OMG: Alain de Botton has a blog

March 2, 2012 • 9:43 am

. . . on HuffPo, of course, where the famous faitheist can continue to bleat about how atheists must adopt the trappings of religion.  His first piece, “5 religious concepts that atheists can use,” starts off badly and goes downhill fast:

Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is ‘true’. Unfortunately, recent public discussions on religion have focused obsessively on precisely this issue, with a hardcore group of fanatical believers pitting themselves against an equally small band of fanatical atheists.

Au contraire, mon vieux: the most important question of religion is precisely whether it is true.  For if it isn’t, and believers come to realize that, then religion collapses and all of its attendant ills disappear.   The “boring question” world-weariness is a pose, meant only to inflate de Botton’s own silly agenda, which in this piece includes 5 suggestions that nobody is going to adopt:

  1. Educate people like the Catholics do, with a spiritual calendar and a spiritual agenda.
  2. Practice body-engaging activities like the Japanese tea ceremony or Jewish ritual baths (he doesn’t mention that the latter are intended to “purify” women after menstruation.
  3. Have more community. As de Botton says, “The secular world isn’t short of bars and restaurants, but we’re singularly bad at any kind of regular way of turning strangers into friends. We know from parties that people don’t talk to each other until there’s a good host that does the introduction. Religions function as hosts: their buildings and rituals allow us to express a latent sociability which lies beneath our cold exteriors.”
  4. Create more art with an easily grasp-able didactic function, like Christian paintings.
  5. Go on pilgrimages: hard ones! As the man says:

Religions have shown a surprising degree of sympathy for our impulse to travel. They have accepted that we cannot achieve everything by staying at home. Nevertheless, unlike secularists, the religious have singularly failed to see the business of travelling as in any way straightforward or effortless. They have insisted with alien vigour on the profound gravity of going on a trip and have channelled the raw impulse to take off into a myriad of rituals, whose examination could prompt us to reflect on our own habits and sharply alter where and how we decided to travel next. We all want travel to change us, religions honour this wish properly.

Really?  We can’t just go to a natural history museum?  We have to do a Santiago de Compostela schtick where we hike cross-country for days from museum to museum?

The man is mad, and, like Laplace, we simply don’t need his hypotheses, but this idea is the only thing he’s got, and he’s sticking to it, saying the same thing over and over again with mind-numbing regularity.

And who are the members of the “small band of fanatical atheists,” anyway? Why doesn’t de Botton name them?

Self promoter.  Meh.


Speaking of accommodation at HuffPo, over at EvolutionBlog Jason Rosenhouse takes apart a remarkably silly piece by paleontologist Robert Asher, “Why I am an accommodationist.

100 thoughts on “OMG: Alain de Botton has a blog

  1. Is it wrong that I actually quite liked your suggestion of hiking from museum to museum?…

    Also – educate people like Catholics do? Is his irony meter turned on?

  2. As I have previously mentioned, M. de Botton is a humorist, a farceur, a joker. He has no commitment other than to amuse. Of course, he is playing with fire, but he has not seen it yet.

  3. Recall that this is the philosopher who wrote “A Week at the Airport” based on his time as writer in residence at Heathrow airport.

    Sorry Alain, you are becoming too bland for my taste!

  4. “Educate people like the Catholics do.” Oppressing science, women, nonbelievers, people of other faiths? Man HuffPo is garbage.

    1. See, I presumed he meant ‘beat them for so long that they’ll still have a Stockholm Syndrome love for their abusers when they’re 70’.

    2. yea I am sure that’s not what he meant. Seriously do you think you’re making a clever point?

      What you’re doing is just the flip side of people who CREDIT catholicism with having great schools and think that’s somehow linked with belief in god. It’s the dumb all or nothing view.

      Alain is precisely suggesting we don’t do this and separate the good from the bullshit. That way the catholic church can’t hide their bullshit mixed in with the good like the good schools they do provide in many parts of the world.

      1. He says repeat important truths 6, or even 10 times a day. What important truths? “1+2=2?” “The word of the day is obsequious?” “The Nile is in Egypt?” If he wants to offer useful advice, he’d better be willing to get specific. We’re only going to be able to repeat a few core messages using this technique: what should they be? What bells do we put on this cat?

        And I have news for him, we do use calendar repetition to promote learning. What does he think things like Black History Month are? Now, I am all for a Science month every year. But I also recognize that with so many ideas out there that deserve attention, I may not get my way in terms of what gets cyclically repeated. I’m okay with that.

        1. oh dear, rarely do i read something where it’s so clear that a person has “missed the point”!! what is being said is that many of the most helpful, boldest, insightful, truest ideas within science, philosophy, art, and literature are “known” but not properly re-inforced within our day-to-day lives. The point about prayer and “10 times a day” was merely a figure in his argument, the more intelligent response is to think how better to take the good things you know and put them into action and that, as Alan points out- Religions have “evolved” (to use an apposite word!) some techniques from which we could learn SOMETHING (i.e. not necessarily copy directly), like many of the other pointless posts on this page you are deliberately (and consciously) misinterpreting the point, in this case knowingly taking it more literally than it was intended- apologies perhaps if you’re autistic (or similar). Also, if you’re going to criticise something you haven’t read make a more intelligent effort to conceal it (rather than trumpeting others’ obvious distortions of the material- you’re not debating De Botton’s ideas, but fictional representations of them put forwards by those with an obvious and unthinking agenda)

    3. Are you retarded? Obviously he didn’t mean that. He is precisely suggesting we separate the good and the bad in catholicism and dispense with the bullshit.

      This is how catholics protect their bullshit today they mix it in with some good.

      Your dumb and blunt all or nothing view is precisely the problem.

      1. Oh look, a fanboy. Of course, anyone who disagrees with your enlightened messiah of atheism is a “retard.” There, there. Maybe it’s time for a break from the internet?

      2. You’re saying the only good in Catholicism is everything apart from the idiosyncratic bullshit that constitutes it?

  5. This guy is just trying to sell books. Unfortunately the media loves this crap and he may get his wish (which is to make money and get famous).

    1. this guy does not need more money. If you knew anything about his work history you would know he hasn’t picked what he thinks will just be popular but has followed a logical progression in his interests.

        1. In fairness to the super-rich, maybe de Botton doesn’t need more money; he’s the son of a multi-millionaire. As long as his dad doesn’t treat him the way God treated his only begotten, Alain should be OK for the rest of his natural.

  6. I don’t know about de Botton’s suggestions for secular ritual, but his point about the non-importance of ‘truth’ seems spot-on to me.

    Christianity, for whatever reason, presents itself as a bundle of beliefs you must accept. But that isn’t as true of other religions. Belief has little to do with Judaism, or Buddhism, for instance. If you start with those paradigms religion is more about ritual, community, and self-help than it is about determining the one true metaphysics of the universe.

    1. Try asking a Jew if the ten commandments are truely the word of god. Ask a follower of Islam if Moh was truely a prophet. Question the claims of any religion and you will find that the truthyness of the religion matters quite a lot.

      To be so dismissive about truth when its rejection has such clear and evil consequences is to label oneself either ignorant of the world or just and idiot.

    2. That only applies to *some* Jews. The Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox people in Israel that have been in the news lately have some very specific beliefs about what women should and shouldn’t do, and are willing to enforce them on the compliant.

      1. So the Jews that don’t follow whats written in their holy books..uh don’t care if whats written in their holy book is true. Thanks for clearing that up.

        1. I think, cheron, that this thread needs to be seen in the light of the recent survey on religious attitudes in the UK, sponsored by the RDFRS. Broadly, it was clear that those who self-identified as Christians had little idea of what Christian teaching really is, and indeed only 35% knew that Matthew is the first book of the New Testament.

          If we take British Christians as broadly representative of ‘liberal’ monotheists, then they have very little knowledge of the details of their dogma. I would speculate that the average educated atheist might know more about their doctrine and holy books than they.

          In the modern era, amongst Christians, Jews and even Western Muslims, I suggest that they would see their religion as the upholder par excellence of the Golden Rule: do as you would be done by. And imagine that their religion stands for, indeed, invented it.

          This is not to deny Weinberg’s axiom that it takes religion to make good people do terrible things, but I think we should be aware that many lay religionists would be as equally appalled as we are, when they read their scriptures.

  7. I think the reaction to the 5 points is a bit harsh. (Not getting into the fanatical atheists, etc.)

    All he was doing is noting some aspects of the social aspects of organized religion that provide some psychological comfort. I have heard it said by many people that the social and community aspects are what keep them involved even though they are essentially non-believers.

    The points he makes relate to how atheists might be able to use the abstract concepts he illustrates with the particular examples to enhance secularism.

    Personally, I have tried UU for a while to get some of the community I sought, but found it too “woo-woo” for my taste. A committed atheistic institution that provides some commonly identifiable ritualistic comforts would likely be very successful.

    1. I guess my issue with it is that trying to trumpet the community aspect of church really ignores the fact that people are largely forced by their religious preference to go to one or two specific churches that are in their local area. Some people shop around more, perhaps, but in general, you go to a church and try to make friends, not to be with friends. And not every church is good for every person, but the way religions are set up, they can easily make you feel really guilty for leaving them. Plus, you have people forcing their poor, bored children to come to church with them, and its never a community that the child gets to choose.

      De Bottom should maybe work at making something *better* than churches, rather than just trying to replicate something that is necessarily successful because of the reasons he just listed.

  8. “…but we’re singularly bad at any kind of regular way of turning strangers into friends.”

    Not to be too depressing, but de Botton doesn’t know what it’s like to live in my neighborhood in batshit Colorado Springs. Relatively sane people manage to find each other quickly, but we’re a marked minority. One look at the statistics fished up by folks at the NORC near Jerry’s office pretty much lays it out, esp for my neighborhood’s economic level. Hint: there are a lot of people out there you definitely do not want to know well (or more precisely, to know YOU very well). They can and will make your life hell if given half a chance. “l’enfer, c’est les autres.”

  9. @ de Botton

    “Nevertheless, unlike secularists, the religious have singularly failed to see the business of travelling as in any way straightforward or effortless.”

    Yes, one thinks of secularists such as Amundsen and his south pole ramble and Armstrong and his trivially simple trip to the moon and back; Hillary, Ross, Cook, Magellan. The list of these feckless, humanist, so-called pilgrims is endless. A large dose of pointless Catholicism would do them a world of good.

    I was willing to give AdeB the benefit of the doubt up to now; after all he does have a higher degree. But, blime, does this man not think?

    1. Unlike many faith tourists and spiritual hikers, I have actually covered several segments of the Camino de Santiago — for professional reasons: the route was an important trade path in Roman times, probably also in prehistoric periods. Many stops on the convergent roads to the Camino de Santiago trunk were located on or near important prehistoric routes. The walks to spiritual illumination are, alas, intertwined with the least-cost paths of business.

      So in medieval times. For the economics of pilgrimage, see the entertaining overview by Adrian Bell and Richard Dale, ‘The Medieval Pilgrimage Business’:

      For a study centered on Cluny abbey and its ultimately failed attempts at securing a piece of the Santiago franchise, see:
      O.K. Werckmeister, Cluny III and the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

      The now-revived pilgrimage business is too juicy for Alain de Botton to miss.

        1. Chapeau! Yes, all the way from Hoek van Holland.
          Much of it amenable to a Koga Miyata, if you’re not too orthodox.

  10. “We have to do a Santiago de Compostela schtick where we hike cross-country for days from museum to museum?”

    At least he didn’t suggest that we do it barefooted.

    His entire piece is knucklehead stuff. Unfortunately, the more this is pointed out to him, the more inclined he seems to double-down.

      1. Indeed, I’d wear that as a badge of honor, if I’m being lumped in with educated people who actually think the truth of things is important. *gasp*

      2. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”

        Maybe we should take St Crispin as our patron saint! 😉

        Not so few however, as will shortly be displayed for the world to see at the Global Atheist Conference in Melb.

  11. Jerry Coyne is giving this guy shit but he is tactics are is likely to covert people to secularism who otherwise would not be persuaded by all the books on evolution and philosophy that show how god is unlikely to be true.

    He is an ally to the atheist cause, we need varied approaches…

    Richard Dawkins when asked who was the target audience for The God Delusion said something like “the middle of the road people who still go to church but are not quite sure”
    David Silverman current president of American Atheists targets precisely those people too the “Atheist in the church”

    Ask yourselves why are these people still involved in the church if they they think it’s untrue?

    BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY there’s probably more to religion than the veracity of its metaphysical claims… what keeps people involved?

    De Botton is clear about his project, steal, copy, adapt and build secular equivalents. Maybe then our numbers will swell up even more.

    Do I think he is right? I don’t know but I think this is perfectly within the scope of the atheist community to be debated without the blatant antagonism he has been receiving.

    Also PZ Meyers and Jerry coyne both made posts about DeBotton attacking him on the first paragraph of his articles about not caring for truth and BOTH failed to quote the paragraph JUST BELOW which says:

    “I prefer a different tack. To my mind, of course, no part of religion is true in the sense of being God-given. The real issue is not whether God exists or not, but where one takes the argument to once one concludes that he evidently doesn’t. ”

    HE ASSUMES THE NON-EXISTENCE OF GOD. He talks of plagiarism of religious. He says and I quote “Religion is too good to leave for the religious”

    Yet Jerry Coyne and PZ Meyers still accuse him of self-promotion and pandering to the religious.

    It’s embarrassing that such a legitimate approach within our secular atheist community has gotten the kind of treatment is has.

    1. We already have numerous secular equivalents of the Church. The community and educational aspects are already in place for anyone who wishes to seek them out. As for the ritual aspects, I don’t personally see a need for them, and I suspect I’m far from alone in this. Morning coffee and the newspaper is probably good enough for many.

      Religion isn’t “too good to leave for the religious”, which is exactly why so many people are abandoning it now that it’s not so taboo to do so in many places.

      By the way, it’s PZ Myers with one ‘e’…

    2. Except Stuart_David; that it’s been suggested before amongst the secular with no success. See the French Revolution, Cult of the Supreme Being, Comte’s Religion of Humanity, Lunacharsky’s God-Builders; all of which bit the dust. Why? Because, no matter where or when you are, it’s a hopeless idea, barely worth analysing in theory, due its inadequacy in practise.

    3. [de Botton’s] tactics are is likely to covert people to secularism who otherwise would not be persuaded by all the books on evolution and philosophy that show how god is unlikely to be true.

      Doubt it. You’re making a lot of implicit assumptions here.

      lso PZ Meyers and Jerry coyne both made posts about DeBotton attacking him on the first paragraph of his articles about not caring for truth and BOTH failed to quote the paragraph JUST BELOW

      Or maybe they read it and disagree. After all, if you actually talk to religious believers a lot of them actually do seem to care very much whether their beliefs are actually true. I think you and de Botton are the naive ones here.

    4. “there’s probably more to religion than the veracity of its metaphysical claims… what keeps people involved?

      No, there’s nothing more there. It’s all about the comforting delusion. I think the non-deluded people (atheists) who keep on going to church are doing so as a personal sacrifice for the sake of someone else they care about. To suggest that atheists are actually finding some redeeming value in wasting time and effort going to church every week that’s why they stay involved, is analogous to suggesting that closeted gay people stay in the closet because they like it there.

    5. Jerry Coyne is giving this guy shit but he is tactics are is likely to covert people to secularism who otherwise would not be persuaded by all the books on evolution and philosophy that show how god is unlikely to be true.

      That remains to be seen. Rather than disagree outright with de Botton, I’d rather he put his money where his mouth is: go to some largely religious town, set up his atheist community support network, and see how many people he converts.

      I would also submit that being run out of town on a rail is probably prima facie evidence that his ‘whether its true is a boring question’ spiel is wrong. When questioning the truth of people’s religious beliefs leads to social consequences, it is not boring.

  12. He says that “[r]eligions are supremely effective at education, because they know that we forget everything. They are based around rehearsal, repetition, oratory and calendars,” but neglects to mention that many Christians can’t even name the first book of the NT or that many people think Jesus being implanted in Mary’s womb is the Immaculate Conception.

    For something “supremely effective at education” it’s remarkably ineffective a whole lot of the time. Christians in particular seem to know less about their own scriptures and dogmas than atheists do. Why is that, if church education is “supremely effective”?

    1. One reason for this is that none of it really matters. What possible difference could it make to anything whether the Immaculate Conception is that of Jesus or of Mary, and then whether it involves virgin birth or not?

      (So far as I can remember, Mary is supposed to have been conceived without Original Sin just by God saying so, not through any reproductive miracle.)

  13. Short french question: when you say “mon vieux,” is that short for “my old (friend)”?


  14. Inane comment by Sally Whitaker:

    If He [God] didn’t exsits [sic], we wouldn’t be talking about Him.

    I want an invisible pink unicorn for my birthday. You can pay for it with the pot o’ gold you will find at the end of a rainbow. Thanks!

  15. Alain De Botton’s suggestion that the truth value of religious claims is entirely besides the point, would have sounded less egregiously naive in a world where the faithful religiously refrained from claiming to have privileged access to inerrant truth.

    Even if we were to humor such naivete for a second, and suspend critique of the manifest empirical shortcomings of religious worldviews, these worldviews still cannot be treated as ‘benign fictions’ unless we are also additionally naive to be in denial of their obsolescence and oppressiveness. Here is a recent exercise from the Nirmukta blog to expose such naivete :

    Freethought, Cross-examined

  16. As a musical artist, I’d like to comment on number 4:

    Requiring art to be somehow didactic cheapens it. If de Botton is unable to appreciate a Bach fugue or a Stravinsky ballet for their own sake, that is, for the intelligence and skill that went into their creation, that’s his problem.

    An extra programmatic layer intended to convey some message would be fine, I guess. But it wouldn’t bear on the quality of the music.

  17. It is a shame about de Botton because, many years ago, I read his book “The Consolations of Philosophy” and really enjoyed it, especially the chapter on Seneca.

    1. When Ernest Renan scored a big hit best-seller with his “Life of Jesus”, legend has it that his colleague and rival historian Hippolyte Taine met him on a promenade with Mme. Renan. Financially secure after his success, Renan had indulged his wife with a then still acceptable fur coat, which she was proudly wearing.

      Taine probed the fur gently with his finger tips, murmuring “Sweet Jesus!”

      And so for the “Consolations of Philosophy”.

  18. None of De Botton’s ‘good aspects of religion that atheists should emulate’ are things that you get through religion.

    Religion has nothing to do with these things, religion adapted it from the ‘regular world’. His entire position is utterly lame, it has no leg to stand on.

  19. Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is ‘true’.

    A most fitting inscription for de Buttocks’ tombstone.

  20. Again, I feel compelled to point out that de Botton’s primary hypothesis is incorrect.

    Look across the board at all extra-curricular activities people can participate in. Regardless of whether it’s church, a local community band, the Kiwanis, the Elks, the Barbershop Harmony Society, or any other organization, the number one issue facing them is the same.

    Declining membership and an aging of the members who attend events and help. Many of these organizations are going to age themselves right out of existence within the next 10 to 15 years.

    Because people do NOT want to go there.

    The world has changed and de Botton seems not to have noticed. People have more demands on their time than ever before and more ways of meeting their “community” needs than a Sunday or a Tuesday in a setting of like-minded people with mutual interests.

    Has he never heard of Facebook?

    And the world most definitely does not need an atheist gathering place. It already has one, and we’re already there.

    We’re here.

    1. He has heard of Facebook, but he doesn’t understand it. In his actual post he mentions it in contrast to attending church. Apparently because in church you are more likely to meet people with different ideas than on a giant social network. Go figure.

      And people wonder why we pick on him, it’s because he says stupid things!

  21. “We know from parties that people don’t talk to each other until there’s a good host that does the introduction.”

    Apparently de Button has never been to a fun party with interesting people.

    No surprise.

    1. I love how he makes that statement as though he’s presenting some axiom or evidence for his conclusion. Frankly, if you have trouble making friends at a party, you’re not going to do any better in a church-like environment. I’m not exactly extrovert of the year, and I can tell you that when I went to church, I wasn’t exactly walking away with a full social calendar.

      1. Hey, I’m British, well, Irish actually, but I met an interesting person at a Brummie party in 1985, once.

        By the way, de Botton isn’t British; born in Switzerland, of Egyptian Jewish background.

      2. “You forget that de Botton is British”

        Seriously, what’s that supposed to imply? I’m British, and as such that comment looks vaguely like some sort of insult to me, but I’m probably being oversensitive. (I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way?) A bit like pointing out that the Pope is Polish or Adolf he-whose-name-is-an-instant-Godwin was Austrian…

        1. Oh, I’ve just figured it out. (A bit slow off the start line this evening). It was a reference to de Botton’s line about “we know from parties that people don’t talk to each other…”. Well, maybe the parties de Botton goes to. If I was having a good party I doubt I’d invite Mr de Botton anyway.

          I would still kinda resent the implication that typical British parties are like that, but I’ve just learned that the British entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is Englebert Humperdinck, who is 75. I am not making this up. This is so monumentally uncool that all other cultural slurs pale by comparison.

          1. Engelbert, Leicester’s finest, along with Yeah Yeah Noh and The Bomb Party. 75? Can the man still sing? I’d be happy to be compos mentis at that age.

            1. I didn’t even know he was still alive.

              Also hadn’t realised that Yeah Yeah Noh were from Leicester, and according to Wikipedia the singer is the same Derek Hammond who last year wrote “Got, Not Got”, a treasury of football stuff from the 70s and 80s.

              The things you learn on the website of a biologist from Chicago University, eh?

              1. Yeah, sorry about the plug, but Derek is my mate, and I wrote the poem at the start of ‘Got, not Got.’ By the way, Yeah Yeah Noh are gigging again from summer this year.

  22. Nothing DeBotton lists is exclusive to religion, and just a little bit of contemplation finds secular corollaries for all of them.

    1. Does he think Atheists don’t use calendars or observe holidays? Are we supposed to genuflect in the direction of the Orion Nebula and repeat “We are star-stuff” five times a day?

    2. Exercise? Meditation? Taking a shower? Even Sam Harris, one of those few fundamentalist atheists he carries on about has made strong cases for Buddhist meditation practices. Perhaps he’s got something here though, self-flagellation might be a great practice for breaking bad habits such as smoking!

    3. Umm, apparently the non-religious can only meet in bars and restaurants. Nevermind or about a gazillion secular events that have nothing to do with religion, yet are also inclusive of the religious. His contrast between and church service is laughable, not to mention backwards. How exactly do you meet non-like-minded people in a church? Gee, I’m going to go to my local Lutheran Church because of the great variety of people there, I’ll confront the “Other” people who believe exactly as I do and listen unquestioningly to the same drivel from the pulpit. Perhaps a UU church where you might find an Atheist, a Muslim and a Christian all sitting in the same pew, but most religions JUST DON’T WORK LIKE THAT! In fact, religion is the LEAST likely way to meet different kinds of people! He is apparently projecting himself onto all atheists when he suggests that we can’t make friends because of our “cold exteriors”. I’m not the most sociable guy on the planet, but I’m not going to say that all atheists are like me so we need a churchlike environment to really get the social juices flowing.

    4. Please, let’s spoil the joy of studying a painting for the purpose of understanding the artist’s purpose BY ORGANIZING THE ART BY THE ARTISTS PURPOSE! What if I look at the painting of Mary and think, “Slut!”? Would that be the wrong interpretation? Should I be told how I’m supposed to react to art?

    5. Apparently DeBotton has never heard of the great American Road Trip! How about hunting trips? Season Tickets for the Diamondbacks? He’s utterly vague on what he means here.

    If DeBotton could pick just one of these and perhaps be more specific about what he means, provide good religious examples and then show how these are better than those options that DO EXIST in the non-religious world, he would have a better time on this project. Sure, there are some good things about religion, but they are NOT THE EXCLUSIVE DOMAIN OF RELIGION! Most of these actions are performed with the mindset that the supernatural claims of the host mythology is in fact true. If you contend that they are not true, then you must discover or invent some psychological benefit for actions that, if turned into compulsions would have clinical implications in a secular setting. The man who prays five times in the direction of a holy city is considered religious, the man who kneels five times a day for no reason is OCD. There needs to be a more rational explanation for mimicking traditional religious practices, and there may be, since of course meditation and breathing has benefits unrelated to the supernatural and thus makes sense to emulate.

    He also needs to do a little reading on what “secular” actually means. He’s conflating it with “atheism” and that is simply not the case. If I join a bowling team with church/temple/synagogue-going friends and we drink beer, talk trash, and bowl-lousy, that is a secular event that builds community. What DeBotton has done is built a short-bus full of straw-people that he proceeds to trot-out and execute with paper bullets and a rubber-band. For someone with a background in philosophy, he sure is a muddy thinker.

  23. @ de Botton

    “They (the religious: DC) have insisted with alien vigour on the profound gravity of going on a trip and have channelled the raw impulse to take off into a myriad of rituals.”

    There is so much that is wrong with this sentence. What is alien vigour? Alien to what? What is profound gravity? Profound, how? What stylistically inept bathos. “Profound gravity of going on a trip.”

    In what way is it better, morally superior, transformative to ritualise travel? How can travel become ritualised except through religion? Why should an atheist promote that idea?

    Has he not read The Canterbury Tales, which satirised pilgrimages 600 years ago?

    By happy chance – and pilgrims every one
    That for the Canterbury shrine were bound.
    The bedrooms and the stables were well found.
    There for our comfort was none but the best.

    Not much sackcloth and ashes there.

      1. Dunno, badger3k; I went to Erasmus Darwin’s house in Lichfield the other day (Charles’ grand-dad, polymath, and all-round good egg). A pilgrimage? Maybe, in a metaphorical sense, but I don’t feel ‘morally superior’ for having done so. ‘Transformed’? Slightly so. ‘Better’? Yes.

        In Philosophical, Ethical and Religious Studies lessons in the U.K. (acronym: PEARS, rather clever) they introduce the religious concept of pilgrimages by referring to ‘pilgrimages’ to Graceland, Michael Jackson’s home etc., and indeed to tourism in general. Not sure I approve of the idea, as it implies the deification of ordinary humans.

        Come to think of it, I suspect the religious wouldn’t be too happy, either.

        Of course, there’s a world of difference betwenn a religious pilgrimage and a journey to discover something about a human or thing one admires. To describe the latter as a ‘pilgrimage’ confuses the matter with its religious connotations.

  24. HAHAHAHA educate like Catholics do is the most hilarious thing I have heard all day. The Church is not interested in the education of the people, it is more concerned that if they do allow their sheep to become educated then said sheep will see through their lies and propaganda and general BS. This guy must be a comedian,

  25. At least for most of them, in a watered-down form, they aren’t really bad suggestions. Not that they are unique to religion – it’s a bit like suggesting that we should give to charity. “Well of course, but what does religion have to do with it?”

  26. Stuart_David is spot on in post 16. The secular movement isn’t moving fast enough. De bottan offers a varied approach and right or wrong it is interesting and could get some traction. At best it moves the secular cause forward. It’s hard to imagine how it would hinder it or take it backwards. Those of you whos personas are defined by being cool, skeptical individualists are welcome to opt out. The rest of us uncool joiners might actually build the type of popular critical mass that drives real secular change. Who knows until someone like De Bottan proposes something novel and proactive and it is given a chance.

    1. Okay… enjoy your time at the secular temple. I can hear it now….

      “Praise Darwin from whom all knowledge flows, Praise how he explained the creatures here below, Praise him above yee secular host, Praise Darwin, Dennett, and Hitchens Ghost….ahhhh…yeahhhhh!”

      Now, let us state what we believe. “I believe in…. well… you get the picture.

      1. Yeah that’s just what it would be like. Because we want to create a community we would pray to Darwin. You have de Bottan pegged. Or maybe not.

  27. “2. Practice body-engaging activities…”
    I think I see some possibilities here for my own secular religion. As the jailer said, when informed that Bertrand Russell’s religion was ‘agnostic’, “Well, we all worship in our own way.”

  28. What de Botton has proposed already exists, under the rubric not of “atheism,” but “humanism” — a word that, strangely, has not appeared once in this thread.

    Has he never heard of the British Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, the American Humanist Association, Ethical Culture, IHEU and even the maligned, wuzzy-woo infested but essentially secular fellowships of UU?

    Atheism gets scolded for not providing suffficient human uplift, but that is not a proper job for such a poor little word. Humanism is there to fill the need that de Botton presents, in whatever forms it naturally takes as people lean the term and explore its possibilities. Why not have explicitly humanist centers, lecture halls, social events, educational institutions and even political parties? Sounds like fun, and an extension of what many are already doing.

    I’m a militant New Atheist, but that is not so important as the fact that I’m a secular humanist, and there’s nothing wrong with hijacking some of the forms and habits of religion — the communitarian tricks and customs — to get the fun and value out of the philosophy. De Botton makes a reasonable point, but in silly terms and with apparent disregard for what alreeady is in place.

    1. You are right. The concepts and even some of the organizational structures are there but they are not either mainstream or compelling enough to attract the everyday agnostic or atheist. I think it is on the one hand a problem with branding, simply what you call the whole concept whether its secular humanism or a secular movement, atheism or the very ill conceived term “brights”. The other is that the programs if you want to call them that, gatherings, speeches, currcula etc are not well organized, locally accessible, inspiring or very entertaining as a rule. There are of course some exceptions. The School of Life is making a go at it but I believe some creative and enterprising minds could do a lot to make this concept a real movement.

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