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Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion Paperback – 7 Feb 2013


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Product details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Feb 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141046317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141046310
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alain de Botton is the author of Essays in Love (1993), The Romantic Movement (1994), Kiss and Tell (1995), How Proust can Change your Life (1997), The Consolations of Philosophy (2000) The Art of Travel (2002), Status Anxiety (2004) and most recently, The Architecture of Happiness (2006).


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Review

"A serious but intellectually wild ride. . . . One has to appreciate his pluck as much as his lucid, enjoyable arguments." --"Miami Herald" "Commonsensical and insightful. . . . The wealth of knowledge and felicity of phrasing that de Botton brings to his task make for a stimulating read." --"Seattle Times" "Quirky, often hilarious. . . . Focusing on just three major faiths--Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism--he makes a convincing case for their ability to create both a sense of community and education that addresses morality and our emotional life." --"Washington Post" "Compelling. . . beautifully and wittily illustrated." --"Los Angeles Times" "A wonderfully dangerous and subversive book." --"San Francisco Chronicle" "A new book by Alain de Botton is always a treat. . . . De Botton is literate, articulate, knowledgeable, funny and idiosyncratic." --"Forbes.com" "De Botton writes at his best when he confronts our abiding human frailty. . . . If only all writers wrote with such unabashedly kind intentions." --"Huffington Post" "Provocative and thoughtful. . . . Particularly noteworthy are de Botton's insights on what education and the arts can borrow from the formats and paradigms of religious delivery." --"The Atlantic " "The eminently quotable de Botton holds forth on the deliberately provocative premise that ancient traditions can solve modern problems. . . . The premise he is testing is a worthy one: The secular world worships consumerism, optimism, and perfection to its doom, and would do well to make room for a little humility, community, and contemplation instead." --"Boston Globe" "[De Botton] demonstrates his usual urbane, intelligent, and witty prose. . . . This book will advance amicable discussion among both believers and disbelievers." --"Library Journal" "Highly original and thought-provoking. . . . De Botton is a lively, engaging writer." --"Publishers Weekly "(starred review)y p

About the Author

Alain de Botton was born in 1969 and is the author of non-fiction essays on themes ranging from love and travel to architecture and philosophy. His bestselling books include How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, and The Architecture of Happiness. He lives in London and founded The School of Life (www.theschooloflife.com) and Living Architecture (www.living-architecture.co.uk). For more information, consult www.alaindebotton.com.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harm Hilvers on 1 Dec 2013
Format: Paperback
Very commendable for its attempt in redeeming practices that are virtually only known in religious circles.

One of the most obvious pieces of critique one might have against de Botton, is that his book - and this one is no different - is superficial. It lacks the depth and breadth of analytical philosophical works. He does mention a few philosophers, but doesn't go into much detail on what they have said, how their lines of argument looked like and how his reflections do or do not fit within their frameworks.

But that is beside the point, since de Botton is not trying to write such a work. His work may be described as experiential philosophy. He takes some very practical and concrete (and thus recognizable) experiences, writes them down and muses a bit on what they might mean. This method is interesting, because it opens up the world as we know it in new and different ways. He helps his readers see new things and develop new insights, that can be used in daily life almost directly. If that's no philosophy...

There are many details that I don't agree with necessarily, but I won't go into those, since there is a larger objection to be made. One of the things religion does very effectively is bond people together. Be it through a shared vision on the afterlife, a shared vision of the good life on earth, the belief that God wants them to do certain things in life or act in certain ways, or something entirely different, but this shared vision bonds together. It makes people come to church or the mosque each week, it makes certain that dropping out of the religious community is no easy thing, and it makes the religious community look attractive because they do good.
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69 of 77 people found the following review helpful By CN on 21 Feb 2012
Format: Hardcover
This really is a wonderful, engaging book that was an absolute joy to read. I had a religious upbringing but have been an atheist since my teens. I've always felt ambivalent towards Christianity, because there's so much about it I can never accept, and yet I've seen firsthand the sense of community it provides, the consolation it brings in times of trouble, and the acts of kindness that faith can inspire. Like many people, I can't relate to Dawkins' harsh dismissal of everything spiritual, despite agreeing with him about the non-existence of God, so Alain de Botton's book was a revelation as to how atheists can benefit from the wisdom of religions while rejecting their intolerances and superstitions.

The book aims throughout to demonstrate how the best aspects of religion might be transferred into a secular community. For example, the author proposes the concept of the Agape restaurant, the secular equivalent of a church feast, where one can eat with and talk to strangers, be accepted with kindness, and discuss the things that really matter in life, all within a structured framework. It appealed to me as an alternative to the alienating experience of trying to make friends at a party, where every question is loaded with judgement, `what do you do', and so on. I also loved his idea of reintroducing a Feast of Fools, based on a historical festival from mediaeval Christianity that provided an outlet to release tension by indulging in unrestricted drunken or sexual behaviour and letting go of adult responsibilities just for one day.

I was fascinated by de Botton's ideas on the importance of teaching ethics and relevant life skills via literature, art and philosophy (the secular alternatives to religious doctrines).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A W Jones on 22 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent lateral thinking from a great writer and philosopher who makes a great case for retaining some of religion's best features to help us cope with - and possibly change - modern society even if we don't believe in the supernatural.
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96 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Simon Howard on 5 July 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I really like Alain de Botton and his accessible, absorbing approach to philosophy. But I really didn't enjoy this book, I'm afraid.

The structure of each chapter the book is very formulaic:
a) Identify a positive aspect of religion
b) Muse that this is lacking in modern society
c) Propose a secular solution

The majority of his arguments collapse at stage b. For example:
a) Churches get strangers talking to one another
b) Restaurants don't
c) 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:
a) The church guides us on practical life skills
b) Universities teach fact-based courses like history, with little regard for life skills
c) Change universities' 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. I sorely hope he returns to form!
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