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

Alain de Botton
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Sep 2012
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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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (6 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241964059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241964057
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 18.6 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 340,881 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


Praise for "Religion for Atheists" "Highly original and thought-provoking book..... de Botton is a lively, engaging writer."--"Publishers Weekly" starred review "Quirky, often hilarious ...Focusing on just three major faiths -- Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism -- [de Botton] 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 " "One has to appreciate his pluck as much as his lucid, enjoyable arguments, and this book, like his previous titles, is a serious but intellectually wild ride. If anyone can 'rescue some of what is beautiful, touching and wise from all that no longer seems true, ' it's de Botton." -"Miami Herald" "[De Botton] demonstrates his usual urbane, intelligent, and witty prose, always entertaining and worth reading...this book will advance amicable discussion among both believers and disbelievers." "--Library Journal" "His approach, entertaining and enlightening, provides the thoughtful reader with endless enjoyment and an insight into de Botton's beliefs as well as his generous appraisal of the beliefs of others...brings insight and understanding to how religion may enhance the lives of nonbelievers." -Shelf Awareness "In earnest and lyrical prose, de Botton illuminates the practical functions of religion in a secular context...compelling." -"Kansas City Star" "A new book by Alain de Botton is always a treat...De Botton is literate, articulate, knowledgeable, funny and idiosyncratic." "[De Botton] is a master of the well-heeled, chatty and above all reasonable tone..."Religion for Atheists" is provocative and well-intentioned." -NPR "A wonderfully dangerous and subversive book." -"San Francisco Chronicle " "De Botton writes at his best when he confronts our abiding human frailty...I can't help but wholeheartedly recommend de Botton's new book. It pr

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
3 of 3 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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65 of 73 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Harry read this and says it's good. I trust Harry and you should too.
Published 20 hours ago by matthew salisbury
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
insightful and stimulating
Published 20 days ago by Tony C
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and thought provoking read
An excellent book drawing on the practices of many religions to inform various aspects of life we all face, whether religious or not
Published 1 month ago by minouche1
5.0 out of 5 stars Very intelligent book. Interesting suggestions towards new directions...
Very intelligent book. Interesting suggestions towards new directions of thought and action. I have always found that Alains books for me are as much self help books in the way... Read more
Published 1 month ago by james
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
I haven't received it yet so cant comment!
Published 1 month ago by Lizzie
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Not quite as revealing as I had hoped
Published 1 month 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 months ago by Charlie
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