Society & Politics

Religion for Atheists

Alain de Botton

In contrast to anti-religion positions held by more radical atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, Alain de Botton and his “School of Life” take a different approach in the form of a “religion for atheists.” What de Botton proposes is to separate the cultural and communal aspects of more traditional religions from their faith claims, which he sees as fallacious. While not necessarily a new idea—Auguste Comte discussed a similar idea in the 19th century—it still has a powerful pull evidenced by the enthusiastic crowds he and others draw to their “sermons.” From a Christian perspective, a kneejerk reaction to projects like this is tempting, claiming proprietary rights over the traditional forms de Botton has appropriated. But Christian liturgy is about finding fitting places and times within which to worship—a space within which we, as whole persons, can rightly express our relationship to God. 

By borrowing liturgical forms, de Botton and others are recognising aspects of humanity which have already been recognised by Christianity. As such, we share an appreciation of common human truths. We realise as Christians, however, that there is more to being human than just finding appreciable liturgical forms; we also need to find the One to whom worship is to be expressed in those forms. As many who have struggled with life in the church realise, liturgy without relationship with God is meaningless. So, while on one level we can applaud de Botton’s recognition of some Christian truths, we wait in hope for religious atheists to recognise the Subject of Christian truths. We also applaud the challenge the “School of Life” presents to Christians to recognise those aspects of our faith that truly distinguish it from the clichéd “nice things everyone should do”—the aspects of Christianity that have sustained it even while Comte’s followers have come and gone.

Source: The School of Life

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