“Religion For Atheists”, The Terribly, Alas, English Book By Alain de Botton.

For many years, scholars puzzled over what appeared to be the outline of a hideous figure, cowering in the depths of the ninth cycle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Who exactly was that frozen forever in the bowels of the Earth, more lowly even than Brutus, Judas, and even Satan himself?

Of course we now know that what we find there is a vegetarian, caught forever in the act of eating a veggie burger. Why would a vegetarian want to eat a burger?

Surely the last thing a vegetarian would ever want would to sink their teeth into would be something that embodies everything they’ve so proudly rejected? And yet there they are, on every vegetarian menu in the Western world. So we shouldn’t I suppose be too surprised about the latest offering from Alain de Botton, Religion For Atheists which is based on a similarly non-sensical idea. But that doesn’t make it any less lamentable.

Though Swiss by birth, there’s something terribly English about his new book. Religion For Atheists reeks of the same spirit that moves Anglican vicars to so needlessly explain and rationalize the parables in the gospels and the stories in the bible.

We’re not meant to be able to rationally comprehend the mysteries in the bible, hence the name we use to describe them. Their truths are beyond mere human understanding. Ours, famously, is not to reason why. That’s why no one is ever punished for behaving badly or rewarded for behaving well in the Bible. The only thing you’re ever punished for in the Bible is for acting of your own volition.

The one thing that’s demanded of you throughout the Bible, and it’s repeated over and over again, is that you submit your will to the higher and unknowable will of God. That’s what Muhammad understood having absorbed the worlds of Judaism and Christianity, and why he summed up his message with the single word Islam; “submit”.

Your beliefs demand that you make a profound sacrifice. That sacrifice is that you abandon your mere human logic and reason, and submit your will to a higher and unknowable authority.

All you succeed in doing by trying to explain and rationalize the mysteries that underpin that authority is to hopelessly weaken the bonds that bind you and it together. Your beliefs are only as strong as the sacrifices they demand of you.

That’s why Anglicanism is constantly under threat from the twin pillars of Catholicism and Protestantism, and why in contrast to the former, Islam goes from strength to strength.

The sacrifice demanded of atheism, which, some argue, is just a particular strand of belief, is the foregoing of the institutional shelter and communal succour that organised religion so vitally offers.

In its efforts to restore to atheists precisely that which they’ve sacrificed, de Botton’s book demonstrates a failure to understand what belief is for and how it operates, either for atheists or believers. He’s trying to sacrifice sacrifice.

He seems like an affable sort of chap, and when he sticks to arcane corners of architecture, or laymen’s philosophy he can be an engaging if slightly over-eager guide. But his Religion For Atheists bears all the markings of a man with more money than sense, and one who has far too much – and yet not enough – time on his hands.

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