Atheism 2.0

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

Alain de Botton is a philosopher with some very constructive suggestions for improving secular society by selectively plucking  useful heirlooms from the traditions, practices and organizations of religion while leaving the rest. He surveys the cultural and social capital of three major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism– and suggests some assets worth salvaging.

Leeds Student Radio Web page article about the...

(credit: Wikipedia)

Botton isn’t asking atheists and agnostics to kiss and make up with religion. He is a non-believer. He may not be the confrontational type, but he’s no double agent with a secret religious agenda, as some atheists might fear. His mission is to initiate a humanistic renaissance in secular society that will bring us up to speed in some areas where religions may have superior social and cultural know-how.

“The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction, but as I look at secular society, I see how we’ve been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is.”

“Religion has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.”
“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.”

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Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.(

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Religion for Atheists

“It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.”

Note: I have not read the book (so it could be awesome or awful), but based on the interviews and articles below, I like this guy. I think he is measured, pragmatic, and non-polemical; and he has one of the most constructive arguments I’ve heard in a very long time.  It strikes me that the approach taken by Botton could go a long way towards ratcheting down the hostility between atheists, agnostics, and our superstitious brothers and sisters :). It is the kind of thing that might be a useful balm for folks in the Occupy and 99% movements who struggle to maintain solidarity with each other despite differences that are sometimes deeply rooted.


My favorite interview is from C-SPAN’s Book TV. You can view the whole 58-minute  After Words interview with Chris Hedges here or watch a ten-minute segment below, followed by other interviews from You Tube.

BookTV: Alain de Botton and Chris Hedges

Alain de Botton on atheism 2.0 and what secular ideologies can learn from religion

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton says non-believers can learn a lot from religion – without believing in God.

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science


3 Responses to “Atheism 2.0”

  1. n8chz Says:

    Wow, great to see someone embedding video content from TVO! I haven’t been able to watch TVO from here in Warren, Michigan since last August when Canadian TV went digital.

    I suspect that mysticism or magical thinking is the secret sauce that makes the package as a whole efficacious as social glue. But I’ve never been the “joiner” type. For those I guess there are take-the-best-leave-the-rest concoctions such as Humanist Judaism and Unitarian Universalism.

    • Poor Richard Says:

      n8chz, the whole point of de Botton’s work is that mysticism and magical thinking (and whatever other nonsense religions embrace, such as authoritarianism) are NOT the only forms of social glue use by religions. Religions, in pursuit of their self-interest over the millennia, have developed “social arts” that have utility completely independent of the other crap. For thousands of years most of the smartest and wisest people that ever lived clothed their scientific and philosophical efforts in religious language, either as a matter of course or of necessity. We should not abandon all that. To use it outside of the religious context we may have to hose some of the crap off, but that can be pretty trivial. Some simple examples include confession, meditation, the use of parable for teaching ethics, and even taking the time to repetitiously coach people on life skills as a matter of course. K-12 education is not strong on ethics, conflict resolution, coping with fear and neurosis, etc. You could argue that such things already exist in secular form. But how well do the secular versions compete with the religious versions? Not always so well. Botton suggests dozens of cases where religious versions outdo secular versions for reasons that are not dependent on voodoo or authority. Humanist Judaism and UU are actually examples of how Botton’s ideas can be applied, but they don’t go as far as Botton in aiming at an agnostic or atheist secular product.

      Botton includes quite a bit of discussion of religious art, which doesn’t interest me greatly; but not so much about philosophy, which does. That is probably the most difficult stuff to extricate from the religious matrix.

      I’m not a joiner either, but most people are. Its true that many of the methods and practices de Botton identifies involve group activity; but some, such as meditation and self-assessment, can also have utility for non-joiners.

      ps I thought the TVO interviewer wasn’t very good. He didn’t really seem to get the thesis.

  2. Ritual Response « Ben Blogs Says:

    […] Atheism 2.0 ( 51.444207 -2.470848 Rate this: Share this:TumblrFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Posted in: Church, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged: Alain de Botton, Atheism, Bible, Christ, Christian, Christianity, Church, God, Jesus, Religion, Ritual, Spirituality […]

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