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.
©2012 Alain de Botton (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
"Highly original and thought-provoking book.... de Botton is a lively, engaging writer." (Publishers Weekly)
"A new book by Alain de Botton is always a treat…. De Botton is literate, articulate, knowledgeable, funny and idiosyncratic." (Forbes.com)
"[T]his book will advance amicable discussion among both believers and disbelievers." (Library Journal)
I've enjoyed de Botton's prior books. This one is a severe disappointment.
One of the things I've enjoyed about de Botton's work is how he brings a far-ranging understanding of canon of Western philosophy to bear on the major issues of modern life, doing so in an understandable and sometimes entertaining way. As I have no particular expertise in Western philosophy, I have always assumed de Botton was reasonably accurate in his understanding. Religion for Atheists gives me now great doubt about that.
In Religion for Atheists, de Botton discusses one subject that I have particular expertise in: Zen Buddhism. I found de Botton to be shockingly inaccurate. For example, he describes the Japanese Tea Ceremony as a ritual used in Zen. It isn't, and anyone who did a little as read the Wikipedia article on the subject could figure that out. Yes, Zen philosophy has heavily influenced the Tea Ceremony, so there is a relationship there. But it's like the US Thanksgiving holiday. The Thanksgiving dinner ritual is heavily influenced by Christianity, but Thanksgiving is not a ritual of the Christian church.
De Botton goes on to make a similar mistake about the Japanese Tsukimi festival, again thinking it's a Zen Buddhist festival. It's not.
Another weakness of Religion for Atheists is the author's numerous suggestions for impractical and implausible ways to implement valuable aspects of religion in an atheistic ways, such that it undermined the concepts the author was trying to promote.
De Botton's TED talk on this subject is pretty good. I suggest listening to that and skipping this book.
This book is a marvelous resource for believers into the value of their traditions, practices and values to the world in which none-of-the-above is the third largest "religion" in the world. It has helped me reclaim aspects of my faith that have been washed down the drain with the absurd belief systems that are so embarrassing. For the atheist and agnostics, this is freeing, because it allows appreciation of values, beauty, art, music, and community.
I was disappointed in this - de Botton's points about the non-theological comforts of religion were somewhat interesting, but it got bogged down in endless reporting on his specific experiences 'trying on' various religions.
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