In good faith
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Book: Religion for Atheists
Author: Alain de Botton
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Price: Rs 599
God is dead, but the human problems that He was invented to palliate live on — the pain of loss, the ubiquity of violence, the hopelessness of adversity. Philosophically, there are the anxieties of being a moral creature in an amoral creation, of forging a purpose for human life in an uncaring universe.
So are atheists wasting their time trashing faith when they should mine religions for strategies tested by millennia, and import them into the secular realm? That is the fundamental question posed by Alain de Botton, the Swiss-British author and TV personality who earns praise and blame even-handedly for making philosophy and high culture more accessible to laypersons.
In Religion for Atheists, Botton's thesis is persuasive.
Religion organised society and supported ethics with some success but we regard modern civilisation as a product of the death of faith. Religion incubated the sciences which killed its gods because the priesthood found time, after reflection and ritual, to investigate the phenomenal world.
It is intellectually painful to watch skeptics blazing away at faith, which has never claimed to be rational, with weapons-grade rationality. On the contrary, faith places the irrational over reason and prizes it as revelation. This irrationally enrages rationalists and makes them vicious.
However, in a book which hopes to make atheists a little less antagonistic to religion, one would have expected to find mention of religious institutions that atheists hate the most, and very reasonably so. But words like 'Inquisition', 'heresy' and 'fatwa' have not found utterance here. By eliding them, the book ignores the principal reason for the retreat of religion — normative, didactic, one size fits all theology doesn't sit easily with the new gods of individualism and free choice.
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