What can atheists learn from religion?

What aspects of religion should atheists (respectfully) adopt? Alain de Botton suggests a “religion for atheists” – call it Atheism 2.0 – that incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.

He summarizes his view:

The starting point of religion is that we are children, and we need guidance. The secular world often gets offended by this. It assumes that all adults are mature – and therefore, it hates didacticism, it hates the idea of moral instruction. But of course we are children, big children who need guidance and reminders of how to live. And yet the modern education system denies this. It treats us all as far too rational, reasonable, in control. We are far more desperate than secular modernity recognises. All of us are on the edge of panic and terror pretty much all the time – and religions recognise this. We need to build a similar awareness into secular structures.

Religions are fascinating because they are giant machines for making ideas vivid and real in people’s lives: ideas about goodness, about death, family, community etc. Nowadays, we tend to believe that the people who make ideas vivid are artists and cultural figures, but this is such a small, individual response to a massive set of problems. So I am deeply interested in the way that religions are in the end institutions, giant machines, organisations, directed to managing our inner life. There is nothing like this in the secular world, and this seems a huge pity.

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