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Religion for Atheists


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#1 Evangelion

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Posted 12 May 2012 - 11:09 PM

Tim O'Neill reviews Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion.

If you want to annoy some atheists, go to an atheist online forum and say something nice about religion. It won't take much. You don't even have to be very complimentary - just say or even imply that religion is not actually wholly and completely bad, stupid and wrong and that it may even occasionally get some things right or even be useful in some way.

Actually, you don't even have to do that much. You only need to find where atheists are trying to make historical claims to criticise a religion and note that some of them have got a few key facts wrong. Doing any of these things is the online discussion equivalent of sauntering up to a busy hornets nest with a hefty stick and engaging in some vigorous whacking. The result is about as noisy, angry, aggressive and, I'm sorry to say, usually as brainless.


Full text here.

:book:
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#2 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 12 May 2012 - 11:54 PM

Love it, particularly the ending:

Meanwhile, New Atheist bloviator and blowhard, PZ Myers, has fired off a string of typically moronic insults at de Botton, while at the same time showing that he hasn't actually bothered to read the book or understand what de Botton is even saying. He...brays:

Our culture is currently divided between three groups: Atheists, who think the truth matters, and want our problems addressed with real-world solutions; theists, who want a god or supernatural powers to solve our problems with magic; and fence-sitting parasites like de Botton who see a personal opportunity to pander to the believers for their own gain, who will ride the conflict while pretending to aloof from it, and win popularity with the masses by trying to tell everyone they’re all right.

His eloquent response to a mild observation de Botton made about New Atheists like Myers was "f*** you very much". It's certainly interesting to turn from de Botton's genuinely thought-provoking and stimulating analysis written in elegant and measured prose to Myers' gems with titles like "the League of Nitwits has f****d in my general direction". De Botton's book has done what all good books should do, added to my understanding and shown me the world in a new light. It's also made me change the way I live. No-one will ever say that of PZ Myers.

I'll admit I do follow Myers, Coyne and other scientists who are active in the New Atheist movement for their informed criticism of science denialism which is done incisively and from a position of general knowledge. Outside of that, all bets are off. While I'm hardly a supporter of Philip Johnson's ID arguments, the final paragraph of his review of Dan Dennet's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" is apposite:

Science is a wonderful thing in its place. Because science is so successful in its own territory, however, scientists and their allied philosophers sometimes get bemused by dreams of world conquest. Paul Feyerabend put it best: "Scientists are not content with running their own playpens in accordance with what they regard as the rules of the scientific method, they want to universalize those rules, they want them to become part of society at large, and they use every means at their disposal -- argument, propaganda, pressure tactics, intimidation, lobbying -- to achieve their aims." Samuel Johnson gave the best answer to this absurd imperialism. "A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden."


Edited by Ken Gilmore, 13 May 2012 - 12:54 AM.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#3 Evangelion

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 12:50 AM

You can always rely on O'Neill to do a thorough job.

:coffee:
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#4 Fortigurn

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 03:00 AM

Smashingly good review, and intellectually honest too. Typical.

#5 Chris

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 07:29 AM

Very good review. I just bought the Kindle version of de Botton's book for my business trips over the next two weeks.

#6 Chris

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 07:56 AM

Here's de Botton's Ted Talk.



Listening to de Botton brings to mind the point Fortigurn has made several times: modern society is slowly figuring out what Christianity has been teaching for centuries. In this case, the importance of the egalitarian community.

#7 Evangelion

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 09:34 AM

Cracking lecture by de Botton. Impressed that he received a standing ovation. The reference to North Oxford had me rolling in the aisles!

:D
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#8 Chris

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 10:26 AM

Impressed that he received a standing ovation.


Not sure of the makeup of his audience; nonetheless, it hints at the possibility that non-religous people are looking for something New Atheism isn't providing. I met a biologist who works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is a self-described agnostic but faithfully attends a U.U. congregation primarily for the sense of community it provides her and her family. She specifically mentioned wanting to give her children a sense of that closeness she experienced growing up with a father who was a minister. She fondly remembers her childhood in a church environment. :book:

#9 Evangelion

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 07:11 PM

Not sure of the makeup of his audience


They did a handcount; looked like ~30% were theists.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#10 Jeppo

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 09:09 AM

Cracking lecture by de Botton. Impressed that he received a standing ovation. The reference to North Oxford had me rolling in the aisles!

:D


Quite. I'm glad Mr O'Neill has written such a good review about this book, it raises some very fair points. I consider myself to be one of the lucky atheists who has all the benefits of communal, ritualistic fellowship without the need for any religious doctrine, or belief in God, so I do understand where he is coming from.




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