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Review: Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

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Hold up! Before you read on, please read this...

This post was published more than 6 years ago

I keep old posts on the site because I often enjoy reading old content on other people's sites. Not everything that is old is bad. It can be interesting to see how views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have mellowed and matured.

But given the age of this post, please bear in mind:

  • My views might very well have changed in the 6 years since I wrote this post. I have written some very silly things over the years, many of which I find pretty embarrassing today.
  • This post might use language in ways which I would now consider highly inappropriate or offensive.
  • Factual information might be outdated.
  • Links might be broken; embedded material might not appear properly.

Okay. Consider yourself duly warned. Read on...

I really like Alain de Botton and his accessible, absorbing approach to philosophy. When I read the press coverage surrounding the book launch, which included de Botton’s arresting announcement that he wanted to build a secular temple, I was intrigued. But, in the end, I really didn’t enjoy this book, I’m afraid.

The structure of each chapter is very formulaic:

  1. Identify a positive aspect of religion
  2. Cite a singular example of where this is lacking in modern society
  3. Propose a secular solution

The majority of his arguments collapse at stage 2. For example:

  1. Churches get strangers talking to one another
  2. Restaurants don’t
  3. 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.

Similarly:

  1. The church guides us on practical life skills
  2. Universities teach fact-based courses like history, with little regard for life skills
  3. Change university 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. It feels a little like a cynical attempt to cash-in on the growing popularity of secularism. I sorely hope de Botton returns to form with his next work!

Religion for Atheists is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.

This 1,843rd post was filed under: Book Reviews, , , .

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