Alain De Botton – Religion For Atheists (Ideas at the House)


(APPLAUSE) Well, thank you so much
for that. Thank you so much for inviting
me back to the Opera House. I remember
the first time I spoke here, I thought, “This is definitely
going to be the last time,” but it’s now, I think,
even my fourth time here, so it’s an incredibly
generous gesture on the part not only of the Opera House but also of
the whole city of Sydney. I can’t thank you enough. What I want to talk about today
is my new book and the themes
that underlie it, and I guess it’s worth saying
that throughout my career, I’ve been in search of guidance. I don’t believe
that the business of living is very obvious. It’s not very obvious to me. On a daily basis, I’m reminded
of how little I know and how things are
extremely complicated and don’t necessarily
have easy answers. And this has led me to look
in a number of different areas for what I could
broadly call wisdom. I’ve looked at
the world of philosophy. I’ve looked at the world
of literature, of art, of sociology, and then a few years ago,
I began to be interested in the field of religion. Now, this surprised me
as much as anyone else because I didn’t happen
to believe anything, and still
don’t believe anything, and in our society,
we assume, naturally, that those who don’t believe won’t really care very much
for religion and won’t be able
to see anything in it, but I suppose
my whole argument is that that’s perhaps
not entirely true. One of the major divisions
of the world nowadays is between those who believe
and those who don’t, between atheists, or agnostics,
and believers, and for about the last,
I would say, 10 years or so, it’s been relatively clear,
in the minds of many, what being an atheist means. Being an atheist means someone who not only believes
that God doesn’t exist, but it also means someone who thinks that anyone
who believes that God does exist is a simpleton. (LAUGHTER) Or an idiot,
to put it more politely. So, in other words, a rather virulent
kind of atheism stalks the land that essentially believes that there is something
quite wrong with believers. They are not simply making
another choice. They made very much
the wrong choice and need their errors
pointed out to them in intellectual ways. They’ve made
an intellectual error, and therefore, they need
an intellectual corrective. I’ve got a few quibbles
with this, and my approach
is slightly different. I don’t believe that the question of
God’s existence or non-existence is the most interesting one
in this topic. In fact, I think it’s
incredibly boring and sterile, because one never really
makes any headway. You know, on the one hand,
you’ve got the believers, who think the atheists
are going to hell, and on the other hand,
you’ve got the atheists, who think that the believers
are rather stupid, and that kind of divide
is, for me, painful and sad, and I don’t really want
to dwell on it. So I’m taking
a different road. For me, I am an atheist, and
so I want to begin, really, now with something
which may surprise you, and if you feel
very strongly about it, please make your ways
to the exit, and I won’t hold
any grudges, but, you know,
let’s be honest with each other. I don’t think God exists. Now, let’s move on. -(LAUGHTER)
-If we can. I think that’s
the end of the matter. -Now, the greater question is…
-(LAUGHTER) ..where… The greater question is, where
are we gonna go from here? Now we’ve settled that question,
where are we gonna go from here? How are we going to live a
good life? How is our society… How are our societies
to be managed with that insight in mind? And I suppose
I’m writing for someone who’s a little bit like me,
who thinks something like this. I don’t believe
in the doctrines of religion, but I do like singing
Christmas carols, and I quite like some of the
passages of the Old Testament, and I love
the music of Bach, and there’s something
about Zen Buddhist temples, and there’s something about
the moral structure that you find
in certain religions, etc, etc. You know the sort of person –
someone who cannot believe but is attracted
to aspects of religion. Now, for too long,
the choice has been either you sign up
to all the doctrines, involving many
supernatural incidents, etc, and then you get
all those nice bits, or you find you can’t
sign up to these doctrines, and then you’re left
in a sort of wasteland, where there’s a lot
that isn’t really attended to. I want to suggest
a different strategy. I want to suggest it
not just for myself but, as it were,
for our own times, and that’s a strategy
of stealing from religions, that atheists should learn
to inform themselves about what religions
are up to and then selectively
steal the best bits. Now, this has been described
to me sometimes as a bit of
a pick-and-mix approach, and the truth is,
that’s exactly what it is, and I’m very, very proud
of pick-and-mix when it comes to religion. Some people say, you know, I’ve rifled through
the buffet of religions. Well, that’s great. I think
that religions are a buffet. They lie before us, and a lot of
what you might put on your plate is, to my eyes,
not that appetising. But there are
some really lovely bits, so I’m gonna go round
with my plate around some major religions
and pick the nicest bits, in my eyes. That is my overt strategy. I don’t mean to offend, but I think that if
you’d believe, as I do, that religions are
essentially cultural products, that they were made
by humans, then there seems to be nothing
wrong with choosing among them like one would
with any work of culture. I mean, imagine…
Take music. You know,
imagine you like the Beatles, and somebody said, “Oh, right,
you like the Beatles, “so I hope you’re
committed to the Beatles “and will listen
to every single track “and never deviate
and make no time for, “you know,
“Robbie Williams, “because, really,
you must stick to the Beatles,” that would seem bizarre. We naturally rifle through
the buffet of cultures, be it in music
or in literature – you can go from a bit of Jane
Austen to a bit of Shakespeare to a bit of James Joyce,
and that’s allowed. You can create a playlist. And that’s what
I want to suggest that contemporary society can do
as regards religion too. So, what I want to do tonight
is take you through the buffet and show you the bits
that I’m picking. You may want to pick out
other bits. What I’m trying
to show you is a method, and… ‘Cause I think
at the end of the day, the method is more important
than particular choices, but… Let me take you through
some of these choices. So one area that I think
religions are fascinating in is the area of education. Now, education is something
that the secular world prides itself
on taking very seriously. Huge amounts of money
are devoted to education, and… Now, the question is,
what is education for? Well, when politicians
talk about it, the prime explanation is
that education will provide us with the skills necessary
to take up a place in modern capitalism. So education will give us
technical and business skills to make our societies
richer and safer. But there’s another claim
that you often hear made on behalf of modern education, and you sometimes catch it
during the more lyrical moments of politicians’ speeches or at the end
of graduation ceremonies. And that’s the suggestion that
education can, in some ways, make you into
a better human being, a fuller, richer,
nobler person – it can make you
into a grown-up citizen. Now, I like those claims. I think they do sound
rather beautiful. And I want to explore them,
because I think in some ways, we’ve failed to honour
that second claim associated with education, and I think we’ve
partly failed to honour it because we’ve forgotten
about religion. Let me explain. In the 19th century,
in the UK, church attendance
started falling off a cliff. In the middle
of the 19th century, the numbers really collapsed
year by year. And this set off a real panic
amongst many people, who wondered where on earth
society was going to find its sources of consolation,
its ethical framework, its guidance,
its morality – where were these things
gonna be found? They had been the preserve
of religion. Where were they
gonna be found? Now, there was
one influential group among whom you might call the
chattering classes of Britain who came up with
a fascinating answer. People like John Stuart Mill
and Matthew Arnold suggested that there was a ready-made
replacement for religion, and that replacement was called,
with a capital ‘C’, Culture, works of culture, ranging
from the essays of Plato, the plays of Shakespeare,
the novels of Jane Austen – they comprised a corpus
of knowledge and wisdom that could do very much
all the things that religions
have traditionally done. They too could be
sources of guidance, of morality, of consolation. In other words,
culture can replace Scripture. That was the dream
of a certain kind of reformer in the mid-19th century. Now, I actually think
this was a really good idea. I fervently believe
that culture can get us through some of the great challenges
of our life. I’d add a few more things,
like cinema and photography and music, but all of these things together
are vital tools to a good life, and I think these reformers
were absolutely right. The problem is that
that insight has fallen entirely
by the wayside as regards the modern
educational establishment. I mean, imagine if you went to
any university, in Australia, or even anywhere in the world –
say you went to Harvard, apparently
the best university – and you said, “Look,
I’ve come to study at Harvard “because I want to find
a moral framework. “I need ethical guidance. “I need to learn how to
love, to live and to die.” The administration people would start looking at you
so strangely, they’d be
dialling up the ambulance, if not the insane asylum. This is simply not what
the modern educational system believes it’s
in the business of doing. It doesn’t believe that
it’s providing ethical guidance, a moral framework
or consolation. And the reason it doesn’t
is that it assumes that people, once they’ve become adults, sort of know how to live. It’s a fairly obvious business,
knowing how to live. You know,
you get up in the morning and you find a life partner
and you have children, you find a job
that you like and you watch your parents die
and your friends get ill, and eventually you’re diagnosed
with a fatal illness, and then it’s time for you
to head to hospital and gradually
shut the coffin and slide yourself
easily into the earth, and it’s kind of obvious –
we don’t need help. All of that’s kind of
pretty much taken care of without any further need. Now, that’s their view,
so their view is, “Don’t drag culture
into the business “of telling us how to live. “A proper academic,
a proper university, “does not soil itself
with these questions.” And that’s why the
university education system is suspicious
of questions of relevance. You know, “Why do we want to
make this thing relevant? “There’s no need. “We’re rational beings,
fully in command of ourselves, “and we can make this journey
on our own, thanks very much.” Now, religions start from a completely different
point of view. For a start,
for religions, we’re only just
holding it together. All of us are in trouble,
real trouble. For religions, all the major
religions, at various points, call us children. And what do children need? They
need help. They need guidance. And so religions assume us
to be broken creatures who throughout our lives
are going to need help. There is nothing obvious
about the business of living, and we will need assistance
throughout it, throughout our lives, so guidance is
absolutely fundamental. You know, the Christian concept
of original sin has many dark undertones
and associations, but really what it’s trying
to get you to take on board is that from
the very beginning, there’s something
a bit wrong with you, and that’s what religions
tend to believe, I think, not wrongly,
as I’ll go on to show, so… So religions start
with this idea of our fragility, and they see themselves
as in the business of helping us
along that journey. I don’t necessarily believe
in the advice they give us at every stage
along that journey. In fact,
only at very select moments can I agree
with what they say, but, but, I’m fascinated
by how they feel that we need this guidance. Have a think about the ways
in which religions deliver their knowledge
to people. You know,
in the secular world, when people want
to deliver knowledge, they give a lecture. When religions
deliver knowledge, they deliver a sermon. And what’s the difference
between a sermon and a lecture? Well, a lecture wants to,
you know, share some facts, and a sermon wants to change
and perhaps save your life – in other words, a much more
urgent, didactic process is going on in religions. So, as I say,
I don’t necessarily believe what they’re telling us
all the time, or, indeed,
for a lot of the time, but I’m fascinated
by the urgency that religions bring
to the business of living, and I think there’s something
that the secular world leaves really quite absent –
there’s a real gap here. Now, moving on, moving
slightly along this buffet, kind of a related point – I’ve been discussing, as it
were, the form of education… ..sorry,
the content of education, but I now want to discuss the
delivery mechanisms of education that religions
are working with. I think religions
can be seen as supremely successful
educational machines. There’s never been
educational machines as accomplished as they are. So let’s look at
what they do. Let’s look at
how come they’re so good at getting
their ideas across. Well, one of
their first insights is that human beings
are incredibly forgetful. Our minds are like sieves. Religions have been
very influenced in the West by the Greek insight
that we suffer from what the ancient Greek
philosophers called akrasia. Now, what is akrasia? ‘Akrasia’ is translated
as ‘weakness of will’. So weakness of will suggests
that there are lots of things that intellectually
we know full well but practically
we don’t do or abide by because we get swept away
by the hubbub of events. Our wills are weak. And so, for religions, what you need to do
is to strengthen that will in order to make the knowledge that you
actually believe in effective, in order to make ideas stick. So, because
you’re so forgetful, one of the first things that
religions recommend that you do is repeat things. All religions
emphasise repetition. Think of prayers,
you know. At 9:00 in the morning,
you get down on your knees and you say some stuff. By midday, you’ll have forgotten
it, so back down on your knees. By evening time,
you’ll have forgotten it again, so back down
on your knees, you know, and… Now, of course,
in the secular world, we associate repetition
with sterility. It’s like, “Oh,
I’ve already seen that film. “Oh, I read that book
a year ago.” That’s the sort of
modern approach. Now, the problem is,
with that approach, is that it does mean
that a lot less sticks. You know sometimes
when you come out of a film and it’s been a really good film
and you come out and you think, “Wow! I want to
transform my life.” “‘Cause,” you know,
“that sense of energy “or love or beauty
that was in that film, “I want to
flood my life with it “and kind of make
a new start.” Problem is, by the time
you’re having your sandwich at lunchtime the next day, you’ve forgotten the film. And, you know,
the next month, you wouldn’t even
remember the title. Ditto with books.
We forget everything. Our minds are like sieves. And yet the secular world
keeps thinking that you can sit somebody
in a classroom at the age of 20, pour in some really vital stuff
and it’ll still be there across a 40-year career
in management consultancy. (LAUGHTER) The problem is, it generally
doesn’t work like that. So, religions
are much more careful. They’re careful with time. Now, what all the religions do
is manage our calendars. You know, our diaries tend to be
packed with lots of things, but when you look
at what they’re packed with, they tend to be packed with
the appointments of capitalism – a meeting here,
a business appointment, you know, checking in
with a tax inspector. They’re things that we need
to keep our working lives going, or our social lives going. That’s what we put
in our diaries. Now, religions are interesting,
’cause they have diaries – all of them have diaries –
but they put slightly different things
in those diaries. They put things
related to our inner self. They try and give us
appointments with psychologically
important ideas from a belief that unless
they are in our diaries, we’ll just
forget about them. So they want
to lend structure, so every religion has
a structure of some sort, so… Take Catholicism. You know, on 31 March, you will
be thinking about St Jerome and his qualities of humility
and patience, etc. Every day has an idea
associated with it. And I think
it’s rather useful, because I think many of the
things that we care a lot about do slip through the cracks. Take the moon, right? Looking at the moon is, I think,
a really wonderful, beautiful,
calming thing to do. You look at the moon and
you think, “Well, I’m so small. “This thing’s so far away.
The universe is so large.” And somehow
your soul is stilled, some of
the anxieties of the day lessen as you look
up at the moon. And often one thinks, “You know, I should do this
a little bit more often.” But the problem is
that we don’t. You know, none of us spend
much time looking at the moon. The reason is we’re too busy,
other things come along, etc, so it goes by the wayside, but,
but, if you’re a Zen Buddhist, you’ve got an appointment
with the moon, and that appointment comes
in the middle of September, at the festival of Tsukimi, where you’ll be asked
out of your house and made to stand on specially
made canonical platforms and you’ll sing some songs
and recite poetry in honour of the moon, and you will remember
the fragility of life, the importance of friendship and
the brevity of life on earth, all the while
eating some rice cakes. So it’s a charming ritual,
a charming ceremony, designed to put a place
in the diary for psychologically
important ideas, and that’s really
what a ritual is, you know. Religions are full of rituals.
What is a ritual? A ritual is a social event
that has as its ultimate goal some inner transformation, some psychological
transformation, and rituals
really throw up the difference between modern society
and religious society. Modern society
is obsessed with spontaneity. We think we’ll find our way
to the important stuff on our own,
in our own time. “No-one should tell me
what to do and when to do it. “It should just bubble up.” And the problem, however beguiling that is
as an idea conceptually, the problem is, you know,
we don’t really do it. Take springtime. Another lovely ritual that
you find, in Judaism this time, is called Birkat Ha’ilanot where every springtime, you take
a rabbi, or the rabbi takes you, out into the fields and you look at
the new blossom on the trees and you recite
some poetry and some prayers in honour of the beauty of
the fields and of the new year. Now, Wordsworth
was also doing this. You know,
if you read Wordsworth, that’s what it’s all about,
or a lot of it’s about – welcoming the new year,
blossoms, etc. The problem is, and the reason why
the ritual of Birkat Ha’ilanot perhaps has got an edge
over Shakespeare in some ways is that none of us
really read Sha… ..not Shakespeare,
Wordsworth. The problem is that none of us
actually read Wordsworth. Well, we might have
touched on him at university, but, basically, you’re not
really gonna go and dig out your Wordsworth nowadays. It’s something that is
a theoretical possibility that gets left
by the wayside, and religions,
much more forceful, try and timetable that. Now, the other thing
that religions know in the field of education
and delivery of education is that if you have
an important idea, it’s not enough simply that it
is important and reasonable. You need to get it across
in a convincing way, and in order to get it across
so that it will stick, you need to be
a really good public speaker. I’m letting you down here,
but that’s the idea. You need to be
a really good public speaker. Otherwise, however good the idea
is, it’s just gonna fall limp, which is, again,
why the major religions invest a lot in oratory, and you find this
at its best, probably, in the American South,
in the Pentecostalist tradition, and any of you who’ve been
to a Pentecostalist service on a Sunday
down in the American South will know
it’s an extraordinary event. You know,
these preachers are amazing. They’ll say some stuff, and when it gets
really convincing and good, people will say,
“Amen! Amen! Amen!” And if there’s
a really rousing point, then members of the congregation
will stand up and say, “Thank you, Saviour. Thank you,
Jesus. Thank you, Christ.” And there’s a kind of call
and response with the audience and, you know,
it’s a real frenzy. Now, compare that
with the modern university. -Everybody’s there…
-(LAUGHTER) And… You know… ‘Cause the prof…the prof thinks that it’s enough
that, you know… He’s got a PhD and his ideas
are really logical, so he thinks that’s enough,
but the problem is it’s not, ’cause it’s not gonna stick. And so my suggestion is
that some of the profs be sent over to Alabama
for a little bit of instruction with these
Pentecostalist guys so that at the end
of our university lectures, you’ll get people
standing up going, you know, “Thank you, Montaigne,
thank you, Shakespeare, “thank you, Jane Austen.” And there’ll be, you know,
some real energy in the room. But until then, things are gonna
be quiet in the university. Now, there’s something else
that religions remember when they’re trying
to teach us something, and that is that we are
not merely brains. We are not merely
machines of reason. We are embedded creatures. In other words, we exist
within bodies that are sensory, that are passionate. We have senses of smell,
of sight, of hearing, of touch, and if you want to try
and teach someone something, religions allege, you have to involve
these senses. It’s not enough
simply to target reason. And so all religions do this
to one extent or another. Take again Zen Buddhism. One of the most charming lessons
of Buddhism is delivered along with
the drink of a beverage, and that is
the Zen Buddhist tea ceremony. Now, what is
the Zen Buddhist tea ceremony? At one level, it’s a lesson
in the brevity of life, the importance of friendship,
the value of the community, all of these things, but
it’s not just lectured to you. It’s combined with the ritual
drinking of some hot tea. And there’s
a curious collaboration and, if you like, sympathy between the moral
of the words that are used and the moral of the tea, so something physical
is supporting something psychological
or intellectual, if you like, and you find religions
doing this all the time. Take in Judaism – Judaism, a religion really
interested in forgiveness, in notions
of forgiveness, but you don’t just hear
lectures on forgiveness. If you live in an Orthodox
community, every Friday, the rabbi will lead you
to the mikveh, the ritual bath, which is often
in a beautiful setting, and you’re asked to
go back over the week, confess to things
that you’ve done and ask for forgiveness, forgiveness both of your friends
and also of God, and then you plunge into
some water from head to toe – you have
a really good soak. Now, I think
all religions recognise that there’s some connection
between water and lessons. You find this
across the religions. And we know this from our
own lives, our secular lives. You know, sometimes, when you want to change
your mood in some ways, you say, “I’m gonna take a bath.
I’m gonna take a bath.” But the really
life-changing capacity of water, the capacity of immersion
to effect a change, is something that only religions
are picking up on with their full depth,
and I mention this because it’s a characteristic
move of these religions to employ the body
to make a lesson. Let me go on to a few
other things on the buffet. Another area that I think religions
are really interesting in is the world of art. Now, in the secular world, we think we’ve got art
pretty well wrapped up, ’cause we invest a lot
in museums, in galleries. There’s a lot of surplus wealth
that goes towards the arts. But I want to suggest
that in a way our relationship to the arts is
not going as well as it could be and that some of the reason is
that we haven’t properly studied how religions use art. It’s sometimes said that museums
are our new cathedrals, but in some ways, I don’t think they’re
quite doing what cathedrals did, for various reasons. One of the reasons why art isn’t
quite living up to its message, or the claims
we make for it, is that we’re obsessed
in the modern world with that ancient…
well, old 19th-century adage which says that art should be
for art’s sake – in other words,
that a successful work of art exists in its own realm,
in the aesthetic world, and that it shouldn’t have
an attempt to change society or to have an impact
directly on people. It exists in art world, in that special world
called the world of art. The other thing,
the other piece of ideology that surrounds the display
and interpretation of art is a veneration of mystery. It’s almost as though
the more complex and interesting
a work of art, the harder it will be
to explain what it’s doing
or what’s going on, and so nice people like you,
when you go to a museum, especially
a museum of contemporary art, one of the common feelings
one comes away thinking is, “What did that mean?” And that’s often
a feeling you often get reading museum catalogues,
which often seem as though they’re translated
from the German, even when they’re not, so… So there’s
a kind of air of mystery and there’s an air of removal
from daily life. Now, this is not at all
what religions believe when it comes to art. When it comes to art,
religions are very simple about what art is for. Art is for two things. Firstly, it’s to remind you
of what is good – how you should live,
the good way to live – and secondly, it’s to remind you
of what’s bad – what’s unfortunate, what’s sad,
what’s away from fulfilment. So that’s the dual mission
of art. In other words, art is didactic,
and it’s a piece of propaganda. All religious art
is propaganda. Now, when people hear
the word ‘propaganda’, it’s never too far
till somebody thinks of Hitler and somebody else
thinks of Stalin. So in saying this, I’m aware
that I’m on a slippery slope. But I want us
to try and hang on to somewhere in the middle
of that slippery slope. We don’t necessarily have to
tumble down to the bottom. And I think religions
show us how. Because if you look at
the history of religious art, the sort of things that propaganda
has been made on behalf of have often been
some quite nice things. I mean, take something like
Rembrandt’s Christ crossing
the Sea of Galilee. Beautiful painting. A piece of
propaganda. On behalf of what? The fascist state? Or, you know,
the worker’s paradise? No. It’s a piece of propaganda
on behalf of courage. It’s trying to remind you
of what courage is like, and it’s trying
to instil in you a sense of how you
might be more courageous by looking at the example
of some courageous guys who were crossing the
Sea of Galilee one day, and… Now, why do religions think
that we need this kind of art? Why are they calling up
people like Rembrandt? The reason
for religions doing this is that they think that
there are all sorts of ideas that we have in our minds that basically lie
dormant and ineffective until they are reawakened
by a work of art. Art turns cliches into things
that we actually believe in and can act by. So we all believe, for example,
that it’s nice to be nice and that we should be good
and we should love our children, we should love the environment
and all these things, and we know all of this, and
it’s all wise and it’s all true. The problem is we don’t
really tend to act on it until a great work of art
comes along, and I’m thinking, you know,
it could be a film by Tarkovsky or ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles,
or whatever it is, and suddenly you think,
“Oh! That’s what love is.” Or, “That’s why
I should be,” you know, “caring about the world
or loving my children “or trying to be
more tolerant of my partner,” or whatever it is. We are reminded in a visceral,
active sense of truths which would otherwise
have left us cold, and that’s why
religions believe that you need some artists
to hand, and that’s why
they’ve had the phone numbers of some of the greatest artists
in the world at all times. They knew who to call, and they
knew the art needed to be good, ’cause if it was
gonna be bad art, the message
wasn’t gonna get across. Now, just think about
how different that is to the way
the modern world works. You know,
in the modern world, there are
people of ideas, right, and, you know, they write their
books and they do their things, but do they ever call up, you know, the great artists,
the great filmmakers? No, not really – you know,
the artists are in one corner and the sort of thinkers
are in another, but the way you have to
conceive of religion is it’s joined up – the thinkers
are in touch with the artists. The thinkers might be telling
the artists what to produce. Very, very different
from a kind of modern mindset. But I think it may be
just very important to do that. There may be
something quite essential about
animating our beliefs by using the works
of the great artists. I suppose what religions
are really saying is that the aesthetic realm
is not just superficial, that the way things
look and feel and sound isn’t just
something over there that belongs to a kind of
‘House & Garden’ magazine or, you know, ‘Interior Design’
or some sort of trivial thing. It’s right at the centre
of importance, and it’s important
because we, as humans, respond to sensory material. I remember a few years ago,
I was looking to get married, and I thought, “Right, well,
how am I gonna do this? “Where shall I go,
as a nonbeliever?” And I thought,
“Right, well, “I’m not gonna go to a church
or anything like that, “because, you know,
that would be wrong.” So I looked on the website
of an organisation called the
British Humanist Association, and I clicked
on their website, and from the moment
the screen came up, I thought,
“Something’s a bit wrong here,” ’cause it looked like it had
been done by a 12-year-old, the website – you know how html
goes wrong and it’s a bit wonky? Anyway… And then I thought,
“I’ll keep going.” And then there was a bit which
said, “Find your own celebrant”, a guy who’s going
to help you to celebrate, so I clicked on the celebrant,
and some pictures came up. And I looked at the pictures
of the possible celebrants I was gonna entrust
to this special day, and I thought,
“Ooh, dear.” And partly, I thought, “Their clothes!
They’re so badly dressed!” And then I’d read their prose
that they put, and I thought, “Ooh, there’s
so many spelling mistakes. “And it’s not very eloquent.” Now, this could sound
sort of bitchy and superficial, but I don’t mean it to –
I don’t mean it to. What I’m trying to say is that
if we’re to make a viable world beyond religion, we’re gonna have to study what religions get up to
very carefully, and we’re gonna have to learn
that hats are really important and shoes are really important
and clothes are really important and the way that language is put
together is really important, and we can’t just say,
“Right, well,” you know, “there were some errors in the
tales of the loaves and fishes, “and Genesis doesn’t quite
stack up, so that’s enough.” We’re gonna need
to work a little bit harder, and religions know this. Let me move on a bit. Something else.
Moving on the buffet. Something else that religions
are very practised in and sort of intelligent about,
and that is that if you want to change the
world, you’ve to get organised. Right? You’ve got to group
together with other people. It’s not a coincidence that the
major religions are also known as organised religions. In other words, it’s not just
a chap or two with a good idea. It’s a group of people
who’ve coalesced and have shown discipline
around a set of ideas. Now, it’s interesting – when
you look at the modern world, when you look at people
who are interested in what one could
broadly call the soul… I’m using that in a completely
non sort of supernatural way – the soul, the inner part,
you know, the kind of… ..the weighty,
important stuff. The people who are interested
in the soul in the modern world are basically
lone practitioners. You know, they’re the poets
in their bedrooms, the writers in their bedrooms,
you know, the guitar players, the psychotherapists,
the painters – you know, they’re all off
in their little sheds, in their little studios, you know, doing their stuff,
saving the world. And… In other words, the view is,
if you care about the soul, you’re on your own,
you’re supremely individual, and that’s a legacy
of that romantic world view that crops up
in the 19th century which says, you know, “If you’ve got
an important contribution “to make to humanity,
speak alone with your own voice. “Only the singular lone voice
is important. “Don’t learn
to read a spreadsheet. “Don’t group
with other people.” You know, “Speak purely
from the mountain top.” So that’s the kind of
modern world view. Now, religions differ a lot.
They are organised. They are multinational. They
have rules on how to behave. They are branded.
They’re the leaders in branding. And they show extreme coherence
in a lot of areas. Now, the only thing
that’s comparable to religions
in the modern world is multinational corporations. If you look at
the structure of multinational corporations
and religions, they’re eerily similar – branded, multinational,
disciplined, etc. Lots and lots
of similarities. Except they do, of course,
slightly different things. The religions
are in the soul space. They’re doing the kind
of soul bit, feeding our soul. And the multinationals
tend to be in the… know,
more physical space. They’re, you know, shipping us
cement or selling us pizzas or shoes
or whatever it is, so in the modern world,
we’ve got, you know, the soul-focused religions,
organised, well organised, you’ve got the corporations that
are well disciplined and focused but they’re
selling us shoes, and on the other hand, you’ve got the poets
and the psychotherapists in their bedrooms. And this seems kind of striking
and, I think, a real loss. No wonder, in a way, that religions
continue to be so powerful and that the messages
of the very good ideas that secular society
has come up with often don’t
get through to us. You know, the revenues
of the Catholic Church last year were $97 billion. When people
scratch their heads and go, “Why is it
that Catholicism “remains a very powerful force
in the world “when some of their arguments
don’t make much sense?” Well, you know, look at that $97
billion for a moment at least. They’re very organised. They’re pooling together
the intelligence of large numbers of people and they’re showing
great discipline. In other words,
I’m trying to suggest that if
in the secular world, the ideas that we
fervently believe in are to have real traction
in the world, we may have to think about
organisation, that organisation seems key
to getting things across, and that the lone practitioner,
however pure he might be, however untainted by commerce
and fellowship with others, is ultimately a very, very
weak voice in a lonely world. We tend to assume that if
you want to change the world, just, you know, write a book
and then that all will be fine. But religions
are not just books. They may have books at their
centre that are very important, but they’re also about schools
and they’re about music and they’re about eating
and they’re about calendars and they’re about
funeral services – they’re about
all of this sort of stuff. And to think you can move on
by just, you know, chucking a few wisely aimed
arguments against them and the whole edifice
will collapse, dream on –
of course it won’t. Right. I want to move on to just
a few other things on the menu. Let’s look at community. One of the things
that religions are indisputably
rather good at doing is creating communities,
turning strangers into friends, and one of the things the secular world clearly
has a problem with is community. I think the modern world
is lonely. We’re all hunting for
that one very special person. That’s how we start off,
you know, in adolescence, in our early 20s – we’re searching for that
one very, very special person who can spare us a need
to mix with everybody else. So we’re all kind of selfishly
looking for that special person, but the group…
the group is… You know.
We don’t really like the group. Now, I think it’s actually very
important to live in groups, and I think a lot of our
neuroses and anxieties comes from the fact
that we’re not living in the sufficiently
group way. Now, don’t get me wrong –
in the modern city, in Sydney,
in Melbourne, in London – there are all sorts
of gatherings all the time of people, like tonight
and everywhere, places where you can
hang out with people. There are bars
and restaurants. So for someone
to come along and go, you know, “We’re lonely.
There’s no-one around,” that’s clearly wrong –
there are lots of people. The problem is
we don’t talk to them, ever, unless I perform an exercise which could both be
embarrassing and quite fun, but I don’t think I will, of doing that thing
that many religions do, which is asking everybody to introduce everybody
to each other by turning to
the left and the right, but I won’t do that quite yet –
we’ll see how it goes. You guys are not gonna
get to know each other. You’re just gonna file out
and that’s it. Now, religions regularly
take people into a space and they basically perform
a host function. They introduce them
to each other. They introduce us
to each other. Now, I think below the surface,
we’re not as grumpy as we look. You know, when we’re walking
round, we’re all a bit grumpy, you know, sort of look
a bit strange, you know, and… And the reason is
we’re scared. We’re scared of rapists
and we’re scared of murderers and we’re just scared of all
the bad people we’ve read about and paedophiles
and nasty people, so… That’s why we’ve got to be very
careful as we wander around. But deep down, under a layer,
we’re actually quite friendly. Most of us are friendly. The problem is that it normally
takes, you know, a flood, a fire or a snowstorm until
anyone talks to anyone else, ’cause it’s just
too sort of embarrassing. Someone did say to me, “That’s
just ’cause you’re in England,” but I suspect
it’s a little bit…’s a little bit
everywhere. Anyway. So, what do we need
to bring out our sociability? What we need
is a good host. Now, you know the host from
a party, right, so, you know… Again, quite English. When you go to a typical
English party with a bad host, everybody’s standing like this,
looking quite glum, sheepishly,
with their drink, and it’s all quite stiff
and quite awkward, but if there’s a good host,
they’ll go, “You meet so-and-so, you meet
so-and-so, talk to so-and-so,” and suddenly
the party is going. Now, writ large,
without any disrespect, religions are hosts
in their societies. They introduce people,
they bring people in a room and they say, “It is safe
to talk to people here.” It’s a very basic thing. It doesn’t require
belief in the supernatural. Many people will often say, “Look, I’ve kind of
lost my faith a while ago, “but I do love
those services. “I do love the after,
you know, bit “when you have the tea and the
biscuits, that kind of thing.” And they’re not wrong. You know,
why are they like this? Because there’s
not much else going on. Some people say,
“What about the football club “or,” you know,
“the swimming club, or the pub?” And the problem is that
not everybody likes swimming or football
or anything else, that we don’t all belong to
these specialised hobby groups. The modern world
has hobby groups, whereas religions
have communities, and the difference between
a hobby group and a community is that in a community,
a group of people are gathered who have, in a sense, nothing
in common with each other. They look weird
to each other. You know, they’re different
races, ages, colours, etc, and maybe they’re
a bit scary-looking, but the whole process,
the kind of spiritual journey, is to turn that alien person
into a human being, to discover the humanity
below the surface, and that seems
like an incredibly sort of valuable exercise
that religions make us do. Now… I’m really running on.
So I’m gonna conclude. Really, what I want
to end by saying is that even if you don’t
believe in anything, as I don’t believe
in anything, it really seems vital
to learn enough about religion that you can draw
on those bits of it that still seem to have
an awful lot going for them. You know, if you’re in the world
of community-building, look at how religions
build community. If you’re in the art world,
look at how religions do art. If you’re an educator,
look at how religions educate. Ultimately, ultimately, and
I want to end with this point, ultimately, religions are far
too complex, wise, rich, nuanced to be abandoned
simply to those who actually happen
to believe in them. -(LAUGHTER)
-They’re for all of us. They’re for all of us,
especially nonbelievers. -Thank you very much.
-(APPLAUSE) Thank you. But I did want to start with one
question from Alison Badahoss, who says to Alain,
“Your latest book refers heavily “to Christianity,
Judaism and Buddhism “but rarely mentions
Hinduism or Islam. “Why was that?” Well, I knew from the start that
this wasn’t going to be a work of comparative religion. This wasn’t
going to be a work where I kept comparing
one religion to another. If there is a comparison,
it’s between the secular world and the world of religions, and for this, you don’t necessarily need
an infinite array of religions. What matters is to get to know
some religions really well. And they double themselves up
in many, many areas. So I didn’t want
another Abrahamic religion, having already got
Judaism and Christianity, and I was very fascinated
by Buddhism, which I didn’t know
that much about and now know
a little bit more about, so it was a personal choice, and, well, almost to say, one
shouldn’t read too much into it. We had some wonderful questions
from Oliver Damien, who says, “Do you consider
that the cultural means “atheists can borrow
from religion “will be as potent “if they are divorced from
the bedrock of a firm belief “in a supernatural reality, “which, arguably,
is what gives them their power?” Look, I think this is an anxiety
on the part of many. I mean, when I was in London,
I did a debate with a Catholic priest, and he said to me,
rather waspishly, I thought – he said, “Look, you think you
understand Bach, but you don’t.” (LAUGHTER) And he said, you know, “You
think you’ve looked at Titian, “but your eyes are closed.” And… You know, and he said,
you know, “And you think you’ve read
John Donne, but you haven’t.” And I sort of started getting a
bit depressed about this, and… And then I thought,
“Well, look, “I don’t know what you’re
getting out of all this stuff.” You know, “I don’t know what the
full-strength dose feels like. “But as far as I’m concerned,
it’s not bad.” You know, “I’m really
revving up there “with the Mass in B minor
by Bach.” You know,
“It’s doing something for me.” So I think it’s always
going to be possible for believers to say
to nonbelievers, “You don’t get it, do you?” To which, as a nonbeliever,
one can only say, “Perhaps, “but I don’t have access to the
kind of sensory data you do,” so all I can say is,
it seems enough. I think we can be
getting on with quite a lot and getting quite a lot
out of cultural works even without
the supernatural structure for which they were, indeed,
once invented or created. Can we go back briefly to your
question about organisation and your very funny reference to the psychotherapists
and artists in their bedrooms – how do you think
they could get out? How could they get out?
That’s a big question. Look, take something
like psychotherapy, which is really close
to my heart. In London, first of all,
if you go and see a therapist, people will still say,
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. “How is your madness?” (LAUGHTER) And you want to say,
“Look, it’s not that bad. “I’m just trying to, you know,
get more out of life,” but the dominant assumption –
you are a marked person, you’re crazy. And then when you call up
a psychotherapist, you shuffle along to your GP
and you ask for a therapist and you get referred and
you dial a number in Hampstead and then somebody picks up
with a Hungarian voice and goes, “Hello?” And you think… “Hello. I’d
like to make an appointment.” “Hello?” And the whole thing…
And you sound… You know, the whole thing is
just intimidating and peculiar and very, very odd. And I contrast that
with the priesthood. You know, contrast that
with the Catholic priesthood. Now, after one’s said
every last horrid thing about the priesthood
and paedophile priests and blah, blah, blah –
all of which I’m well on top of, very well aware of,
don’t forget for a minute – the priesthood is still a
rather interesting institution. Really, what it is
is a group of people whose task is to minister us
through the key stages of life, from birth to death, and to offer advice,
consolation, reflection,
conversation, etc. Now, what’s the equivalent of
that? We don’t really have it. The equivalent
is probably psychotherapy. But the psychotherapists
are in their bedrooms, so, what do we need to do? Look, I mean, I’m sure there are
some entrepreneurs in the room. The question is not different
from any other problem requiring what one might call
an entrepreneurial solution. It requires that we
band together the therapists, that we give them a nice logo, that we give them
a coherent pattern, etc, and that we learn
why religions are effective and we use that
when designing something that might work
for the secular world. So, taking inspiration
and being creative. I think, you know, we’re
still at the dawn of history. Sometimes it can feel like we’re really, really
at the end of everything, the Romans, and all
the rest of it, so long ago, and we’ve tried everything,
and the basic assumption is, if it’s a good idea,
it’s already been done, and if anyone’s
suggesting now anything
at this very late stage, it must be mad. Let’s reverse that. We’re
very much beginning things. We’re learning to live, many
of us, now, for the first time, the first generation
without organised religion, and we’re stumbling around, and we haven’t necessarily
got all the answers, but I very much believe
that this is a creative moment. Do we have someone
at microphone two? WOMAN: I’m sorry,
I’m a bit short. Hello, Alain. I’m Sally. It’s a bit related
to that last question. I’m on the same page
with you so far – that’s great. I’m just wondering, you know,
what’s the next step? Where is this organisation
going to come from? Are you the next leader, or
are you merely a prophet, or… (LAUGHTER) somebody coming along? And will this new group include the phrase
‘pick-and-mix’ in the title? Right. Well… One of the funny things about
publishing a book is that… You know, some people say it’s
absolutely terrible, it’s awful, and sometimes you get emails
going, “I’ve read your book “and I’d like to sign up –
where do I sign up? “And I’d like
to give you all my wealth “and devote myself to you.” So this can happen… It hasn’t.
The last bit was exaggerated. But it…it…it…
Look, it can happen. Look, my answer is,
I think we are beyond the world of organisation at the level
of neo-religious organisation in the sense of, you know,
one structure, with one head, you know,
directing things, etc, so I believe in organisation,
but in miniature organisation, the organisation
of the therapists or the organisation of people
who are going to bury people or marry people
appropriately, etc. There’s lots to be done, and
there’s lots to be organised, but I don’t think
the creation of a new papacy with a secular pope is on the cards
or is in any way desirable. We live in a wiki world
where truth is multiple, where we’re
fiercely individualistic, and insofar as
we do organise ourselves, it’s in relatively
spontaneous clusters, and I think the answer is… Look, my book
is full of suggestions of things that need doing in the secular world, everything
from building community to, you know,
organising the therapists, to reorganising travel – there’s
a whole host of sort of ideas. And my hope is that,
you know, reading the book, someone might think,
“Oh, that’s a good idea. “I might have a go
doing that.” And they would organise
themselves and… You know. So it’s not like
it’s gonna be a central thing. It might just be something
that you’re inspired by. Or someone might say, “Look, my
idea’s not in this book at all, “but there’s something
that’s kind of analogous “that will inspire me,” so I’m aiming
to seed inspiration and get the reader working,
by all means, organised, but no new papacy. And we were so looking forward
to the shoes and the hats. -At microphone number four.
-MAN: Thank you. Mr De Botton, you spoke about
universities and their role. I’m just interested to know
where you think they should be really filling
a similar purpose in society to what you’ve spoken about, turning people
into grown-up citizens, because universities only are
going to educate in Australia about a third
of our citizens. What about
the other two-thirds? Shall they stay
not grown-up, or is there
something else for them? Well, first of all,
I’d say a third is not bad, so at least if we got
one-third right, that would be
a really good start – we could then work
on the next two-thirds, so, you know,
looking at the first third, institutions of higher education
are failing there, as far as I’m concerned,
in delivering that promise, and, as I was trying
to suggest in my talk, they’re partly failing because they have a non-instrumental
view of learning. They do not believe that
there is a particular purpose that can be frankly stated
in a few words to studying literature
or philosophy or theatre or the arts or whatever, the importance… You know, one tends
to get tautologies – “It’s important
because it’s important.” And anyone who asks why
is either a government official trying to reduce funding or a vulgar, nasty person,
an accountant, who’s trying
to make life meaner, rather than just someone
who genuinely wants to know, so that’s the one-third. As for the other two-thirds,
well, let’s look at how the dominant mood of society
is set. It’s set through
the mass media. And the interesting thing
about the mass media is that we’ve abandoned that
to the free market. The secular world
believes in the free market in all sorts of areas,
including the world of ideas, and the underlying reason
for that free market is a belief deep down that
a lot of what you read and hear doesn’t really matter, so, you know,
if you’ve spent an hour driving and you’ve looked at a billboard
selling you chocolate and another billboard selling
you a holiday in Thailand and a third billboard
selling you a 4×4, doesn’t really matter,
it’s not gonna sink in, it’s not really important. That’s the kind of
official thing – it doesn’t really matter
what we see and read. All that matters is…
Well, we’re such grown-ups. Of course we know
what we want. We’re not gonna get sidetracked
by an advert. You know. Now, of course,
if you think about that, of course, we are gonna
get sidetracked by an advert, but, then,
that’s really tricky for the governments
to take on board, ’cause if we’re gonna
get sidetracked by an advert, that means there shouldn’t be
any advertising, which is a real nuisance if
you’re relying on tax dollars to keep things going, so suddenly, you’re in
a really tricky political area where commercial propaganda,
if you like, turns out to have
quite a big impact, and the question as a society
we have to try and work up is, in the so-called
free market of ideas, what ideas
do we want out there? Is it right that the only people
who can pay for a billboard are certain corporations
with certain intentions on us? And do we want to
level that playing field? And I guess I’d just like to
draw your attention to the way that religions are very, very
concerned with public space. They know that public space
affects the inner being. In the secular world,
we think public space can be sold off
to the highest bidder and it doesn’t
really matter. Religions think, no, public
space influences private space and you’ve got to
watch it carefully. We’ll go to microphone three
and then we will turn around and talk to
this gentleman here. So microphone three. Thank you very much.
My name’s Nicholas. And can I say thank you
very much to Alain de Botton? I was reading you
when I was 16, and it’s been
a long time coming – I’m glad I got
to hear you speak. Now, you know, I completely
agree with your first premise, that, you know, atheism is right
and that there isn’t a God and that, you know, we should
all consider how to live. The problem
with trying to find an atheistic institution,
in my mind, is that the religions
always have an advantage in that they have
one central source of authority. You know, once you take
your central premise that there isn’t a God, how to live can become
very interesting. You can have more relativists,
who believe that, you know, we can go over and live
in carrots and kill people, and then you can have people
who believe in Kant’s golden rule, and so having a group where
you can discuss how to live within different frameworks becomes a lot more complicated
because, you know, in religions, you at least have
one framework to work with. Yep. I think… I think that’s
a really good question and a really good anxiety because it’s an anxiety right
at the heart of modern society. We live in a world
of moral relativism. And what is
moral relativism? Moral relativism is the fear
that any assertion could be shot down
from another side, so, you know, “Look, I don’t
believe in eating babies, “but maybe you believe
in eating babies, “so we’d
better watch out. “I believe that it’s fine to,”
you know, “hit children, “but maybe,” you know,
“you don’t,” so we’ve got to be
very, very careful about saying any things –
we might upset somebody. And anything that you say
might get you back the retort, “Who are you
to tell me what to do?” Now, my secret conviction is that there’s
an awful lot of agreement – there’s, in fact, far more
agreement than disagreement. And rather than imagining that
once religion has disappeared, we can’t agree on anything and we’re just left
in this complete moral vacuum, we don’t know what to do,
what to believe or who to trust. Actually, if you gather
a group of Australians, like everyone
in this hall tonight, and if you said to them, “OK, let’s take a poll
about what people believe,” I would suspect that there
would be enormous congruence around some central beliefs. I think that people here
will tend to believe in love, in kindness,
in generosity towards children, in generosity towards strangers,
in the environment, etc, in equal opportunity,
in fairness. A lot of assumptions
can be generalised from and made to be at the heart
of secular society. We don’t lack things
to believe, and we don’t lack things
that we can agree on. What we lack is things that will make the ideas
that we already agree on stick and effective at key moments
of our journey through life. (APPLAUSE) So, basically,
what this gentleman is saying is that if you
look beneath the surface of many works
of modern culture, you will find
a religious substructure. Gentleman was talking about
‘Lord of the Rings’. And… Now, I agree that if you look beneath
many works of modern culture, you do find… You know, if you follow the work
of someone like Joseph Campbell, you do see that there are
these archetypes – the hero, you know,
the myth, the mother, the return,
the prodigal son, etc, etc. These are our stories. Now, sometimes
religious people say, “Aha! “This shows that we’re right,
because it shows “that even though you guys
think you are secular, “in fact, you are
still following our stories.” Now, as an atheist, I would
flip that round, and I would go, look, it doesn’t mean to say
that anyone is right. It just means that there
are some archetypes in the human mind, which religions have drawn on and non-religions
have drawn on, and so it goes. I wouldn’t privilege the fact
that these myths have cropped up
perhaps first and foremost within religious texts. This seems to be
more an accident of timing than a feeling
that this is divinely revealed. MAN: Alright, good evening. Thank you very much.
That was a fascinating talk. I’ve got
a double-barrelled question because I believe
in getting my money’s worth. (LAUGHTER) I was interested to know
whether there was a precedent or if you were
blazing a new trail or whether there were
any thinkers or philosophers that you’re aware of that have explored
this territory before, and I was also curious to know
about the reaction from various religions and perhaps some of the other
classical pit bull atheists such as Richard Dawkins, if they had come out swinging
against your blasphemous work. -(LAUGHTER)
-Yeah. Well, to answer that, there was, weirdly, a small
cheer at my publisher, Penguin, when Richard Dawkins
did come out and very grumpily said, “The
whole thing’s very unnecessary.” -(LAUGHTER)
-And, you know… “We’re all OK
as it is.” So… And in a way… Look. In a way, it was interesting,
because in the world view of some of these more militant
Oxford atheists, the idea is that life is a relatively easy business
to get through, you know. You know, you do your scientific
research, you’re at high table, and, you know,
things are basically OK, and, you know,
there are just lots of sort of horrible thick people
out there who all the time, you know,
they’re just weeping at Mary and believing in odd things, and they just need to be set
right with some solid reason. And I think what they tend to
underestimate is vulnerability, and I think that’s what,
emotionally, I have a problem with there. We are clearly
all vulnerable creatures, and to try and persuade someone
out of their religion without paying attention
to the vulnerability and its role
in their religiosity seems, I think,
a cynical ploy, so, anyway, that’s… So the atheists, yes… Certain kind of militant atheist
has been out… I received
a wonderful email. Someone said,
“You have betrayed atheism,” which seemed to me
paradoxical, and… But as for
precedent in history, yes. Look, there was one guy,
called Auguste Comte, the French
19th-century sociologist, who, in the mid-19th century,
analysed modern society and decided that
we were all gonna fall apart and fall prey to mental
disorders and anxieties because the only thing
that secular society was gonna be living for was work and romantic love, and he believed
that a society fixated on work
and romantic love would be twitchy,
and he didn’t put it like that, but, essentially, would have a wide variety
of nervous disorders, and he believed that what he had
to do was to invent a religion, a secular religion, that could help people
to cope with their anxieties, so he invented this religion called
the religion for humanity. It was very, very batty indeed
but quite touching. It had at its centre
a maternal figure, who was actually
Comte’s girlfriend… -(LAUGHTER)
-And… Although they weren’t
actually sleeping together. It was very much
unrequited love. And he thought
that by making her head of this new religion,
she would be grateful, and indeed – I’m not making
this up – indeed, she was, and they did sleep together,
but then she fell prey to terrible
nervous disorders of the kind
the 19th century produced, and he went crazy and the whole
experiment collapsed, but… -(LAUGHTER)
-Nevertheless… Nevertheless,
it’s a fascinating thing, and if ever you find yourselves
in a big library, look up Auguste Comte and his… I mentioned him in my book, because he’s onto something
rather interesting, and he holds a place… You know, lots of sociologists
are aware of him, and he never quite goes
entirely out of fashion, because he’s touching
a raw nerve that I think we know
has not yet been appeased or kind of dealt with
in the modern world. Number two. MAN: You may be
familiar with the fact that there is a
small schoolyard tiff going on in our capital city
of Canberra today, and I wondered, apart,
perhaps, from shinier shoes, what you feel
our political leaders may be able
to draw from religion to restore public faith. (LAUGHTER) -Goodness.
-(APPLAUSE) Well, look. Let me give you a non-religious
answer, which is mine. I think the fact
you’re having this squabble is not a sign that Australia
has reached a new low. It’s a sign
of real privilege. It’s a sign that you guys
have it good. Because most countries can’t
afford this sort of behaviour. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) So even though
it’s a little bit tedious and a little bit peculiar, enjoy – it’s not gonna last
long, they’re gonna sort it out, and have fun with it, yeah. I think that’s probably
the most interesting response to this whole thing
that any of us are gonna hear. Number three. MAN: It’s actually, I guess,
a follow-up on that question. If attendance at church
collapsed in the 19th century, in the late 20th century,
the similar collapse is in belonging to
a political organisation. What do you think… Do you think politics
played the role of religion in the meantime, between
the 19th century and now, and is now failing to do that,
for a secular world? And do you think that the last bastion
of that politics as religion is in the American
presidential kind of system? ALAIN: Well, look, I think that one of
the great innovations and wisdoms of Christianity was the separation
of Church and state, at least for a time
and in its original form – “Render unto Caesar,” etc – the idea that there is earthly
power and spiritual power. And even in a secular context,
that distinction continues, and I think that most people,
in Australia, in the UK, in many modern societies, take it really badly
when we feel that power,
that political power, is edging into
the world of religion – in other words,
the world of ethics, the world of the soul, etc. When David Cameron responded
to the London riots last summer, he started making comments
in praise of personal morality and discipline, etc,
and the world went nuts – no-one allowed a politician
to say that sort of thing. We don’t want our politicians
to do that. That’s a very
ingrained thing. So, by all means,
organise and use a public voice for issues of morality
and ethics, etc, but I think the ability
to join up political power with moral authority… At this point, I probably
will invoke Hitler and Stalin, which I was resisting doing. I do think that at that point,
the slope gets really steeper, so I am not for giving a moral
authority to Julia or Kevin. That said, I did give… Two nights ago,
I gave my book to Julia. We were staying
in the same hotel – the Park Hyatt in Melbourne. And I went to
give her my book. So we’ll see what happens. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) And we thought that she was
staying up late at night making a phone call. I just wanted to ask… I think that the way
that you explained how secular society
can draw from the traditionalism and
the repetitiveness of religion is…is a really good thing –
I love how you explained that. But I also want to ask, do you
think that there’s a detriment or a stagnation
that comes from traditionalism in an emerging society
such as ours, where our understanding’s
always changing and, you know, we’re learning
new things all the time about our world and our reality,
and that’s always shifting. Do you think that
that traditionalism actually stagnates that… ..that update
or that shift in thinking or… Like, a good example of that
would have been Galileo and his discovery
of our place in the solar system and how that was rejected
by traditionalist structures, but then, years later… I think it’s really good
that you mentioned Galileo, because that reminds us
that insofar as the modern world
is addicted to novelty, what’s often driving that
is science, and I absolutely believe
that’s right, that science needs
to march forward, and, you know, if we were to keep repeating
the experiments of Pythagoras, we’d be lost, so I don’t believe
in repetition in the scientific
or technological area, but there is a real distinction
between that area and what you could more broadly
call the humanistic area. This crops up in… You know, not to
knock the universities, but let’s have
one more knock. You know, the way in which
the universities are arranged is you get scientists
in universities who are trying
to advance knowledge and they’re trying to push ahead
and do new things all the time, and they have
fantastic discoveries, they’re inventing retinas
and growing toenails, etc, and doing wonderful things. And then there are the guys
in the humanities departments, and they think, “We’d better
pretend to be like scientists, “so we’re going to invent a new
discovery, and we’re gonna… “..a new interpretation
of Wordsworth “and a new interpretation
of a letter in Keats “or,” you know, “the way
that Proust used the alphabet “or the way that Joyce
used the full stop,” you know,
“a new, a vital discovery “in the world
of the humanities,” you know. This is the way that
the modern university works. And I think most people who’ve
looked at that close-up think, “Well, that’s
actually nonsense,” because in this area,
unlike in science, repetition is possible because
our psyches, as we all know, don’t show dramatic evolution
minute by minute. The truths that we need
to feed our souls are relatively stable ones. We keep coming back
to some of the same themes. And if you look, indeed,
at the history of literature, they circle –
things are already circling. The great artists are circling.
We’re all circling. And that’s OK. So I would
make that distinction. MAN: Is Facebook
part of the problem, or is it part of
the potential solution? Is Facebook
part of the problem, or is it part of
the potential solution? Well, I don’t think it’s,
in itself, part of the solution, because it’s
a typical modern instrument in grouping people together
by what they like, by their personality,
and as I tried to point out, what’s interesting
about religion as a community is that it’s literally
a group of strangers who might not
like each other very much. In all religions, there’s an idea of hospitality
to the stranger, literally – someone you think, “Ooh! I don’t
want to sit with that person. “They look horrid!” Nevertheless, you’re supposed
to sit down with them, and even though
they’re a bit smelly, maybe, or they speak a foreign language
or they just look a bit odd, the point is
that you undergo a journey to see the humanity
in that person, and I don’t think
Facebook’s there. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) I’m very glad we did get
to the Facebook question, but to conclude,
one of the wonderful questions that came in via email was, “Where do you
draw the line? “What are
the aspects of religion “that we should
steer clear of?” Well, look… I think, you know,
there are some obvious things – cruel abuses and violence
and all the things that… know, that we know about,
and that, you know, the Inquisition and
the Crusades, blah, blah, blah. But I think, more interestingly,
I, as an atheist, there are moments when I have to
draw the line with friends who believe or
who are spiritual in some way, and often it goes
like this. People will say
things like, you know… We’re standing outside.
It’s a beautiful night. Looking at the stars. And I say,
“Gosh, it’s amazing,” you know, “One feels so small
under this giant cosmos,” and they’ll go, “Yeah,”
you know, “absolutely, we do.” And then they’ll say,
“Just…it makes you think “that there’s
something there.” And at that point, I go,
“No. Not really. Not really.” And I think that’s
the moment of difference. So… But by that time, one’s… There’s a lot of friendship
to be had up to that point. -You’ve enjoyed the moon.
-We can enjoy the moon together. Anyway. Thank you. -(APPLAUSE)
-Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


100 Responses

  1. Weltschmerz

    May 9, 2015 3:14 am

    I have a lot against religion but not against religious people. When I something against religious people, it is usually for some other reason but maybe connected to their. In fact, I do not hate them but I pity them. For they are the victims of those near to an incurable disease which is called religion.

  2. Weltschmerz

    May 9, 2015 3:18 am

    Morality comes from human nature and experience. Not from faith. In fact if you need faith to uphold morality I am very disappointed as you have developed it through nature and nurture.

  3. Weltschmerz

    May 9, 2015 3:31 am

    Not as beautiful as you think. First, I want to asset this: We are all born atheists, until someone starts telling us lies. What I am trying to say us: Children, especially younger ones, should not be labelled under a religion. If that is so, I could also say I am a ultra conservative reactionary (I am not), and I have two children (I do not) and you could them too as ultra conservative reactionaries. Is that fair or logical? No. Newborns are all implicitly atheist, but once you lie to them (probably he also was lied to, so does not even know how tell between truth and false), things start changing. For older children, they could be more explicit in their religion or atheism. Religion does not flow through blood like your DNA. Also, there is little religious freedom in most parts of the world, especially for atheists (freedom from religion) and also people whose beliefs are different from the majority (freedom of religion). From the Bible Belt to the Middle East, religious freedom is unknown. So religion is not a buffet that you can just pick and choose. It is only a luxury enjoyed by some.

  4. Weltschmerz

    May 9, 2015 3:34 am

    I am very much against religious indoctrination in education. This is purely mental abuse

  5. Sam Lee

    May 23, 2015 9:08 am

    he's so consistently coherent and articulate that 49:42 freaked me out!

     like watching a concert pianist suddenly fumble the notes

  6. onemadhungrynomad

    July 2, 2015 10:06 pm

    what about those of us who do not forget? we exist… yet society repeats everything incessantly like no one remembers what they just said.

  7. Luke Riley

    July 9, 2015 5:51 am

    Correct, religions are cultural products. But unlike the Beatles, religions necessarily require a congregation for fellowship to actually experience their fruits. This has been my largest struggle with losing my religion.

  8. Connie Bach

    July 24, 2015 4:14 am

    Finally, someone puts religion in a neutral gear!  Alain de Botton is genius in all aspect!

  9. Baba aka. KleineFichtl

    August 22, 2015 12:12 pm

    This will just make Christians even more full of themselves than they already are. They  think that everyone else really envies them. I want none of it.

  10. Devon Kildare

    September 28, 2015 6:57 am

    His Facebook quip at 1:06:49 is a curt bullseye. I quit more than a year ago & couldn't care less for it's popularity segregating & algorithmic meme recycling.

  11. raffa ojeda

    October 6, 2015 7:47 am

    Trying to look for a balance amongst various tasks as integral human being is interesting, an ideal that we must strive for. We should also ask ourselves if we want changes in the long term or in the short term as humanity. The big gravitational atractions are mainly, bad people in the power and in those poeple that are being brought to seek power in order to screw up the natural resources quickly,no matter if the claim to be religious , secular, anarquist, god , godess etc. I would tend to think that checking up our emotions are big key to heal the world. The rest would come naturally; community, brotherhood, fairness, time to share, become less fearfull, to be paecemakers, to care for each of us etc.

  12. Geoff Babirecki

    January 16, 2016 1:27 am

    I'm sorry that this takes so long, but you'll get the idea after about half-an-hour, and you'll be a lot happier for it. Good Luck, and enjoy!

  13. Josh Sancho

    January 25, 2016 2:52 pm

    45:00 – 50:00 Any takers for creating a community support and gardening network posing as a formidable albeit all-inclusive albeit 'fake' religious Ponzi scheme? Any takers?

    Potential profit here of the Hypothetical Hypocritical Church of Irony calling on any takers to get baked, live lives as the 'Holy' 'Prophetic' Philosophers did and preach to the world of the fulfilment and joy that comes from fearing/worshipping Irony.

    Yes, my plebs, for it is Irony that is the answer to it all. All of the Gods, all of the Spirits, all of the occult, 'unnatural' and 'super natural', hell, even The Force, they are all guiding forces to that one essence. It is all Irony. Could it mean that they are all real in one way or another? Could it mean that becoming a Jedi Knight means applying something similar to Arthur Dent's flying technique? Could this radical idea glue all of the world's belief systems together and heal all of the world's problems? Could humanity join together in laughter as collectively we finally 'get' the biggest, most obvious, yet insultingly illusive joke there ever was?

    Well I guess we're going to need some takers if we're going to want to find out. I'm not going to show you how to walk on water like a God-damn son of Christ, you're just going to have to figure it out for yourselves! [It's actually shockingly simple]

    I'f we could get a whip around and invite Ricky Gervais (Philosophy undergrad and deadpan 'guru'), Alain de Botton (quite clearly the Godfather and the 'prophet') and Jamie Oliver (currently oblivious 'disciple' of Botton and Food 'Mage') to start things off. It worked for Scientology. At least Big Questions on the Beeb would make for some pretty interesting viewing; if it's labelled an 'organised religion' then they'd have to give it some screen time, no matter what whacky ideas they have.

    Dark Matter = Irony.

  14. Ron Walker

    February 6, 2016 6:04 pm


  15. Supoflife

    March 21, 2016 8:05 am

    Buddhism is not a religion. Alain has made it clear he doesnt believe in God and equates buddhists to those religious practicioners who claim a belief in God. Indeed Buddhists do not claim believe in God (or a ruling deity controling their life) and instead believe that we are completely responsible for our journey of wisdom, compassion and realisation.

    If though we are to address the concept of God then hopefully the apparent intellectual will recognise God has many definitions. The greater definition is all encompassing, and the deeper interperetation is that God is All That Is, and each being is one with another, all is one. When then he says he doesnt believe in God he shows very little understanding of the immense potential of that which can be given then name God. Perhaps a proportionate few mostly living in western civilization have a limited definition of God. Indigenous peoples and people recognising extremly ancient wisdom define God as infinite, and that we are all God. SO when Alain says he doesnt believe in GOd, he is saying he doesnt believe in the wonder of his being or the wonder of the being of others. Of course listening to him it is clear he would not wish to be infering this, but until he looks a little deeper, this is what he is actually infering.

    The concept of God is quite wide … its always difficult to understand how someone who apparently is a well thought out intellectual doesnt address the fact that the definition of God is infinite. Indeed for those deep thinkers who claim a belief in God, God is that which is infinite love. I think anyone who truly claims to be on a journey of wisdom as Alain claims to be, would need to address the concept of infinity before proclaiming limitation the path of realisation.

  16. Con Gibbons

    April 3, 2016 4:32 pm

    Confused and confusing, simplistic , unoriginal and totally boring – not the slightest contribution to the discussion.

  17. Kersha Davies

    April 3, 2016 6:54 pm

    People are complex, not religion . This guy is a good example, I hope he does get
    better soon.

  18. jacob massengale

    August 21, 2016 10:32 pm

    Ideas aren't enough to take the place of Religion. you need something with the same force of authority and power. If we do not employ something with the empirical authority as the old church of Rome, we will be left defenseless to be exploited by corporations. but you already know that this authority won't work; people love their free too much, even though this is the source of his suffering. Empires will rise then fall until the last empire remains; that of pure capitalism. sure elections will be held to secure the people's belief that they can fight the corporations through Government, but elections will be rigged in the same way that the customer's choice is rigged; advertising through media exposure. Simply because advertising works, corporations won't tend to our spiritual needs as long as they can more cheaply produce something that people will buy instead. As religion continues to be undercut by academia and as people's physical needs are met, nihilism will begin to pervade. the last bastion of purpose the mass of humans will carve for themselves will be his family and friends; every man will cling to and fight for his own clan in competition with every other clan. As it turns out, this nativism is the perfect competitive atmosphere for the corporations as they pursue maximal efficiency. The last mojor Religion left will be Buddhism, just because it is so practical, therapeutic and in many ways, politically neutral. While the vast majority of people will remain lazily comfortable in their greed and misery, only a few strong monks will be able to extract themselves from the bonds of capitalism.

  19. Hippolyte Thelonious Hieronymus Tzu

    October 1, 2016 11:03 am

    WILLIAM BLAKE: "The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

    And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity; Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

    And at length they pronounc’d that the Gods had order’d such things
    Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

    Prophets in the modern sense of the word have never existed.
    Every honest man is a Prophet; he utters his opinion both of private & public matters."

  20. Matt Payne

    October 1, 2016 4:43 pm

    I just finished reading "The Mission of Art" by Alex Grey. This lecture reflects a lot of the ideas from that book. The idea that art has a spiritual place in society which transcends the specific ideas of specific religions. If you're looking for somebody who is like the art-equivalent of a preacher, Mr. Grey is a great choice! He's a visionary visual artist. You probably already know who he is, but if you don't, look him up!!

  21. Leslie Cunliffe

    December 27, 2016 9:01 am

    " Nobody gives their life for culture." Terry Eagleton

    This lecture is so… 19th c. It's an attempt to revise Nietszche's project of positive nihilism, a project that results, against all the best efforts, in what Kierkegaard prophetically understood as levelling, an erosion of the ethical and religious spheres because of an increasing, serial obsession with the aesthetic sphere (now fulfilled with the invention of the Internet). Kierkegaard thought nihilism would only undermine as opposed to create ethical and religious commitment. De Botton doesn't understand why his lecture is futile. He has a boy scout view of culture. De Botton should read Kierkegaard and Hubert Dreyfus' application of Kierkegaard's thinking to the Internet.

  22. sedeslav

    December 29, 2016 10:22 am

    “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need
    not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not
    the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If
    you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every
    Sun Tzu,

    The Art of War

  23. Leslie Cunliffe

    January 1, 2017 5:52 pm

    Alain, the W.I. got there first. This is because that institution was birthed by authentic religious practices, in this case as found in Christianity. Not so much an 'as if' approach as you advocate in this lecture, but an 'as I do' form of commitment, which is a calling rather than an exercise in surfing the good life. Few modern people are capable of being motivated with deep commitment by the 'as if' narrative you offer in this lecture, which is more an exercise in levelling down than levelling up. "Nothing comes from nothing", but something might come from something. Only something creates the conditions for genuine commitment.

  24. Sara Emily A.

    February 5, 2017 10:50 am

    I think his messages are very strong and need to be brought all over the world. Thank you for all you have done. your ideas changed a lot of things in my mind and this is rare. thank you thank you. italian subtitles are needed and advertising for the school of life

  25. Brian Reed

    February 7, 2017 1:53 am

    I heard someone say once, that islam is thirving and its because they dont accept other cutlural thinking.
    Christianity has survived the opposite way, by embracing other cultures as much as it can, and evolving with the cutlures.

    This makes me think about my own life, and how i can do someting, both ways, to fix my social life.
    I mean i dont tolerate stalkers, but that doestn mean i dont have to not toldreate some of their friends who are mine who i like.

    chistanitity moved around, and comprimised with the local relgions to get the locals to take up two relgions, not just one. so chritianity ended up with alot of pagan indigous rituals, from vikings to veitnemse people. (depending on your area)

    this is a philosphy to live that works.i would be interested to know which culturue island or chistiatity last the longest. but animals that adapt survive, so my guess is christiantity.

    i jsut fin this intersting because i watch how otherindivuals run their lives. some people end up with really large social lives with quite a few dangersou people in it. some people end up with small but good quality socia lives.

  26. Chris Fowell

    February 20, 2017 3:19 am

    it just comes to a point where it really doesn't matter if there is a god or not it not going change thing any way; where here and it's not going away

  27. Payhole Everdouche

    April 10, 2017 2:17 am

    I believe in good, wholesome, homemade pies. Apple, Blueberry, Cherry, Peach, Gooseberry, and last but not least the pungent Dingleberry…!!! 💩💩💩

  28. Sophie Boursat

    June 17, 2017 3:38 pm

    I am astonished that the evolution of rights/ Justice in the frame of state is not evoked… The civil society has build up major frames through Law… It is atheist but the closest from organized religions

  29. Hacker M F Psofa

    August 2, 2017 1:21 pm

    Mirror image parallel of Alain De Botton's sense of the subject matter, is the current out of touch British societal strabismus. While Mr. Botton wants to appear self reliant, autonomous and individually wholesome atheist, at the same time using numerous anecdotal excuses exalts religion.

    For anyone interested in the practical aspect of religion to life's purpose, should examine the four canonical gospels and nothing else. In religious terms, only the Four canonical gospels contain the complete process on how and why man's innate life purpose is divine love realization, here and now. Clearly the essence of self transfiguration is other than that presented by catholic preachers and others, as self hate and mindless subordination to the priesthood's personal needs.

  30. Jennifer H.

    August 3, 2017 4:19 am

    I'm going to have to view this whole video. Just under 3 years ago maybe only 2, Huffington Post or Cnn published an article about a church for people who don't necessarily prescribe to one religion, it also mentioned how their various meetings in different states in the US and perhaps also elsewhere (they meet weekly or a few times every month). I don't recall the name of this group, but if anyone does, please share. It is not a traditional religion such as Episcopalian church etc

  31. Matrinique

    September 14, 2017 5:44 am

    I always thought we need two things in schools right now to keep them relevant: religion studies and media analysis classes.

  32. Matrinique

    September 14, 2017 5:58 am

    Last comment, just cuz I feel so inspired. I think he figured a lot of basic things out and I'm glad that they're being expressed through someone like him in his way.

  33. Conhan D.

    December 2, 2017 8:01 pm

    1:40 Agnostics are in the believers camp, not in the atheists one. (Let's not get this one wrong to start with!)

  34. Gillian Lam

    January 14, 2018 12:19 pm

    Thank you very much for this insight. I think the atheist organisations which Mr De Botton is envisaging will not work the way religions work. Corporations are looking for money/ self interest, that is the impetus for the organisation. Believers, however, organise themselves because of altruism/ agape love, something which is strengthened by their faith in an almighty being who looks after them. Unless the atheist organisation can draw the same impetus that faith can bring about, it would be very hard to see these organisations will work as well as traditional religions could.
    (I am a Christian).

  35. Tarek Baidane

    July 6, 2018 12:01 pm

    Christmas carols, the music of Bach, the zen Buddhist temples ….isn't that Dawkins ?

  36. Wassily Kandinsky

    July 15, 2018 8:30 am

    Nice try Alain, but… Religions do not like to be questioned and that's making them questionable.

  37. Bengun67

    July 15, 2018 7:14 pm

    " Soylent Green is people " / We usually have zero environmental pragmatism,
    but some of us clinch to metaphysics with blind extremism. I wonder when the minecraft generation / culture takes over this raindance non-sense .

  38. Edward Russell

    September 10, 2018 10:13 pm

    Humans dont have inner guidance and then there is the questiin of death. What about human accountability? This whole universe and life including human is not meaningless … it has a purpose. God exists in His own right.. its just that we need correct concept. Read the book What is Islam by Parwez to find out…

  39. Chris

    September 15, 2018 4:58 pm

    repetition is not learning or understanding. borrowing paraphrased bits out of broken belief systems is not the best move

  40. TNGA

    October 10, 2018 12:54 am

    That was a wonderful talk! Really enjoyed it, learned so much. He's an amazing public speaker and does such a great job of conveying his thoughts.

  41. Michael Boylan

    October 14, 2018 2:14 pm

    The intro says,,,the worlds most popular philosopher,Well,,the worlds most popular archaeological writer was Von Daniken,,,who claimed the pyramids were built by Martians, De Botton and Von Daniken have equal stature

  42. Jean-Claude Chevalme

    December 24, 2018 7:28 am

    Just a simple acknowledgement that “there is no God” lacks meaning in explaining “why life.” As a former atheist/existentialist I can certainly understand how he feels. The fact that Alain is looking in religions to find meaningful values, further validates the depth of the poverty of atheistic philosophy. All counterfeit currencies contain truth but they are not the real thing.
    Clue: when I was a kid, I did not like love because I thought love was selfish; I thought “how could someone love one person more than another.”
    I love a lot of things you say, but you still have a lot to learn Alain – THE most important things.
    Keep on keeping your resolve to stay away from God; eventually He will put you face to face with who you really are and you will recognize your need for Him.

  43. Alexander Coates

    December 26, 2018 8:18 pm

    Dear Alain, I attended Harvard and must inform you that you completely misrepresent what education there stands for. It is quite possible that some students seek the tools and furtherance to become super wealthy but the university educated us to be great thinkers and self-reflective. We had core courses (10) which every student was required to cover, with choices, and some areas we would cover through our concentration (major or even minor). I graduated three decades ago, but I can gladly attest to this fact that this is exactly what made Harvard University great. Most of my time there I was shamed by my fellow students and the faculty for my interest in medicine. Same shaming happened towards those who hoped later to study law or business. Number 2) you mention the Romantics, but I must point out that their idea is merely derivative of Medieval theories of love, which I would recommend you study, too. They chose the Middle Ages as their ideal period in history–a time when marriage very much was political. Number 3) you attribute what the Stoa preached to Proust, but it was the Stoa: to live each day as though it may be your very last day. Thanks to the core courses mentioned above, many of us students at Harvard who were not interested in theories about love or medieval history or literature, learned these very things! Apologies, I was watching your videos about love just before this one so these comments were accumulating and have burst out in this one comment beneath your lecture on Religion. Back to religion: Number 4) what about religions such as those of the Quakers or Spiritualists? Their services don't fall within the generalizations you make in this lecture…or perhaps they represent religions that do not contain elements to be picked and mixed, because they are so focused on the metaphysical. Number 5) Religious art was not just propaganda, but actually a tool for healing: Gruenewald's altar piece in Kolmar–the suffering, dying believer would behold this art and would experience healing. To accept this notion today one would need to be either a Jungian, or a more esoteric kind of healer such as those who find that certain symbols have healing powers–something an atheist perhaps would not be able to digest although some/most? Jungians are atheist/agnostics. Thanks so much, I enjoy your lectures very much.

  44. Alexander Coates

    December 26, 2018 8:35 pm

    Pick and Mix analysis of religion started happening at that very time you mention at the beginning of your lecture: middle of the 19th century with Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James and leads to Ernest Holmes who gives us what the study of all religion boils down to, and today that is embodied in Louise Hay who was a student of Holmes's student Dr. Raymond Charles Barker. There is a real intellectual lineage there one can study, and today we have this New Thought movement which at the moment, well, these last few years, has managed to arrive back at Spiritualism! But I realise this is the very essence that your audience cannot grasp. There are a couple of universities here in the UK which are performing proper scientific experiments to study what happens physiologically with spiritualist healing. It looks like at some stage in the not too distant future we will merge the atheist materialists who need science to prove religion with those who did not need that proof. Amusingly, I would like to refer you to Harvard University, where there is/was? a huge endowment dating back to William James, which is dedicated to the scientific study of Intuition and the metaphysical. While a student, I enjoyed participating in curious experiments on intuition along with the functions of the hemispheres.

  45. Ed Lucas

    April 3, 2019 2:01 am

    St. Paul's metaphor of the Body of Christ is brilliant because it finds a place for all to excel at their particular strength and be valued, and to still be in community and to serve larger purposes.

    As for original sin, that's not particularly biblical despite the raw materials found there. Besides that, if you're interested at Jesus in the least, then you'd know he never held such a view of humanity, and extended that freedom to all who follow. The body is okay. Being a misfit is okay. Eating and drinking is okay. Being human is okay. He paved the way for us to be comfortable in our skins, and reminded people to go easy on one another because we're all made of the same messy stuff. What later writers and commentators made of it totally ruined all that brilliant and useful insight. We'd be far better adjusted to just get into the Gospels and understand what they have to say about the man, rather than the unfortunate layers that came after him. Except for Paul, who is our stand-in for how to have a true inner transformation from our cultural worldview and its blind spots, into a fuller human, able to build others up.

  46. JG Alegria

    April 11, 2019 2:49 am

    ? NO, not true. I've been immersed in culture as an art student at a university art school and as a friend and supporter of the music society and so on. The "art world" of the west is an elitist and exclusionary entity or idea that artists strive to be inducted into and gain recognition. It is a flawed idea. More flawed than religion even. I have also been immersed in fundamentalist christian religion, up until my early 20s. That was almost 30 years ago. Art has never given me the same profound sense of purpose, security and belonging that religion did (when I believed).

  47. DanteDarcangelo

    April 14, 2019 3:36 pm

    54:47 – It's so sad that 6 years later, there's no way that you could come to that assumption. Kindness is dying. Selfishness is taking over, and, ironically, it's being done largely by Evangelical Christians, as well as just your average sociopath and psychopath.

  48. Stanislas Meyerhoff

    April 26, 2019 4:40 pm

    Define God. The Christian Bible says… "God is life", "God is love," "God is light." It never says God is a bearded man in the sky. Life, love, light; I can get behind that. My understanding of Hindu belief that most everything has or is a god reflects my own thinking on God. I like defining it as everything: the creation as well as the happening, the event as well as the object. You and I are a part of it, too. It's all sacred, even the horror, the beauty… Sacredness need not be ignored or poo-pooed by a purely rationalist standpoint. Worshipping the beauty and perfection of reality, honoring divinity in existence, together, ritually, can bring us quite a lot. Good luck to us all.

  49. John Zyp

    May 6, 2019 4:05 am

    I don’t believe god doesn’t exist. I just don’t think it’s possible that there is a god. Atheists just don’t believe because there is no proof to make us believe there is something supernatural out there.

  50. Name Deplume

    May 8, 2019 1:22 pm

    Religions lie before us as they lie to us. We are not talking religion for Atheists; we are talking about philosophy for Atheists. There is a great difference.

  51. alchemistking dickinson

    May 17, 2019 9:37 pm


  52. alchemistking dickinson

    May 17, 2019 9:37 pm


  53. Kathryn Hurn

    June 24, 2019 1:28 am

    The Catholic Church $97 BILLION!!! And are they ending world hunger, homelessness, helping the half of all Americans who are impoverished? No. For $20 billion, we could end world hunger, for $30 million we could end homelessness, makes you wonder what the hell is being done with that money, except to line the coffers of the church.

  54. Richard Raymond

    July 1, 2019 7:26 pm

    Wonder if Alain De Botton believes in Satan/Lucifer? Absolute evil?
    Would like to see him have a discussion with Dr. E. Michael Jones.

  55. Thomas Lorenz

    July 6, 2019 7:01 am

    Very wise words at the end:

    "Even if you don't believe in anything, it really seems vital to learn enough about religion.

    You know, if you're in the world of community-building, look at how religions build community.

    If you're in the art world, look at how religions do art.

    If you're an educator, look at how religions educate.

    Religions are far too complex, wise, rich, nuanced to be abandoned simply to those who actually happen to believe in them."

  56. brian nguyen

    July 20, 2019 2:04 pm

    I know i'm late on the party of comment of this video. But as an accountant and properly will be my career for life, I left a little defense here. Let be a little frank about my belief, "money is not the begin or the end of anything, but it is will definitely get you going." There will always be a vulture financier who look at thing and seem something like art is not important because it won't be generate money. However, that person is dead wrong, money can be generate with anything if you put yourself into it. In other words, you won't be poor even if you an artist; at last you won't be rich either, but don't that also be good enough.

    For example, as an artist you feel like art won't be generate enough income for you to have a house or respect of others. However, have you try enough, did you even think of moving to another city of to find job? have you try to improve yourself everyday toward something relevant? have you reach out to others for connection? have you put yourself out there to be criticize and improve? there are many thing that one could do to generate money. One should look not to be richer, i.e. cash, salary or bonus, but by the measure what can be done to achieve what we desire.

    Although, at the risk of this getting long, and I don't believe anyone would read this. I want to defense for money. Just let all be honest with ourselves, we all love money, and not because we greedy but because we all painfully aware of its importance. Ignore the part of ourselves that scream "duh, of course we do," it a dis-service to ourselves and to anyone who depend on our hard earn dollar. I'm glad that I'm an accountant because it enable to have the chance to take care of very basic need that enable to become who I am. The chance to rest at night, the chance to listen to great ideals from great people, and in the future the chance of reach out of those who may in need. I'm 27 by the way.

  57. Abe Heuer

    August 2, 2019 10:02 pm

    Thank you . . . thought provoking and very relevant perspective on so may levels that one should not ignore but take cognizance of.

  58. samdon815

    August 5, 2019 10:21 pm

    Well, Atheists do have their dogma, their saints, holy books, their secular faith and there is even a "church of Atheism. Why not a Religion?

  59. JanusAtTheGate

    August 30, 2019 10:06 pm

    Religions have always stolen from each other. There is nothing new under the sun, no matter what jesus people want to believe.

  60. JanusAtTheGate

    August 30, 2019 10:10 pm

    Religion takes your responsibility and agency and makes you use someone else's. You become static in the good positive things.


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