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Atheism Alain De Botton: Religion For Atheists


May 9, 2006
Philosopher Alain de Botton gets a huge welcome at The Wheeler Centre talking about 'Religion for Atheists', his latest book. ... He declares his atheism from the outside and his firm belief that “there is no god” and goes on to talk about being ‘fully human” and being able to “lead a good life” outside of any formal religious structure. He has strong praise for the many formal aspects of religion and suggests these can be extracted , “picked and mixed” and applied to aspects of art, culture and education.

The presentation is available here: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2012/03/19/3455152.htm
Feb 23, 2012
United Kingdom
I think this is very interesting Ishna ji peacesignkaur
It reminds me of one of my favourite recent books by an atheist on religion: The Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville. The arguement is different from Alain de Botton's in that the latter advocates "religion for atheists" whereas Comte argues that atheists should be spiritual without religion. Apart from that, I sense a common purpose.

It is so very respectful and considerate of religious belief, even though his very compelling arguement is (as the blurb explains):

Atheists, Comte-Sponville argues, are no less interested in a spiritual life than religious believers. But by allowing the concept of spirituality to become intertwined with religion and dogma, humanity has lost touch with the nature of a true spiritual existence.

Using rigorous, reasoned arguments and clear, concise, and often humorous prose Comte-Sponville draws on both Eastern and Western philosophical traditions to propose the atheistic alternative to religion, based on the human need to connect to each other and to the universe. In doing so, he offers a convincing treatise on a new form of spiritual life.

Its a book that has had a powerful impression on me. I highly recommend it.

He does not instigate a virulent and closed-minded attack on religion like 'New Atheists' such as Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris ('militant atheism'), rather he coolly and clearly says why he is not a believer and makes a very compelling case for it. I just love this book.


The Book of Atheist Spirituality rejects all claims of the supernatural. Spirituality of every variety is entirely contained within nature; he believes that the "mysteries of the universe" are not evidence of the existence of God or gods, but of the inevitable limits of our knowledge.

The English edition of this book is subtitled "an Elegant Argument for Spirituality Without God"...Comte-Sponville, uniquely for a fashionable French philosopher (his A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues has been translated into 25 languages), comes across as a modest bloke, anxious not to offend believers.

His demolition of the traditional "proofs" of the existence of God is indeed elegant. So is his alternative to supernatural belief, in which the Buddha (who, it is easy to forget, was an atheist) shakes hands with Spinoza, Wittgenstein and, less predictably, Jesus and St Augustine.

At the heart of Comte-Sponville's argument lies a redefinition of spirituality: we are spiritual animals, he says, by virtue of our ability to reflect on the infinity of nature and to act on those reflections with love. Love will remain when faith and hope have passed away, he says, which has a familiar ring to it.

According to Augustine, one of the reasons love is greater than faith and hope is that neither of the latter two will be necessary when God reveals himself. Comte-Sponville's reasoning is different, and less easy to follow, but he cites Augustine with admiration and gratitude. And that in itself is important.

The Book of Atheist Spirituality will do more good than harm. Christians are unlikely to read it or, if they do, lose their faith as a result. Its target market is the fast-growing constituency of young, middle-class atheists or agnostics who have absorbed from Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman a patronising disregard for the Christian heritage of the West.

Comte-Sponville tells them to uncurl their lips. He sees "a degree of stupidity" in contempt for religion.

Since it is both man-made and ineradicable, in his opinion, it is silly to detect in it some unique wickedness - and even sillier to try to turn the sins of the Inquisition (it's always the sins of the Inquisition, never those of Muslim Spain) into an argument against the existence of God.

He adds: "Humanity is far too weak and life far too difficult for people to go round spitting on each other's faiths."

If I ever became an atheist (which I'm not at least any time soon ;) ) it would be Comte's style of atheism.

Another little book I like is:

Teach Yourself Humanism (Teach Yourself General): Amazon.co.uk: Mark Vernon: Books

"Teach Yourself Humanism" by Mark Vernon, an ex-priest who is now an agnostic.
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Feb 23, 2012
United Kingdom
I am interested in his idea of being "fully human" because it reminds me of some statements from my own faith tradition:

"...The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father... For the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed. Hence the focal point of our total presentation will be man himself, whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will...We are witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by his responsibility to his brothers and sisters and toward history..."

- Gaudium et Spes (Second Vatican Council, 1965)

"...If development calls for an ever-growing number of technical experts, even more necessary still is the deep thought and reflection of wise men in search of a new humanism, one which will enable our contemporaries to enjoy the higher values of love and friendship, of prayer and contemplation, and thus find themselves. This is what will guarantee man's authentic development—his transition from less than human conditions to truly human ones..."


"...The Church, the sign in history of God's love for mankind and of the vocation of the whole human race to unity as children of the one Father, intends with this document on her social doctrine to propose to all men and women a humanism that is up to the standards of God's plan of love in history, an integral and solidary humanism capable of creating a new social, economic and political order, founded on the dignity and freedom of every human person, to be brought about in peace, justice and solidarity. This humanism can become a reality if individual men and women and their communities are able to cultivate moral and social virtues in themselves and spread them in society. “Then, under the necessary help of divine grace, there will arise a generation of new men, the moulders of a new humanity”..."

- Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2005
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