Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We're All Atheists Now

This TED talk encapsulates the core thesis of Alain de Botton's new book, Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion. Anyone who has read Desiring the Kingdom will note obvious overlapping concerns and sensibilities. And while much more deserves to be said (I'll do so in a forthcoming review of the book), here's a question that I think we need to ask ourselves:

Botton is trying to convince atheists and secularists that "religion" has something to teach them. So at the heart of his argument is actually a critique of those versions of atheism/secularism that are dominated by a rationalist anthropology (with a particular focus on the weakness of rationalist models of education). That was Atheism 1.0. As a corrective, he upholds "religion" as a way of life that honors embodiment, recognizes the importance of habituation, appeals to the imagination, etc. If atheism/secularism would adopt these features of religious wisdom and practice, the result would be Atheism 2.0.

But here's the thing: I think many of us located in North American evangelicalism will find that the flattened, stunted "rationalism" of Atheism 1.0 is exactly how we "do" religion. In other words, many of the things that Botton extols about religion are absent from "our" rendition of religion. We might have something to learn from Atheism 2.0.