If you are a regular reader you will know that I like to post TED talks on this blog. I think they are challenging and usually insightful. In this talk Alain de Botton argues for the good bits of religion that atheists should take and use as healthful, powerful and empowering. Things like a use of art, community, pilgrimage. Fine.
But sadly though he asks for a polite relation between the religious and the atheists he makes the kind of statement about religious belief I once made to my friends at school at the age of 17 about atheists. 17 year old friends who immediately pointed out how ridiculous my statement was and left me feeling rightly ashamed.
“There have been some very vocal atheists who’ve pointed out, not just that religion is wrong, but that it’s ridiculous...Now I think it’s too easy. I think it’s too easy to dismiss the whole of religion that way. And it’s as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.”
Really? Vast numbers of intelligent people, vast numbers of people frankly, believe that there is a God and use religion to express their relationship with It. If it was as easy as shooting fish in a barrel then I for one certainly wouldn’t believe any more, given all the various debates about religion I’ve been in over the years. I don’t know why I’m frustrated, it’s just how he feels. But this is one of our most prominent popular phillosophers. Frankly such statements are ignorant.
Ignorant statements aside, my main problem with this talk is that many of the things he takes as positive religious activities are not there in the religious experience as ends in themselves, ie things you do to feel good, they are things that spring out of a relationship with God (whichever God you are in relationship with).They are expressions of a relationship, not a way to feel good, get healthy, be at peace and so on. Divorce them from that expressive stimulus and you actually remove the very thing you were trying to benefit from, making them empty and worthless and ineffective. Which might be why the secular world discarded them in the first place.