I’m going to be honest. I don’t much care for the hard-headed and hard-boiled thoughtlessness of the hardline atheist. This is a path well trodden by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, both of who show a complete lack of ability to comprehend anything other than their own ego. Much modern atheism leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and many who would count themselves as “atheist” become just as irritating as those who are fundamentalist about their chosen religion. This has filtered down to the lower end of the internet and everyone appears to have an opinion and is only interested in entrenching themselves within that opinion to the exclusion of any other consideration . Tolerance and care seem to have disappeared with the pseud-anonymity of the interface of social media.
Therefore how refreshing it is to read a text by someone who has actually thought things through. De-Botton takes the themes and processes of the religious institutions and explains how they work in peoples lives and how these ideas may be transposed to give a structure and meaning to a life without a supernatural religion.
In this, it could be argued, that he is creating an edifice which is analagous to a religion, but that is where the analogy ends. Most atheists equate the word “religion” with Christianity or Islam, because they can’t think far enough to get past that (that’ll be you then….). De Botton shows us a set of ideals which could take the place of a number of the functions of religion. He looks at those things religion has given us and how stripping them away from our world would leave us bereft of much of society as we know it.
There is much to be learnt in here and not least for those who are adherents to a religion. These too could learn to think a little more carefully about the society in which they live and approach their own thinking with a heart which is a tad less closed.
All in all this book is about what it means to be human, how we perceive our world, what we choose to bring into it, and take from it.
I might even go so far as to say that this book shows religious adherents a way to reconsider their faith in the light of a world which seems largely indifferent to religious thought and is becoming a much colder and heartless place as a result. Perhaps there is a way to warm it up and improve it for everyone, even those who cannot bring themselves to consider a supernatural element