Transcript for Alain de Botton on "Religion for Atheists"

Jim Fleming: You might call Alain de Botton the people’s philosopher.  He has written a series of best-selling books that play with big ideas, which he makes both fun and thought-provoking, so it’s not surprising he finally got around to one of the biggest ideas of them all, religion.  The twist is that de Botton is an atheist, but he thinks non-believers have plenty to learn from religious traditions.  He calls his new book “Religion for Atheists.”   de Botton tells Anne Strainchamps that he had to overcome his own hostility to religion.

Alain de Botton: I realize that it simply couldn’t be a simple essaying that everything to do with religion was nonsense, which was how I had been brought up, and I came to make a distinction, a basic distinction, but it took me awhile to get there, between non-belief, in other words thinking that the doctrines of religion, supernatural doctrines of religion might not be true, and an interest in religion as a sociological, organizational and aesthetic phenomenon.  I realized that it was possible to be interested in religion, engaged with religion, to borrow many concepts and attitudes and structures and rituals, without necessarily subscribing to any supernatural tenants. 

Anne Strainchamps: What does that mean to you exactly, to be involved with religion’s sociological and aesthetic dimensions with ascribing to its tenants?

de Botton: Sure, let me give you a very basic example.  You can go and sing Christmas carols and enjoy Christmas carols without necessarily believing that Jesus was the son of God and ascended into Heaven.  Now for a Christian, that’s deeply offensive and the thought is, ˜well come on, you can’t enjoy the carols and the community and the singing and the art and the church and the candles, unless you also believe in the resurrection,’ but in fact, it’s completely possible. 

Strainchamps: So I’m getting the sense that you found yourself longing for some of the sociological dimensions, the aesthetic dimensions of religion.  Well, for example, the opening essay in this new book is an analysis of, I guess what you could call the psychology of the Catholic mass which, first of all, mass is kind of an odd habitat for an atheist.  How many have you attended?

de Botton: Oh, quite a few by now.  My method was to say, ˜what are some of the things in religion that would appeal to an atheist, that would appeal to me,’ and I just went around deliberately picking and mixing from a variety of religions in order to ask a very basic question which is, ˜What can we learn from here?  What can we, if you like, steal from here that might be of use in a secular life,’ so I went along to some Catholic masses and was impressed really by the atmosphere of community that is created by the church on a Sunday via the mass, which seems so at odds with the anonymity of so much of modern world where you just don’t talk to strangers, you don’t meet other people.  You certainly are never brought into contact with people at such a sort of profound spiritual level.  I mean, what the church does, it demarcates a space and says, ˜Everybody can meet everyone.  Everyone is safe to talk to,’ and it’s a very simple gesture.  It doesn’t really require a belief in the supernatural, but it requires somebody to do it. 

Strainchamps: So as a result, you proposed a kind of secular alternative, a communal meal experience that, I mean a fictional, that you call the Agape Restaurant.  Can you tell us about it?

de Botton: Yes, well I tried to imagine what might an atheist take away from this?  How can we put something of this back into the secular world, and it struck me that all organized religions have a tradition of eating together, communal eating, and in fact, holy communion before it was a church service, was a shared meal, what was called an Agape Feast where Christians in early Christian communities would gather together to break bread and invite strangers into their midst.  It’s a charming idea.  Where do we have anything like that today?  Nowhere, you know, the average modern restaurant or diner or bar, it’s an anonymous place.  There are people but it’s an anonymous place, so I imagined being inspired by this tradition of religious communal eating and the atheists too, might learn to eat together, might learn to structure their encounters with one another around the table without just saying, ˜what do you do,’ but to get to some of the same vulnerable material as religious communities know how to address.

Strainchamps: It sounds like part of what you think religion does well has to do with the psychology of a community.  You also write about Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which you describe is one of the most psychologically effective mechanisms ever devised for resolving social conflict.  What do you mean?

de Botton: That’s right.  I mean religions seem to know both what we want from communities and also what makes living in a community difficult, and one of the things that makes other people difficult is that we’re full of resentments against them and we get into fights with them, and then we don’t know how to get out of those fights, we don’t know how to forgive, we don’t know how to heal divisions between people, and young people, the day of atonement is a fascinating ritual where the entire Jewish community essentially says “sorry”to oneanother and accepts the apologies of others under the guidance of God, and it’s a sort of miraculous day that does that very important thing which is to enable people to move on from disputes.  As I say, that’s something that generally we feel rather at a loss as to know how to do that without some help.  You see, a lot of what religions do, a lot of what religious rituals are, is communal forms of behavior that help you to do something that’s very hard to do just on your own.  You could look at a lot of what religions do is lending structure to important psychological events. 

Strainchamps: So what else would you like to steal from religion for atheism?  We’ve been talking about the kind of rituals and communal values.  What about art, music?

de Botton: Yes, well I think one of the things that religions know is, if you’re trying to influence somebody, if you’re trying to have an impact on somebody’s life, if you do it simply through intellectual discussion and argument, you’re not going to get very far, so all religions employ other means.  They touch us through our senses, they give us songs to sing, they tell us so sit in certain ways, they put pictures in front of our eyes, they build buildings.  In other words, they use our senses to pull us in certain, what I think of, as optimal directions.  You see, religions tell us things like, ˜you’ve got to love one another, you’ve got to forgive one another,’ but that can sound awfully trite and boring, but if you come across a great work of art, a great film, a great piece of music, you can listen to a Bach cantata and say, ˜oh goodness, that’s what forgiveness is.  You know, I had forgotten it.  It had gone a bit stale in my imagination, but it’s now come back to life.’ 

Strainchamps: What would atheist art look like or atheist-inspired art or great art in the service of atheism?

de Botton: Well atheists have lots of art.  It’s not that we don’t need more art.  I think it’s just about the way you frame art.  Let me give you an example of the American artist, Mark Rothko.  See, Rothko wanted to change the world.  Rothko wanted to see his paintings in his own words, ˜ as an echo chamber of humanity’s grief.’  So in other words, this was a form of kind of public consolation, if you like.  Now you would never pick that up from the captions in a museum.  You just think Rothko is a terribly intimidating, terribly ambiguous and strange, very famous American artist, but a museum, the way I’d like to do a museum, would actually bring that out.  It would tease that didactic side of Rothko, or indeed, any artist.  Most artists want to change the world in some way.  It’s just you wouldn’t really know it from the average museum presentation.  Museums are, on the whole, very neutral, they’re white, they’re bland, and compare that with the way that religions use art.  Religions use art in these very direct, emotional ways.  You might cry in front of a picture.  You might change your life because of a picture.

Strainchamps: Can you imagine a kind of secular temple in which Rothko’s paintings maybe were centerpieces?  How would you approach them instead?

de Botton: Well you know, of course, that there is such a thing in Texas.  There is precisely the Rothko chapel and it’s most wonderful space.  It’s precisely that, it’s a non-denominational contemplative, rather melancholy but amazing place, where people will go and take time out from their busy lives, and get in touch with their deeper selves, not in order to commune with God as you might in a traditional chapel, but in order to commune with those more elusive, shy but important sides of ourselves, what you might call the deep self, you know, that isn’t there at the dinner table and gets squashed at the office, but has a chance to come out, and we are still at the dawn of learning how to live well without religion, one of the first few generations to do that.  Religions have always known that putting people in a certain space can heavily influence what goes on in their minds.  You can have calm spaces that will bring calm. You can have spaces that are huge and will bring a feeling of perspective, so all of these things religious buildings can do and there’s no fundamental reason why non-believers shouldn’t benefit from some of these wonderful maneuvers of religious architecture down the centuries.  You know, people say, ˜what about the library, or what about the observatory.’  I mean, we’ve got these buildings already, and I would say well, it’s slightly different from the genuinely spiritual if you like, psychological focus of religious buildings.

Fleming: Alain de Botton talked with Anne Strainchamps.  His book is called “Religion for Atheists, a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion.”


Comments for this interview

My flavor of spiritual atheism (Ron, 02/17/2013 - 10:29pm)

Alain de Botton's flavor of spiritual atheism is much more agreeable to me than Adam Frank's. I agree that organized religion has evolved some beautiful things including architecture, art, music and, as an atheist I can appreciate the beauty of these things without accepting any of written dogma.


Great article, totally what I was looking for.
kjøpe pels til canada goose

Hermes guide d'achat birkin
[url= Orange Bag[/url]

Hi there, I read your blog regularly. Your writing style is witty, keep it up!
[url= italia online authorised retailer[/url]

This look, not to mention Liu Ming such ordinary disciples, even days, a list of these and other Lord led ge real level, are all exposed were also surprised the color of.
[url=]pas cher moncler femme[/url]

Greetings! Very useful advice within this article! It's the little changes that make the biggest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!
ugg australia groupon

buy wow gold might possibly be the most good, fashionable buy wow gold i've ever run. they select almost everything and in addition they help keep you manner through the exceptional. i've ended up a devoted buy wow gold buff relating to a whole year in addition to we have all paid for eight sets. worth the bucks.

très bon produit grâce !!!!!!!

The head of a tall, burly man, the whole body seems like the stars of the Big Dipper shining like endless circulation, a piece of bright stars wrapped in which this person, see the face.
Parka Canada Goose

My developer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he's tryiong none the less. I've been using Movable-type on a number of websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform. I have heard very good things about Is there a way I can import all my wordpress posts into it? Any kind of help would be really appreciated!
peuterey zomerjas

ブルガリ時計 レディースn級
アナスイ 財布 バーゲン
ロレックス ブレス 販売
香水 5号
激安クロムハーツ 財布
コーチ バッグ ペイトン ドリーム シグネチャー 斜めがけ ショルダー
革ジャン オシャレファッション
原宿 財布 安い
ケイトスペード 薔薇 バッグ
ヴィトン リヴィントン製造番号位置
グッチ 財布 売れ筋

paul smith キーケース
プラダ ショルダー ポシェット
celine セリーヌ
adidasスパイク 機能性意味
ミランダカー ルイヴィトンショルダーバッグ
指輪 20代 カルティエ
バッグ ファスナー 修理 浜松
立川 メンズ ブランド
女性 スーツ スニーカー ニューバランス
クロムハーツ レギンス
paulsmith 通販
靴 白 激安
芸能人 化粧品 ランキング
ボアパーカー コーデ ネイビー

ゴローズ 財布 紐
聯電 靴下貓時尚提袋
ブルガリ 財布 楽天
化粧品 収納術 100均
ダンヒル 財布 コピー
ニキビ クレーター 化粧品
jps パチスロ 撤退
トリーバーチ 金沢
梅田 化粧品 バイト
ゴヤール バッグ ビニール

グッチ スーパーコピー 代引き
財布 レディース 二つ折り 2ch
ルイヴィトン 偽物 見分け方
白 スニーカー レディース 通販
abcマート ニューバランス m1400 名古屋
ロレックス レディス デイトジャスト
還暦 ネックレス ブランド
ブルガリ アウトレット 長財布
バーバリー トレンチ 七分袖
フェリージ クリーム
ポールスミス マグカップ
バイマ ルブタン ショートブーツ
クリスチャンディオール ヴィンテージ バッグ

コストコ バレンタイン
白 フィットネス 長袖
秋 バッグ ファー
グッチ コラボ 財布
財布 なくした 身分証
セリーヌラゲージトート カーキバック
ポールスミス 財布 メンズ
財布 クロエ 韓国
バッグ 革 作り方
小物 デコ 作り方 100均
財布 激安 偽物

指輪 男 ダサい
アイフォン6ケース 手帳型 ミュウミュウ
ヴィトン バッグ フランス
ニューバランス 別注シリーズ
ディオール 化粧品 カプチュール!lawsuit24.html
paul smith時計メンズ

This design is spectacular! You most certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost...HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!
stivali ugg prezzi bassi

ナイキ ランニングウェア レディース コーディネート
コーチ ショルダー チャーリークロス
ブルガリ アショーマ 取扱説明書
紳士 財布 人気 ブランド
革靴 小さめ ワンデー
バッグインバッグ 北欧
大学生 女性 バッグ
バッグ メーカー 日本
トリーバーチ リュック ナイロン
ゴローズ 長財布
ミュウミュウ 指輪 ランキング
ポールスミス 財布 メンズ 二つ折り
本革 バッグ 激安
カップルブレスレット 18金

チャッカブーツ メンズ コーディネート
ルイヴィトン ベルト 激安!ratrace2648.html
ヴィトン ノベルティ ニセモノ
ドンキホーテ ブルガリ 財布
fendi トレンチコート メンズ
ヴィトン 財布 二 つ折り
新宿 大黒屋 エルメス フラミンゴ

コンパクト 財布 かわいい
ポールスミス 財布 メンズ 二つ折り
シーバイクロエ キャメル カバン 桃愛用
ポールスミス ミニクーパー
ベルト 調整 お店
ディオール イヤリング定価
adidas originals 激安

30歳 スーツにあうコート メンズ
バッグ 中身 軽量化
仙台 リュック
池袋 air jordan

ルブタン メンズ トートバッグ
ロレックス オーバーホール 期間
クリスマスツリー 伊勢丹
バーバリー 財布 手入れ
ケイトスペード システム手帳
オリジナルアディダスショップ コーディネート
化粧品 口コミ パウダー
ドンキホーテ マフラー種類
ブリジストン 自転車 ベルト 交換
グッチ腕時計 年齢層
エルメス 財布 色 人気
時計 5万以下

ニット帽 ブランド シャネル パロディ
高齢者 使いやすい 財布
財布 ファスナー 固い
楽天 ポールスミス 財布
ミュウミュウ サイズ
財布 メンズ ブランド レプリカ




I personally loved your buy wow gold straight out on the common box yet the sheephair in the bottoom from wow gold discloses! You don't see any Attachements because of these therefore you find yourself with exactly the only as well as matted right down stuff. Seems truly good on your skin (Definitely not)...Hence Never Cold after you compensate the primary revenue as a result of! Individuals Look out!

ジョーダン スパイズイック エナメル
指輪 ダイヤモンド 取れた
化粧品 アンケート プレゼント
メンズ時計 カルティエ 仙台 藤崎
指輪 プラチナ 犬
財布 人気 レディース 二つ折り
ヴィトン スマホ
コーチ ベイトンチェック柄長財布
イタリア 輸入 バッグ
香水 one direction
かばん内側張り替え 専門店

ユナイテッドアローズ イタリア バッグ
ダンヒル 財布 ダサい
h 金具 iphoneケース
財布 メンズ 人気 ブランド 20代
ck 財布 安い
手帳型 ケース チャック
おじさん adidas
パスファインダー バッグ 2ch
オークリー レーダー
コストコ 香水 クロエ
アメ村 シャネル パロディ

Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates. I've been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.
botas tipo ugg american eagle

Wonderful beat ! I would like to apprentice even as you amend your web site, how can i subscribe for a weblog web site? The account aided me a acceptable deal. I have been a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered brilliant clear idea
north face outlet locations in california


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.