Monday, September 10, 2012

Religion for Atheists

I have a good number of atheist and/or agnostic friends. This might seem weird for a devout Christian, but honestly, I don't think it should be. In fact, contrary to what you've been told by the media (or even from certain high profile atheists), a lot of atheists and agnostics are deeply spiritual people. This doesn't mean that they believe in God (or even spirits for that matter), and some of them will say straight out that their spiritual experiences are probably biological responses hardwired into them, but regardless, I find it pretty easy to have meaningful, deep conversations about life with my secular friends.

Last night on Krista Tippet's radio show "On Being" she did a really fascinating interview with an atheist philosopher named Alain de Botton. You can listen to the show here. He talks about how he was raised in an atheist home and taught that religion was stupid and silly, but in his 20s he had a "crisis of faithlessness" when he discovered a lot of things about faith that were, in his words, "Rather nice." He went on to explore some different things about faith that he thinks that secular society would be wise to adopt from religion. He also made an interesting point, that as we're working hard to create a secular society in which no religion is being allowed to publicly force its message on others, we're allowing corporations and marketing to fill the spaces we're clearing out which, in his view, is bankrupting us morally. Great insight.

Anyway, I haven't read the book yet, but here's his book, Relgion for Atheists, and here's his website.

What do you think?

Atheists: would you describe yourself as spiritual? What do you think of de Botton's thought that there are things secular society should rip off from religion?

Theists: What do you think? Anything of interest to you from the show? Would you be willing to hang out and talk about an atheist's views on spirituality and religion?

P.S. If you're an atheist/agnostic kid with Christian parents or the Christian parent of an atheist/agnostic kid, send me an email and I'll connect you with a facebook support group that a friend of mine and I have going. Both groups are encouraging, supportive, and focused on helping you process your emotions and live life well with your family. 


  1. I haven't listened to the interview, and I'm not familiar with Alain de Botton. Oh, and I'm an atheist. Right, I think that covers everything. Having said that...

    I might or might not describe myself as spiritual, depending on exactly how the word is being used. On the one hand, I'm a pretty firm materialist; I don't see spiritual, transcendent, or holy things as being part of some greater reality. On the other hand, I'm a huge fan of mythology (Greek, Egyptian, DC Comics...) and I firmly believe that a great many lessons and experiences are better communicated through story and metaphor than simple description. I could explain the concept of an epiphany without using religious language, but why? Why go to the trouble, when "it was like God suddenly revealed this to me" describes the experience so much better?

    Now, there's a certain amount of discussion in the, um, "atheist community" (in quotes because, well, atheism by itself isn't much of a basis for a community) about the idea of trying to use atheism as the basis for a humanitarian ethical system, which they're calling atheism+. (Alain de Botton may very well be part of this movement, now that I think of it.)

    While I can see why this might be appealing (for a combination of social and personal reasons), it strikes me as profoundly silly. Atheism, for me, is far more of a conclusion than a starting point; lack of belief doesn't strike as a good basis for much of anything. That says to me that any moral/ethical system that atheism+ uses will have to be pulled in from elsewhere: humanism, utilitarianism, something. And at that point, trying to claim that atheism is the "basis" for the ethical system strikes me as frankly disingenuous.

  2. I don't think he's arguing for atheism as the basis for an ethical system so much as saying that a secular society still requires an ethical system, and that (from his point of view) atheists and other secularists are saying, "Let's leave that to the individual" and he feels that's an incomplete solution. He's wanting atheists/secularists to engage in the conversation and be part of building the communal ethical system. It sounds like his book has a lot of other points, too, related to what he has learned about art, architecture, ritual, et cetera from religion as an atheist.

  3. Interesting, and in that case I think he has a valid point. I think I'll go pull a sample of his book off Amazon (love my Kindle!) and see if it's worth digging into.

  4. Let me know if you get it. I'm debating reading it as well.

  5. You might be interested in Faithiest, as well. I love that author's take on the blurred lines.