Can All Of Us Atheists Get Our Acts Together To Read Religion For Atheists And Then Share It With Our Religious Friends Who May Have Already Convinced Themselves That We Are Bitter And Broken People?
Dear Fellow Non-Believers,
The stakes, as ever, are high. And in the ongoing war between Believers versus Non-Believers, war crimes abound. On the side of the Believers, there are literally too many to name, so let’s just say two words and be done with it: Rick Santorum. But even here on the rational, Non-Believing side, things have gotten, well, kind of shitty. For example, that Bill Maher movie a few years back, wherein I walked in loving Bill Maher and thinking that Jesus was kind of overrated, but then walked out thinking Jesus deserved a lot more respect than everyone was giving him (most notably, the people who claimed to believe in him) and that Bill Maher just needed to shut the fuck up because he wasn’t adding anything to the debate save for venom — and there was already plenty of that to begin with. And this tenor has pretty much been continuous for the last decade at least. To their credit, Dawkins and Hitchens (God rest his soul, as they say) had great things to say on the topic of godlessness, but we cannot say if they were really interested in brokering any kind of peace.
Finally, Alain de Botton has thrown his hat into the ring. And guess what? With a humble little tome called Religion For Atheists, this bald Swiss sprite just won. How did he do it, you ask? Why, just like JC, he killed ’em with kindness. De Botton, whom you may recall from books like On Love and How Proust Can Change Your Life and a strange television show called Philosophy: A Guide To Happiness that sometimes airs on PBS in the middle of the night, is no stranger to the high-minded. And because 80% of his body weight is pure brain, he does not believe in God. (Sorry, believers. I’m doing the best I can here.) And with Religion For Atheists, he does a brilliant thing: He removes all invective from the first page, says OK, we’re just going to presume here for the sake of argument that there is no god and that religions have done awful things over and again to people — but what of the good they’ve done? And what can we, as Non-Believers, learn from them?
What follows from there is a strangely, disarmingly, kind, tender and frankly beautiful text that is an eye-opener whether you believe in something or nothing or everything. De Botton takes a look so many of the facets that have attracted people to religions for centuries — community is a big piece, sure, but also help with relationships, ways of seeing the world, and so on — and makes a simple but huge conclusion: All of this stuff is stuff that atheists need, too. (And probably lots of people who consider themselves believers as well.) And somewhere in there, he actually brokers a peace that only the most nutty fundamentalist could refute: All of us are in this together, so why don’t we start acting like it? I’m shorthanding here, sure, but suffice it to say that if everyone read Religion For Atheists — and I do mean everyone — the world would immediately become a better place and wild, beautiful things would start to happen to mankind. They might say this guy Alain de Botton is a dreamer, but truly: He is not the only one.