Book review: Religion’s greatest hits

“Religion for Atheists: a non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion” by Alain de Botton

Reading Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto doesn’t make me a socialist. Likewise, reading a book on atheism doesn’t instantly turn me into an atheist. In fact, by reading Marxism I learned to understand their worldview and how they think, while simultaneously saw their many flaws that prompted me to be grateful that I am not living in a socialist country.

Now, while I understand atheism and respect their private views, I do not tolerate anti-theism, the extremist idea that all religion are rotten to the core, have no use for humanity, only bring pain and destructions, and thus they all need to be destroyed. This hardliner view are no different than religious fundamentalists who want to destroy everyone else who doesn’t subscribe to their particular narrow view. Richard Dawkins is a prominent extremist example, alongside the ever hypocritical Sam Harris.

But alternatively, for every Spanish inquisition there’s Mother Teresa. For every extreme wahhabi there’s a modern Syafi’i. For every Wirathu, there’s Dalai Lama. And for every Richard Dawkins? There’s Alain de Botton.

De Botton is a contemporary philosopher who champions the concept of atheism 2.0, an idea that believe religion are man made but they were created for a good reason. It is a believe that all the myths, the principles, and the rituals in religion serve as fundamental pillars of humanity. And with this thesis in mind atheism 2.0 is asking one simple question: if religion is man made but still very important for humans and our societies, what can we learn from them?

The answer is this brilliant book, a thorough anatomy of what constrict as a religion. As de Botton points out, religion is excellent in ensuring the good values and principles in their respective holy books to be read and reread, through scheduled reviews, through regular masses, through songs, poetry, reenactment, through the way we eat, drink tea, do walking meditation, etc.

The book also covers what the true purpose of certain rituals were (and are) really for. It explains the psychological objectives of traditions, including plenty of past religious rituals that I didn’t know exists, such as the bizarre Feast of Fools. And when you get angry, or sad, or anxious, or broken? Religion have some mechanism for coping with those emotions, which de Botton argues can be immensely useful tools for seculars.

In the end, with all of these wealth of information on religion, this book could easily have a different title: the best lessons from religion. It’s funny how I can learn so much about various different religions from an atheist book.