Defanging ‘Religion for Atheists’

Popularising philosophy runs the inherent danger of reducing depths of meaning to shallow pools of banality. Shallowness brings its irritations in ‘Religion for Atheists’ by populariser Alain de Botton.

These irritations are well expressed by Miriam Cosic in her review. Thus,

(de Botton) wrings religion of its historical and metaphysical significance, and bleaches it of its dramatic intensity. He also patronises atheists, his fellow-travellers, by suggesting they learn from the leached-out leavings he displays.

De Botton’s trivialising of Holy Communion to a meal at an “agape restaurant” where strangers and friends can engage in therapeutic conversation of forgiveness and compassion is an example of the weakness of his approach. He reduces Jewish and Christian understanding of atonement in God’s “passing over” in mercy due to blood sacrifice and at the same time pulls the sting on an atheist’s ridicule of transubstantiation as cannibalism.

Hence Cosic’s insightful critique of the book; it fails to do justice to either religion or atheists,

What de Botton has done is to defang religion: to neutralise its formidable weapons against humanity’s traditional foes, such as evil and anarchy, and contemporary foes such as anomie and nihilism.

He seems not to see that a middle way exists between the religiosity of the Middle Ages, when belief saturated existence and alternative explanations were literally inconceivable, and the aggressive materialism of the noisy New Atheists.

I am reminded of C S Lewis’ words in his essay ‘Fern-seed and Elephants‘ speaking of ‘liberal priests’ who miss the plain mark of orthodox Christian understanding,

These men ask me to  believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.

Miriam Cosic’s review, No cannibals in this defanging of religion  also  Atheist Alain de Botton Insists Society Needs Guidance From Religion


Defanging ‘Religion for Atheists’ — 1 Comment

  1. I haven’t read the book, but did hear de Botton being interviewed on “Conversations” on ABC radio the other day. Apart from a sense of rejoicing that someone on the “atheist” side of the spectrum can see SOME value in “religion”, the major thought that sprang to mind was to do with “all form, and no substance”.

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