I’m currently reading an excellent and uplifting book by atheist Alain de Botton called:
And in the spirit of giving stuff away, I will send a copy free – no matter where you are in the world – to the first five atheist letter writers who can suggest an element of religion or spirituality which secular humanists might benefit from within their own organisation, and why – as this exact subject is the theme of this very book.
This is a book which is going to be around for quite a while – I think it will become a classic. So get writing, and prepare to start reading!
A day later, we have our first winner, Brock Haussamen from Living as Meaning:
Hi Iain,What secular humanists and their organizations might gain from an element of religion or spirituality.As I have gone to church willingly but not regularly with my Episcopalian wife, several items come to mind. There is much to be said for a church or other congregation as a human community. As a group that is not family, is not work-related, and, in suburbia, is not even entirely local, a congregation can be refreshing company.Both friendships and enmities take place there, of course, but the occasion of worship (more than the dogma and much of the ritual) leaves room for people to think about and converse about suffering, awe, nature, music, the due processes of dying, milestones of birth and marriage, the nature of community, and more.I also like the literacy of services, hearing the discussions of words and meanings, having the chance to browse through the bible to read some old stories that are well told–as I tune out the supernaturalism and the sin. Religion is a human endeavor, at its best perhaps when members of long-running congregations come together to be with each other and not just strictly for “business.” That is a benefit any organization could learn from.Brock HaussamenLiving as Meaning
Now maybe Brock’s point is that religion produces excellent wives, but all the other stuff he mentions is good too. This must be an atheism even God would be pleased with – so book number one is winging its way to Secular City!
Well, that was the only reply – so that’s the end of that offer. Now that I’ve read the whole book I can say it does contain excellent observations about the lack of depth in secular life, in its trite, meaningless and pathetically drab colours. It opens with an awful anecdote about de Botton’s parents lambasting his 8 year old sister about her belief in God – an appalling, arrogant couple they seem, mocking any children whose cherished beliefs do not coincide with theirs. And de Botton himself claims that there is still some satisfaction in ridiculing the faithful for their belief in God.
But once he navigates past this poisonous formative atmosphere – itself a terrible indictment of secular family life – de Botton steers the reader to a world of insight into the cohesion which religious ideas lend to human life. I learned much about religion, and all of it was good; I agreed wholeheartedly with the wretched ugliness of modern life and its infuriating distractions. How ironic it is, he says, that only in the age of the Blackberry do we realise why monasteries were created, and that a society priding itself on an overabundance of information, no longer has the capacity to concentrate on any of it for long. Society even becomes an accomplice to our ignorance, as it presents us each day with a new load forcing us to jettison all the drama pushed on us as urgent news only the day before. As he points out, there has been no news in the field of Buddhism for 2,500 years, yet worldwide scrutiny of it continues in depth.
At one point, de Botton considers whether ugly surroundings are actually harmful to the soul – a loaded question few secularists would admit to wondering about. The drab, neglected state of the community hall is ironically, he notes, evidence of the indavisability of being part of such a community. His views on art are reassuringly revolutionary: art galleries organise their content according to the education of the critics, when they should be classifying works according to the emotional impact they will have on us.
All in all, a thought provoking book. Happy reading, Mr Haussamen!