religion for athiests-alain de botton

once again, i have the philly free library podcast to thank for this one. i was floored by the talk and had it on my list for a minute. it caused a stir when i had it in tow at the play reading group that one tuesday that dance was on break. it may be the second most important religious text that i’ve ever read, the first being the last testament of the holy bible by james frey. physically, i was noting the feel of the paper, and towards the end, a discussion arises about books being worth the paper they’re printed on. huh.

“Our favorite secular books do not alert us to how inadequate a one-off linear reading of them will prove. They do not identify the particular days of the year on which we ought to reconsider them, as the holy books do-in the latter case with 200 others around us and an organ playing in the background. There is arguably as much wisdom to be found in the stories of Anton Checkov as in the Gospels, but collections of the former are not bound with calendars reminding readers to schedule a regular review of their insights. We would face grave accusations of eccentricity if we attempted to construct liturgies from the works of secular authors. At best, we haphazardly underline a few of the sentences that we most admire in them and which we may once in a while chance upon in an idle moment waiting for a taxi.” (135)

“If we lament our book-swamped age, it is because we sense that it is not by reading more, but by deepening and refreshing our understanding of a few volumes that we best develop our intelligence and our sensitivity. We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than Augustine or Dante, thereby ignoring that our problem lies squarely with our manner of absorption rather than with the extent of our consumption.” (139)


2 thoughts on “religion for athiests-alain de botton

  1. all-seeing i:

    “The possibility of responding compassionately to others is crucially linked to our angle of vision.” (231)

    “Like universities, museums promise to fill the gaps left by the ebbing of faith; they too stand to give us meaning without superstition. Just as secular books hold out a hope that they can replace the Gospels, so museums may be able to take over the aesthetic responsibilities of churches.” (209)

    “The secular are at this moment in history a great deal more optimistic than the religious-something of an irony, given the frequency with which the latter have been derided by the former for their apparent naivety and credulousness. It is the secular whose longing for perfection has grown so intense as to lead them to imagine that paradise might be realized on this earth after just a few more years of financial growth and medical research. With no evident awareness of the contradiction they may, in the same breath, gruffly dismiss a belief in angels while sincerely trusting that the combined powers of the IMF, the medical research establishment, Silicon Valley and democratic politics could together cure the ills of mankind.” (183-5)

    “Whatever rhetoric may be rehearsed in its prospectuses, the modern university appears to have precious little interest in teaching its students any emotional or ethical life skills, much less how to love their neighbors and leave the world happier than they found it.” (105)

  2. sometimes, relationships get ill:

    “It is one of the unexpected disasters of the modern age that our new unparalleled access to information has come at the price of our capacity to concentrate on anything much.” (264)

    “It is hope-with regard to our careers, our love lives, our children, our politicians and our planet-that is primarily to blame for angering and embittering us. The incompatibility between the grandeur of our aspirations and the mean reality of our condition generates the violent disappointments which rack our days and etch themselves in lines of acrimony across our faces.” (181)

    “It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: first, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise. God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the tale of the seven loaves and fishes.” (12)

    “It only seems clear that the origins of religious ethics lay in the pragmatic need of the earliest communities to control their members’ tendencies towards violence, and to foster in them contrary habits of harmony and forgiveness. Religious codes began as cautionary precepts, which were then projected into the sky and reflected back to earth in disembodied and majestic forms. Injunctions to be sympathetic or patient stemmed from an awareness that these were the qualities which could draw societies back from fragmentation and self-destruction. So vital were these rules to our survival that for thousands of years we did not dare to admit that we ourselves had formulated them, lest this expose them to critical scrutiny and irreverent handling. We had to pretend that morality came from the heavens in order to insulate it from our own prevarications and frailties.” (79-80)

    “Many of those blessings for which our pious and pessimistic ancestors offered thanks, we now pride ourselves on having worked hard enough to take for granted. Is there really any need, we wonder, to carve out a moment of gratitude in honour of a sunset or an apricot? Are there not loftier goals toward which we might be aiming?” (188)

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