set thing, a whole package deal of history, cosmology, inconsistent stories, etc., etc., and saw it as irresponsible to cherry pick the parts you want to use and leave the other parts behind, which is sort of what I was advocating. I'm not interested in returning to this argument, it's just to illustrate a point that religion is this great big thing made up of all kinds of parts and just starting to talk about it people are going to be coming to the topic with their own view of what religion means. Is it a system of worship, like the Church? Is it a cosmological view of the world? Is it an ethical system? Is it a personal self-help or Ponzi scheme? Is it ultimately a good thing that is just weighed down by history and irrational beliefs? This is sort of the simplistic version of the view that this book takes.

Right from the start of this book de Botton says that he doesn't believe in God, he's an atheist . The book opens with this passage that I'm sure would piss off quite a few people.

The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true-in terms of being handed down from heaven to the sound of trumpets and supernaturally governed by prophets and celestial beings.

To save time, and at the risk of losing readers painfully early on in this project, let us bluntly state that of course no religions are true in any God-given sense.

This book isn't about trying to sway people away from the throes of religion, it's not to strengthen ones Atheistic convictions, point out contradictions of holy writs, or show how to poke a gaping hole in Anselm's Ontological Proof of the Existence of God. It's coming from the premise that religions offered something to people that the secular world has more or less ignored, something that religious people would say fills our spiritual side but which in non-religious terms could (crudely?) be called our psychological side. It's a look at the parts of religions that offer solace, and foster communities and help people get through the inevitable awful shit that is going to hit each and everyone one of us at some point. As another reviewer pointed out there isn't anything that de Botton suggests that isn't really missing in the secular world, and he seems a bit offended that de Botton is suggesting that his (the reviewer's) walk through a garden is any less soothing and effective than say the walking meditation of Buddhists (a practice de Botton suggests we try). I'd say, that maybe this reviewers walk in a garden is exactly like that, but I think my own walk in a garden wouldn't be, I can only think of one time in the past twenty years that I walked around in nature and just walked slowly and paid real attention to what was going on around me. Most of my own walks these days are filled with my mind dwelling on problems, thinking about what I should be doing, planning my next book review, checking my cell phone to see if I got any emails and repeating that process over and over again. My chattering monkey-brain (to use some Buddhist speak) isn't shutting up the whole time, even if it does happen to look around every now and then to see something it hadn't noticed before. Needless to say(?)I might get some exercise out of a little walk, but I'm most likely going to be walking too fast and still mostly focused on the usual bullshit that I'm always focused on while I'm doing something that should be relaxing me.

This is just a small point from one review and maybe a paragraph in the book, but to me it seems a bit indicative of de Botton's thesis. For all the awfulness of religion, there were things that they offered that were beneficial. Couched in the catechisms, and routines and the dogmas were things that acknowledged our failings and attempted to help us with them. Things that could enrich our lives. Did religions make people better adjusted than we are in a secular society? I don't know. Some of the things de Botton points to were probably never really noticed by say a poor peasant going to a mass spoken entirely in Latin, and it's only through the lens of our own time that de Botton can have the sense of melancholy at the loss of comforts the Catholic Mass (for example) can offer people with it's firmly structured, stand, knell, call and response, shaking hands, take the eucharist, etc.

Without having to believe in any of the stories of a holy book there are things in religions that can help us. Buddhism is a fairly good example, you don't need to believe in the soul returning to inhabit another physical thing after death to gain some peace of mind and calmness through doing mediation or spending even five minutes doing mindful breathing.

But, anyone can do these things at anytime, someone could easily say.

Yes they could. But people don't. I don't. And I'm guessing that you don't either, I don't believe I'm exceptional in this or any other regard.

We can actually just do any of the things de Botton is saying in this book. If we need to feel the grandness of architecture, we can just go visit a cathedral instead of just seeing the blandness of big box stores and sterile office buildings. If we want to her majestic music we can listen to some Bach instead of whatever top forty hit we are being assaulted with at any given time. If we want a vacation where we just totally unwind and sooth our body and mind we can book a trip to some monastery or a retreat instead of staying in our own cities or going someplace where we just continue the franticness of everyday life but in the name of relaxation and fun (I doubt I'm alone in feeling that any 'vacation' turns out to be more tiring than my day to day working life). We can choose to unload our guilt to a psychologist and don't need the ritualized practice of Catholic confession. We can read books and watch movies that will help illuminate the human condition and teach us how to be better people. We can choose to act morally. We can choose just about anything, but it's all our choice and that is part of the problem of the secular world, we are cast adrift to make these choices and then bombarded with distractions.

We are left to our own devices. And I hope this doesn't apply to you, but I fucking suck at being left to my own devices. I'll waste days. I'll be lazy. I'll dwell on stupid inconsequential things. I internalize fears and let them take over my decisions. I grasp at things fairly aimlessly, and feel like a failure (even though I know better) because I'm not living up to the idea we are sold that we should be happy. I'm sold on the idea of being self-reliant and the quasi-Platonic idea that we can't be taught anything, but that it's all inside of us, that we can just make the right decisions, that we can figure shit out for ourselves, or at least that we'll figure out where to go get the right answers. I mean this sincerely, I hope that you are better at this living thing than I am, it makes me feel some relief thinking that I'm just worse than average at it, but I'm probably just about as good or bad at it as most people are. I'm probably fairly un-extraordinary (except in the socializing part of living, I'm certain that I epically fail in this respect, but it's also a part of my life that gives me relatively little discomfort, which probably speaks volumes about my own precarious psychological stability).

But it's not necessarily that any capital ARE religion has any of the capital TEE truth or capital EH answers, it's that they have ritualistic devices and things that let people escape loneliness, deal with adversity, see the world as bigger than their own concerns, put things into some kind of perspective, show what is right and wrong and not just leave all of these things up to everyone to figure out and come to on their own.

I thought of the mess I made again
How do I do it
I got no advice about anything
Just fuck it up yourself

If I'd read this book a year ago, I'd have thought even more of it was silly than I do now. Today, I think a lot of what de Botton says is fairly accurate and I think some of his solutions are kind of silly (at least in the names he gives them, especially the chapter on building secular Temples with names like The Temple for Reflection, there is something sort of silly in the Ad Busters kind of way to some of his ideas, but that doesn't mean they aren't things we don't need. Maybe we need advertisements that remind us to be considerate more than we need more ads to remind us that Coors and Coke are still out there producing beverages). It sounds so hokey and stupid, but if people were reminded not to be cretinous fucking assholes half the time they are reminded about the existence of some product that is almost literally impossible to not be aware of maybe people would be a tad bit more aware of their own behavior. There is no profit margin for advocating good behavior and it sounds evil and presumptuous to say that one knows how to act and should insist on others acting in a similar manner (but this is a bullshit argument. We Know how to act and we are generally in agreement about how to act, at least in theory, kids are raised with fairly universal behavior sets, we are in general agreement about what is right and what isn't right when it comes to teaching kids values, it's just that people might benefit from a reminder of how to act, or I can dream that everyone becomes more like me and is borderline debilitated by over-awareness and over-thinking anything that might infringe on others, and make the whole world full of people who are overly concerned to effect (affect?) other people as little as possible, in the process probably killing off the entire human-race because my own personal neuroses universalized in this matter would make any procreating almost impossible, and instead of being good or nice people we would all just be striving for being not obtrusive and considerate, which isn't the same thing as being a good person).

So many things in this book sort of boil down to who would give you (me, him, her, them) the right to say this is how we should be (do, think, etc.) But, I think we (me, him, her, them, maybe not you) try to abdicate ourselves from the choice of honestly figuring this all out for ourselves like good little existential troopers and turn our need for answers over to the marketplace of competing ideas. Self-helf books, diet manuals, how to meet a loved one, how to have a good relationship, what to do with my life, Oprah Winfrey, religions, psychologists, psychiatrists, some pills, gestalt therapy, philosophy, websites and message boards, google searches, seminars run by guys with headset microphones, believing thoughts make wishes come magically true, talking nice to water, a slew of other things that people do to try to give themselves the tools to deal with whatever problem life throws at you.

Giving answers is a multi-lots of money-ion industry (billions? I don't know) and it's a sea of white noise out there all screaming for your attention, saying they have the answers, and you can either spin the roulette wheel and give one a try, be one of those serial triers of new faddish 'answers', or just settle for whatever default 'way' has become your own by the way you've been raised or because of whatever values a particular culture you're a part of have instilled on you (which would generally be the way that I get all my answers, my life is still unbelievably dictated by things I learned from very angry three chord punk songs, or maybe I was already that way before I heard the songs, which is quite possible, it's a chicken/egg problem that I might have gone into elsewhere).

But it's weak to give into things like this, right? Those fucking losers reading self-help books. Needing the crutch of religion. Not able to figure out what to do with their lives so they need to find out what color their fucking 'parachute' is to give them meaning. Fucking weak-willed losers. I look down on the mouth-breathers who read certain types of books, but it's not like I probably have been any more successful then them in navigating life, maybe I'm just too cynical to reach out and try to find help in so obvious of places, or maybe I know that these answers are just bullshit. Slick marketed bullshit and unfortunately we're left to fend for ourselves or buy into some nicely packaged lie.

Greg here again. Obviously, this whole thing has been Greg. But I mean Easter evening Greg, which is also a lie because quite a bit of what you just read was also Easter evening Greg, he's been busy pecking away and adding many more words to an already long winded review with little focus. I'm addressing you directly to let you know that the review is sort of over. I meant to say something constructive here, but I failed to adequately figure out what I meant to say and never mind then expressing what I had figured out in words that would convey the meaning of what I meant to you.

Today is Easter and I'm not a religious person, but there is something 'nice' about the big religious holidays (which in my head are Easter and Christmas because I grew up at least nominally as a Christian). It might all be bullshit, you know the stories that are behind these days, but there is something good about the days. Maybe it's just me, but people seem nicer on them, there is a feeling of peace to them. Even though I don't believe in Jesus rising out of a tomb one morning one thousand nine hundred and something years ago, I still find it comforting to have a Sunday that just feels different, to dress a little nicer on the adventure Karen and I went on, to maybe put a bit more choice than usual in where we went to eat and generally see people behaving a bit differently out today. I had a good day today, and partially it's because of a religion that I don't believe in and which is at odds with quite a bit that I do believe. My 'observance' of this day was totally secular and a religious person seeing what I did or didn't do today would probably find fault with me but it was still a day that was different in a good refreshing way and it was because it was a 'special' day that objectively isn't any different from any other but the day we are told is in celebration of some guy rising up from the dead.

We don't have the secular equivalent to days like this (Not that this is a universal thing, maybe you have had just the same sort of Sunday as any other especially if you weren't raised Christian, it's the feeling of holiday that is important here, and maybe there are some secular versions of this, maybe something like the Fourth of July meet this criteria, but for me personally the patriotic holidays just don't feel the same, there is generally nothing to them other than either it being a day off or a day where I get paid more for working them).

My favorite 'holiday' of all is Christmas Eve. My family does nothing special for Christmas Eve. We eat dinner like we normally do, and maybe some last minute gift wrapping is done and some preparations made for whatever meal we'll be eating as 'fancy' the next day, but it's not one of those everyone standing around in sweaters and a fire going and whatever other images are conjured up by Christmas Eve. What I love about this day is the time once the stores are closed and it's dark out and most everyone is home and I like to go out driving and everything feels so fucking peaceful and good and for the time I'm driving around, with almost no one else out on the roads, but driving past homes with lots of cars parked outside, and homes with Christmas lights on, and it's cold and quiet my normal cynicism shuts off and it feels like everything is at peace (and I know it really isn't, but it's still a great feeling and it happens year after year). And even though it's a religion and crass capitalism that drives the whole 'holiday' season, that evening once all of the shopping is done and the stores are closed and most people are home or at the homes of relatives or whomever, I just love going out and feeling a part of that stillness. I don't share this time with anyone else and while I like spending time with my family on Christmas, and I like exchanging gifts with friends and all of that, it's that maybe hour on Christmas Eve that makes the holiday for me, that makes putting up with all the retail bullshit seem worth it, etc., There is no secular answer to that night for me. Which is a shame because to get to that hour there shouldn't necessarily have to be nonsense stories and insane spending, it's something totally different.

That ends the review. There was a last bit, but I'm dangerously close to running out of characters. The last part was about fighting classes and rituals and how they have been beneficial to me. Maybe I'll share it sometime in a comment. Or not.
Profile Image for Sarah Clement.
Author 1 book96 followers
December 29, 2013
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, if you believe that religions are created by humans and not by divine creators, then the idea that there are wonderful things that can be learned about what it means to be human, what it means to be good, and what humans need to live as individuals and as societies, then the ideas expressed by de Botton will seem quite natural to you. The book begins by suggesting we can gain wisdom without doctrine, then proceeds to outline wisdom from religion in the areas of community, kindness, education, tenderness, pessimism, perspective, art, architecture, and institutions. Perhaps my favourite part of this book is that every section ends with ideas about how secular society can apply the wisdom of religions. Some of his suggestions are quite 'pie in the sky', but some are quite brilliant and feasible (the temple to perspective was one of my favourites). This book is for people who are moved by beautiful prose and ideas, and it would strike many atheists as overly sentimental. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to my friends with more liberal religious views, and I even think it could provide a brilliant antidote to the disillusionment many of them feel with the way religion has been perverted in modern society. On that note, de Botton certainly picks up on the ideals of religion, which are often far from the current reality. There are many teachings in this book that I would have never known about from being immersed in religious society in America, which is telling. His rosy view is perhaps a difficult pill to swallow the moment you turn on the news and see what we do to one another, but he certainly provides a very clear idea of what we aspire to be, even if we do not achieve it.

Perhaps my favourite part of the book was the brief chapter on perspective, as I think it is something we sorely need. The final chapter on institutions was frustrating for me. I know that I am doing my PhD on institutions, and thus I should have cut him some slack, but he seems very confused about what an institution is. Institutions develop with a mind of their own, and they have much greater variation than he seems to understand. The idea that we need a worldwide institution or that religions are the only institutions that imbue our lives with ethics in the modern era is just nonsense. Institutions are so tacit that we don't even realise they are there, and capitalism is not by any measure the only institution that touches our daily lives, as he seems to suggest. I think it would be quite sad if we tried to create global, homogenous institutions that mimic the routines and comfort provided by religions, and I think it would be foolish to try. Otherwise, I thought this was a fantastic book, and something I will likely return to again because, as de Botton emphasises, we humans are very forgetful creatures.
Profile Image for Shay.
695 reviews16 followers
April 1, 2013
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 architecture, among others. De Botton draws examples from Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism, and imagines secular institutions and rituals which would imitate the emotional resonance of religion without the supernatural beliefs.

Although atheists often critique theists for cherry-picking their beliefs—shellfish are fine now that we have refrigeration, but homosexual acts are definitely still sinful—removing the assumption of divine revelation does leave atheists free to borrow selectively from religion if they so desire. The problem here is to get atheists to agree about the aspects of religions that are worth emulating, particularly if, like de Botton, you want these secular rituals to be part of large institutions with a wide reach and deep pockets. De Botton offers a number of suggestions, some of which were intriguing and insightful, but others singled out areas in which religion has only been arguably successful, or where it has been more adept in theory than in deed. For example, he uses the Catholic Mass as an example of a unifying experience which erases divisions such as race and class, but in practice many congregations are segregated by the neighbourhoods from which they draw attendees. In this sense, his book is imbued with a sense of nostalgia for something which may never have actually existed except as an ideal. Additionally, many of his secular alternatives felt trivial and overly simplistic, lacking the significance of the rituals they were designed to emulate.

Over all, de Botton’s attitude towards religious practices consists of entirely too much reverence, and not enough criticism. Although he advocates “selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts,” he wholly fails to account for how his proposed secular saints and rituals will avoid practices of indoctrination and deification, and encourage the critical thinking that is essential to most atheists’ conceptions of secularism. Despite a chapter on the virtues of pessimism, it is all too easy to imagine this philosophy blithely and optimistically ushering in a “benevolent” secular totalitarianism of ritual and prescription. Those of a religious persuasion will have no need for these ideas, and those of a more atheistic or agnostic bent will find that de Botton’s suggestions lack the rigour of thought they would expect from a fellow skeptic. For those atheists who hear the siren call of ritual and tradition, but cannot bring themselves to believe in God, de Botton’s ideas may find some appeal, but this book is not otherwise recommended.
Profile Image for Jamie Smith.
471 reviews65 followers
December 28, 2022
This book starts with an acknowledgment that religions are not true in the sense of being, well, true, and later on emphatically agrees with the statement that “At its most withering and intellectually pugnacious, atheism has attacked religion for blinding itself to its own motives, for being unwilling to acknowledge that it is, at base, nothing more than a glorified response to childhood longings which have been dressed up, recast in new forms and projected into the heavens.” (p. 81) And yet most of the rest of the book seems to be an apology for religion, a yearning to return to ancient rituals and comforts – but not the beliefs themselves, which de Botton would replace with secular equivalents. Some of his ideas are so over the top – year-end orgies for everyone to blow off some steam – that I felt he was just playing the provocateur.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting, even intriguing ideas in this book, which seems to me best approached as a series of thought experiments. After all, while society has gained a great deal by freeing itself from the dead hand of religious domination, it has also lost some of the things that gave our ancestors comfort and strength in hard times. Many religions share important traits, such as a focus on ritual, communal activity, emphasis on reflection and self-awareness, and an appreciation of mortality. De Boton says that there is a reason for this: they have had thousands of years to test their practices, and have kept the ones that work, weaving them around a central tenet of god or gods.

One of these is the figure of a mother-goddess, who reflects our long suppressed but never forgotten memories of the tenderness, compassion, and unconditional love of our early lives. “Mary in Christianity, Isis in ancient Egypt, Demeter in Greece, Venus in Rome and Guan Yin in China have all functioned as conduits to recollections of early tenderness. Their statues often stand in darkened, womb-like spaces, their faces are compassionate and supportive, they enable us to sit, talk and cry with them.” (p. 80)

A recurring theme in the book is that our problem is not that art, literature, and education cannot give us the thoughtful, nourishing, enlightening messages of the kind that used to invigorate believers, but that those messages get swamped by the blizzard of information that modern life subjects us to. There is so much of it, coming at us from so many directions at once, that it is hard to separate what matters from what doesn’t.

De Boton uses the theme of forgetfulness to explore the role that universities and museums play in exposing people to the kind of images and themes that religion once made universal. The messages do not have to be dense and complicated to be effective. “[Religions] have realized all along that the greatest danger they faced was not the oversimplification of concepts but the erosion of interest and support through incomprehension and apathy. They recognized that clarity preserves rather than undermines ideas, for it creates a base upon which the intellectual labour of an elite can subsequently rest.” (p. 56)

Universities present themselves as bastions of the great ideas of history, keepers of the flame of knowledge and insight, but many of them today are just trade schools, and their professors would be amused if asked how they transmit the key concepts of civilization to younger generations. “The modern university has thus placed no premium on a talent for oratory, priding itself on its interest in the truth rather than in techniques to ensure its successful and enduring conveyance.” (p. 59)

Museums are another institution that are revered, but why is this?

The fundamental question which the modern museum has unusual but telling difficulty in answering is why art should matter. It vociferously insists on art’s significance and rallies governments, donors and visitors accordingly. But it subsequently retreats into a curious, institutional silence about what this importance might actually be based on. We are left feeling as though we must have missed out on crucial stages of an argument which the museum has in reality never made, beyond trailing a tautological contention that are should matter to us because it is so important. (p. 99)

Even for a non-believer, a visit to a cathedral can be an inspiring experience: the silence and solemnity of the interior call out for moments of reflection, and the artwork, whether soaring overhead or tucked into darkened niches, shows the power of religion to inspire and strengthen the spirit. On the other hand, if you want to see boredom made manifest, just watch a group of people trooping through an art museum. “Scholastic traditions such as sorting works according to where or when they were created, grouping them by categories such as ‘School of Venice’ and ‘School of Rome’, or ‘landscapes’ and ‘portraits’, or separating them by genre – photography, sculpture, painting – prevent secular museums from achieving any real coherence at an emotional level, and therefore from laying claim to the true transformative power of the art arranged in churches and temples.” (p. 114)

How could we resolve this dichotomy, finding and embracing the positive, affirming aspect of religion without encrusting it with absurd dogma and dead ritual? Atheism can leave us hollowed out, removing the comforting beliefs of our childhood but then replacing them with nothing, leaving us staring into the abyss of life’s absurdity and transience.

The signal danger of life in a godless society is that it lacks reminders of the transcendent and therefore leaves us unprepared for disappointment and eventual annihilation. When God is dead, human beings – much to their detriment – are at risk of taking psychological centre stage. They imagine themselves to be commanders of their own destinies, they trample upon nature, forget the rhythms of the earth, deny death and shy away from valuing and honouring all that slips through their grasp, until at last they must collide catastrophically with the sharp edges of reality. (p. 94)

De Boton’s thought experiments attempt to reconstruct religion’s positive aspects through enlightened use of psychology, sociology, and philosophy. He conjures up secular temples to the saints of progress and enlightenment, and “psychoanalytically astute travel agents who could carefully analyse our deficiencies and match us up with parts of the world which would have the power to heal us – agents who would send us on travels to connect up with those qualities which we esteem but cannot generate with sufficient quantities at home.” (p. 125) If some of these suggestions don’t make you smile, you haven’t been paying attention, but underneath it all is the serious idea that humans are more than automatons, and the need to make sense of our world and ourselves goes back far beyond modern civilization.

And this has been tried before, in the French Revolution, when the churches were secularized and religious ceremonies replaced with pageants dedicated to Reason. It didn’t last long, because the people wanted the comfort and reassurance that only religion could give. Napoleon, no believer himself, re-established the Church and returned many of its ancient privileges (though not the vast lands which the State had confiscated).

Other attempts have been made at replacing religion with something else, none of them successful. At the end of the book de Boton introduces the reader to Auguste Comte, the only-occasionally sane 19th century philosopher of secular religion. He saw clearly that traditional religions could not survive modern science and technology, much less materialist and existential philosophy, and proposed an elaborate alternative that would fill the void in people’s lives. “Comte’s legacy, nevertheless, was his recognition that secular society requires its own institutions, one that could take the place of religions by addressing human needs which fall outside the existing remits of politics, the family, culture and the workplace. His challenge to us lies in his suggestion that good ideas will not be able to flourish if they are always left inside books. In order to thrive, they must be supported by institutions of a kind that only religions have so far known how to build.” (p. 142)

It’s an odd book, with short chapters and lots of illustrations, which take up about a third of its length. I can see why it has attracted so many negative reviews, because as prescriptive philosophy it ranges from the strange to the silly, but you should not lightly dismiss it unless you have your own good suggestions for filling the void in the soul of modern man.
Profile Image for Hanieh Habibi.
106 reviews158 followers
February 24, 2018
It was not that much fascinating for me cause I already knew lots of things he mentioned. And also, if atheists follow all details in the religion, of course with other reasons, what is the difference between them and theists? I mean maybe the attitude of not caring about these issues makes them what they are!
Profile Image for A.G. Stranger.
Author 1 book97 followers
February 2, 2019
De Botton, always the stunning thinker, will teach you through this book the undeniable and timeless wisdom of religious beliefs and institutions and how secular societies might adopt it instead of haughtily dismissing it under the pretext of its irrational premises. An essential read for both religious and atheists thinkers.
Profile Image for Russell George.
332 reviews8 followers
November 9, 2014
Alain de Botton writes from a very good place. His overriding concern is that people live happier, more fulfilled lives, principally through becoming more self-aware and less prone to unrealistic dreams and illusions. He is, if you wanted to give him a job title, a philosopher, though his books are often more about reinterpreting classical philosophy for modern sensibilities, or so it seems. Anyway, he writes very well, and it’s difficult to finish one of his books and feel that you don’t see the world slightly differently.

The main premise of this one is that religion, for all the bad things that have and are still being done under its banner, nevertheless has something to teach secular society. That the rituals, intentions, and physical manifestations of religions have a purpose and use that secular society could learn from. That because, as atheists, we dismiss religions on the basis that we don’t believe in the supernatural God-figure, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It’s an interesting and at times quite compelling argument. I was particularly taken by his analysis of secular education, and our elevation of the humanities as important because . . . well, why is it important to study literature, or history, or art? As a society we really don’t like saying ‘you should read Tess of the D’urbervilles’ because it will teach you various moral or ethical lessons, and yet to study it without being affected by the point of the story is essentially pointless. Similarly, if a piece of art doesn't move you in some way, what’s the purpose of knowing who the artist was influenced by, or that their use of colour was innovative for a reason x? He also makes some interesting points about the original purpose of the concept of original sin, which to atheists like me always seemed a rather unhelpful way of viewing the world, but which perhaps should be re-interpreted as a way to acknowledge that nobody is perfect, and it’s tough sometimes being the kind, honest, and generally good person we think we should be. Everyone fails, but we shouldn't give ourselves a hard time about it.

De Botton’s argument isn't cast-iron – the parallels between going on holiday and going on pilgrimage seemed a little stretched – but overall there are more strong points than weak ones. And importantly, he’s not trying to preach. It’s a book which asks some interesting and intelligent questions in a very accessible style.

In fact, the only real problem was the use of quite grainy black and white photos throughout, which rarely added anything. I'm sure the publisher equated photos with accessibility, but if you’re not going to invest in quality reproductions, then it just looks slightly shoddy. And besides, the prose doesn't really need it.
Profile Image for Ana.
805 reviews588 followers
January 23, 2016
First of all – and this might seem like a foolish complaint, but it bothers me so, so much – I have to address the title. “Religion for Atheists”? ”Religion for Atheists”?? Really?! Self-help gone sophisticated! When is “Biology for Priests” coming out? No, I know, the title is not supposed to change your taste for the book, and it didn’t, I’m not saying that it deterred me in any way (it was absolutely neutral in this case, I picked the book up because of the author), but it just feels like it’s burning my tongue when I say it! And I know it might have been meant as a pun, or even a mildly smart play on words, but for me it didn’t achieve the intended purpose, it just annoyed me in its imitating and simplistic quality.

Before: the irony is definitely not lost on me. I started reading this book at the same time I started with Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, and straight in from the first pages I got to laughing because they are at such opposite ends. Whereas a couple of lines in, Dawkins tells you about his dislike of the “I’m an atheist, BUT….” people, Alain de Botton is exactly that atheist, the second-hand believer who argues for not just the existence of religion, but how you can take the beauty out of it, how you can accept the negatives and forward the positives.

Now, I started this book with a sense of openness – whatever comes my way, let it come and let me think about it before saying yay or nay. However, some things are almost impossible to digest. Take, for instance, page 66’s dumbfounding proposition: that the secular society should have a Feast of Fools. If you don’t know what that is, let me paint a picture: originally a Northern France thing (you fools), it just meant debauchery on all levels for priests. The logic is not weird: you spend an entire year striving to be faithful to the letter, so you deserve four days at the beginning of the next one in which you are allowed any kind of behavior, such as peeing from the bell towers or making donkey noises instead of “Amens” and – probably the most important thing for a sex-starved, penis-shriveled cloaked man – have carnal relationships with whomever and whatever you can. It’s like a diet with a cheat day – except it’s four days, and instead of cheating with a meal, you binge on 2kg jars of Nutella and eat your whole body weight in M&Ms. Apply this to today’s world, and Botton actually writes: “We should be allowed to talk gibberish, fasten woolen penises to our coats and set out into the night to party and copulate randomly and joyfully with strangers, and then return the next morning to our partners, who will themselves have been off doing something similar, both sides knowing that it was nothing personal, that it was the Feast of Fools that made them do it.”

I object. Is it just me who can’t digest the above-mentioned scenario? I mean, talking gibberish is fine – I’m on board of your boat with that, captain. Fastening woolen penises to my coat and setting out in the night – my foot is out of the boat, but I’m still trying to see if we’re sailing in an acceptable direction. However, when you propose that me and my man set about our different ways and fuck our brains out with strangers, and then come back to each other as if we hadn’t just been on a sex-spree as if we were shopping… I’m sorry, captain Botton, but I’ll rather swim on my own and find the fucking land. I can’t – and I won’t – take this as a good idea. Who gave you the right to give such frightening liberties to idiots? Because this is what people are, what we, collectively, as animals bestowed with ticking time-bombs in the form of brains - idiots. Give one enough freedom, and coupled with his intrinsic desire for power, you end up with a Feast of Fools that’s going to fill up the prisons for months to come. Who gives ourselves the right to suspend moral values for a night (or more) and do as our heart pleases? I don’t think we should be given that right. There’s freedom in being a decent human being, and being one doesn’t imply that if I don’t get a night where I can let my inner demons loose, I will implode.

I guess there's another dimension to this proposition that really bothers me, and that's the implication that generally, on a worldly scale, normal people live in the same environment as priests do in their churches. I, for one, don't agree with that. No, a generic human being will not be in the situation where their entire life is lived in the spirit of total dedication to a dictator. A generic human being will indeed perform thousands of rituals that will pass the day, but not with the purpose of making a king happy. Matter of fact, the generic human being does not have imposed on themselves such ghastly rules as never engaging in sex and praying a million times a day, repenting for their every wild thought. The example, therefore, doesn't apply the same way, because we, as everyday people do, indulge in some of our "naughty" wishes: we have sex, we go drinking, we watch pornography, we write our own opinions.

I guess I could go on and talk about Botton's ideas on reforming the secular society, but I see no point in bringing up the situations with which I don't agree. However, unexpectedly so, I found myself agreeing with one of his ideas. He proposes that museums, in order to really take the place of churches, be organized as such that they take the human being through a process of understanding their own feelings and thoughts, rather than presenting art based on periods or artists or aesthetic currents. I do like the order of today's museums: I agree with a time-line, I agree with a style to follow, because it makes things easier to digest, when you are put in front of so much creation. That, though, didn't stop me from finding Botton's idea interesting. What if, as he proposes, we would have museums where we could go through the Gallery of Fear, Gallery of Compassion or Gallery of Suffering? What if we were presented with art that could make us feel, understand and cope with our own inner arguments? I think such a concept is not impossible to create - and I think I, personally, would very much enjoy the opportunity to walk through one as such.

Why three stars? I can't rate a book solely on its ideas, even if they have the most bearing. The writing has something to say to, and I do appreciate the author's flow of words. In the end, I didn't pick up the book in order to agree or disagree with the ideas, but to see what the ideas themselves are, and how they are presented.

Profile Image for Ian D.
511 reviews50 followers
March 20, 2020
An interesting, albeit controversial and, at times cringe-worthy, read. I value Alain de Botton's work although I don't always agree with his viewpoint. In this essay, that could have been alternatively titled "Judaocatholicism for not-entirely convinced Atheists", the author draws a comparison between religious traditions and secular life with the generous dose of cherry-picking and correlation-causation that it implies. Not unexpectedly, he comes off as a religion apologist rather than a voice of reason. Are you absolutely sure you're an atheist, dear Alain? Is it your Stockholm syndrome speaking? He prefaces the book "I'm an atheist BUT..." along the lines of "I'm not racist/sexist/homophobic BUT" and then going on to show that they're indeed all of the above. I'm expecting him to convert to Judaism any day now (or to alternatively come out as a closeted practising Jew).

To be honest, I find the whole idea flawed on its very basis. One cannot possibly compare thousands of years of organised religion in hundreds of countries with a few years of institutionalised secularism in a handful (if that) countries and convince the reader of the necessity of the former. Let us not forget that the art, architecture and scriptures - so ingrained in the religious dogma - have been financed by the Church because, it has to be said, the Church had the money. As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it and I'm paraphrasing "If science had paid for the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo might have drawn the Earth and the Sun (and if he were alive today, the Big Bang)". Maybe it's the true atheist in me speaking, but I'm mildly triggered when an author tells me that I need religion to appreciate art/music/community or that religion has taught me to be compassionate, forgiving, charitable, faithful, appreciative when it's actually the other way around.

I'm somewhat puzzled. What is the purpose of such a book? To me, it looks like an editorial attempt to appease atheists and believers alike (but mostly Christians and Jewes), ultimately failing to do so.
2/5 (it could have easily been 1/5 but I'm feeling generous, and not because of my Greek Orthodox upbringing).
Profile Image for Lauren Albert.
1,797 reviews158 followers
August 3, 2012
I will always think of this as "Religion for Atheists and Believers: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion and a Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion in This Life (Rather than After). It is a lovely book--I am not an atheist but I have read and enjoyed many of de Botton's books. Even many believers have come to distrust those who claim to tell us what matters about religion and how to experience it. I figure that the things even an atheist can see as valuable in religion, might just be valuable. "By contrast with religion, atheism is prone to seem coldly impatient with our neediness. (173)" The book is full of compassion for human weakness, fallibility and fear. Botton thinks that religion has answers for those things just not the answers the religious sometimes believe. "Being put in our place by something larger, older, greater than ourselves is not a humiliation; it should be accepted as a relief from our insanely hopeful ambitions for our lives" (200). His main point is that the human race turned to religion for help with life's biggest problems and atheism has pretended that the problems would disappear along with their hoped-for solution.
Profile Image for Greg Linster.
251 reviews81 followers
January 9, 2014
I think it is fair to say that humans cannot escape religiosity. Whatever the evolutionary reason, religion -- in the broadest sense of the term imaginable -- has arguably helped us humans flourish as a social animal.

The central premise of this book is that the religions that have managed to stick around (e.g., Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) clearly offer some survival benefits, even if the benefit is merely emotional and consolatory. We non-believers can actually learn quite a bit from these religions, even if we decide to ditch the goofy parts.

In my opinion, one of the benefits of the religions that worship a fictitious deity is that they protect people from the modern (and more dangerous) religions that worship things like money and sex. Religion also helps us create community and can help us reflect on our moral character.

After reading this book, the author reaffirmed my belief that you don't get to decide whether or not you want to worship, you only get to decide what you want to worship. I wish more of my atheist and agnostic friends would read this book.
Profile Image for Ettore1207.
387 reviews
October 23, 2017
Un libro nel quale i non credenti troveranno molte idee intelligenti e non banali. L'obiettivo è quello di recuperare concetti sacrificati dai "laici" (penso, ad esempio, a Odifreddi) sull'altare della Scienza e della Ragione e che sono alla base di molte religioni.

L'errore dell'ateismo moderno è quello di ignorare gli aspetti delle religioni che rimangono apprezzabili anche dopo che i loro dogmi vengono confutati. Quando non ci sentiremo più in obbligo di prostrarci dinanzi alla fede o di denigrarla, saremo liberi di scoprire che le religioni sono fonte di una miriade di idee ingegnose, con cui possiamo cercare di lenire alcuni dei malesseri più persistenti e trascurati della vita laica.

Lo scopo è nobilissimo:
Questo libro non vuole rendere giustizia a singole religioni, che comunque hanno i loro apologeti; piuttosto, cerca di esaminare alcuni aspetti della vita religiosa che potrebbero essere fruttuosamente applicati ai problemi della società laica. Inoltre, tenta di eliminare gli aspetti più dogmatici della fede per distillare qualche raro concetto che potrebbe dimostrarsi di gran conforto per le scettiche menti contemporanee, costrette ad affrontare le crisi e i dolori di un'esistenza mortale in un pianeta al collasso. La sua speranza è quella di salvare tutto ciò che è bello, saggio e commovente, disfacendosi al contempo di ciò che non sembra più valido.

C'è anche qualche argomento di meditazione specifico per noi bibliofili:
Il nostro peculiare approccio alla cultura tocca anche ambiti limitrofi a quello dell'istruzione. Teorie altrettanto ambigue dilagano, per esempio, nel mondo dell'editoria e della vendita dei libri.
Anche qui ci troviamo davanti a una quantità di materiale infinitamente superiore a quella che potremo mai assimilare, e fatichiamo a tenerci stretto ciò che per noi conta di più. Un universitario moderatamente studioso iscritto a una facoltà umanistica all'inizio del ventesimo secolo poteva leggere circa ottocento libri prima del giorno della laurea; una ricca famiglia inglese, nel 1250, si considerava già fortunata se ne possedeva tre. Questa modesta biblioteca era di norma costituita da una Bibbia, da una raccolta di preghiere e da un compendio di vite dei santi, che tutti insieme arrivavano a costare quanto una casa. Se ci lamentiamo di vivere in un'epoca satura di libri, è perché sentiamo che non è leggendo di più, bensì approfondendo e rinfrescando la conoscenza di pochi volumi, che potremo sviluppare al meglio la nostra intelligenza e la nostra sensibilità. Ci sentiamo in colpa per tutto ciò che non abbiamo ancora letto, ma non ci rendiamo conto di essere già molto più istruiti di sant'Agostino o di Dante, e ignoriamo che i nostri problemi stanno proprio nel modo in cui assimiliamo le nozioni, e non nella vastità delle nostre letture.

Profile Image for Tyler.
31 reviews20 followers
October 9, 2012
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 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.
Profile Image for Adam Higgitt.
30 reviews4 followers
June 22, 2013
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 marriage is a good one: when a couple wed their friends and family are there, investing in their relationship. Once the ceremony is done, the couple are left to their own devices, with little of what social workers would call "support networks", much less other formal occasions during which to reflect and nourish the bonds. As he notes repeatedly, secular liberalism is good at telling us what we free to do, but falls short in offering guidance about what we ought to do.

But there are problems. Liberalism has shied away from this didacticism in part because the prescriptions of the church, among others, proved to be wrong in many cases, preventing us from doing what we should (such as show equal respect for gay people) and encouraging us to do things we shouldn't (like persecute non-believers). AdB does not adequately square how such traps are to be avoided if and when we return to such direct moral instruction as he suggests. At times, he also appears to offer conclusions on the secular life with little or no basis in evidence. He suggests, for example, that people forget the lessons of great works of secular art, while the date-bound ritual of the religious equivalent is sooner remembered because one is required to revisit it. He may be right, but where is the evidence? Where are the studies that show that people's memory of important movies, books or paintings fade more quickly than awareness of scripture?

The argument is also weakened by some of the ideas de Botton produces for how to reintroduce ritual and reflections into our lives. He rightly points out that a stripped out analysis of something like the Catholic Mass would look strange if it were not already layered with meaning, and to that extent his notion of an Agape restaurant in which many of the communal objectives of church services could be met is not as daft as some reviewers have suggested. But doing away with the study of history at university? That seems like both a wild and excessive step, simply because of his contention that the discipline merely teaches bald facts and shies away from attempting to connect the past with deeper meanings.

And ultimately, this is where his manifesto for secular religion falls down. For while the idea that we need ritual back in our lives to flourish as people is bold, it is ultimately too small an idea to change society in the ways he demands. de Botton's case is sound, but he needs to make it better, and be less demanding about what needs to change as a result.
Profile Image for Martin Pribble.
12 reviews19 followers
October 28, 2012
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 of Happiness”, and his writing always left me with a feeling of melancholy and yearning that I found discomforting. Sometimes he even bordered into the downright negative and overly analytical. Not exactly my idea of a feel-good story to say the least. But, like jumping on a hand grenade to save the minds of my fellow atheists, I decided it was my job, nay my duty, to at least listen to the audiobook of his latest published work “Religion for Atheists”. This is what I took away from it.

The book itself is a lamentation for the things that, in de Botton’s view, make religious ceremonies, trappings, architecture and art superior to the lives we lead today. According to de Botton, secular life has a huge hole in it, one occupied by our “soul” that needs to be fed and nurtured. Secular life does not, and cannot, in its current state, offer the “soul food” that religion offers; so maybe we should be taking parts of religion, the parts that de Botton identifies as irreplaceable in secularism, and use them for the greater good of humanity.

In and of itself this sounds like a good idea. I mean, who cares where the good ideas in humanity come from. If they work, we should use them, right? But for de Botton, many of the things he identifies as lacking in secular life are actually the things that we hold dear about secular life.

For example, his identification of art museums as museums to the past, where in his mind the art should be organised by “feeling” or “emotion” so that we walk away with a sense of understanding of life greater than what we can glean from history, while an interesting idea, is more of a pipe-dream than one of any constructive merit; if one knows just a little about art and history, a person can learn with much greater clarity the histories of other humans. And besides, we already have this. One look around the Rothko Chapelfollow in Houston Texas, and we see precisely what he is talking about; large canvases of dark colour with no figurative depictions in them, and seats in the middle where silent contemplation can take place. While this “Chapel” is more of an experiment in space, and is designed to be whatever the viewer wants it to be, it is a secular space, for it imposes no religion on the viewer; it simply is. It is devoid of messaging, and is somewhat of a “blank canvas” for people to enjoy in their own ways. Which is great for a church, but not so great when looking at art; one could call Rothko’s work in this instance boring, too plain or pointless in the context of art on a greater scale. We could put art in spaces of private worship, and we could order it according to emotions and feelings, but then we miss the broader picture; we miss the vast and deep history of art in mankind, while of course the intention of art museums is to teach us just that.

For me at least, with a history in the fine arts, art museums are places of learning and reflection, where we can wonder at not only at the skills involved in producing the works themselves, but also the emotions conveyed, the histories of the times and the lives of the artists involved. Art, like history, is a depiction of the social temperature of the time it is produced, and only a little digging (perhaps reading the plaque next to the work) will give the art greater context than simply a painting on a wall or a bronze sculpture in a room.

He also claims that art museums now, as opposed to the religious art of the past, has no message to convey; people can’t take away any life lessons, or glean any answers to difficult questions from the secular art establishments we have today. Well, maybe he’s right; modern art is about the self, and post-post-modernity seems to be reinforcing that fact. But is it possible that maybe he’s looking in the wrong place for answers about how to deal with cancer, or death of a loved one, or financial ruin? If, as he claims, art’s role is to instruct us with life lessons, and that life throughout the ages delivered the same kinds of problems now as it did in the 15th century, isn’t it possible that there is something to be gained from looking at the art from the 15th century which addresses these problems? And maybe that is his point, we don’t do that anymore. But do we need to?

His book goes through similar dismantlement of architecture, literature, and education, claiming that what they have to offer today gives nothing for the viewer, reader or learner to take away to lead a better life. He claims today’s landscape is one where people come second to corporations (which is true to a point), that what we learn from literature is forgotten too quickly and not reinforced in us on calendar dates, and that education only gives us the facts and not suggestions on how to lead a better life. Again, he may have a point here, but I think he misses the obvious fact; we are much more complicated in our modern lives than were our dark-ages counterparts, and the structures of our societies point us in a different direction. The learning about life must be taught early in life, taught alongside the basic learnings of the alphabet, the numbers, the colours. It must not be prescribed to us, but should be taught as a way to make decisions which will have the best outcome for all involved, without causing undue harm.

The biggest thing that irks me about the “philosophical” writings of de Botton is his perspective. He has managed to correctly identify the idea of feeling small in the universe as a way to humble us and make our lives seem more miraculous than religion can suggest. However, as an extremely rich man, one who was born into money and has traveled extensively, he seems to be extremely blinkered to the fact that the real problems in the world are not crises faced by the individual, but the larger scale crises of climate change, rising sea-levels, poverty, disease and civil wars. It is true that people are the cogs in the machine that make up societies, but we are kiddin ourselves if we think reshuffling an art museum, or having an international day of reading James Joyce is going to make lives richer for anyone but the upper and middle-class peoples of the world. The fact is that nearly a billion people on earth have less than the minimum required level of literacy.

It is true that religions have held the steering wheel morality and ethics, and offered suggestions on how to deal with hardships we all inevitably face. de Botton says that this role in society has not been replaced by anything, and that we walk our lives without any guidance or insights from the wisdoms of the past. My problem here is one that troubles me in many walks of life, where people cite tradition and habit as a way to justify the way we do things now. It is actually the converse situation to the idea that de Botton says he is suggesting, taking the good things from religion and using them in a secular space. In fact it seems that de Botton has a yearning for the rites and practices of religion that he can’t seem to identify in today’s society, and is suggesting that we take these “successful” past practices and inject these into our modern lives. I say we need concentrate on getting all of humanity back on track, and no amount of navel gazing and self contemplation can bring this about.

I really think de Botton wrote this book as a way to try to bring all of his previous ponderings into line with his inability to believe in, not only god, but humanity itself. It seems to me that he is upset at the world, and wishes he could believe in god in order to make his life better. He walks in the middle of the road, applauding religion and religionists for their piety and belief, and yet tells us that in essence they are all deluded to believe in god. His audience then grows, from just the 16% of the world’s population who are non-believers, to everyone who likes to dabble in pseudo-philosophical banter. While it is filled with anecdotes and examples, and there is no denying that he is a knowledgeable and intelligent man, what he comes up with at the end is not in fact about “Religion for Atheists”, but a spewing out of the justifications for the religious standpoint, and actually a glorification of the role religion plays in day-to-day life. Rather than focusing on religion as a starting-point and working our way from there, I think he would have been better to look at all the positive things humanity has produced historically, religious or not, and made a thesis of how we could bring those together to better ourselves and the world. But then his audience is diminished, and he wouldn’t sell as many books.

The biggest flaw in de Botton’s thesis is actually the first thing he writes in the book, the title. “Religion for Atheists” is not, as it claims, “A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion”, but actually a sad lamentation on de Botton’s own frailties and insecurities about the richness of his own life, and the fact that he doesn’t believe in God, but wishes he could. While it’s not a terrible read, and one that at least got my mind going, even if it was only to counter his standpoints, it was not by any means groundbreaking. I would recommend you read this only if you want to know what’s in the book, not if you are expecting to find some suggestions for how to better your own life.
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