I just finished rewatching a video titled ‘Atheism 2.0,’ a lecture on ted.com by Alain de Botton (the first time I saw this video was Sunday morning,at a meeting with a local humanist group of which I’m a member). De Botton does make some valid points in this lecture–like the issue of religion and atheism need not be as divisive as it is–but I just wanted to share what I thought of it.
De Botton, in this lecture, is addressing a long-running false dichotomy: the rigid line in the sand between religion and atheism, the one that states that if one gives up religion one also does away with all the nice rituals, the community, and everything else associated with religion. I’m not one of those atheists who subscribes to this or other false dichotomies: I enjoy community (to an extent; I’m actually one of those lone-wolf types most of the time–but I digress), and, where anything religious is concerned, I like to think I’m capable of contextualizing it, and that I don’t have to be religious to enjoy it; in fact, from where I’m standing, this is one of those situations where ownership becomes a problem. But I believe it is possible to enjoy rituals, community, and everything else traditionally associated with religion without the dogma–of any kind–and everything that comes with it.
De Botton mentions the atheist community should respectfully but impiously steal things from religion. Do we really need to do this, though? And do we really need to say we’re appropriating things from religion–especially since religion appropriated so much throughout its history, and even hijacked what it appropriated? Christmas and Easter (originally the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, or Eostar), anyone?
Keeping some of the better aspects of what has traditionally been associated with religion, particularly rituals, may be good for some people, especially those transitioning out of religion. But do we nonreligious really need to keep the religious stamp on what we do that many still associate with religion, such as Easter potlucks and listening to Christmas carols? I don’t know if de Botton realizes this, but when he says we should ‘steal things from religion,’ he’s just reinforcing the belief of the religious, especially the zealots, that they own what he’s advocating we atheists adopt. And that is a problem, since what the more fervently religious claim they own and only religion can give has always been available to the human species as a whole, with or without any faith tradition, religious or otherwise.