Saturday, April 07, 2012

Religion for Atheists

I was keen to read this book because Alain de Botton argues some points that I argue: that religion fills the basic human needs for community and ritual. I was keen to see an atheist book that acknowledges and respects what belonging to a church or religion provides for people that is good for them and for society.

But, I’m disappointed, for a few reasons.

1. He needs a better editor. He does harp on.

2. He acknowledges that New Atheists in their books (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) are quite cruel and dismissive in their rally against religion, yet he does this in a way that joins in the ‘fun’ of religion bashing. Not cool. Especially when you claim your book isn’t in that camp, and acknowledges that millions of people who are religious must get something worthwhile from religion. It only takes a line or two to lose credibility.

3. He refers to religion very broadly. He refers to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but not to other religions, nor the vast variety within the main religions. Sloppy.

4. He does offer suggestions for secular societies to enjoy and benefit from engaging in rituals and building communities. However these are either far fetched, or impractical or just not very well thought out. I could suggest people are already finding ways to build communities and create rituals to make meaningful events in their lives, whether that be sitting in a circle passing the bong around, or attending a big football match or going to the theatre, or having morning tea and singing songs at playgroup. (We say the Romper Room grace: ‘For our family friends and food we say thankyou.’) Or the shared humanity of acknowledging people’s sorrows in internet forums. He asks that we think more about how to be good and wise, without seeing the ways in which we already do, in conversations big and small, about ourselves and others, known and unknown, in institutions real and virtual. Just as working together in a community garden, attending committee meetings and babyshowers and school assemblies, offering consolation and support on blogs and forums, playing video games together or discussing tv series, books or films, or attending raves, have their own rituals and build community when people come together, in ways that add meaning to our lives, and challenge us to assess ourselves, what we believe, and how we’re faring in attempting to live according to our values and beliefs.

So, I’m calling this book at starting point.

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