30 January 2012

Co-opting the rituals of religion... Really?

Alain de Botton has come up with a rather ridiculous notion he calls "Atheism 2.0."  (As if slapping a "2.0" after something immediately makes it better.)  He argues that there are some aspects of religious behaviour that are of benefit to society, and so should form the foundation of a new brand of atheism.  Jerry Coyne rightly calls it an atheist religion.

It seems to me that all de Botton is trying to do is co-opt the trappings of religion for secular purposes.  In this sense, I don't mind this turnabout; rather like turning religion against itself, which I find in some ways quite poetic.

But in the final analysis, I find the notion of "Atheism 2.0" to be quite perverse, because the goals that de Botton seems to think can be achieved through religious rituals can be achieved by a variety of existent and secular means already.

First of all, let's set aside those who require intense religious ritual just to get by in life.  Those people may well be suffering from a mental condition like OCD (try this google search for more on that).

Once we eliminate those, we're left with people who, in essence, find certain routines and habits helpful.  We don't need all the woo of religious ceremony and ritual for that.

Want to build community?  There's lots of community activities in which one can participate.  Why do people go to church events anyways?  Salvation, or showing off.  If you really just want to participate in community, you can do that anywhere - at the coffee shop, at the skating rink, at town council, at cultural celebrations, class reunions, family get-togethers....

If you need the aspects of advice-giving that come from religious behaviours, go to a therapist, or a "life coach."

Need guidance on how to live?  Again, see a counsellor.  Or read some books on the subject.  Talk to friends and family that you trust.  Get an education.

Want to get connected to the rest of humanity and nature?  Go to art galleries and museums and planetariums.  Travel.  More education.

Learning "oratory" (de Botton's term; "public speaking" for the rest of us) is easy to learn if it's done in a friendly environment.  And it can be done in school if we could just stop pandering to idiots when it comes to curriculum design.

De Botton also claims that art should be didactic.  Let's set aside the prescriptive arrogance of this suggestion.  What can be said of art can also be said of science, and of watching grass grow.  We do need to communicate with one another more, and about important things, and fully expressing well-thought-out arguments.  That requires education, not art.  And that requires forums in which can converse freely.  I've already named some such forums.

It's all already there.  What more does de Botton want?

And his latest pile of tripe is the notion of building a monument to atheism at a cost of one million GBP.  This is absolutely surreal.  How much good could any one of us do with a million pounds sterling?  A lot more than erecting a frickin' monument!  Is that where atheists would go to beat their chests about religion-based genital mutilation, rather than invest the money to actually address that crime?  Ditto for educating the poor, birth control, gay rights, and a whole litany of global problems.

Anyways, most atheists already recognize the ultimate "monument" is already in existence and is all around us: the universe with us in it.  Anything else pales by comparison, as does de Botton's silly notions.


  1. Well all I can say is if you want a religion, go join a religion.

    Atheism isn't a belief, it isn't a creed ruled by dogma and ritual. It is above and beyond the parlour psychiatry tricks of crowd control and awe by architecture, of belonging through fear of loss, of rule by threat of damnation.

    Anyone so desperate to belong, who craves the rush of the crowd has football or cricket or some other major spectator sport. If that's not enough then I guess you really do need to find god. I have some on special offer this week.

    1. Agreed. It seems that de Botton's notion was to use religious stuff to fulfil some psychological needs that he thinks people have.

      I wish he'd've talked to some psychologists first. Probably would have saved people lots of trouble dealing with this bogus idea.