Atheism 2.0

| January 29, 2012 | 1 Reply

Alain de Botton doesn’t believe in supernatural beings, but suggests that non-believers should change the way they think about religions and their followers. Through their religions, followers are seeking many of the sorts of things the secularists seek, or should seek.

Many people enjoy Christmas carols, old churches and the ritualistic and community aspects of religions, but don’t believe in any sorts of fairies. Until now, they were forced to live in “a spiritual wasteland” in order to partake of the parts of religion that they enjoy.

In this TED talk, De Botton suggests that atheism should be about sorting through religion and picking up the things that are worthwhile and ignoring the rest. Secularists intend to replace scripture with culture, but higher institutes of society, including institutes of learning see humans as rational adults needing only information and data rather than guidance and didactic learning. We do need guidance, though, and this is best delivered through some sort of scheduled and somewhat repetitive sermons rather than mere lectures (which deliver merely data and information).

We all need ritual, which can be a simple as scheduling that we look at the moon on a regular basis, to remind ourselves that we are small in a vast universe. In a religion, the ideas are delivered through a particular type of rhythmic talking, and physical actions and movements. Religions also recognize the importance in art. The modern world, through our system of museums and schools, puts art in a hermetic bubble and tries to explain art rather than allowing it to become a visceral encounter. Religion allows art to be didactic. In the modern world, artists tend to be isolated individuals, not collaborating their efforts through an organization. He adds that religions are big well-monied machines that can encourage this sort of collaboration–the secular world should consider similar collaborations for spreading ideas of higher meaning. He adds that there need not be any particular leaders for this effort–he offers that perhaps it can be done though a wiki.

Religion offers powerful communal advantages, even for those who don’t believe any of religious dogma. Religion offers a highly effective mechanism for spreading ideas. Atheism 2.0 can use these techniques to cultivate the idea that the world is about much more than any particular person.

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Geoff Coupe says:

    As I’ve written elsewhere, what really irritated me about de Botton’s performance in this TED talk, is that he opens it with a thinly-veiled sneer at Richard Dawkins, saying that “many [people] who live in North Oxford” simply find religion ridiculous. De Botton then has the effrontery to go on to say that:

    ‘I’m interested in the kind of constituency that thinks something along these lines: that thinks, “I can’t believe in any of this stuff, I can’t believe in the doctrines. I don’t think these doctrines are right. But,” a very important but, “I love Christmas Carols, I really like the art of Mantegna. I really like looking at old churches. I really like turning the pages of the Old Testament”.’

    So de Botton has created another Dawkins strawman by his sneer, because, in fact, Dawkins is in just the kind of constituency that de Botton claims he is interested in. Dawkins is on record as recognising himself as a cultural Christian, who loves listening to Carols, and who, in The God Delusion, writes:

    ‘…an atheistic world-view provides no justification for cutting the Bible, and other sacred books, out of our education. And of course we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.’

    I should note that I’ve read very little of de Botton that I have been able to nod my head in agreement with, or indeed, take seriously. Give me Daniel Dennett any day…

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