Thursday, 1 March 2012

Atheism for the Religious

My record on Alain de Botton is pretty clear: I like the guy and look forward for new books of his to get published. I like him so much I awarded him with best book of the year award (here) and best TV program of the year (here). Even a book of his I did not like much, Architecture of Happiness, has had profound impact on my life in the sense that it was a major contributor to the huge renovation/extension project we’re currently going through. Thus when a new book release from de Botton was promised, Religion for Atheists, I was looking forward to it with great anticipation.
You can understand why. First, the realization that de Botton belongs to my own camp – we’re both atheists – does something to my de Botton enthusiasm levels. Second, it does sound like it would be nice to hear what this otherwise inspirational and insightful person has to say about religion, doesn’t it?
Then the book got released and controversy followed. It turns out de Botton deviated from the line of recently famous books on religion written by atheists, books like The God Delusion and God Is Not Great. It turns out de Botton is saying atheists have a lot to learn from religion, pointing at education and architecture as worthy examples. He went on to bash New Atheists ala Richard Dawkins and, for what it’s worth, ala yours truly.
Thus far de Botton did nothing to make me avoid reading his book. I don’t mind constructive criticism, and who other than de Botton can offer such? I don’t mind reading proper criticism of Richard Dawkins, simply because I find the Dawkins’ case so well presented and so thoroughly supported by rational evidence as to totally destroy any counterargument thrown at it thus far. I’m at a point where I so thoroughly agree with Dawkins I’m bored with myself: the only disagreements I could identify between us are to do with his love of cricket and dogs. So sure, I would love to see someone have a proper go at Dawkins.
But then I bumped into this CNN article on de Botton, where he makes the following claim:
Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is "true."
And that was the deal breaker.
You see, I love the truth and I value it. I think it’s immensely important. Call me a paranoid, but when I’m on board of a jet flying more than ten kilometers up in the air I like to think the instruments are telling the pilot the truth. When I get an x-ray I like to think the output is a truthful reflection of what's inside of me. When I’m taken to court I like to think that the justice bestowed on me is based on the truth rather than, say, someone’s whim. I can go on, but if you’re after the ultimate case for the value of truth I would dearly recommend Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World, one of the better books I ever had the pleasure of reading.
Truth matters, and by definition everything else is bollocks. Including, for that matter, a book written by a pop philosopher whom I otherwise like. It is clear to me now that de Botton’s arguments are not founded on anything I would find reasonable, and for that reason I do not see myself buying or reading his latest book.
Religion for Atheists? Sounds to me more like apologetically selling atheism to the religious.

 Image: Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

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