The boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved on by Alain de Botton's inspiring new book, which boldly argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false - and yet that religions still have important things to teach the secular world. Rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them - because they're packed with good ideas on how we live and arrange our societies.
Blending deep respect with total impiety, de Botton (a non-believer) proposes that we should look to religions for insights into how to build a sense of community, make our relationships last, get more out of art, overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy, and much more.
For too long, non-believers have faced a stark choice between either swallowing peculiar doctrines or doing away with consoling and beautiful rituals and ideas. At last Alain de Botton has fashioned a far more interesting and truly helpful alternative.
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A valuable book for both religious and non-religious
Another wonderfully clear and delightful to read book from Alain de Botton. Here he shines a light onto religion - not with a diatribe about what's wrong with it, but with a hard-headed look at the valuable understandings religions can provide about how human beings can successfully live together. Readers of this review who just spat intolerantly about the intolerance of religions take note - the author has not written an apologetic for religions in general, and does not defend the destructive practices that have been founded on religious justifications.
What he does do is ask us a question: in adopting a wholesale rejection of religion, are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater? When looked at in terms of how to structure a self-sustaining society, religions form a repository of human experience, in-the-large and over long periods of time, and have much to show us in that regard. If we consider the amount of concern being expressed now about the loss of community and inter-personal ties in our society, along with the associated crime, violence, isolation and loss of personal meaning, perhaps it's worth ferreting out just what religions can show us about proven ways of living together, so that we can understand them and apply them.
Religious readers can benefit from this book too, by understanding that there may be more ways than they've known to explain the value they gain from their religion, and also by considering this: no single religion has a monopoly on the basic good practices of human co-existence, and the claim that "if only" people would follow their particular religion then all society's woes would disappear is not persuasive. At the least this book provides an area of common ground for discussion between religious and non-religious types that until now has not been so readily available.
In his book the author also raises the prospect of a secular replacement for what amounts to the social fabric functions of religion, things we might label in secular terms as a mixture of life skills training, psychology, psychotherapy and emotional healing. He proposes a kind of school for better living, systematically established and available to all.
Here I feel he may be missing something fundamental which, if left out, is likely to be a showstopper. In most religions that I am familiar with, and indeed the existing under-resourced (and under-paid) secular care organisations, the fundamental and only sustainable motivation for providing care and guidance for others is not a generalised societal good, but a very personal compassion, a movement of the heart to reduce the suffering of another. Abstracting good living principles from an analysis of religions is a valuable activity, but unless the application of those principles is founded in compassion for each other and ourselves we are unlikely to re-weave those principles into our cultures and our lives.
The Title implies an insight into an understanding of god aimed at athiests. This book does not deliver this but merely lists some of the good things about religion once one dismisses the notion of god. The fact that not all aspects of religion are invalid just because the basic premise is wrong is obvious. The book was disappointing from the first page to the last.