Book Review: Religion for Atheists by Alain De Bottom


Religion for Atheists is about taking some of the useful aspects found in religion and applying them to secular life. It’s written by an atheist who sees value in some of the principles of religion while dismissing the existence of God.

De Bottom looks at nine areas that religions tend to do well in but not so well in the secular world—things like community (talking to strangers and sharing our vulnerabilities) and education (teaching how to live rather than teaching information). He seems to argue that religion is good at addressing the needs of the soul, while the secular world often ignores these needs or addresses them in unhelpful ways.

 My favourite things: 

  1. I love that an atheist has pulled out some of the good things that religion can bring rather than dismissing everything. I love that open mind. I love that he taught me and gave me new ways of seeing my own faith as a Christian. I especially loved what he taught me about Job, which helped me understand this bible story.
  2. I also loved De Bottom’s perspective on culture and the practical ways he suggested to incorporate some of the good things about religion into our culture. I especially loved the idea of artist’s explaining their artwork rather than leaving viewer’s to guess at its meaning, and of buildings designed to offer spaces for reflection. 

Lessons I want to apply: 

  1. My favourite insight from De Bottom is that reading books isn’t enough to change you. One of the key lessons is that we often don’t do what we value or know we should do because we forget. So to really be impacted by a book, we should reread it and put into practice what we’ve learnt from it. This applies to movies, conversations, and other things as well. Don’t let the initial burst of inspiration to do something fade away.
    One of the ways I’m applying this is by writing book reviews so that I can remember what impacted me most and make the effort to live it.
  2. It’s given me a new perspective that our modern Western culture has given us an unrealistic and unhelpful level of optimism. With lives of luxury and the world of advertising, we can easily think life is supposed to comfortable and perfect all the time, but that isn’t reality. So I don’t need to fret when my life isn’t measuring up to an ideal picture I have in my head.
  3. It inspired me to keep drawing because it taught me that art offers comfort for the trials we face and is good for the soul.
  4. It inspired me to value my physical space more and to not feel guilty for my love of aesthetically pleasing things. Our surroundings impact us, so it’s okay to surround myself with beautiful things that make a positive impact on me.

One last note: I think there was one thing missing from this book. A look at sport and the similarities between religion and sport – how both can benefit from each other and both can benefit secular culture. For example, at their best they facilitate community – building people up and never tearing them down – and they value sacrifice, courage, commitment, teamwork, and humility.


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