Atheists who love religion


Alain de Botton is one of those self-described atheists who wants to preserve religion. In an article he explains four reasons for his stance.

For a start, there is the danger of individualism: of placing the human being at the center of everything. Second, there is the danger of technological perfectionism; of believing that science and technology can overcome all human problems, that it is just a matter of time before scientists have cured us of the human condition. Third, without God it is easier to lose perspective: to see our own times as everything, to forget the brevity of the present moment, and to cease to appreciate (in a good way) the minuscule nature of our own achievements. And last, without God there can be a danger (note the tentative can) that the need for empathy and ethical behavior is more easily overlooked—in other words, that evil becomes less incongruous.

To me, these arguments seem either vague and overblown or straw men. For example, getting rid of a god does not mean that we put “the human being at the center of everything”. There may be some scientist somewhere who thinks that “it is just a matter of time before scientists have cured us of the human condition” but how common a view is is that? Furthermore it is precisely the absence of a god that makes us better appreciate the grandeur of the universe and our tiny role in it. It is religious people who think that the universe’s creator did so with them personally in mind and that the universe was created for our benefit. It is the absence of a god that makes us realize that this life is all there is and that everyone should have the fullest benefits of it as possible while they are still alive, which is surely a strong basis for generating empathy?

Damon Linker may or may not be an atheist (there are hints that he was once a believer but now is not) but in an article titled Where are the honest atheists? he seems to think that atheists are deliberately and dishonestly hiding the supposed fact (using arguments similar to de Botton) that a life without god would have terrible consequences.

Comments

  1. kraut says

    “he seems to think that atheists are deliberately and dishonestly hiding the supposed fact (using arguments similar to de Botton) that a life without god would have terrible consequences.”

    Hmm, like I became an atheist at about 14, and the dreadful consequences are that I do neither fear an afterlife, nor bow to a imaginary being and do not waste my time contemplating a book of little relevance. I have however to think how my actions will affect others, how do develop relationships not based on commands by some desert ghost but by thinking about the mutual emotional and economic benefits…yeah, life as an atheist is so fucking terrible that I pity those who have a need for an imaginary crutch, hobbling through life with an eye to the vengeance of their deity.

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    There are no gods, and Alain de Botton and Damon Linker exist. See- terrible consequences! QED. ;)

  3. says

    There may be some scientist somewhere who thinks that “it is just a matter of time before scientists have cured us of the human condition” but how common a view is is that?

    Are you kidding?! Haven’t you heard of “reparative therapy?” Oh, wait…

  4. adriana says

    de Botton’s arguments sound a bit misanthropic to me. Does he perhaps fear that the not-so-enlightened humans, unlike him, need to be fear a supernatural being in order to be good to other human beings?

  5. says

    …he seems to think that atheists are deliberately and dishonestly hiding the supposed fact (using arguments similar to de Botton) that a life without god would have terrible consequences.

    If that really was a fact, how the hell could any number of atheists hide it? Any logistics-heartin’ UPS guy can tell you this is impossible.

  6. Marshall says

    I disagree with everything in the entire quote:

    >> “For a start, there is the danger of individualism: of placing the human being at the center of everything.”
    Nope, religion places us at the center of everything, science tells us pretty unequivocally that we are located in some random part of an unimaginably large universe, and that our existence is due to chance, and without a guiding purpose.

    >> “Second, there is the danger of technological perfectionism; of believing that science and technology can overcome all human problems, that it is just a matter of time before scientists have cured us of the human condition.”
    There is an implication here that human imperfections are a good thing. It sounds romantic, but in reality our “imperfections” lead to death, struggle, and pain. Screw that, I want us to become perfect; religion instead teaches us to embrace our faults.

    >> “Third, without God it is easier to lose perspective: to see our own times as everything, to forget the brevity of the present moment, and to cease to appreciate (in a good way) the minuscule nature of our own achievements.”
    This is a joke, right? I don’t know of a single mainstream religion that doesn’t teach of everlasting life after death. No, science teaches us the cold harsh truth–that our conscious mind is an ephemeral illusion that ceases to exist when the physical substrate disintegrates upon death.

    >> “And last, without God there can be a danger (note the tentative can) that the need for empathy and ethical behavior is more easily overlooked—in other words, that evil becomes less incongruous.”
    There can also be a danger that people will disregard any feelings of empathy and ethical behavior in the name of their religion. That danger is, in face, very real and present today.

  7. Jockaira says

    The only “terrible consequences” would be to de Botton etal and to theists who would suffer being forced to think for themselves and the lack of divine authority to tell others how to run their lives.
    .
    In a future ideal human society, the proper place for religion would be in the study of history, sociology, etc. Additionally it would probably serve well to act as an organised “babysitter” for the insane or those merely incompetent to handle their own affairs without the guidance of an invisible friend.
    .
    Anyone who believes that religion and gods have a productive place in human society simply lacks the will and perhaps the knowledge to understand that theism has not had a net beneficial effect on humanity.

  8. invivoMark says

    The terrible consequences of my atheism are that I think that humanity is pretty awesome, and that we can and should do everything that we can to make this universe a better place to live.

    Gasp! I’m not all nihilistic and egomaniacally reckless!

  9. hexidecima says

    With the Christian god, it’s easier to declare people non-human and to abandon your empathy.

    With the Christian god, there is the danger of deciding that you and only you have the “right” answer and are the center of the universe.

    With the Christian god , it’s easier to beleive the nonseonse you tell yourself about being the “chosen people”.

  10. lpetrich says

    I can’t help but think that Alain de Botton might eventually found his own “atheist religion” sect, just as Auguste Comte did in the 19th cy. His Religion of Humanity was a blatant ripoff of Catholic practice that some critics called “Catholicism minus Xianity”.

  11. sumdum says

    I’m starting to think I wouldn’t be all that surprised to some day hear he reconverted to christianity, like that one blogger some time ago.

  12. MNb says

    Question for De Botton: how exactly does religion address these problems? And which religion do?

  13. sailor1031 says

    “For a start, there is the danger of individualism: of placing the human being at the center of everything.’

    But this is precisely what religion does by defining humankind as a separate creation, different from all other life forms on the planet; and the only animal that the deity cares about. Why does anyone bother listening to this attention whore?

  14. says

    “the human being at the center of everything”.

    What about the assumption that the creator of billions and billions of stars and an entire universe thinks some short-lived primate on a backwater planet isn’t “putting the human being at the center of everything”?

    I enjoy philosophy, but I don’t like it when De Botton goes and hands out ammunition for the “philosophy is wanking” viewpoint. It’s pretty embarrassing, really.

  15. says

    Anyone want to start a deadpool for when de Botton converts to some suitably mushy religion? (Some kind of deist/buddhist, would be my bet) It seems like he’s trying to talk himself around to it.

  16. Stacy says

    I really, really despise de Botton. He’s such a twerp.

    Does he perhaps fear that the not-so-enlightened humans, unlike him, need to be fear a supernatural being in order to be good to other human beings

    Probably. He’s an elitist snob, so I wouldn’t put it past him.

    (How elitist, you ask? He once tweeted, “Ugly neighborhoods are generally not ugly because they are poor, they are poor because they are ugly.” His tweets are full of pretentious deepities like that.)

    Third, without God it is easier to lose perspective: to see our own times as everything, to forget the brevity of the present moment, and to cease to appreciate (in a good way) the minuscule nature of our own achievements.

    On the contrary–as others have pointed out, the dominant religious tradition in the West has us at the center of a cosmic battle for each of our souls, with eternal life to follow (assuming we perform the correct magic rituals.) It’s when you let go of God that you really realize how small you are and how fleeting the present moment.

    And last, without God there can be a danger (note the tentative can) that the need for empathy and ethical behavior is more easily overlooked—in other words, that evil becomes less incongruous

    Without God, we’re forced to realize that the only love and justice we’ll ever get is whatever we manage to create for ourselves and one another.

  17. says

    Those very same reasons also apply to religion.
    For a start, there is the danger of individualism: of placing your own personal salvation higher than anything else. Second, there is the danger of theological perfectionism; of believing that god can overcome all human problems, that it is just a matter of time before god sorts it all out, so there’s no need for us to do anything. Third, with God it is easier to lose perspective: to see our own times as everything, to ignore historical developments and focus entirely on the soon-to-come return of Jesus. And last, with God there can be a danger (note the tentative can) that the need for empathy and ethical behavior is more easily overlooked—in other words, that religion is used as a justification for all manner of evil acts.

    In summation, de Botton is full of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>