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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An atheist in praise of religion
This is a really engaging, funny and intelligent book. A manifesto for non supernatural religion.
De Boton is an atheist (like me) who has written a book in praise of religion, or rather the very powerful and important things that religion does well. He left me realising that as an atheist I have a void in my life which should be filled, if only I could get over the...
Published 17 months ago by StuartM

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97 of 112 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far below par for Alain de Botton
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...
Published on 5 July 2012 by Dr. Simon Howard


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An atheist in praise of religion, 20 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion (Paperback)
This is a really engaging, funny and intelligent book. A manifesto for non supernatural religion.
De Boton is an atheist (like me) who has written a book in praise of religion, or rather the very powerful and important things that religion does well. He left me realising that as an atheist I have a void in my life which should be filled, if only I could get over the supernatural stuff which I cannot believe.
More importantly, he points out that secular societies as a whole have many voids which have been left by the retreat from religion.

But he goes further: he sets out how these voids could be filled if there was a will to do so, using the art, architecture and intellectual and creative capital of our societies. It would involve us not backing away from the big questions in life, or understanding that we all face dilemmas and fears, but harnessing secular ideas to tackle them. Could museums and galleries become places themed around the big issues in life rather than the period of origination? Could luxury hotels be spiritual as well as physical retreats? Could restaurants be places where people are encouraged to meet and welcome strangers? Could we harness nature and great art to give us all a sense of perspective and peace?

I had a lovely moment this morning while walking the dogs where I was confronted by a beautiful natural scene, and realised this book had made me determined to be more aware of quasi-religious moments.

The author concludes accurately: if only we could find another word, instead of the heavily loaded 'religion', many more of us could embrace these ideas.
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74 of 82 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). In universities literary texts are so often presented for dissection in such a clinical, detached manner, as if connecting them with our lives and drawing practical value from them would be somehow embarrassing or un-academic - and yet there are centuries of life experience and acquired wisdom to be drawn from them.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the hidden benefits of pessimism, and I agree with the author that a capitalist-oriented emphasis on optimism, choice and the power of the individual to `achieve anything you want,' can be terribly damaging, because of its implication that failure is then the fault of the individual, and not attributable to environmental factors or sheer bad luck. One of the gifts of religion is to help us accept our flaws and the limitations imposed on us with grace and humour, instead of succumbing to self-loathing and despair because we don't match up to impossible expectations. De Botton proposes that we share some of our darkest emotions via an anonymous `Wailing Wall', giving consolation to others by helping them understand they are not alone in their loneliness, anxiety, social inadequacy, etc.

The book also covers the subject of the beauty and meaning inherent in religious art and architecture, and how this sense of awe could be transferable to buildings and museums in the secular world - the controversial idea of `atheist temples.' Last weekend, with this in mind I visited Westminster Abbey, which I haven't been to since my childhood. I was left stunned by the immense beauty and brilliance of the architecture, and the love and devotion that must have inspired it, but it also struck me how differently people behaved inside the building; the hushed voices, and the lack of shoving, pushing and tutting that you experience in any crowded space in central London. I doubt that all of the tourists were believers, but we were all spellbound by the atmosphere. I believe this sense of reflectiveness and sanctuary could be consciously replicated in a secular temple dedicated to perspective, love or friendship, as the author proposes.

I think this is a fascinating and very brave book that will no doubt attract criticism from both sides, and I admire Alain de Botton's courage in stepping into the midst of the debate. I would recommend it to anyone who can't accept outdated superstition, yet seeks an alternative to existing purely to gain material wealth and status in a selfish, individualistic society.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the tin, 22 July 2013
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This review is from: Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Random yet Interesting !, 29 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion (Paperback)
The basic tenet is that the expressions of religious beliefs have a lot ideas the secular world can usefully take up in terms of their structures and rituals, art and architecture, and sense of 'community'..

There are many assumptions about human responses - for example, I am not sure that knowing the incredible distance of the nearest galaxy will make the depressed amongst us standing on a railway bridge feel less suicidal? Thinking of the effect on the train driver might just do that. And for some people watching a 'flickering screen' e.g. a scarey but not too scarey film can help them to sleep - not keep them awake as de Botton contends. Reading Montesquieu savouring every sentence does not always work (eg The Cannibals chapter ). There is mention by de Botton of tragedies in "every " life - but some people suffer a great deal more than others and cannot, as he ruminates, think back to being comforted by a parent if they never were.

Ideas are scattered along the way of this book and to be useful all need to be developed much further - such as that "hope" causes grief - this is a very interesting idea though it is the death of hope which does that. And that beauty can help us to feel better: this is a good notion however there is a massive assumption that it makes us better people: (you may be more likely to get an act of kindness/neighbourliness in the ugly back streets of a poor city than in a picturesque commuter village but making one corner of your room cheery can be life enhancing) . Love seems to conflated with instinct e.g. the love of your own infant is very different from the decision to continue to love a person in your life who is being very difficult, or to befriend an isolated stranger.

There is maybe a touch of romance about religion especially references to the Catholic church - the structures can help but like all institutions there are those who 'belong' more than others (e.g. arguably, democratisation favours the bold - the fight for gender equality will seldom change social class structures which are becoming more rigid) The comments about the need for people to have more realistic views of marriage - child raising not happiness- is another idea cast on the waters. But whilst happiness may not be a valid objective a happier parent may be better able to manage the child raising.

In summary I found this to be book of personal, roughed-out ideas and themes on creating happiness and community with less about the how and who decides what is "good" The large number of photo. reproductions are not so good. The effects of religion on creating community a touch historical and maybe overestimated ('outsiders' remain outsiders for most churches) and the notion of having "psychoanalytically trained travel agents" to suss out our needs may be an intrusion too far with potentially startling consequences (and lots of divorces?)..But this would be a brilliant starter for a discussion on the many topics covered - a good work for a secular non fiction book /philosophy group - or church meeting - and an engaging read for the rest of us.
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97 of 112 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far below par for Alain de Botton, 5 July 2012
By 
Dr. Simon Howard "sjhoward" (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Advocatus Diaboli, 25 Mar. 2012
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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Alain de Botton is often prone to (as we say) "'avin' a laugh", but he is careful to do it when you least expect. Given that many people take religion and atheism very seriously indeed his style of counter-argument is bound to ruffle some feathers amongst both groups. His concept; that one can thieve the best bits from religion and recreate them in a secular environment seemed to be light-hearted to me but I think I am in the minority. I found the book very interesting though his examples of religions are ones that dwell on practice and process perhaps more than the Protestant liberal Christianity of Britain and America. Given that religious people seem from research (much quoted in The Economist) to be happier and more contented than the secular there may well be elements that we can recreate, but I doubt de Botton is actually advocating this to any great degree. The book is an excellent opportunity to see the mundane once again through new eyes.
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106 of 126 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, 26 Jan. 2012
I don't usually write reviews but felt compelled to now as I absolutely loved this book. It's erudite, witty, imaginative and packed with great ideas. I'm an atheist who has often been drawn to aspects of religion, but couldn't really articulate why. In clear, illuminating prose, this wonderful book has explained what the attractions of religion might be for the likes of me and also given me loads of food for thought. It's also a very human book and ultimately very consoling.
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106 of 127 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing. Unnecessary., 21 Feb. 2012
When I first took this from the shelves and had a read through the opening pages, I was intrigued enough to take it home and read it through. Alain de Botton's laid-back, easy-reading style and his liberal usage of pictures means it's a quick read. This is the only reason I made it to the end: the content itself was very disappointing. The journalistic and slightly patronising tone which de Botton utilises means that he can only ever make superficial points, and many of the points he does make in more depth feel desperate, and sometimes just unresearched.

His suggestions as to how we could improve secular society, including by building temples for reflection and suchlike, often seem arbitrary; one might throw them out there at a dinner table and follow it up with "I dunno, I'm just brainstorming here", or something equally vague, but it has no place in a philosophical text. Most of the book feels like it's still in these experimental, unconsidered stages, including the photoshopped pictures of his futuristic secular-cum-religious world, which are at times simply embarrassing, and always unnecessary. There are times when his whole philosophy seems skin-deep, such as when he argues that the human race is too often self-absorbed, not considering its transitional place in Nature and the Universe. This, he suggests, should lead to us moderating our emotions and being more understanding and empathetic. However, others could, and have, argued, using the same basic assumption, that our meaninglessness could entitle us to live our own transitory life as we wish. Or, as our tiny self is the only thing we will ever truly know, self-fulfilment and hedonism are the only paths in which we can believe. I do not subscribe to this viewpoint, but at no point does de Botton suggest he has even considered it. His basic assumption that we must be nice, friendly, kind, self-controlled people is bland and never defended.

At no point does de Botton consider that perhaps secular society abandoned things such as sermons because of the principle of moral relativism, which suggests that a government preaching any specific moral doctrine, however secular, is partisan, and in multi-cultural countries can lead to racism and exclusion. Equally, the observance of specific rituals such as having every day of the year given over to some 'secular Saint', like Shakespeare or Compte, completely ignores the fact that Shakespeare has no absolute power to heal or provide guidance, and leaves some readers cold. We abandoned this kind of proscription because it was ignorant and repressive of opposing beliefs. What moral guidelines does de Botton suggest his 'secular priesthood' should lay down? If they're each allowed their own ideas, and we have a choice in whether to agree, they're no better than the small-scale writers of whom he is so dismissive. I assume a thinker like de Botton has thought of these things, but if he did see the great number of potential counter-arguments, he did not bother to address them.

I would agree there are elements of religion which are admirable, but I frequently do not agree with the selections de Botton makes, and he rarely explains his decision to include certain themes. Architecture, for example. He generalises that modern architecture is functional but ugly and old Catholic architecture instead shows an understanding of the needs of the soul. I completely disagree. This suggests that architectural beauty is linked to vulgar decoration and ornamentation; whilst I would accept that grey concrete is not heart-warming, I'd say the architecture of cathedrals is often a sickening show of self-importance on the part of the church, perhaps in honour of God's enormity, but in that sense not in any way a concept the secular world would want to employ.

One argument that could be seen as genuinely offensive is de Botton's suggestion that places of education ignore all the higher needs of their students. Has de Botton ever read an English syllabus? He suggests specifically during the section on education that we never attempt to extrapolate what 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' may tell us about relationships and love, for example. This was a question posed by the AQA A-level syllabus this very year. I think decent lecturers in the Humanities would be annoyed by de Botton's flippant suggestion that there is no attempt to provide extra-curricular guidance for the students. Yes, ihe level of moral propaganda and brain-washing in the Humanities has definitely decreased with secularisation, but not at the expense of moral discussion or questioning; it just gathers opinions in a less self-reverent and exclusive manner. This is just an example, but it is not the only place where this book is seriously lacking any kind of real evidence. When de Botton does provide evidence, it comes as a pleasant and notable surprise.

As I wrote this review, I felt rather uncharitable (which would make me de Botton's perfect misguided atheist, I suppose), but I have written it to counterbalance the 5-star reviews which suggest that this book will somehow leave you feeling fulfilled and ready to face life with new eyes. To me, as I have explained, it felt superficial, deliberately forgetful of inconvenient opposing philosophies, unresearched and barely worth reading, but for a few truisms and astute observations, mostly available from the mouths of other famous people on quotegarden.com.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Alain De Botton: Religion for Atheists Review, 24 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion (Paperback)
I am familiar with Alain de Botton's books and have quite a soft spot concerning this author. On Love endeared him to me with its rather humorous analysis at times on the trajectories of emotional stages in a relationship and The Architecture of Happiness was an eye opener when I read it as part of my studies at university. I was excited to see this released and anticipated the knowledge and inspiration De Botton would impart to me this time.

Sadly for me Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion is a disappointing read. Instead of being inspired by the conclusions that De Botton reaches as I normally would do Religion for Atheists, despite its self help book title, feels muddled in its argument and seems to be an unfinished book in many senses: I found that De Botton would point at a problem the modern world experiences, propose a religious solution and show how religion did this first, suggest ways in which this solution can benefit society, but then leaves his argument at this point rather than progress it further to convince his readers why this should be taken on board.

Religion for Atheists is a very biased and one-sided look at how ideas first fostered by religion can benefit mankind now. The best description I have is that De Botton's approach to the subject seems like a pick and mix selection; in choosing to look at the better characteristics religion promotes the negative side of how it has been a channel for man to abuse their power in is ignored. Although this is not part of De Botton's analysis it is for this reason Religion for Atheists is an underwhelming read and makes De Botton appear idealistic and naive regarding what religion can do.

Another part of why this book does not succeed as a guide is that there does not appear to be a cohesive argument unifying his chapters as one whole: paradoxically, by separating this book into chapters and choosing a different aspect of a religion to apply to, say education, this only reinforces the individual and isolated nature of the lives led already even if De Botton proposed the solution to bring people together to have more meaningful and soulful lives. Unless all the different parts to our lives such as institutions, architecture and community all agree to operate with a similar set of values at the same time to ensure the change to a wisdom and knowledge based life is implemented then the benefits suggested for each sector remain limited within it and De Botton does not put an argument forward for how a move to unifying these areas can be done. Perhaps to do so would be to suggest a move towards a new religion - something this author is not trying to do.

This book has not made a convert of me and has not sufficiently persuaded me that religious ideas can still enable us to become better, rounded, and wiser people through the interactions we have with each other and on a more larger scale.
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48 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity and an evidence free zone, 20 Feb. 2012
By 
Stephen Balchin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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I'm an atheist, and come to this having read God is Not Great and the God Delusion. I also wanted to like this book, I was looking for something would assess what it was that religion offered to people and what we would sensibly keep in a secular society.

Sadly this really didn't do it. Oh there's lots of nice ideas: the Jewish day of atonement is a useful ritual which gives everyone an excuse to say sorry for things; religious meals bring people together who otherwise wouldn't speak to each other - but the analysis really doesn't get any more deep than that. Sadly this is a Alain de Botton polemic, the argument full of anecdote, assertion, and straw man assessments of what non-religious societies value. This book doesn't attempt to make any assessment of what makes religious ritual work (eg is the belief in God bit critical??), any real critical assessment of whether they can be carried over to a secular world, or even whether the secular world has already absorbed some of these approaches - after all atheists already do do Christmas, and faith in football teams looks pretty religious to me.

To give a couple of examples he cites Pentecostal churches and their 'Yes Lord!' enthusiasm as something academics should aspire to in teaching people. I can already see this 'religious' enthusiasm in the secular world at political rallies and at Glastonbury in front of the biggest bands (de Botton seems to have missed this). But I'd want to keep it as far away as possible from universities and learning which I'd hope would be about questioning based on evidence and rather than repetition and chanting.

As another example he cites the Catholic Mass as something that brings everyone together and makes them equal, breaking down existing hierarchies. Though I appreciate the sentiment churches in Europe often had reserved seating for the upper classes, and can easily reflect back a very class bound society (note the verse of All Things Bright and Beautiful which sings of "the rich man at his castle the poor man at his gate"). There's little real acknowledgement that there's some things we must learn to do from religions and some things we should keenly learn not to do - and how we distinguish them, or the conditions which generate the good or the bad.

I can't help thinking that an this book would have benefitted from talking to - say an anthropologist or a psychologist along the way - or anyone who new how to engage with evidence gathering. Richard Leyard and his work on happiness do some of this work on what builds community, morality and happiness in a much more evidence based way (and without banging on about either God or a lack of God). There was a good idea in this book, sadly not a strong execution.

(And finally some people obviously find de Botton's style witty and engaging. Really can't see it myself, but each to his or her own on that issue.)
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