Religion For Atheists

14 Mar

Alain de Botton gave an excellent lecture at the LSE describing what atheists can take from religion. It was drawn from his latest book.

So he says that he used to be the kind of atheist that wanted to convince the religious against their mistaken choice to believe. Since then he’s moved to a position of looking to some of the positives of religion and making use of them. He says that religion bought good, useful and enlightening things to mankind. He said religions could be regarded as works of culture and drawn from selectively, as we draw on different writers from enlightenment or entertainment.

He explained how religion dealt in things high culture ignored – how to live, how to die, how to have a good life. In short religions were not just about ideas, but dealt in “a total integration of the needs of the human body.”

Some of the key points are:
– organisation
In a church we have people from different walks of life, equalised given they’re all there for the same reason / under an alpha male / under a god. This variety gives great advantage and power to a group; it gives them influence and ability to achieve more things together, and so on.

learning
The inculcation involved in meeting weekly or more to hear the same ideas strengthens the group views repeatedly putting important facts / principles back in your mind that you would otherwise forget. This method should be considered more, given there are so many important things we may learn over our lives but may forget if we don’t return to them. This leads into the next useful idea

ritual
Religions have rituals and annual traditions to focus on important things. For example Alain described (I think) a Japanese festival where people will look at the moon and contemplate the fragility of life. Then eat a rice cracker.

The discussion after the lecture was very interesting. Here are some of the key points that came out:

Changing the mind of a religious person using rational argument may not work as that is not usually the way they arrive at their beliefs in the first place.

Some say this approach may be cherry picking; shouldn’t you take a religion all or nothing? His answer is “yes I’m cherry picking and why not”? One doesn’t have to believe all Shakespeare says to still find some useful things in there. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, my own view is that all religious people must pick and choose which parts of their religion to believe or use – whether cultural or from their text – due to the myriad contradictions therein, and the moral issues in following many of the millennial old rules, so a religious person does this them self. Whether they may admit that is another question.

Others may not want to go anywhere near such ideas as they dislike religion as they feel they may somehow be tainted by it. This does not have to be the case. Of course this may be much harder for someone with a personal history in the religious world, say, a woman from Saudi Arabia.

It’s also worth noting that religion took many of its traditions from other sources and appropriated them as their own, so they don’t necessarily have a unique claim to many of these ideas.

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