Why atheists need (parts of) religions

April 9, 2014 | By | Reply More

According to Alain De Botton, Atheists should steal the best parts about religion and ignore the rest. If religions are, indeed, cultural products, things made by humans, then there is nothing wrong about atheists selecting the good things offered by each of religion and leaving the rest. “Pick and mix” without guilt as we do with any other creations of culture. “We naturally rifle through the buffet of cultures.” We can create our own cultural “playlist” and this can include some things offered by religions. At the 7 min mark, De Botton mentions that he likes the perspective of education that it is more than an attempt to feed the capitalist machine, but we also value it insofar that it makes us “better persons.” Check out the 10 minute mark, where he criticizes the common view that education can be narrowly construed because it is ASSUMED that we all know how to navigate the ethical dilemmas of life–he criticizes the view that proper university academics don’t soil themselves with the notion of how to live a good life. Religions take a very different view — that we are all broken creatures barely holding it together and we need constant help and guidance. Consider the notion of original sin, that we are all fragile and broken. DeBotton doesn’t agree with most of the advice religion offers regarding this fragility, but he agrees that we are all largely in the dark, struggling with what we should be doing with our lives, and it is important to recognize the human condition as such.

At 14:30, he touches on weakness of will, the fact that we are so often unwilling or unable to conform our behavior to what we know we should be doing. Religions recognize this as part of the human condition, and offer suggestions for strengthening the will. Secular approaches scoff at the repetition of moral lessons encouraged by religions, assuming that once you “learn” something there is no need to revisit it. But, as he points out, we are incredibly forgetful beings, and we need repetition. “Our minds are like sieves.” We totally forget the inspiring books and movies we read and see. Many of our ideas are “theoretical possibilities that get left along the wayside.”

Religions reinforce their central ideas through repetitive rituals. An example is the springtime ritual of Judaism, Zen Buddhism offer calmness in the form of an annual appointment whereby one is looks and celebrates the moon to put life in perspective.

Another mechanism for reinforcing is the repetitive oratory of religion, which often drives in the message deeply with an emotionally engaged audience, especially compared to the “dry oratory” of academia. (min 21).

I’m only at the 25 min mark, but I’m very much enjoying this presentation. De Botton offers many clearly expressed ideas delivered with humor and conviction.


Category: Religion

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 lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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