We met Alain de Botton yesterday saying that the question of whether religious beliefs are true is uninteresting. Today he shows up in the Boston Globe, where Joshua Rothman apparently read his book Religion for Atheists and was smitten. de Botton’s point appears to be that atheism should attempt to mimic the things that make religion effective, like rituals and buildings and monuments and uniforms. Rothman says:
How much of this religious wisdom can be adapted for the secular world? De Botton has some intriguing proposals, like secular monasteries, or an “agape restaurant,” in which patrons are seated next to strangers and given a script of thoughtful personal questions.
Those particular ideas sound kind of loony to me. But at a general level, it seems like de Botton is just trying to reinvent Unitarianism. The “truth” of Unitarianism is that most people need a sense of connection and community as they make their way through life. Some people find it in hymns and sermons on Sunday morning; other people find it in the sewing circle or the men’s breakfast. The good thing about Unitarianism is that it doesn’t require any beliefs — or lack of beliefs — to be part of the community. The problem Unitarians face is that not many people seem to want to buy what they are selling — they make up a mere 0.3% of American adults, according to a Pew survey. And that, perhaps, speaks to people’s cravings for belief and certainty. Why go to church if it’s just to have a conversation?
If de Botton builds the atheist cathedral he talks about, will anyone come?