I picked this one up in the bible college library, having read some of Alain de Botton’s work in the past. Many books written from an atheist perspective (notably Dawkins’ The God Delusion) takes the stance that religion is entirely a bad thing for the world. Botton takes a different approach, asking if there’s anything that we can learn from the way religion fills the gaps in modern life. In a series of chapters, different aspects of religion are covered (community, kindness, education, tenderness, pessimism, perspective, art, architecture), with the concept “what can we learn from this, remove the God aspects, and then put into practice”.
It’s a reflective work, and easy to read, while showing that Botton has read widely, and in depth on the topics he’s chosen to present. While certainly not supportive of religion, it at least doesn’t descend to the kind of ridicule or hostility that I’ve seen in other books and columns. In the final chapter, he cites Auguste Comte as the one in whose footsteps he treads) and his failed attempt to create a temple of humanity. It is in this unhappy light that we sense that all his recommendations will have little widespread impact, even as Christians might hope that a work like this might make the idea of religion seem a little less ridiculous to atheists.