Religion For Atheists


Religion For Atheists

Alain de Botton's latest book "Religion for Atheists" sounds like a very interesting book to read. What is your opinion?

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Our Political Need to Learn from Religion

Started by Ruth Anthony-Gardner. Last reply by Ruth Anthony-Gardner Jun 18, 2013. 5 Replies

While I don't buy into all of Alain de Botton's version of Religion for Atheists, he makes good points about learning to meet social/emotional needs and building communities.In…Continue

Tags: climate destabilization, change management

His agape restaurant idea

Started by Ruth Anthony-Gardner. Last reply by Gareth Mensah May 13, 2012. 2 Replies

His description of agape restaurants was disappointing. How could someone of his alleged stature be so naive? Talk about "What I most regret?" with random strangers? The people at my table could be…Continue

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Comment by Michael OL on May 14, 2012 at 6:53pm

"gods, faith, worship or churches" is precisely what makes a belief system a religion.  Here's an example: many Americans hold an exceptionalist view about America - that it is special, or even superior.  The American flag is a special symbol, and the Anthem a special song.  For some this belief system is lukewarm.  For others it's downright fanatical.  But it is not a religion.  It would become a religion upon the assertion that America is God's special project and Americans are God's chosen people.  But not until then - no matter how shrill or jingoistic the display of national fealty.

There are many things worth believing without necessarily having compelling evidence.  When two people first fall in love, they believe that the beloved loves them, without putting the beloved through some special test or demanding a proof of love.  It is, as it were, an article of faith.  But when we say that the young man worships the girl with whom he is in love, we do so only metaphorically.  She is not literally a goddess.  She is only human - but a very special human.  His love is a deep love based on faith, but it is not a religion.

What makes religion so odious is that it demands not merely a set of behaviors based on faith, but outright worship.  A nation sends its youth to war, and some will die - really, based on faith - on the faith that only a national campaign of violence can forestall an even greater tragedy.  This faith may be compelling or it may be foolish.  It may be justified, or not.  It is a great leap of faith, but the faith is about something demonstrably physical - the survival of a nation.  There is no element of worship involved.  The element of worship enters when the justification for war is that "we're fighting God's war".  It is the infusion of worship that makes the campaign so odious.

Certainly, we who lack an adherence to church/synagogue/mosque/etc. are missing some potentially rewarding and inestimably uplifting human contact.  We do not congregate on a regular basis to affirm our communal identify and to assert, however superficially, a mutual promise of neighborly support.  This is sad.  At its finest, church can be a place for older people to find caregivers to help bring meals when the afflicted is housebound; a place for young people to find potential marriage partners; a place for kids to meet other kids for playtime.  By rejecting organized religion in a society suffused with religion, we largely reject access to the community.  As atheists, or just non-religious people, we desperately need a worthy surrogate; not a replacement for the doctrinal functions of church, but its communitarian functions.  But in so doing, we should not come to regard atheism as another religion, or even a quasi-religion.  Religion makes of humans inhuman demands.  Let us not, for feeling of inadequacy or regret, fall into the same trap.

Comment by Gareth Mensah on May 14, 2012 at 5:14pm


I agree that many religion ask us to surrender, but not all of them, I don't see that in animism or totenism. I think that maybe the issue with religion is that automatically we tend to think it comes with things like worship, faith, church, gods, etc, but religion is only defined as a belief system, it doesn't have to involve gods, faith, worship or churches. 

In your definition of atheism you mention a rejection of religious doctrine for their lack of evidence. But that's just what a religion is, a belief system, hence a set a claims without evidence. I agree that the burden of proof is on believers, but my atheism is not backed by evidence that there are no gods, so my atheism suffers the same lack of evidence. 

All I'm saying is what if atheism was as organized as other world religions, what if we too presented our beliefs to the world as alternative to current (I would say limited) religions. Religions do cultivate a great sense of community, of belonging, with meaningful rituals and celebrations. We atheists (in my opinion) don't provide any real alternative to that, and I think that we should. We should have our own calendar with atheist celebrations, we maybe even should "worship" our heroes, the Darwins, the Neitzsche and Socrates, just maybe, we should evangelize others to our belief system. 

As the fable goes, nobody cares about the Naked Truth, but if we dress the Naked Truth in the beautiful robes of parables and fables, then yeah, people will drink the cool aid. Until then, in my opinion, we'll always be the smart nerd with bad breath, yeah he's smart but nobody wants to talk to him.

Religion is not a bad word, it's just a belief system, and there will be a time when atheism will look like some old antic beliefs that future secular society will have overcome and moved on, the same way we atheists have moved on from antic abrahamic beliefs. Atheism as it exists today, in my opinion, is just a start, not the end of a new human paradigm, but it starts with accepting what we believe in, from what we know and have evidence of. imo.

Comment by Michael OL on May 14, 2012 at 4:44pm

No religion asks us merely to "believe" in some story or creed.  All religions require a surrender of self, a surrender to something by definition beyond human comprehension and beyond physical realization.  All religions teach that the individual human will is transitory, fraught with fundamental flaws, slouching towards hubris and ultimately towards self-defeat.  All religions require a profound reorientation of world view, where ourselves and our works and our aspirations become a distant secondary, far behind focus of worship in the religion.

Atheism is not the rejection of the idea that "the spiritual" is possible.  Atheism is the rejection of the claim that religious doctrines have sufficient evidence as to merit their espousal.  All beliefs, all modes of behavior, have a cost-benefit ratio.  I can focus on my career, or on my family, or on my hobbies, or on my exercise program, or on playing video games.  These are all choices, and are largely mutually exclusive.  Some choices are clearly better than others.  Other choices are far harder to distinguish in merit from competing choices.  But all have an opportunity-cost.  Atheism posits that religious worship has a cost that overrides its benefits, that however much we improve ourselves through the humility or charity that religion enjoins, on the whole we worsen ourselves and our lives.

There is much that is beautiful about religion.  But that does not make it true, or even compelling in the hypothetical.

Atheists to no worship themselves; we deny the very concept of worship, and therefore atheism can not be a religion.  It can be a mindset, or even a fashion.  It can and unfortunately does commit evils of its own.  But it is not a religion.

Comment by Colin O'flanagan Leahy on May 14, 2012 at 4:13pm

Gareth, I really enjoyed your "in depth" response for which I am very greatfull. And if I did strike a chord, I appologise. I could have been an atheist 2000 years ago, so from my angle science has never featured as the deciding factor. As an atheist I respect freedom of thought and so I respect the religionist and his belief. After all what would be the point of putting them down since I as an atheist am confident that we are all going the same way after death. So whatever you choose to believe is your bussiness. Its just that much more rewarding to grow daily in the truth. And even though I say this I know its controversial but I'm confident on my life that atheism is truth.

I feel atheists are not agnostic when it comes to the "God of Abraham" set of religions. However if you want to call us agnostic because we realize that there could be an inteligence bigger than the Universe (technically speaking) and not supernatural well then maybe it requires some debate.

Comment by Gareth Mensah on May 13, 2012 at 11:45pm

@Colin, I didn't see your comment before. Don't worry too much about my 'lack of depth', I don't hold a PhD in all things atheist, I just think that we as atheists are often marginalized by mainstream media, often attributed a mouth piece that does not represent the variety of opinions within the movement. I don't think there's one way to be an atheist, and just because my views on the subject differs from yours don't automatically mean that I lack a depth of understanding. 

My atheism is rooted in philosophy, I see atheism as a worldview that is rooted in materialism, hence on a reliance on the scientific method and empirical evidence to define reality. Yet I do not dismiss spirituality, I also believe in immaterial reality that cannot (at least for now) be backed by evidence. Now a lack of evidence is not the same as evidence of non-existence. Therefore my atheism is not one that look down on believers for lacking evidence in what they believe in, my atheism only promotes one amongst many way to define reality.

My atheism is not a tag that I wear, not it is a category I fit in, it's a philosophy, a spirituality, a journey towards the truth. I have friends and family that have different world views than mine, but I do not condescend them for having a different worldview than mine. I don't think atheism is some kind of absolute truth, hell, I can see 50 years down the line people condescending atheists the same way atheists currently condescend believers. It's all relative.

I don't mind being in disagreement, I like to argue, share my ideas, and improve them by listening to others. When we assume than others who don't share our views are wrong, then I think we miss on opportunities to challenge ourselves, our views, and overcome our own limitations. 

To me, what Alain de Botton has done, was simply to show that not every thing religious is bad, that there is a difference between atheism and anti theism, and that when we are not blinded by a hatred for all things religious, that there are elements in religion that we can borrow. Sun Tzu said it best, know yourself and you will not defeated, know yourself and the enemy, and you will win a thousand battles. If we don't acknowledge what religions are good at, then we're no better than them. 

if you want to argue about atheism and religion, then we can start with the following:

Can you prove that God doesn't exist? If not, while the burden of proof is on believers, to accept a claim without evidence is to accept a belief. Agnosticism is the only 'reasonable' position. Atheism to me (obviously not to most atheists) is a belief based on a long philosophical tradition. Now to go from a belief to a religion is a simple matter of organization. That atheism lacks such an organizing structure (again, to my point of view) is a weakness, not a strength. But feel free to follow with your views on the matter.

Comment by Colin O'flanagan Leahy on April 30, 2012 at 2:54pm

Gareth......please. I don't enjoy being in disagreement, but on this site I find an atheist mind that is suspect of depth. Atheism is a realization. It doesn't require brainwashing in order to ensure its ongoing existence. To treat it as a religion will only make a mockery of the movement. Think outside the box.  We have in our grasp a unique  opportunity. I feel greatly encouraged by what I read from atheists in the sites i've visited. We think the same. we have more in common than religionists internationally and no brainwashing was involved. Yes I do miss an atheist society in my area and more atheist friends, however the power of cyberspace atheism can be quite significant.

Comment by Colin O'flanagan Leahy on April 30, 2012 at 3:57am

I see. thanks Paula. I'm an amature musician myself and appreciate the attraction.

Comment by Paula F on April 29, 2012 at 7:51pm

Hi Colin! I'm not a particularly closeted atheist. I don't go to church to attend services; when I am in churches, it is usually because I am being paid to be there (I am a professional musician, and can be providing music for services, or playing concerts in churches during off-hours).

That being said, I often find traditional churches to be very beautiful--the older the better; cathedrals are especially awesome. I love a lot of the "trappings" but loathe the lies the institution is built on. Does that help clarify my position?

Comment by Colin O'flanagan Leahy on April 29, 2012 at 6:23pm

Paula, Am I hearing you right. You go to church to appreciate the historical significance. and so, you are a closet atheist. To me this shows utter disrespect towards the "reason why people are suppose to go to church in the first place". This action undermines the integrity of the establishment  and thereby probably infringes on its creed principals of membership.  Surely you know as an atheist  that deciept has been one of our enemies. Lets not take over the religionist religion through deciept.

I know i'm coming on strong but heh lets enjoy some good debate. I.m open. By the way I suppose you gather that I also don't go along with TED.


Comment by Nerdlass on April 25, 2012 at 12:05am

Got one. Naturalistic Pantheism. The Universe as divine. You get the awe and woo-feeling of embracing the beauty of nature, without the hang-ups of a true deity. It's more sublime than ethereal.

Sometimes, I miss the community of church, from my childhood, or even the like-minded appreciation of nature from pagan friends... but I find I can get in touch with those feelings whenever I want and not trump them up so much. I get the same feelings when I learn something new, especially about our universe. 


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