Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Mr de Botton, It’s all very nice but...

Peter Lockhart

Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists fits into that category of book that I found interesting at points but wondering why at the end.

Whilst it might be refreshing for some that de Botton takes a less vitriolic approach to the denial of God, as other atheists do, I kept wondering as I read ,"Why would anyone want to reject the foundational convictions and beliefs of religion and then try to grasp at holding on to the various practices of those religions?"

Maybe as an atheist Alain de Botton is just a super nice guy who has vision of a world in which people will all be pleasant to one another (ala Pleastanville). Or maybe, he is just a little confused about notions of the nature of being (ontology). Again and again he referred to the “soul” which for me grated against the idea of rejecting religion.

Without a coherent meta-narrative to explain spirituality and the soul atheism is left grasping at teleological straws and at times this how de Botton’s book felt.

Despite these deeper flaws I found myself interested in his critique of the humanist approach totally divorced from religion and his hankering for practices he deemed as good processes for the development of peoples’ lives.

Amongst his many examples I was introduced to quite a number of practices and insights into a variety of religions and even Christian practices which I knew little about. Having said this there were moments when he was analysing aspects of Christianity that I could hear myself saying, “he just doesn’t get it” – disconnecting the spiritual practice from the God in whom we believe just didn’t make sense.

Maybe Kim Fabricus’ comparison gave me fair warning of how insipid de Botton’s book was going to be - I couldn’t help thinking maybe de Botton should really have called it “Religion for Agnostics”.

Would I recommend reading? Maybe it fits into that Douglas Adams kind of thinking “Mostly Harmless”, so a bit of light reading with some helpful inisghts, but if you are searching for deeper answers and a bigger vision of hope I wouldn’t recommend it.

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