Religious Atheism?

Posted by Chris Pappalardo on January 6, 2013
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This guest post comes to you courtesy of Chris Pappalardo, The Summit’s Pastoral Research Assistant.

I listened to this Ted Talk recently from atheist Alain de Botton entitled “Atheism 2.0.” It’s a fascinating little piece, as de Botton argues (convincingly) that current secular atheism leaves people feeling empty. This is not terribly surprising for Christians, but is striking coming from a professed atheist.

What’s more, even though de Botton finds belief in God absurd, he recognizes that there are a lot of benefits to religion that secular atheism simply fails to deliver. People seem to require community, morality, and connection with something transcendent. And despite his objection to the underlying doctrines of Christianity, de Botton sees that Christianity provides these in ways that atheism has not.

De Botton incisively describes the existential problem of atheism: something within us inherently revolts against the idea that we are just a mass of cells, drifting from a random birth to a meaningless death. So he tries to co-opt the meaningful aspects of religion while ditching the foundational beliefs. He would like to see us pursue community, morality, and transcendence even though there is no basis at all to any of them. He wants the fruit of Christianity, but he is also busily hacking away at its roots.

This is, ultimately, a futile quest. I do not see how you can tell people that their existence is essentially identical to that of an animal, and then expect them not to live like animals. But judge for yourself: does he make a compelling case for “Atheism 2.0?”

Chris Pappalardo

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Chris Pappalardo is a follower of Christ, a pastoral associate at The Summit Church, and a Ph.D. student. He has the joy of being married to the love of his life, Jenn, and being the father of the eminently adorable Charlotte.

7 responses to Religious Atheism?

  1. I have been increasingly convinced that atheism is becoming its own religion….actually becoming the very thing that atheists have railed against through the years. More and more they seem to be dogmatic, argumentative and a focus on gaining “converts” while belittling the beliefs of others.

  2. I recently heard Ravi Zacharias speak with great intelectual enthusiasm agreeing with the folly of aethiesm He concurs that without the foundational convictions of christianity we(as humans) have no reason to behave morally towards anyone Billy

  3. Wow… really??? Talk about having your cake and eat it too! Wanting all the blessings and gifts with no work… taking and no giving of your heart! That’s a real problem and very scary for the hearts and minds of those who truly believe this way of thinking.

  4. Until you can think of the word religion without automatically thinking about the one you practice, you’re going to have some misinformed opinions about atheism.

    Consider this, America is the MOST christian nation, at least by nature of people who profess to follow the bible, but our nation is not the best nation. seems the bible has failed us

  5. I think Botton wants the fruits of Christianity (and all religions) and he is busy hacking away at it’s roots. But is that really all that bad? No matter how you look at it, God is unnecessary for Christianity…. or any religion. For instance, take some religion in the world you don’t belong to. There’s just one God. If you’re correct, they must be wrong. They obviously managed to create a religion without God, with all it’s rituals and moral values and spiritual guidance. It’s obviously possible to do without God. So why not just do it? I think Botton makes a good job in the book. If it’s possible, why not have the cake and eat it. I like cake.

    And then there’s the issue of belief. If the morals and spiritual guidance is the important thing for religious followers, why not focus on that and leave God out of it? Why not let belief in God be a private matter? Why not have agnostic religions who let it’s followers believe whatever it is they want instead of trying to force whatever ineffable abstract concept of God you have down our throats. Isn’t our own personal contact with God that matters? Isn’t the atheists vs believers just an unnecessary conflict? The moral values taught will be the pretty much the same. On morals all of the worlds religions are basically the same anyway, including the secular world. The bits where they differ are tiny details, like if boys are allowed to kiss for instance.

    I think Botton is on to something and I’m very interested to see how it’ll develop. I’m personally sick of the constant conflict between atheists and believers. Why can’t we all just get along?

  6. Tom,

    “Why can’t we all just get along?” That’s the question, isn’t it? The problem is, once you acknowledge that there is no ultimate source of truth or goodness, you lose all impetus for morality. Sure, all sorts of atheists and agnostics live very upright lives. But when pressed, they don’t have compelling reasons to do so. Nature shows us what life is like without God–it’s the survival of the fittest, the strong taking advantage of the weak. Remove God and you remove the only authority that makes the word “should” make sense.

    I’m as opposed to “forced” religion as you are. And anybody worth their salt should be opposed to the slander that flies back and forth in the name of religion. But beliefs have consequences, and can never be merely “private.” If I believe that all people are created equal, then that leads me to treat others one way. If I believe that people are just a random jumble of chemicals, then I will treat them quite another.

  7. Obviously we don’t need more compelling reasons than ethics. You and I agree (and the rest of society) on what we think is wrong, and we use social and legislative instruments to put it into effect? I don’t want my stuff stolen, so I think stealing is wrong? I don’t want to be murdered, so I think murder is wrong? And so on. This is de facto how it works everywhere and has since the dawn of time. Humans seem pretty good at sorting this stuff out by themselves.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use the Bible for moral guidance. The Bible is great. The greatest moral guide. I live in Sweden. Over 70% of Swedes register as atheists according to the latest official numbers. Sweden is a very safe, low crime country. Women can walk alone out at night safely in the street in our inner cities. We rank at the top on lowest prevalence of corruption. If your theory was true, shouldn’t Sweden be an anarchist wasteland?

    I’m not arguing against Christianity or the Bible. But if you want your arguments to gain any traction among people who are well travelled, I suggest softening your rhetoric. The world without the Bible seems to get along pretty fine. Claiming the world without the Bible will turn immoral or into a survival of the fittest scenario is obviously nonsense. And if you insist on using that kind of rhetoric I think you’re playing right into the hands of atheists and people like Alain de Botton. You’ll be undermining the faith that we both love. I live in Sweden. I don’t have the luxury of making claims on how a faithless society is like. This is it. And it’s not that bad.

    I think compassion and humility is the way to go or I’m afraid the Christian faith will die. That’s the trend I see around me where I live.

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