What do you think?
Rate this book
320 pages, Hardcover
First published September 1, 2011
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.
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).
"The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true ..." (p11)The following is the author's own description of the purpose of this book:
"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)
"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:
“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)
"It can be hard to stay hopeful about human nature after a walk down Oxford Street or a transfer at O'Hare."
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)
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)