Do we need an atheist religion?

January 21, 2012 • 6:14 am

In this TED talk, Alain de Botton (an author who specializes in popular philosophy) proposes “Atheism 2.0,” which rejects all deities and supernatural acts but caters to the “ritualistic side” of some atheists.

The highlights:

  • 0:32: Implicit snark directed toward Richard Dawkins
  • 4:00: Begins tirade about how education, in contrast to religion, fails to provide guidance for how to live (e.g. how can we be moral?). Here de Botton neglects the fact that in countries where religion has taken a nosedive, morality remains high—indeed, often higher than in religious countries.
  • 7:00: Says that we need to “structure time” through calendars, so we can think about certain things at certain times.
  • 7:50: We need rituals. 
  • 8:30: We need to learn the art of oratory, which supposedly is so important in religion.
  • 9:40:  We need to adopt ritual baths from the Jews: a fusion of brain and body.
  • 10:40: We need to learn how to use and interpret art as propaganda: art should be didactic, and explicitly so.
  • 12:30:  We need to learn how to foster sociality by forming institutions. The Catholic Church is his example; all we need is a secular institution like the Vatican: multinational, branded, and with a clear identity.

This is all a facile attempt to appropriate the trappings of religion as something essential to an atheist world.  But do we need sermons and the endless repetition of “lessons”?  Secular Europe does just fine without these things.  What we need, as sociological studies indicate, is not stained glass, potted lilies, and a gasbag orator, but a society that cares about its citizens.  For, as those studies show, societies that tend to be healthy are also the secular ones, and their citizens need not turn to sky-fathers for solace.  Yes, we can have our rituals of marriage and funerals, but ritual baths? Calendars marking when we should observe what?  I think not.

180 thoughts on “Do we need an atheist religion?

  1. You only need ritualised moralising if a large part of society isn’t reflective. Change that, and religion isn’t as necessary.

    Incidentally, my opinion of TED has lessened somewhat after finding out they gave this pseud airtime.

    1. I’ve been concerned about the direction TED has been going in the last few years. I’ve noticed a slow creep of talks such as this and am a bit worried that they’ve lost focus. I understand that sometimes you need to air differing ideas to stimulate thought, but giving these people a platform at TED denotes credibility.

      They have a similar program (if that’s the word) in India. It used to be called TEDIndia, but is now called INK (Innovation and knowledge). Both are associated with TED. In 2010, Deepak Chopra was one of their speakers. Yes, Deepak Chopra. Innovation and knowledge? I think not.

      Anyway, I agree with your concerns about TED and I don’t watch their presentations as often as I used to, though most of their talks are still wonderful.

      1. “Anyway, I agree with your concerns about TED and I don’t watch their presentations as often as I used to,”

        Same here. Poor quality control.

        1. According to Radio 4 this week, the ownership or managership of TED changed hands in the last few years and a Brit now runs it; can’t, for the life of me, remember the details. Perhaps another Brit could clarify?

  2. Why is this guy so well known? I am yet to hear a single thing from him that was either really original or really interesting. Never even mind whether it is true! I tend to think of his status as philosopher as akin to the status of the personal ‘philosophies’ that everyone seems to think they have.

        1. I’m not well acquainted with his work, but reading about him and his books on the internet, it sounds as though one of his goals is to popularize philosophy. This in itself is a laudable goal, but I don’t know that he’s going about it in the right way, always assuming that he’s up to the task. For a good example of somebody who did, in his time, successfully popularize philosophy, there’s none better than Bryan Magee. If de Botton produced a series like The Great Philosophers, I would watch it.

    1. +1000

      One of the long-winded lesser bloggers on FTB has written screeds on why we need an atheist religion (at least, that is what others say he has written, it’s all tl:dr for me). Have no clue why we’d need one. It’s the old saw of “what do you replace the cancer with?”

      1. ” It’s the old saw of “what do you replace the cancer with?” LOL! Thanks, I’m still laughing at just how good this analogy is! No, I really am still chuckling away 🙂

  3. Church of the Subgenius.

    A church even I can believe in. A church that teaches people like Alain de Botton to be careful what they wish for, because they might get it.

    1. How about Discordianism? To become a Discordian Pope (all those baptized automatically become Popes, without prejudice of gender, race, ethnicity or colour), you are supposed to eat a pork hot dog on Friday. That way, you violate the sacred tenets of all the Dharmic religions (no meat), Islam and Judaism (no pork), many sects of Christianity (no meat on Friday) and Discordianism (no hot dogs). That is a necessary and sufficient condition to become a Discordian.

  4. I watched most of this TED talk and had to contain my anger at all the stupidity it contained. I could not finish watching.

    The TED talks used to be informative, innovative and entertaining. Lately, I am only interested in about one out of five topics and disappointed in almost all of those.

    1. Agree. To me there has been a “dumbing down” in TED talks of late. Maybe with the widespread interest in their earlier talks they have decided to expand the quantity without the earlier passion for quality.

  5. Evolution has produced us humans who have a wondrous gift for worshiping the transcendent. Most atheists and many Humanists tend to deny this aspect of our identity. I think what de Botton is talking about is capturing some of that for us who have no beliefs in an external divinity but long for the emotional charge that comes from that experience. As an ex-Catholic, I know I do.

    1. Evolution has taught us to “worship”? No… religion has taught us to worship; actually….it demands that we worship. I’m not an expert in Evolution, but have been studying the topic and have yet to come across anything about worshipping!

      1. Religion has viciously co-opted our natural tendency to believe in something bigger than ourselves. This provided the societal glue in early hominids that is ingrained in our psyche which is the basis for religious belief. The inspiration for such beliefs does not require gods but an appreciation for the transcendent.

      2. What absolute nitpickery. While evolution didn’t “teach” anyone anything, some of us – apparently a majority – believe in a deity. De Botton is acknowledging that many who discard religious believes feel “empty” due to a loss of social interaction and ritual. You might reasonable say that some humans (most even!) have adapted to rituals. Try looking outside of religion – shopping, meetings with friends, weekend sport, certain TV programs at certain times, commuting to work, meetings… ritualism is everywhere. If one perhaps entertains the idea behind a comment before immediately trying to fault it or misunderstand it (as if there were merit in this!) then maybe one might learn something.

    2. Yeah, thing is it was rammed down your head when you were young and vulnerable and it carries forward to this day. Had that not been done to you at an early age, you’d not be saying this right now.

    3. Your upbringing has led you to attach a positive connotation to the word “worship.” I cringe when I hear the word. Respect, or even reverence, are ideas I can get behind. But there’s nothing in me that compels me to respect or revere anything utterly, blindly and unconditionally, which is what I think of when I think of the word “worship.”

    4. Finally someone who gets it! Reading the rest of the comments on this blog you’d think atheists already had religion and de Botton had insulted their dogma!

      And the (excuse me) feeble comparison of “what do your replace the cancer with?” is a weak minded comparison. Try: what will you replace the cigarettes with.
      The trappings of religion are addictive to religious people. Why not help the transition to “raw atheism” with something *like* a religion. And it’s an idea, not an all-dominating prescription. Saying it’s ‘not for me’ doesn’t mean it’s not exactly what’s required for the religious among us – the majority of the population of the globe that believes in some sort of deity or higher power.

  6. Note that the last 6 of your highlight points begins with de Botton saying we “need to…”
    What we possibly need is for people to stop telling other people how to run their lives. If he succeeds in atheism 2.0, at least I can also become an a2.0ist.

  7. I hate ritual. Ritual is what people do when they can’t think of a good thing to do by themselves. In other words it is automatized action without thought.

    And seeing as Jewish ritual baths come along with the nasty baggage of purification for filthy women (Mikveh) and their filthy biological functions, I’ll pass.

    At least one of the things that put me off religion in the first place was their embarrassing rituals all in the name of fostering a happy compliant community.

    I don’t feel loss at having moved beyond that, just slight nausea when I look back.

    Dan Dennett also spoke about this at some length a couple of years ago, to mixed reactions. Some atheists may miss rituals and community once they left religion. I suspect that there is a high correlation where atheists hailing from very religious societies miss the sense of community that belonging to religion gave them. In more secular societies people have their communities elsewhere and don’t need a replacement.

    1. Actually, there are some really good reasons to ritualize some behaviors, for precisely the reason that it requires no thought (or better, willpower) to do them. Exercise is a good example. This doesn’t mean that the behaviors you elevate in this way take on the aspects of religion.

        1. I like this question a lot.

          Habituated behavior, or behavior you’d like to become habituated, has to comply with some rules, and the rules have to be treated as RULES. The ritualizing aspect comes from the respect you pay to behavior done (largely) the same way, at the same time, for reasons you’ve determined are important.

        2. Ah, he says that because he has a better understanding of the walking bags of tripe we humans are. The more you trouble yourself with ‘thinking and willpower’ the more you get yourself in trouble in other areas.

          We are not machines to perform as ordered.

          I’d suggest you follow at least good blogging on the subject of willpower and the advances of neuroscience and psychology on the issue.

          Jonah Lehrer has a great blog at Wired Science. He frequently blogs on willpower, etc.

          This is from his January 9th post on New Year’s resolutions:

          The reason our resolutions end in such dismal fashion returns us to the single most important fact about human willpower — it’s incredibly feeble. Consider this experiment, led by Baba Shiv, a behavioral economist at Stanford University. He recruited several dozen undergraduates and divided them into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then, they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.

          Here’s where the results get weird. The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Shiv, is that all those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain — they were a “cognitive load” — making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the conscious mind is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before it becomes impossible for the brain to resist a piece of cake.

          Do you see? The small amount of extra thinking needed to remember a 5-digit number produced radically different impacts on ‘willpower.’

          So as you imagine yourself to be some type of Promethean, in control of his/her self… You are not. You have either learned tricks to keep the defects of your limited and weak-willpower from hampering you, or you routinely failed and rationalized those failures away.

          And one of those tricks is to make things ‘routine’ and ‘unthinking.’ I do it all the time. I ‘unthinkingly’ don’t go down the junk food ailes in the grocery store. And it’s why I, a 50-year old man, am in much better shape than those who are half my age.

          You don’t see me coming home with bags of potato chips, snack crackers, ready-to-eat, high-fat, high-sugar foods. I don’t go down the potato chip aisle. Or the ice cream aisle. I don’t buy canned or packaged food that is easy to eat.

          And when I do so, I start getting fat. Just like all the other fat 50-year olds.

          Rather, my grocery trips are all about fresh food or food that requires substantial prep time. And thus my willpower is not being allocated in a fruitless fight against yummy treats vs the healthy apples, oranges, bananas and other fruits and vegetables suitable for eating raw.

          Because, no matter how hard I try… And I am the kind of delyaed-gratification person who scores high on these ‘willpower’ type tests, I still can’t resist ice cream and potato chips. If there’s a pint of ice cream or a bag of potato chips in my house, it won’t last a day.

          So I resort to routines that keep me away from these things. They become habits. I don’t think about it.

          And if they rearrange the store like they did last week… Well, the moved the chips and I ended up with two bags of Salt and Vinegar. I ate them in a day and a half…

          So today, no aisle 6 for me… It is now forbidden…

  8. The judgment that rituals and communities of naturalistic belief are desirable or not is a matter of one’s own personal psychology, similar to judgments about whether The Tree of Life was a good film or not. You either want them/need them or you don’t, with variation in between. It isn’t morally right or wrong to be any particular place on the spectrum, although those at polar opposites may find each other off-putting. So those inclined towards community or ritual needn’t be concerned by Jerry’s judgment,

    1. I don’t doubt that there are those who would desire continued community and ritual after leaving their church &c. But it seems arrogant and presumptuous of de Botton to tell us (them) what that needs to look like.

      If anything does supersede those aspects of religion, it will surely arise bottom-up… Top-down seems like a recipe for disaster.

      “You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!”


      1. Exactly. If some people “need” this sort of thing, let them come up with whatever suits them. Just don’t bother to preach to me.

  9. First, never use religious jargons.

    Second, some organizational / administrative activities could be useful. Something like Darwin’s year, Darwin’s birthday or some interesting actual astronomical occurences that can be used as a reason to get drunk …

    Third, non-binding, purely for the enjoyment of it.

  10. I think the ritual bath is a great idea. Maybe use a hot tub and a bottle of wine?
    Cracker snacks? Body of Triscut?

    1. When I got drafted, the drafting officer who was taking down my particulars asked about my religious affiliation. None whatsoever, I said.
      Oops, that was not an option. They had codes for 83 different denominations, or thereabouts, but none for ‘None’. OK then, I said, mark me as a High Priest of Transcendental Shintoism. Blank. Stare. Er, what?
      So I explained: Shinto is the set of spiritual practices and observances aiming at connecting Japan’s present and past, with particular reverence towards ancestors. Obviously, not being of Japanese extraction, not living in Japan, and sorely lacking in the Japanese ancestors department, I had to transcend these shortcomings. But transcend how? My daily ritual was a hot bath accompanied, in the absence of sake, by an abundant supply of genuine Japanese Suntory Yamazaki Whisky. Recognising the contingencies imposed by military service, I was perfectly willing to accept an adequate Island Single Malt Scotch as a substitute for the duration. But on the necessity of daily worship, and of satisfactory facilities to that effect, I could not compromise, and as an Official of the Faith I would, if needed, carry the fight for religious freedom to the European Court of Human Rights.

      “…OK then, religious affiliation: NONE. We’ll have an extra code added for that. Sign here.”

  11. I managed to get through one of de Botton’s books. I find him a pretentious, superficial and snobbish fart. His nostalgia for ritual is shared by the kind of wittering High Anglican or Anglo-Catholic who likes to dress up and go on little pilgrimages to Walsingham.

  12. I thought this video was pretty good and informative, mr. Coyne, like PZ Myers, completely missed the point of it and actually deliberately misrepresented him.

    All of his examples(like the bath) were just that, a didactic examples so the audience could immediately understand what he is talking about. This was quite dishonest of you mr. Coyne.

    To say that he is proposing some kind of atheist religion, and title this topic that way, is just incredibly dumb and lazy thinking.

    To simply ignore and forgo a vast number of inherent mechanisms religion co-opted to thrive is foolish beyond belief, as is the implicit assumption that most people are capable of understanding the world as educated atheists are and that there is even an infrastructure capable of making that happen.

    He doesn’t tell us we need rituals, he is simply saying that this will be a necessary transition from irrationality to rationality because of the sheer scope of mechanisms religion co-opted and developed thus making people reliant on them.

    On what planet are you living on, mr.Coyne?
    I enjoy your posts but this was just thoughtless.

    I actually heard all the negative stuff about this video before watching it and even disliked it automatically but as I got into it I realized everything he said made sense and is the right way to transition out of institutionalized superstition.

    1. To simply ignore and forgo a vast number of inherent mechanisms religion co-opted to thrive is foolish beyond belief, as is the implicit assumption that most people are capable of understanding the world as educated atheists are and that there is even an infrastructure capable of making that happen.

      No, the problem isn’t that people pledge allegiance to imaginary friends.

      The problem is that this infrastructure you would have us perpetuate is nothing more than the tool by which people are brainwashed into thinking that those imaginary friends are real. And, oh-by-the-way, that infrastructure is also what convinces people that the priests speak for the imaginary friends and is the real source of the power of the church.

      It’s the infrastructure that’s the problem, not the particular con job that the scam artists are selling with it this particular century.

      Why on Earth would we be interested in swapping one parasite for another distinguishable only by the most irrelevant of characteristics when we could rid ourselves of disease entirely?


      1. You fail at comprehension.

        There is nothing parasitical in having bare mechanisms transferred to serve evidence based reasoning.
        Mechanisms don’t have content so they can’t transfer the disease.

        1. Worse than disease transfer.
          What de Botton is basically saying, and what you seem to be countenancing (sorry if I misread you, but that’s the impression I’m getting from your replique) is that we need braces to walk straight.
          No, we don’t, we have a spine, let’s just put it to its natural use.

        2. Well, it’s a damned good thing I got the industrial-strength irony meter after that last one went up in smoke.

          These mechanisms you’re promoting are devoted entirely to eschewing evidence and reasoning in favor of faithful acceptance of authoritative commands, in case you hadn’t noticed. They are the disease; the “conclusions” they promote are inconsequential symptoms.



          1. I think you need to watch the video again and understand what he is saying rather than distort what he is saying to fit your preconceived notions.

            I don’t see any trace of the framework you stated here like “faithful acceptance of authoritative commands”.

            I think you might just have an issue with coherent extrapolation.


          2. My, what a perfect example. Thank you!

            De Botton would have us revert back to repetitive rote memorization for education, the very definition of brainwashing. I challenge you to present evidence for your assertion that we’re mischaracterizing his postion, and your reply is the cry of the priest and the con man: “trust me” with an exhortation to keep washing our brains until they’re squeaky-clean.

            Kindly take a celestial orientation with respect to a fibrous support mechanism whilst excreting liquid waste, if you don’t mind. Unless, of course, you think you can actually offer substance as opposed to bafflegab.



          3. “revert back to repetitive rote memorization for education”

            Oh dear, it’s like we watched two completely different videos.

            I thought he was referring to student retention rate and how most of the content students learn is forgotten within a few months or sooner making the whole education thing pretty theatrical instead of functional…are you not aware of this problem in the education system?

            So, I naturally thought he was talking about repetition in the sense of relearning substantive content and proper methods of understanding the world, not rote memorization of anything.

            Frankly, how is it even possible that you thought otherwise?

          4. You may have. You have put your preconceptions on the video. You then argue from your preconceptions.

            Now you’re running afoul of the majority of us who have a different take. One that is remarkably similar, though we’re a vastly diverse group.

            In short, you Sir are an outlier. And being an outlier it is incumbant on YOU to show the majority of US why we are wrong.

            It is not merely enough to make an assertion the majory is wrong, you must put on proof. Please do so or shut up.

          5. Try almost any random spot from the video, such as at 6:30 where he gushes nostalgically over how religions insist that “lessons” be repeated “TEN TIMES A DAY!” for the life of the victim if you want them to sink in.

            Sorry. I want none of de Botton’s brainwashing, and neither does any thinking individual. The only ones who think that sort of thing is a good idea are those who think like Seneca.

            Tyrants and would-be tyrants, in other words.


    2. “He doesn’t tell us we need rituals, he is simply saying that this will be a necessary transition from irrationality to rationality”

      “need” … “necessity”



    3. De Botton’s problem, with these ideas, is, as Howard Devoto sang, that he will be shot by both sides.

      Terry Eagleton, whose pronouncements on religion are becoming increasingly distressing, given the brilliance of his career in literary analysis, hit on a good point. “Liberal-capitalist societies, being by their nature divided, contentious places, are forever in search of a judicious dose of communitarianism to pin themselves together, and a secularised religion has long been one bogus solution on offer.” One thinks of early attempts like those in the wake of the French revolution to erect a secularised calendar and vague ideas of a Supreme Being who initiated all; as well as of the ideas of Comte in envisaging an ideal society with secular versions of God, the sacraments and so on.

      There are successful secularised rites on offer; presidential inaugurations, the state opening of Parliament, Armistice Day, but de Botton is going backwards in proposing something far more akin to the calendrical revisiting of the same lessons over and over, à la the Church. These rites, under the church, demand the suspension of our critical faculties; de Botton’s plagiarism – a trite steal – would lead to something very similar, although it is extremely doubtful that it could last.

      I suspect that de Botton’s prognosis would result not in the carnival of the rational, but in, the best case, of the dissemination of a type of modern pantheism, and, in the worst, of a form of totalitarianism. For who is to determine what we celebrate?

    4. Keeping in mind this is a salve for *those who miss religion* 1:30 – I too would be interested to see a rational, cited explanation as to why the ideas are so objectionable too.
      It hasn’t happened yet.

    1. People who stress the importance of oratory generally like to hear themselves speak most of all; and think everyone else should, as well.

      1. Hence your post.

        Just keeping consistent with your logic, is all – not necessarily agreeing with it. Your level off offense can only be caused by your own belief in what you just said.

        1. Or rather, your level of offence will be in proportion to how much you believe your own comment – and yes, apply it to writing rather than oratory (if the switch was too hard for you to make).

  13. Classic faitheism. With too much reliance on rote. I can get onboard with “fusing mind and body” in some repects, since they are the same thing. But that doesn’t equate to adopting unthinking ritual as a cookie-cutter approach to forming communities. That’s putting the cart in front of the horse, anyway. Communities will form of their own accord, typically around shared activities – the key is having shared worthwhile activity, with emphasis on the worthwhile.

    So I’m starting a club where my neighbors and I would like to sit around not collecting stamps. To rally behind this non-activity, I’m hoping to get everybody licking and pasting stamp hinges on blank pieces of paper, and if we can time this in a coordinated fashion, perhaps we can achieve some kind of unity of non-purpose. Who’s with me?

    1. BTW, every atheist I know (myself included) eschew most ritual. I’m even having difficulty remembering anybody in my close circle who watches TV, let alone needs to tune in at some specific time for a certain show. Ah, my former boss is a tennis junkie, and it’s always the French Open or Wimbledon or some similar noise, when he’s not out (to his credit) actually playing the game.

      1. What about rituals like singing a national anthem, watching the super bowl, having thanksgiving dinner, exchanging birthday (and Christmas or other holiday) gifts?

      2. Gosh.. you won’t be cooking dinner or eating breakfast soon… using utensils… reading? Making forum posts? (hopes!)

    2. “…emphasis on worthwhile.”


      How could ritual be valuable in and of itself? The content would be the thing that matters. De Botton’s claim is too superficial.

  14. Do we need an atheist religion?

    Dear God, fuck no!

    Dude misses the whole point.

    Atheism — at least, of the Gnu variety — isn’t about doing away with gods for the sake of doing away with gods. It’s about committment to the asking and answering of the question, “How do you know that?”

    And that pursuit of knowledge is the very antithesis of religion, dogma, and all other forms of dictated authority.

    All this clown is about is using the mechanism of the religion scam to foist his own preferred bullshit on those poor stupid masses — for their own good, of course. He’s yet another philosopher king wannabe, no more and no less.


    1. I’d have to agree. This is all about De Botton. He wants to be seen as a leader, founder, or otherwise influential player.

      I like your designation: “philosopher king wannabe.”

      1. Actually, he doesn’t even want to be the philosopher king, he wants to be the king’s pet “atheist”.

        He seems to be mowing for the godly, mumming an atheist, while granting them a bemused yet condescending authority: “Oh, you poor atheist, how much you lack that we have! How hapless and yearning you are! How envious of wonderful us! We’d feel threatened if you weren’t so longing to be like us.” He wants a pat on the head, and then an appointment as Chief Atheist-Clown.

        He’s toadying.

        His bickerin brattle reminded me of this:

        Replace “God” with “religion”, and you have a TED talk.

        1. Thanks VERY much for that bit. It forced my North-American ears to pick out the savory bits that have eluded me for +30 years:

          Palin: “Forgive us, oh Lord, for this our dreadful toadying…”
          Congregation: “…and barefaced flattery.”
          Palin: “But you’re so strong, and, well, just so super.”
          Congregation: “Fantastic.”


          Clears up a long-standing mystery for me. And I agree; fits the situation like a glove.

      2. Near the end when he’s asked “do you want to be the leader?” he says “it’s not needed” and compared it to a wiki project.

        1. Perhaps I’m just more cynical than you, but that’s not enough to divest me of my suspicions.

          Even if he’s sincere about the “wiki-ness” of his proposal, the smart money says he’d still want people to recognize it was his proposal. My phrase “otherwise influential player” would still apply.

          It’s just such an unnecessary proposal. It’s difficult to imagine someone putting so much effort into it sans agenda.

          1. Perhaps that’s a genuine misunderstanding. De Botton is a philosopher – they’re renowned for doing exactly this. I’m sure he means no offense by offering the world an idea (and a pretty innocuous one, prescribed for those who would subscribe at that!), just as scientists most often mean no offense when they offer the world experimental results based on their hypotheses.

  15. Humans invented at different steps of evolution: art, magic, religion, moral, philosophy and at last science.

    From my point of view science is the most evolved system of thought, based on facts, reason, discussion and, trial and error method.

    Every body still, even scientists, atheists or agnostics has a huge magic, moral and religious structured mind.

    Michel Onfray a French philosopher has well described in his book “Traité d’athéologie” how we are submerged by our unconscious social beliefs and judgments.

    Rituals are usually arbitrary beliefs and behaviors in order to put people into intellectual slavery.

    Humans need to evolve if they want to live in a better world.


    Homo Equilibrium – Next Stage in Human Evolution

  16. He does seem to miss the target in pretty much everything he says. Specific rituals and monolithic organizations aren’t going to fix anything. A sense of community might be beneficial. The angriest people I know tend to not care about the people they live around, whether they’re religious or not, and it seems they adopt a stupid Libertarianism because of it. Not sure how to enforce community appreciation, but I don’t think I need to take a bath with Mrs Douglas down the street.

    1. The bath with Mrs D down the street though is a strawman though isn’t it? I agree something more active and adaptive than simple ritual is needed in order to engaged the disengaged. But I don’t see how making an attempt with some not unreasonable suggestions to ‘communalise’ those who desire it (although apparently easily misinterpreted) should be even slightly contentious. Perhaps most interpret “having an atheist religion” with “making atheism a religion”.

      Ironically, the misinterpretation (apparently causing such offense) doesn’t even make sense! If you can take away from anyone’s discussion that there is a real need for atheists (scratch that) *rationalists* to spread rationalism through community activities, then I can’t see a problem with that. Or are we all too patient and rational? If that nonsense is the case, atheists shouldn’t have a problem with religion or the religious at all.

  17. A pope. Don’t forget we need an Atheist pope. Because the thing I miss most as an atheist is being told how to lead my life from some ivory tower in the athist version of the vatican….

  18. I decided I had to watch it before commenting on it and all I kept thinking of was George Carlin’s bit on stupid people,
    I only made it seven minutes into it before I couldn’t watch any more. I agree with the previous poster, TED talks are worthless these days, they are really scraping the bottom of the barrel for this kind of drivel.

  19. Wow, nobody is taking this seriously, you just keep blabbing on about some strawman nonsense, like atheist pope.

    Have you even watched the video??
    You remind me of jesus-cultists who pretend to have read The God Delusion but are just aware of its title.

    1. I think it’s about time you put up or shut up.

      Pick the single most important proposal from the video that you’re in agreement with, summarize it here in your own words, and let us know why you think it’s so fantastic.


    2. We may not have watched the video… but you haven’t read all our minds… so I’d say you’re guilty of your own indictment.

      I for one was motivated to watch the video to see if your counter-point to Dr. JC’s take on it.

    3. Once again, put on proof or shut up. Merely telling us, the majority who are in more-or-less agreement with Dr. Coyne’s assessment, are wrong is a mere assertion of incorrectness to which we may legitimately rebut –you’re wrong, with equal legitimacy.

      To carry your case you must, as in science, as in law, PUT ON PROOF.

  20. The first thing is that Atheists define themselves as a negative. That has to change, let’s move from Atheism to Universalism, which is the positive embracing of every natural phenomenon, science, rational fact.

    If you think about it like that all the 2800 religions will evaporate.

      1. I think he is trying to be funny in an ironic way, but his irony misses the mark.

        For instance, he has a very strange and historically incoherent spiel about rationalists tending to lecture, whereas religionists will sermonise in a manner from which atheists should seek to learn.

        As a linguist and historian, he must know that the word ‘lecture’ derives from the practices of the high medieval universities. The professors would read out a passage from the Bible – hence ‘lecture’, as in the French – and the students would then discuss the text. That sort of lecture was then precisely what the root of the word means, a reading.

        Today a lecture is a much more discursive form, almost a secular communication, requiring the speaker, in the manner of Hitchens, Ingersoll etc. to hold the listener in ways unimagined by the original religious ‘lectures’.

        Off the top my head, I can think of 1 great religious speaker, Martin Luther King, but before I draw my next breath I can recall several great secular orators. Why secularism, according to de Botton, should seek inspiration from the religious for examples of edifying loquaciousness is beyond me.

  21. There’s a more interesting and slightly shorter version of this on Philosophy Bites, where Nigel Warburton puts some questions to de Botton about “Atheism 2.0”.

    Setting aside the various examples that de Botton provides, the basic idea of how society can move forward without supernaturalism is not new and was discussed at length by John Dewey and more recently by Philip Kitcher. I’d dearly like to see a TED presentation on the Ethical Project given by the latter.

  22. Isn’t this basically what Universal Unitarians do? At least according to my atheist UU friends, that is pretty much what their “church” is.

    It’s still too structured and ritualistic for me even think about attending but they view it more as a social club and a non-profit in the community than a church.

    1. I went for a long time. Until they threw Athiests under the bus. Then I quit.

      I didn’t go for the rituals, so much, as to hang around with reasonably-like-minded, socially-progressive individuals.

  23. “– all we need is a secular institution like the Vatican–”
    Oh my god! Do we really need an organization run by a bunch of old, unworldly and sexually frustrated creeps ? What for, in heavens name? Is there not enough misery in this world? Do we really need more?

  24. This is a silly controversy. I like atheism just the way it is. Conformity and rules are a weakness. (Atheistic) evolution in any direction, at any speed, will sustain atheism and is, to my mind, an intrinsic element of freethinking. Freethinking is the root system of atheism. Atheism is the branches, leaves, flowers, and above all, the seeds of reason and freethought. Thanks for the recommendation, but I’m not ready to devolve.

    1. An atheist(?) starts seeing “the good side of Religion” and suddenly…

      He starts preaching that “we should do” this in art, “we should do” this in education, “we should do” that in social relations, etc…

      That “we should” start communal rituals and pilgrimages

      That “we should” start using sermons like 18th century’s greatest preacher (sigh).

      That “we should” reassess the “Get on you knees and repeat it 10 or 20 or 15 times a day” education model.

      That modern art is not “sane”.

      That art should be used as propaganda “like but not like” the nazis (seriously).

      That art for the sake of art is “ridiculous”.

      That “art should be didactic”.

      That the fact that religions act just like corporations is great, and should be mimicked, in fact.

      That books alone are not going to change anything.

      In short, that “we should” do everything just like the religions do…

        1. It was a spot on reaction and assessment of a video by a guy who seems to be a religious/corporation shill. Has this man not been paying attention to what has been going on in the US for the past 30+ years, and it’s intensification during the past 10 years?

          This man lives in his own fantasy world. He’s not rational. he’s as loony as the pope. Why should we even consider taking advice from someone so blind to reality? He has his own secular religion, which he thinks is 1) necessary (I disagree strongly) and 2) the way to achieve an impossible atheist church paradise. He’s just full of bad ideas.

    1. Contrarian troll much?

      Seriously, that was another annoying bit of his presentation, that of plastering all art as “propaganda”, as if the main point of all art is to persuade. The only art I can think of that is clearly propaganda I have a special name for. I call it “bad art”.

      Political statuary, celebrities on velvet, pretentious song lyrics… those kinds of things come to mind. Seems like the more abstract something is, the less value de Botton seems to think it has. Something tells me he cannot stand instrumental music, some of the most abstract art there is. I wonder…

      1. “Something tells me he cannot stand instrumental music, some of the most abstract art there is.”

        : )

        As a lover of instrumental music, your comment hammers home the point that this is just one guy stating his personal preferences, not based on studies, not even based on surveys of atheists, i.e., not based on any evidence whatsoever. His talk was just an outline of what he wants (in this case an oxymoronic “atheist religion”). he thinks that society will fall apart if we don’t retain some aspects of religion. The evidence that we have from the most secular countries (Sweden, Denmark) is that he’s dead wrong.

  25. Nearly every human alive has rituals already. Can anyone with a job honestly say they do their pre-work morning routine differently every day? What Americans need is a central activity that brings the community and families together. You should see New England during the winter – totally different than summer. Neighbors actually talk to and help each other.

    I cannot speak for Atheists but movements to support scientists are disorganized. Groups like Union for Concerned Scientists, Real Climate and NCSE could use financial support and media attention. Although I’d hate to see support for science become the pet project of one group to the exclusion of others.

    1. I guess what I mean to say is that we need a way to bride the gap between progressives in communities to protect the integrity of our schools and to ward off anti-science legislation. Maybe a string of progressive book clubs? 🙁

    2. …what Americans need…

      Buzz….Wrong, and presumptuous. We are individuals with diverse needs.

      You should see New England during the winter – totally different than summer. Neighbors actually talk to and help each other.

      Yeah, sure, like plowing their driveway and placing it in your way. Few of my neighbors talk, winter especially.

      There are plenty of community groups and activities for anyone. If someone wants to belong, they can. Using religious organizations as examples is not necessary nor desirable.

    3. I wouldn’t consider my morning routine a ritual. Shaving, coffee, and brushing various things is just a routine, not a ritual. Now, waving to my neighbors as I get into my car could be considered a societal ritual because it’s prescribed by the society and I might be shunned if I refused to do it. (We’ve got one of these guys on my street, the neighbors are very upset that he won’t wave back. People call him “crazy John” and worse. He won’t participate in their ritual and he pays the price. Whereas, I don’t think anyone would care if he brushed his teeth before or after he drinks his coffee).

      1. Technically speaking you are right, but I really think as our society becomes more isolated and less communal, our routines *have* become our rituals. For example, the only “ceremonial” activities in which I partake involve my boyfriend and I having dinner together or taking walks on Sunday afternoon. Some anthropologists may argue that humans, being inherently social used to involve whole communities in determining our rituals, to keep tribes together. This probably mitigated dissent among tribe members. Anyway, I see our society becoming divided in an unhealthy way. I’m all for individualism, I just think we should be smarter about our communities.

        1. If you see society becoming divided in an unhealthy way, please, let us know why it’s unhealthy and why a proposed way of uniting us is worth the potential costs.

          That anthropologists have noted that our ancestors did it differently isn’t enough to make something a good thing. We don’t have tribes to keep together – we have much smaller groups (families, clubs, blogs) that we’re keeping together about as much as we want, and much larger ones (nations, for instance) that we’re maybe wanting to keep from dividing into racial, sectional, or ideological factions. Some of us like to think of humanity all together as a good size for a society.

          But if it comes out that what you’ve got in mind more concretely is getting behind groups of people doing the right thing, and being friendlier to people around you – well, you may find you’re preaching to the choir. It’s just a choir that doesn’t care for preaching.

          1. Oh, I don’t really consider this ng. Why? Well, amid this blog’s hundreds of comments I usually assume no one reads my comments. But since I have this many responses……

            I’m not putting myself out as an expert here. Not at all. I’m merely suggesting what others have which is that right-wing and religious organizations are kicking our ass because they are so well organized and have unifying centers such as churches. Do clubs and blogs solve climate change and the influence of special interests? I don’t think so.

            That’s fine, everyone is ignoring climate change including Obama. I’ve been saying that the loss of habitat and endangered species is a shame. No worries though, let’s remain divided, not come up with a solution and watch the natural disasters and pollution accelerate.

            Have fun.

          2. Some organizations may deliver responsible, evidence-based results – some won’t. Religious organizations won’t, because they’re not committed to evidence-based policy. They have to maintain certain beliefs as sacred, and to maintain control of which ones they are.

            The whole ritual structure isn’t conducive to getting done the sorts of things you or I want done. Clubs and blogs can serve to create communities. Bringing governments to book about climate change, that’s the work of PAC’s, science organizations, assorted lobbying groups, and whatever work those clubs or blogs or whatnot can do to shape and mobilize public opinion. We don’t need an atheist church for those. More standing up for critical thinking and rational policy, that’s something though.

          3. I agree that an atheist “church” is not the answer (may I be forgiven for not even watching the video as it sounds silly) and ritual is probably the wrong word anyway.

            My question to you is, do you think those factions you mentioned have made significant strides towards solving the environmental crisis? I’d say not at all. And like it or not, this is not an ecological problem. It is a human one. We need global concensus.

            Ecologists and climatologists have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done. Only OWS have made a worldwide impact, and they’re not focused on the environment.

            I think we need to do better becoming somehow unified. But maybe that will only happen when people are personally affected.

  26. I can see a place for ritual for those who want to take part (Burning Man, midwinter swims) and oratory and a calendar (Darwin Day, New Year fireworks), but not, heaven help us, a Vatican.

    The point he misses is that for such things to feel right they have to be organic, to have grown naturally out of what was done before, or if they are consciously organised, to seem appropriate to the people doing them for the first time. And in a democratic society, that is going to be harder to arrange.

    But would I be right in thinking de Botton is an ex-Catholic who misses the bells and smells?

    There are a few modern rituals we could very well do without – in particular, people going to police stations and courthouses to hurl imprecations at notorious recent criminals.

    And if I should die in a road accident, how do I avoid having a white cross put at the roadside?

    1. Oops, I mean “…at people accused of recent notorious/heinous crimes.”

      And I might add “…misses the bells and smells and being told what to think?”

  27. De Botton is very disappointing in this nonsense but this was predictable from reading some of his previous books.

  28. Hm. Everything de Botton suggests I, as an atheist, do … I already do! I have my rituals, my community, I bathe, I read and look at art and think about things on a regular basis. And I have a calendar, a Filofax.
    What does this make me?
    Oh but I don’t snark at Richard Dawkins.

    1. Same here, apart from the filofax. In the past, de Botton has been accused of using the “argument from the bleeding obvious”, and it seems to me he’s still using it for some parts of his Atheist 2.0 concept.

  29. He definitely seems to be missing the point of divesting ourselves of the baggage of religion. But the biggest thing he is so wrong about is education, and the secular methods. He uses the example of Shakespeare, he says that you may be taught something about Shakespeare once, and be not be expected to remember it in 40 years. Instead of that, the rote method of indoctrination should be used to keep that at your fingertips. That is so terribly wrong. Obviously, there are some things that one needs to know on a day to day basis, a lot of which is how you do your job, or other interests. Education should indeed provide a foundation of knowledge, but of equal importance, it should provide you with the tools to find the information that is needed. That is the point I think he is missing on education. I think the only time he was correct in this talk was when he said “Of course there is no go.d”

  30. This guy’s views on art are very narrow and stultifying. He appears to just not get it. I wonder if he failed at art before he went into philosophy.

  31. What people are forgetting is de Botton’s academic background; he started as a historian. Just replace all his futures and conditionals with perfect and imperfect tenses and all becomes obvious.

    Think of Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Church Without Christ’ and consider this quotation from the video, “…these people who are attracted to the ritualistic, moralistic, communal side of religion, but can’t bear the doctrine…”. This perfectly describes the Church of England, especially in the haut-bourgeois counties surrounding de Botton’s Cambridge alma mater.

    De Botton, who comes from an extraordinarily wealthy secular Jewish background, pace a post above, has produced a secular version of the Church which is right under his nose; the niche is already filled.

    A disbelief in the doctrines of Protestantism has never stopped the Oxbridge-educated from pursuing a clerical career, with pretty good odds of coining the Queen’s shilling whilst dozing on the most civilised benches of the House of Lords.

    It is nearly impossible to have a principled argument on God’s existence with the lay members of this part of the Church of England. My wife’s sprightly 80 year-old uncle is precisely this type of person, attracted to its rites, morals (Christianity as promoter of the golden rule) and community; I doubt very much if he really believes in God, and if he does, it is diaphanously worn.
    His favourite atheist would be de Botton, urbane, civilised and the personification of the discrete charm of the bourgeisie.

  32. If religion is a consequence of evolution – and it must be in the naturalist paradigm- how in the context of determined beings without free will could a desire for “religion” be “bad” ?

    1. Because just because something is an evolved trait doesn’t mean that it’s good.

      I, like many humans, have a taste for foods that are high in sugars and fats because thousands of years ago, when the majority of humans lived as hunter-gatherers it was a useful survival trait to prefer energy dense foods.

      In 21st century America, however, food is not a scarcity and I’m at no risk of starvation, which means that my taste for such foods puts me at risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. It’s an evolved trait that’s got a very high chance of killing me.

  33. We already have rituals in atheism.
    They are called “the scientific method”.
    They already involve:
    A lot of guidance and didactic learning.
    A lot of speeches (or “sermons”, as Alain would call them).
    A lot of repetition. Really, a LOT of repetition.
    A lot of structured time and synchronized encounters (conferences, symposiums, etc…) .
    A lot of oratory and rethorics (too much some people would say).
    A lot of pilgrimages (conferences and congresses worldwide).
    A big community made of a lot of other communities.
    And a lot of institutions already.

    Those rituals took us to the moon.
    And even proved that exercising your body actually helps increase intelligence.

    1. Excellently put…
      Perhaps these things could be celebrated in a similar to the way they have been practiced, and by those who think celebration and ritual are missing from their ‘atheist’ lives. I think that is what is being proposed here: an opt-in social/ritual experience for those who think they could benefit from it.

  34. This entire talk is un-thought-out drivel.

    It is also dishonest–or he is shockingly uneducated.

    It was very hard to listen to this; he is a hyperaccomodationist–so much so, that he cedes vast territories to religion that are not and never were religion’s. I am appalled at the poor quality of this pabulum. Is he taken seriously by anybody but the religious, and if so, why? (Or has he set himself up as a kind of pet “atheist” for the religious?)

  35. In my opinion, the main benefit in being without religion is to be free of ridiculous constraints. Religion has never been the shining light of morality just vindictively spiteful. I am certain that being free from ritual and superstition allows humanity to discover better ways to live in peace together.

  36. My thoughts:
    1:25, I’m annoyed.
    2:55, I’m offended.
    5:10, I’m offended.
    6:10, I fucking hate sermons.
    7:00, what the fuck is he talking about?
    7:50, I still don’t know what the fuck he is talking about.
    8:02, I was just looking at and admiring the beauty of the moon yesterday.
    8:59, preachers = amens = ?
    9:54, my physical action of taking a bath is also backed up by a philosophical idea. The difference is my idea isn’t shit.
    10:52, only the religious appreciate art? I’m offended.
    12:14, the subjective qualities of art make it interesting!
    12:58, I’m offended.
    14:12, books written by individuals don’t change anything?
    14:34, I *have* learned things from religion like people are gullible and power corrupts.
    15:01, and the mechanisms religions use to spread ideas could be considered amoral too.

    1. Exactly, (New)Atheism movement will fade into margins again if people act foolishly as many did in this topic.

      They fail to comprehend basic stuff about politics and social psychology. It is very disheartening to see atheists being so irrational.

      1. De Botton’s proposal is nothing more than a rehash of ritualised worship of the Supreme Being and the ‘Cult of Reason’ promulgated in the early stages of the French Revolution, of the ‘Religion of Humanity’ advanced by Ludwig Feuerbach and Auguste Comte, and Lunacharsky’s ‘God-building’ in the early part of the last century, countered by Lenin. The idea in all cases, was to worship at the altar of humanity and to purloin many of the cultural practices of organised religion. None of which has lasted.

        Yes, as a cultural Catholic, I appreciate the ‘smells and bells’, but only in a distanced, anthropological and, one must admit, slightly nostalgic, sense; but that is a long way from advocating a religion of the secular. What would it look like? What would it do? Commune with itself on the ferocity with which each member disbelieves?

        Given its repeated failure to catch on in the last 200 years, why would it succeed now?

        1. It can be done. A disagreement, yes, but an actual serious and intelligent response, and one worth consideration. Well done!

      2. Good grief! If you seriously think we need anything like a religion for that, you’re hardly being rational! In fact, I think you seriously misunderstand gnu atheism.


      3. I’m willing to be the Gnu Geesus, but only if you guys promise not to nail me to a board or claim that my mother was a virgin (she certainly was gnot!).

      4. Mettyx wrote:
        They fail to comprehend basic stuff about politics,

        I see you making a lot of assertions without any explanations. Just what is this basic stuff about politics that you think atheists don’t understand?

  37. the same reason i so easily left religion is why i don’t need ritual in atheism. i can walk outside and be amazed, i can “observe” the lunar “ritual” of waxing and waning, changing seasons, return of the Juncos or Humming birds, i have professors rather than priests, etc. i dont need some weak-minde psuedo-atheistic sophist to tell me what gives my life and death meaning.

  38. Just once I’d like to hear one of these accomodationist atheists explain why we don’t hear analogous talks by pastors urging believers to incorporate more reason and evidence in the evaluation of their religious truth claims.

  39. I have heard this argument before. We need a purpose, a god, a religion. Blather, prattle, yak, and on and on.

    Gnu atheism does not require a religion; rather it demands a search for truth. Feder contended, “We might not be able to get to absolute truths about the meaning of existence, but we can figure out quite a bit about our world—about chemistry and biology, psychology and sociology, physics and history, and even prehistory.” Atheists do not need a god or a religion, but rather the unremitting quest for understanding and the desire that this pursuit will yield a sufficiently contenting harvest. Virgil stated, “happy the man who has learned the causes of things, and has put under his feet all fears, and inexorable fate, and the noisy strife of the hell of greed.”

    I am of the opinion that scientific discoveries about and empirical evidence of our universe and our existence should be and is sufficient to inspire awe-filled curiosity about the nature of our existence. Who needs religion?

    Gnu atheism does not need a religion because it does not need to be defined. It is precisely the lack of a strict definition that sets it apart. You cannot pigeonhole gnu atheism; it encompasses all forms of secular thought. There is no dogma, doctrine, or code. Gnu atheism is not a religion; it is not necessary for atheists to support identical philosophies or beliefs. Atheists should not subscribe to one particular worldview. (Religion does that.) Disagreements are healthy and heated discussion is welcomed. All atheists do not need to concur on personal ideals; rather the beauty of atheism is it represents independent and self-regulating thought, unburdened from the shackles of religion and god. Religion-it cannot be disputed-provides some societal good and offers comfort to the disillusioned and frightened, but that does not make it worthwhile, reliable, or valid. Pinker stated, “Sometimes we choose not to know things because we can anticipate that they would have an uncontrollable effect on our emotions.” This most assuredly explicates people’s inability to shake off religious beliefs. Atheism is the antithesis of religion, as it should be. So, I say appreciate the depth and value of atheistic knowledge, but don’t corrupt gnu atheism with religious ideas.

    1. The idea that atheism is in need of a religion is absurd. However people who speak of an “atheist movement” or identify themselves as “new atheists” or, even more idiotically, as “gnu atheists” give the impression to others that they already are a religion. There may be more atheists around than there were 50 years ago, although, to be honest, the impression I get in the UK is that there are less. But even if true, that does not thereby constitute a “movement” and does not deserve a special label. As far as I am concerned “atheist” is merely an adjective that applies to me as does the phrase “medium height and slightly over weight”, but it would be absurd to self-identify as “gnu medium height and slightly over weight”

      1. Why do you consider “gnu atheist” to be idiotic? You do know the origin of the term, don’t you? It’s a useful identifier of a loose community of people who are, broadly, atheists because of a naturalistic, sceptic, pro-science worldview and who are willing to be and are openly critical of religion and religious privilege. (If there was a community of people who were of medium height and slightly overweight because of a common worldview and with common views on, say, the ills of size 0 models, then they would be deserving of a distinctive label.) The label “new atheist” was thrust upon this community. However, because these attributes are nothing new – Ingersoll, for example, fits the description – the community subverted the label by adopting the homonym “gnu” (or near homonym, depending on what variety of English you speak).

        And in what sense do gnu atheists give the impression that gnu atheism (rather than gnu atheists themselves) already is a religion? Theists often claim that atheism (without any qualification) is a religion, but that’s equally bogus. Excepting, perhaps, the sense in which football can be someone’s religion — but I don’t seriously think that that’s what they – or you – have in mind.


        PS. I’m not sure about 50 years ago, but according to British Social Attitudes 28, 2011-2012 Edition, 50% of UK citizens now have no religion compared to 31% in 1983. Not all of these people (in either year) would necessarily self-identify as atheists or agnostics (with agnosticism practically equivalent to weak atheism), but I doubt that there are fewer atheists (of all stripes) now than there were then (of 50ya for that matter). I suspect, although I have no data to support this, that the majority of the growth is due to an increase in apathetic or apgnostic atheists (“apatheists”) — i.e., those who just don’t care whether or not there’s a god — rather than those who came to their atheism through a positive worldview such as naturalism.

        1. The label “new atheist” was thrust upon this community. However, because these attributes are nothing new – Ingersoll, for example, fits the description – the community subverted the label by adopting the homonym “gnu” (or near homonym, depending on what variety of English you speak).

          What do you mean by “this community”? Doesn’t that give the impression that your brands of atheism is a religion? Why do you speak of worldviews? Religions have worldviews, the very concept smacks of dogma. If you want to have a “community of atheists” with its own distinctive “worldview”, go ahead and label it however you like, but don’t have the timerity to to assume you speak for “atheists” and if your “community” acts like a religion, don’t be pretend to be surprised if it is treated like one.
          I’m sorry if this sounds disrespectful but I am not a member of your club I don’t have to accept its rules!

          1. “Doesn’t that give the impression that your brands of atheism is a religion?” — It’s a leap to go from “community” to “religion”. And gnu atheism isn’t a “brand[s?]” of atheism – it’s a label for a variety of people who just happen to be atheist (weak or strong, agnostic or ignostic, &c., &c.) because of a broadly common worldview and with broadly common attitudes to religion.

            “Religions have worldviews, the very concept smacks of dogma.” — I think you’re putting the cart before the horse here. Philosophical naturalism, for example, is a legitimate worldview (“a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world” – NOAD) that’s about as far as possible from a religion. There’s no authority and no principles that are regarded as incontrovertibly true.

            don’t have the timerity to to assume you speak for ‘atheists’” — Who is claiming that gnu atheists do? I for one certainly don’t — didn’t I just explain (twice now) that gnu atheists have particular attributes beyond their atheism? Clearly not all atheists share those attributes. Apatheists certainly don’t. And didn’t Persto say “All atheists do not need to concur on personal ideals; rather the beauty of atheism is it represents independent and self-regulating thought”?

            “if your ‘community’ acts like a religion” – Again: In what way is this loose community acting like a religion?

            “I am not a member of your club I don’t have to accept its rules!” — What rules? (And no-one’s asking to accept any non-existant rules!!)


          2. I am getting ready to a philosophy discussion group which starts is about 45 minutes time. As far as I know everyone in the group is an atheist and I would be quite surprised if anyone wasn’t. This might be called a community of people who happen to be atheists.

            How can you use a label like “gnu atheist” and claim you just happen to be atheist?

            How does the claim that “gnu atheists have particular attributes beyond their atheism” differ from the claim that that gnu atheism is a brand of atheism.

            How can you use vaguely insulting terms like “apatheist” and claim that the “community” you claim to represent does not have rules?

            If you are not acting like a religion then why do you suppose I should take into account what Persto said when I am arguing with you? Moreover I don’t need his nor anyone else’s permission not to concur with anyone on personal ideals. There is no inherent “beauty” to atheism; it does not “represent independent and self-regulating thought”; it is merely the position that one does not believe in a God or gods – no more, no less.

            As for your “gnu atheism”, if it looks like a religion, acts like a religion and quacks like a religion don’t be surprised if people think it is a religion.

          3. I hope you had fun!

            “a philosophy discussion group … might be called a community of people” — I’m not sure that this is a definition of “community” that I was previously aware of… 

            “just happen to be” — That was sloppy wordsmithing. Mea culpa. Read it as, “who are atheist because of…” That is, distinct from (a) atheists who are atheists for different reasons, and (b) atheists who are not vocal on religion or who are accommodationists or … I would also grant you that not every atheist who shares those attributes would necessarily self-identify as such nor would I claim them as such.

            “How does … differ from the claim that that gnu atheism is a brand of atheism” – You answer the question yourself, in part: “[atheism] is merely the position that one does not believe in a God or gods – no more, no less”. The point is that gnu atheism describes something broader than gnu atheists’ atheism. To my mind, a “brand of atheism” wouldn’t indicate anything broader than atheism. In fact, given the “no more, no less” definition, I’m not sure that there can be brands of atheism.

            Why do you think that “apatheist” is a vaguely insulting term? There’s no value judgement in saying that some people are atheists because they show or feel no interest, enthusiasm, or concern about the question of the existence of zero, one or many gods. In what way does my use of it say anything about the community having rules? The term’s not widely used, but I don’t see its use as being peculiar to gnu atheism. Even if it were, why would that be evidence for rules?

            “If you are not acting like a religion…” — I’m really not sure where you’re going with that. I cited Persto because he was making the point that atheists “do not need to concur on personal ideals” contra your assertion that gnu atheists presume to speak for all atheists. It’s certainly true that for some (but, agreed, not all) atheists atheism is a manifestation of “independent and self-regulating thought” – I guess many would more often say “freethought”. Is there beauty in that? I can see why Persto might say so. Certainly, the clear association of atheism in general (and gnu atheism) with freethought does argue against any kind of dogma.

            “if [‘gnu atheism’] looks like a religion, acts like a religion and quacks like a religion” — Again, you’re very vague here… In what way does gnu atheism look like a religion? In what way does gnu atheism act like a religion? In what way does gnu atheism quack like a religion?


      2. I surmise your disputation is mere semantics. You just detest the appellation gnu atheism. You didn’t vocalize anything incompatible with what I stated in my post. In fact, you simply recapitulate every point I made by endeavoring to contradict me in some enigmatic respect.

        Movement? Movement implies deliberate structure and organization. Where in anything I said would you procure the postulation of intentional organization?

        Height and weight are physical characteristics constructed by genetic traits. You cannot say,”I want to be taller.” And it happen. You cannot associate with tall people and become, magically, a tall person.
        While you possess some degree of personal control over your weight (exercise, diet,etc) you are restricted by the molecular structure and function of your genes, genetic behavior, genetic inheritance, and the laws of physics. You, if healthy, are physically confined to losing and gaining a determined amount of weight during your lifetime. Personal opinion and external forces are irrelevant.

        However, atheism represents a cognizant and volitional choice that can be drastically and directly influenced by external occurrences and individual thought. Granted, personal selection is rangebound by physical laws, it is still a conscious decision, whether determined or not(More than likely is.), it is definitely not categorically the same as height or weight. Apples and oranges.

        We, as humans, have a proclivity towards collective community or clique. It is an ingrained evolutionary trait. Primitive remnants of our tribal origins. So, while you may not intuit the desideratum to identify yourself as a gnu atheist you, almost certainly, identify yourself in some ideational way. So, why fault gnu atheists for doing the same thing?

  40. There can be no question that religion appeals to many people because of rituals, the sense of community etc. One can try to rise above these “base” feelings, or try to redirect them. Hitler, Stalin, Kim and many, many other dictators consciously modelled their own cults on religion, and to some extent it explains their popularity. Of course, they were evil. But what if someone good did the same thing? There are advantages and disadvantages. Discuss.

    Northern Europe is often cited as an example of a very non-religious society which by almost any sensible definition is better than anywhere else to live. This is largely true, and is why I have lived here most of my life. (I grew up in a very backward country, in Texas.) However, taking Sweden as an example since I am quite familiar with it, the society is extremely full of rituals. Midsummer is the best known (obviously originally a pagan festival), but there are many other similar rituals throughout the year (one which involves eating crayfish in the light of Chinese lanterns—as stylized and ritualistic as anything religion has to offer). Also, although this was true more in the (really!) good old days than today, the state is seen and welcomed by many as an extension of or replacement for the family. And the calendar is very important (how can it not be, when the seasons are so in evidence?). And all of this is more real than religion is in more moderate countries where many people just go through the motions; people don’t celebrate midsummer or the crayfish fest because they feel they have to, but because they enjoy it.

  41. There was one time that was missed on here, and subsequently missed by the majority of commenters (apparently?)

    1:30 “I’m interested in a kind of constituency…” targets those who *want or acknowledge* some sort of ritualism in their lives.

    If you redirect your powers of nitpickery to that of basic comprehension, you might not find such offense in someone expressing a fairly reasonable idea. If the type of person is ‘ritualistic’, directing people to a ‘ritual of reflection and logic’ might actually help, no?

    And why should a snark at Dawkins cause anything but amusement. Now *there* is a religious zealot dressed in the trappings of atheism. I’m an atheist, but I tell you this: I don’t join up to ‘club atheism’ through an inability to think about my non-belief myself, nor do I mindlessly (or as a blanket) pour scorn on religion or the religious, or belittle people for having a cultural immersion in religion. In actual fact I’d preferred not to have to even mention RD in this post at all, but since something said in mild jest of him is cited as if a negative – or implicit sacrilege – then I might add that he has been responsible for some of the most ridiculously illogical things I’ve heard in my life, and in no way represents a perfect rational mind, and in no way represents the atheism (an absence of a belief!) to which I subscribe.

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