Friday, October 04, 2013

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

A review by Jessica Birchall

Now I know the title for this sounds super boring but I urge you to search for one of Alain de Botton’s books if you haven’t read his stuff before. I love him because he is a kind of contemporary philosopher that discusses the idea of modern living through his books. I think his best work is The Consolations of Philosophy because it is a broad view of complex philosophers, their ideas and how we can relate them to our modern ideals of love, happiness, pessimism etc.

In Religion for Atheists de Botton discusses the idea of taking the best parts of a religion and using them for ourselves because what really matters? How you worship or whether or not you were a decent person? De Botton takes us through the idea of community, kindness, education, pessimism, art and architecture and how the better and non-corrupt aspects of religion can help us improve our lives. His chapter on art and architecture, for example, explains how we can still appreciate religious iconography and the beauty of a grand Catholic church and gain solace from these items without attaching the religious dogma normally associated with such items.

De Botton also humorously gives an alternative for our institutions that have lost their way. Fancy a more practical university degree? De Botton discusses John Stuart Mills idea that universities are “...not to make skilful lawyers, physicians or engineers. It is to make capable and cultivated human beings.” Why not teach students how to deal with the emotional impact of love or how to leave the world happier than we found it?

De Botton has the ability to take complex ideas and make them not only simple to read but interesting. There is also a subtle and sweet humour to his work that is endearing and made me search high and low for this book.

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, 2012

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