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on 27 October 2017
Alain de Botton is an engaging and popular writer on topics philosophical. He is also an atheist. But he takes a positive view of religion, not because it is 'true' but because it is (broadly) useful.it represents and gathers together a number of aspects of religious practice which might wisely be acknowledged and adopted by people regardless of their disposition towards religion as such. His chapter headings (here are a few of them) illustrate his general approach: Wisdom without Doctrine; Community; Kindness; Education; Tenderness; Pessimism. In each case he argues that mindsets and attitudes, as well as practices, represent a resource for living which the western world seems to have sidelined. I found this a stimulating book, and welcome even to (especially to?)
a lifelong Christian.
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on 17 August 2016
The author addresses a very palpable issue. Why despite having intellectually established the non-existence of God is religion still so relevant in peoples lives? I have always felt that the atheist makes a compelling argument against the non-existence but than packs up and goes home leaving the cultural issues of lack of community, kindness, education tenderness etc. The author argues that a more holistic approach has to be undertaken and encourages learning from strategies and tactics employed by all great religions which effectively tackled these issues over the previous centuries. I love the analogy with religious colonization which must be employed by the non-religious if they want to effectively impose their own ideas. In short they will have to develop their argument to tackle these cultural requirements, instead of merely gloating at having won the argument. It shouldn't be that difficult to achieve as its successfully been done before by all religions.

Not only is the book for readers with atheist inclination but also for the believers as it subtly exposes the religious propaganda developed over hundreds of years to tackle the various spiritual needs of its congregation.

Consider the very real issue of paragons in religion. The only real paragon in any religious propaganda is its prophet, which implicitly means that no follower of religion can attain such a level again, automatically absolving them of any responsibility of attaining religious perfection. This clever bit of spinning keeps its follower focusing on the 'message' while blaming themselves for not understanding its meaning when making mistakes. So basically every believer is encouraged to follow the prophet while at the same time told that he will never attain his level ever, however hard he tries. The maximum state achievable in a dedicated and pious life led is a saint or a Sufi, which are below the status of the founder prophet. No wonder that religion is still winning when the secular society chooses to counter this clever bit of chicanery with Super stars and singers.

Can culture really replace religion? Pretty ironic assumption by the athiest when you consider that the artistic revolution was funded and abetted by the Church as a way of wooing their congregation.

Alain's brialliant obeservations between secular and religious education highlight the rise of fundamentalism in ex-colonies like Pakistan, where secular education was introduced only in the early 1900's to replace the incumbent religious education. The huge reluctance of secular education to tackle human relationships gives an open field to the relgious schools to keep filling in their toxic propganda alive.
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on 29 March 2013
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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on 27 July 2016
A fantastic book which has been widely read and deserves to be even more widely read. I have a lot of sympathy with both Christian tradition and Atheism and Alain's analysis of the positive aspects of religion are both timely and perspicacious. This should annoy fundamentalist on both sides. I laughed out loud quite a few times when reading this as well. I think Alain's recommendations for secular society are a mixed bag. For example, I wasn't convinced by his agape restaurants but some of his ideas for education were intriguing.
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on 14 March 2014
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 me." This book should be on the list for all mental health care practitioners and well-being practitioners to issue to their clients. For any one seeking enlightenment with out the burden of having to believe in a deity. Sorry to probably mis-quote Tolkien but this book proves that "Not all those who wander are lost".

A huge thank you to the author for relieving me of part of my burden that I am the only freak who cannot cope and for shedding a bit of light on my journey.
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2012
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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on 7 March 2013
We atheists often live in a sterile world and those who were religious realise that the church (religion) had something going for it but it got lost when we threw out all the superstition. A baby and bathwater situation. de Botton resuscitates those attributes of religions which he feels are lacking in today's life and explores their uses and mechanisms of action.
He looks at Buddhism and Christians and Jews but not Muslim and Hindu or any others.
It is a good and interesting thesis but will be improved upon by others and include other belief systems. So far (75%) he has not constructed an Atheist set of rituals and ceremonies.
Easily read, not too long and not too detailed.
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on 1 March 2018
An interesting book for those of us who have no religion in our lives. The central theme being that even though we are not religious there are many aspects of religion which we should explore in order to live deeper, more meaningful lives. Furthermore, if the secular, corporate and cultural world could incorporate the positive lessons of religion into their daily activities we would be better placed to explore those elements of life which can cause anxiety and hurt.
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on 9 April 2016
I really enjoyed de Botton's line of argument in this book. I didn't agree with his argument or his conclusion but it was really well proposed and written. If you are looking for an unusual commentary on religion and atheism in a (slightly) less patronising way towards religion then this book is for you!
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on 4 February 2018
This book has more plot/research holes than a colander! Some novel ideas but also some outright untruths! An amusing and quick read but nothing particularly innovative.
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