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Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion

Penguin UK, 2012,

RRP $35

Reviewed by Owen Ronalds.

ALAIN De Botton does not propose a kind of cranky "new atheism" like Dawkins or Hitchens.

Neither is he quite like older philosophers such as Bertrand Russell in his style and outlook.

Religion for Atheists is a warm and positive appreciation of much that different religions have to give to humanity.

Simple to read, it has chapters like Community, Kindness, Education, Perspective and Art.

The book is full of photographs and illustrations of religious life, real and imagined.

I reckon it could even give you ideas on how to improve your church.

In contrast to the bad theology of Dawkins, there is little to no theology in this book.

It takes for granted an atheistic perspective in the reader, so a conservative reader will likely be confronted by his liberality on some issues and complete rejection of supernaturalism.

However, De Botton is aware that to own God as a human creation means also to own that religions are much more concerned with creating community and helping humans with everyday life.

He feels that the lessons learned and applied over the ages are still relevant and needed in human communities.

In many places he points out, as does the church, where modern secular life is failing people.

His concluding sentence perhaps sums it up: "Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone."

The same could be said of atheism.