Admitting that the secular world is full of holes and needs to learn from religion, a well-known Swiss atheist recently introduced a new way to be an atheist, calling it "Atheism 2.0." A Christian researcher reviewed his "convincing" arguments.
Chris Pappalardo, pastoral research assistant at the Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., posted on Sunday an article, about a talk by Alain de Botton, a Swiss writer, philosopher, television presenter and entrepreneur, who lives in the United Kingdom.
The atheist "argues (convincingly) that current secular atheism leaves people feeling empty," Pappalardo writes, providing a link to de Botton's recent talk at TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), a global set of conferences to disseminate "ideas worth spreading." "This is not terribly surprising for Christians, but is striking coming from a professed atheist," the Christian researcher says.
What's more, even though de Botton finds belief in God absurd, he recognizes that there are a lot of benefits to religion that secular atheism simply fails to deliver. People seem to require community, morality, and connection with something transcendent, he quotes de Botton as saying. "And despite his objection to the underlying doctrines of Christianity, de Botton sees that Christianity provides these in ways that atheism has not," Pappalardo says.
"The secular world is full of holes," says de Botton, a founding member of a new educational establishment in central London called "The School of Life." "We have secularized badly, I would argue. And a thorough study of religion could give us all sorts of insights into areas of life that are not going too well."
De Botton uses an example from the early 19th century, when church attendance in Western Europe started sliding down very, very sharply, and people panicked. "They asked themselves the following question. They said, where are people going to find the morality, where are they going to find guidance, and where are they going to find sources of consolation? And influential voices came up with one answer. They said culture. It's to culture that we should look for guidance, for consolation, for morality. Let's look to the plays of Shakespeare, the dialogues of Plato, the novels of Jane Austen. In there, we'll find a lot of the truths that we might previously have found in the Gospel of Saint John. Now I think that's a very beautiful idea and a very true idea. They wanted to replace scripture with culture. And that's a very plausible idea. It's also an idea that we have forgotten."
De Botton incisively describes the existential problem of atheism: something within us inherently revolts against the idea that we are just a mass of cells, drifting from a random birth to a meaningless death, Pappalardo comments. "So he tries to co-opt the meaningful aspects of religion while ditching the foundational beliefs. He would like to see us pursue community, morality, and transcendence even though there is no basis at all to any of them. He wants the fruit of Christianity, but he is also busily hacking away at its roots."
De Botton, whose books and television programs discuss various contemporary subjects and themes to emphasize philosophy's relevance to everyday life, admits, "You may not agree with religion but at the end of the day religions are so subtle, so complicated, so intelligent in many ways that they are not fit to be abandoned to the religious alone; they're for all of us.
"Atheism shouldn't cut itself off from the rich sources of religion."
However, Pappalardo argues that this is, ultimately, a futile quest. "I do not see how you can tell people that their existence is essentially identical to that of an animal, and then expect them not to live like animals."
Pappalardo asks readers to judge for themselves if de Botton makes a compelling case for "Atheism 2.0."