Yesterday evening I went with my colleague Rikke to hear Alain de Botton talk about his new book ‘Religion for Atheists’. The title sounds like he wants to create a new religion for atheists and the media and commentators have been quick to ridicule this. Actually he is exploring the positive things that secular humanists could learn from religions. The examples he gives of things humanist might see of value in religion include a commitment to offering education, the benefits of being organised, the communal dimension to experience, the acknowledgement that people are sensing beings and not just the holders of rational beliefs, and an unashamed sense of purpose in the use of art. It was a bigger list than I was anticipating.
It was at times uncomfortable to listen to someone who can catalogue so clearly the damage caused when religion goes bad. At times he has a quite idealised view of the religious life. I suspect that his broad brush strokes about so many subjects would not stand up too well to close historical scrutiny. However, it was good to hear an atheist who has some understanding of religion and spirituality as it is actually lived. There is a hope of positive dialogue between religion and atheism out of this. Makes a change from the usual atheist practice of setting up of a false picture of religion and then demolishing it.
We had great seats in the middle of the front row of the upper circle. During the Q and A the chair noticed that there was one clergyman in the audience and he called on me to ask a question. Which I did but … now I am out of time, so the question will be in the next post.