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Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion [Paperback]

Alain de Botton
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Feb 2013

Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists looks at the God debate with fresh eyes

All of us, whether religious, agnostic or atheist, are searching for meaning. And in this wise and life-affirming book, non-believer Alain de Botton both rejects the supernatural claims of religion and points out just how many good ideas they sometimes have about how we should live.

And he suggests that non-believers can learn and steal from them.

Picking and choosing from the thousands of years of advice assembled by the world's great religions to get practical insights on art, community, love, friendship, work, life and death, Alain de Botton shows us a range of fascinating ideas on a range of topics, including relationships, work, culture, love and death - and that could be of use to all of us, irrespective of whether we do or don't believe.

In the Sunday Times top-ten bestseller Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton takes us one step further than Dawkins and Hitchens have ventured and into a world of ideas beyond the God debate . . .

'A serious and optimistic set of practical ideas that could improve and alter the way we live' Jeanette Winterson, The Times

'A beautiful, inspiring book . . . offering a glimpse of a more enlightened path' Sunday Telegraph

'Packed with tantalizing goads to thought and playful prompts to action' Independent

'Smart, stimulating, sensitive. A timely and perceptive appreciation of how much wisdom is embodied in religious traditions and how we godless moderns might learn from it' Financial Times

'There isn't a page in this book that doesn't contain a striking idea or a stimulating parallel' Mail on Sunday

'Packed with tantalizing goads to thought and playful prompts to action' Independent

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, The Consolations of Philosophy, The Architecture of Happiness, Status Anxiety, Essays in Love, A Week at the Airport and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. He lives in London and founded The School of Life ( and Living Architecture ( For more information, consult

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Product details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Feb 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141046317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141046310
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,695 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).

Product Description


"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." --"" "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 ( and Living Architecture ( For more information, consult

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute joy to read 21 Feb 2012
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the tin 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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95 of 110 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far below par for Alain de Botton 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.

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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dislodging good qualities from religion? 28 Dec 2013
Not being an atheist, in spite of recurring doubt, I looked forward to reading de Botton's ideas as I'd heard that he was less dogmatic and evangelically inclined than Richard Dawkins and a good defence of atheism is a difficult thing to pull off.

However, de Botton doesn't attempt this at all - rather he argues, with due homage to Comte - that atheists could learn a thing or two by secularising some of the key apprehensions of religion. In fact he begins in a very Dorkinesque way, describing `the idiocy of believers' and saying the real question (i.e. setting his own terms for the book that follows) is "where to take the argument once one decides that he (God) evidently doesn't (exist)." This is fair enough - atheists, for whom this book is written, have, by definition, decided that God doesn't exist. (This, it seems, is in contrast to many Theists who often hedge their bets) So if I was looking for a defence of atheism I wasn't going to find it here.

What I did find was a series of chapters saying that religions had, in fact, come up with some quite good perceptions about community, sharing, training the mind, offering comfort, creating `sacred' spaces, building self-sustaining institutions of great longevity etc. Along the way he suggests that to satisfy our need to connect with transcendence there should be public television screens showing images of deep space, thus revealing our true `nothingness'. (I think he goes a little off course here).

He concludes by saying - with no apparent sense of how he has definitively mastered the art of being sublimely, unconsciously, patronising - that there is much to be learned from religions. The trick is to dislodge these insights from the `supernatural structure within which they were first conceived'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Not quite as revealing as I had hoped
Published 6 days ago by David P. Ashurst
3.0 out of 5 stars some interesting ideas
De Botton has some interesting ideas that I think may grow larger in my mind as I chew them over.
Published 2 months ago by steve
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking book
Bought this for my daughter to read to assist in writing her dissertation for her final year of Sociology at University.
Published 2 months ago by WLL
5.0 out of 5 stars Potentially life-changing
I loved this book.
While I disagree with some of the practical suggestions (for being completely impractical), it gives the reader a lot to think about and some good pointers... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Pete13
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
This is really interesting. It made me think about how all sorts of things could be done differently from schooling to building community. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Charlie
4.0 out of 5 stars Religion for Atheists?
I was wondering initially if this was a polemic for religion in general, De Botton seems to wax enthusiastically about all the positives of religion without mentioning any of the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by petezefeet
5.0 out of 5 stars THANK YOU
This is by far the best and most useful of Mr de Botton's fabulously useful books. I cannot say how helpful it was if only for the huge sign of relief that "It is not just... Read more
Published 4 months ago by AngieT
1.0 out of 5 stars Simplistic and weak
Read the review by thomm which explains it better than I could. I found it painfully one sided and started to feel there was a hidden zealot in there.
Published 4 months ago by rjl999
1.0 out of 5 stars Too limited in religions considered
This is an example of a good subject by a good writer, but one that is limited in experience in a avriety of religions. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Do not use one
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting... read how religions have understood the human condition, and devised methods to overcome emotional problems. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ade
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