Atheism 2.0 by Alain de Botton (deconstruction)


Looking at the title, you probably thought that this is a sequel of (often) controversial religion versus atheism debates. But when you watch the video thoroughly, you understand that it is much more different and worth discussion. In this Ted talk philosopher Alain de Botton suggests his upgraded version of atheistic philosophy: atheism 2.0. According to him, atheism 2.0 stands from ‘stealing’ useful elements from religions and at the same time being consistent to atheistic principles. He claims that atheism should go to the next steps and this philosophy should directly begin from “of course there is no God” phrase rather than debating existence of God. He gives examples of six aspects that ‘secular world’ could learn from religions: education, time arrangement, oratory, physical sermons, art and institutionalisation. While some of his examples are individual matters such as experiencing ‘spiritual moments without belief’, others aspects might carry social implications.
He suggests that modern education institutions should not be limited with teaching ‘information’ or ‘data’, but they also should help people with ‘morality, guidance and consolation’, like churches and mosques do. Also, he argues that universities should return from lectures (he defines it as ‘secular mode of delivery’ that gives ‘a bit of information) to sermon traditions (religious mode) where one can teach how to live. At the first glance, this very attractive opinion seems very objective and beneficial. However, how proper would it be if a public university is preaching morality or the way of living that one or some professors decided to be right? I think such so called ‘secular sermons’ would create a tremendous ‘opportunities’ for brainwashers to imbue any dogmatic ideology to their students. Time arrangement, oratory, physical sermons and art are indeed aspects that most religions embraced in a more natural way and this might be a lesson for modern secular world. Of course, one looking from religious perspective could argue its realization because de Botton excludes believing in the doctrine while religions usually develop them for worshiping purposes. Once it has relatively less social impacts when it is not used to promote dogmatic minds, here, de Boton’s version is undeniably personal choice to practice it or not.
In my opinion, word choice of the speaker in the video reflects his biased opinion. In the beginning of his talk, he prefers the word ‘stealing from religion’  for the benefits of secular world rather than saying ‘learning from religion’ or ‘religion could contribute’ to the whole society. He uncarefully uses the phrase ‘secular world’ without any explanation. Though the word secular obviously means being independent from religion or from any other supernatural beliefs, it does not necessarily mean ‘no religion’ or ‘only atheistic views’. Rather, in my opinion, the secularism and /or ‘secular world’ is usually understood as having multiple religions and non-religions without their influence on political powers. So, he views ‘modern secular world’ as a property of only secular people. Similar proposition is given in the his example of how people ‘replaced religion by culture’. Though he explains it as his personal conclusion from historical facts, he probably would not be able to prove it because religion (and atheism as well) is a part of culture rather than a different concept.
Despite my critical analyzes above, I agree to his central message of pluralism and open-mindness. The speaker’s bias shows how his focus is intended to only one audience. More in-depth explanation of how he views the idea in practice, more objective word choice and focusing on the benefits of the whole society rather than one group would make the message much stronger and fruitful.

4 thoughts on “Atheism 2.0 by Alain de Botton (deconstruction)

  1. Religion is undoubtedly one of those “touchy” topics.
    There a lot of points I’d discuss, but one thing that boggled me was how this guy acted extremely oblivious to how much we are instilled to act “religiously”.
    In this situation, the Kazakh saying “Ауру қалса да әдет қалмайды” (Similar to “You can take the boy from the village but you can not take the village out of the boy”) fits like a glove. Unconsciously I occasionally blurt out something like “God willing” or raise my hand as if saying “Aumin” after I am done eating. All of this does not mean I am religious (I identify myself as agnostic) but rather indicates the extent to which Islam is in my head and the way I am.
    In short, it is not fair to judge atheists/agnostics, or anyone for that matter, when they adopt a certain characteristic of religious people. Not only does this speaker offend the feelings of non-religious people, but also doesn’t consider both sides of the story.


  2. Thanks for your critical deconstruction, Azim. Although I understood your argument quite well, I have to challenge you a bit on one point: You wrote, “I think such so called ‘secular sermons’ would create a tremendous ‘opportunities’ for brainwashers to imbue any dogmatic ideology to their students.” Can you elaborate on what constitutes a secular sermon. Our recent spring celebration with your course professors was full of advice about how to live, how to pursue happiness and the “ideology” of inquisitiveness and active engagement in academic inquiry. To me, this is a form of “brainwashing” (if you like that term) or simply “socialization”, where the values of the community are established, negotiated and developed among its members. You may need to differentiate or clarify your points there.

    As for your summary and analysis, I found it informative and insightful. There were just a few unclear/inaccurate phrases that distracted from your main ideas:

    Of course, one looking from religious perspective could argue its realization because de Botton excludes believing in the doctrine and religions develop them for worshiping purposes. (unclear subject verb construction due to wordiness? Can you simplify and revise a bit more plainly?)
    Despite my critical analyze above, I agree to his central message of pluralism and open-mildness. (open-mindedness?)


  3. Thank you, author, for your thorough analysis of such an original Ted Talk presentation. As such flaws of presentation as inaccurate vocabulary and neglect of evidences on religion’s conceptualization within a culture or beyond, were already mentioned by commentators, let me highlight presenter’s points that resonate with my views and beliefs on such topic. His suggestion on adoption of preaching as means of teaching and moral education (so-called “secular sermon”) closely similar to my views on religious practices, because I am used to find some postulates from any religion quite helpful for daily life and moral and emotional stability, despite I am skeptical of religions. Openness to cultural/religious/national diversity, promotion of pluralistic views on education as a central message of the analyzed talk, notions that are likely be supported by many people regardless of religious confession.


    1. *makes de Botton’s speech encouraging (missed it in the last sentence).

      P.S. Many apologies for my mistakes in the last sentence structure.


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