Building on last week’s Fargo post, some food for thought from pages 119-120 of writer-philosopher-‘religious atheist’ Alain de Botton’s provocative How to Think More About Sex (other brave portions of which we excerpted here):
“In a perfect world, all couples would be visited by a psychotherapist on a weekly basis, without even having to put themselves forward for the service. The session would simply be a regular feature of a good, ordinary life, as the Friday evening meal is for Jews, and would offer some of the same cathartic function as this ritual. Above all, neither party would be made to feel by society that he or she was crazy for having therapy–which is currently the main reason people neglect to see therapists and therefore slowly go crazy.
This ideal therapist would take a history of a relationship, explore its current tensions and try to serve as a catalyst for the sort of change that the couple themselves were too weak, busy or confused to bring about on their own. She would remind her clients that every exchange, however minor, had meaning and could set off a chain of recriminations and resentments that would prevent them from wanting to have sex. She would teach them to treat the complicated business of being in a relationship with extraordinary care. She would ask them both to arrive at every session with a list of issues that had arisen during the previous week, and insist that they each listen to the other’s complaints compassionately, without resorting to angry self-justification or injured self-pity… She would review their individual psychological histories and endeavor to help make the couple aware of some of the ways in which, because of their particular pasts, they might both be likely to distort or misread reality. And when arguments did flare up, she would urge each of them to see the other as being wounded and sad rather than malicious or spiteful.
This therapist would belong to a new kind of priesthood, designed for an age that no longer believes in religious forgiveness and understanding in the afterlife but that is still very much in need of those same qualities in the here and now.”
“What would Alain de Botton do?” — Mark Corrigan, Peep Show, Season 4
In a passage eerily reminiscent of Paul Zahl’s Panopticon, emerging Mbird-favorite Alain de Botton speaks about death and the counterintuitively comforting perspective sometimes offers on life and our ‘status anxiety‘. Turns out we’re all anxious about downward mobility of some sort, and the ultimate equalizer, the inevitable rock-bottom, can speak to this:
“Whatever other differences there may be between them, Christian and secular concepts overlap substantially on the subject of what is meaningful in life when viewed from the perspective of death. There is a strikingly similar positive emphasis on love,…
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When it comes to articulating religious insights in secular terms, no one does it better than philosopher Alain de Botton, AKA he of Religion for Atheists fame. We’ve written about his rather Bultmannian genius before, but none of that prepared me for the TED talk he gave in 2009 about notions of success (and failure). Whereas elsewhere he mines Christian wisdom more generally, here he goes straight for law and grace, albeit in their aggressively lower-cased forms. The conclusion may naturally be a little fuzzy/abrupt–be sure to listen to the Q&A–the diagnosis is absolutely stunning. If you’re at all like me, you’ll be hooked from the first sentence, ht JD:
Speaking of de Botton, much to his credit, when asked by The New Statesman to select his favorite book of 2012, he went with the following:
This year, I was touched by Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. As a non-Christian, indeed a committed atheist, I was worried about how I’d feel about this book but it pulled off a rare feat: making Christianity seem appealing to those who have no interest in ever being Christians. A number of Christian writers have over the past decade tried to write books defending their faith against the onslaughts of the new atheists – but they’ve generally failed. Spufford understands that the trick isn’t to try to convince the reader that Christianity is true but rather to show why it’s interesting, wise and sometimes consoling.
I can’t pass up the opportunity to link to Alan Jacobs’ rave review of the same liked-it-so-much-we-invited-the-author-to-speak-book, which just went live on the Books & Culture website.
Spoiler alert: There’s a knee-slapping section toward the end of PZ’s Panopticon: An Off-The-Wall Guide to World Religion in which the author ranks “religions that are not called religions.” He gives us a tongue-in-cheek US News and World Report-styled guide to which of them (Sex, Power, Ideology, etc) will serve a person best, which has the longest shelf-life and the most return. I don’t want to give away too much, but I will tell you the one that comes in last and therefore qualifies as the most consistently disappointing object of worship: Things, or Possessions. Unlike, say, family, “these get…
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1. A pair of terrific book reviews have appeared in The NY Times over the last couple weeks, the first being Generation X author Douglas Coupland‘s inspiring riff on Hari Kunzu’s opus, Gods Without Men, and the exciting new genre it epitomizes (“Translit”). Ironically enough, he makes a number of Twitter-ready observations:
[We are living in a] “state of possibly permanent atemporality given to us courtesy of the Internet. No particular era now dominates. We live in a post-era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times. The zeitgest of 2012 is that we have a lot of…
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From Lennon's brief Geddy Lee phase
Swiss writer/thinker Alain de Botton has been making the rounds with his new book Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion in which he revisits the French Revolution attempt to create a ‘secular religion.’ Meaning, he rejects the New Atheist tendency to dismiss religion altogether, instead choosing to highlight a few factors that might be worth preserving, post-God, an “Atheism 2.0” if you will. As he points out in an article for Forbes, he’s not the first to hazard the idea – it’s been a humanist hobby ever since there…
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