- Published on Monday, 23 January 2012 07:03
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2719
Alain de Botton argues that although there is certainly no god, religions are not entirely nonsense. If you put aside their dogma and stories about god, there is still some value left. In fact, one reason that religions are popular is because they cater to our needs. And it’s not a single aspect – they have multiple “virtues”. He suggests that atheists should stop being confrontational with religions – when something comes up that we disagree with, we should simply politely ignore it. Atheists and religious people should learn to live with each other. He says you don’t have to choose between a religion including a belief in a god on the one hand and the spiritual wasteland of CNN and Walmart on the other! You can just have the good parts of religion while keeping your beliefs. He calls that new way of thinking, Atheism 2.0.
So what are the good parts? Religions have good songs (e.g. Christmas carols), art (Church windows and Michelangelo), literature (King James bible) and music (Handel’s messiah). They have good communities at their Churches – they are good at making these attractive. They cater to the spiritualistic, mystical side of human nature. They know how to educate.
Atheists and the secular world can and should learn from them and adopt their methods.
He explains these in the TED talk below but let me summarize – for all major organized religions anyway.
- They handle education well:
- They believe that people all need help in living their lives and they address that point by stressing guidance, morality and consolation and they use sermons to do that. Not lectures which simply provide information.
- They have learned that repetition works – “you must pray 10-15 times a day”
- They organize themselves to remind people annually about their product (ideas) – e.g. the calendar includes Christmas, Easter and days where specific saints and virtues are remembered.
- They believe in good speakers – great orators – look at the fundamentalist preachers and the enthusiasm they generate.
- They cater to not just our brains but also our bodies e.g. They use rituals that involve the body.
- They use art well. They are not shy about being clear what the art means – it’s not obscure. We could take that example and make our art more popular.
- They are large, organized, collaborative institutions. They are like big companies ; they are branded and multi-national. They make lots of money selling their highly valued product which is: “how to live”. Compare this to the secular world where artists and poets are on their own – they are not organized the same way.
- They also create communities and cater to the communities. We could learn from how they operate. Why not cater to the need of many to make pilgrimages like religions do – it would do wonders for the travel industry.
The secular world (and atheists) could learn from religions and ensure that our culture imitates their good things. But watch the video – Alain explains it much better than I ever could.
I'm not sure I agree with all this - but what he says is certainly interesting.
The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre (151ft) tower to celebrate a "new atheism" as an antidote to what he describes as Professor Richard Dawkins's "aggressive" and "destructive" approach to non-belief.
Rather than attack religion, De Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.
"Normally a temple is to Jesus, Mary or Buddha, but you can build a temple to anything that's positive and good," he said. "That could mean a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective. Because of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens atheism has become known as a destructive force. But there are lots of people who don't believe but aren't aggressive towards religions."
Dawkins criticised the project on Thursday, indicating the money was being misspent and that a temple of atheism was a contradiction in terms.
"Atheists don't need temples," the author of The God Delusion said. "I think there are better things to spend this kind of money on. If you are going to spend money on atheism you could improve secular education and build non-religious schools which teach rational, sceptical critical thinking."
The spat came as De Botton revealed details of a temple to evoke more than 300m years of life on earth. Each centimetre of the tapering tower's interior has been designed to represent a million years and a narrow band of gold will illustrate the relatively tiny amount of time humans have walked the planet. The exterior would be inscribed with a binary code denoting the human genome sequence.
The philosopher said he has raised almost half the funds for the project from a group of property developers who want to remain anonymous. He hopes to find the rest of the money with a public appeal, and construction could start by the end of 2013 if permission is granted by the Corporation of London.
De Botton said he chose the country's financial centre because he believes it is where people have most seriously lost perspective on life's priorities.
The idea has echoes of earlier atheist spaces, ranging from churches converted to "temples of reason" during the French revolution to the Conway Hall in London which is run by the humanist South Place Ethical Society. The plan is already proving controversial and attempts to secure public sector backing have struggled. Discussions with City authorities about a possible site stalled because "they can't be seen to be connected to anything to do with atheism", the project's architect, Tom Greenall, said.
The temple features a single door for visitors who will enter as if it were an art installation. The roof will be open to the elements and there could be fossils and geologically interesting rocks in the concrete walls.
Humanists said it was misplaced for non-believers to build quasi-religious buildings, because atheists did not need temples to probe the meaning of life.
The things religious people get from religion - awe, wonder, meaning and perspective - non-religious people get them from other places like art, nature, human relationships and the narratives we give our lives in other ways," said Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Society.
De Botton has insisted atheists have as much right to enjoy inspiring architecture as religious believers.
"The dominant feeling you should get will be awe - the same feeling you get when you tip your head back in Ely cathedral," he said. "You should feel small but not in an intimidated way."
Another Anglican, the Rev George Pitcher, a priest at St Bride's, Fleet Street, and a former adviser to the archbishop of Canterbury, "rejoiced" in the idea. "He is referring to a sense of human transcendence, that there is something more than our visceral existence," Pitcher said.
"Building a monument acknowledges that we are more than dust. Whether we come at that through secular means or a religious narrative, it is the same game.
"This is a more constructive atheism than Dawkins, who is about the destruction of ideas rather than contributing new ones."
An interesting discussion. The good news is that people are talking about it and seeing that atheists do not all think the same. In this case, I tend to agree with Dawkins - this idea seems to support the wrong belief that atheism is just another religion.
Alain de Botton is on a world tour promoting his book and he was interviewed recently by Globe and Mail's John Allemang. Some of the questions he answered were particularly interesting.
Instead of debating dogma, he thinks it is smarter to steal organized religion's best ideas: the art and architecture, spirit of community and humbling perspective on humanity that have kept belief systems going strong for centuries.
Q. What should atheists learn from religion - what's worth stealing?
Religion understands we need guidance, that we can't get through this life without help in challenging moments. The vulnerability and fragility of being human are right at the centre of religious analysis. Obviously there's a supernatural component as well, the reassurance about the next life. But there's also interesting stuff going on about community, holding people together in a group, breaking through the feeling of loneliness. There's reassurance about marriage, relationships and children. And throughout religious practice, there's an emphasis on wisdom: A lot of religion is about finding peace in a noisy world, about being alone in silence, about collecting one's thoughts and finding a focus. And you find that religion uses rather unorthodox methods to teach people stuff: architecture, art, music, food, certain clothing. Atheists often think that religions are just about a book, so we must write a book to make the whole edifice fall apart. But religion is only secondarily about a book.
Q. In the first line of your book, you say it is boring and unproductive to look for truth in religion. Why doesn't truth matter?
It doesn't matter because it's not available. The question is impossible - any discussion is going to be caught in a stalemate where the atheist declares the religious person to be an idiot, and the religious person declares the atheist to be damned. So you waste a lot of time.
See the whole article here. Globe and Mail