That’s the question Alain de Botton tries to answer in his latest book, ‘Religion for Atheists’.
Chapter One starts by dismissing God (‘Let us state that of course no religions are true in any God-given sense’). What’s left, argues de Botton, are useful and practical guidelines for living.
Guidelines like these:
– erecting ‘temples’ to secular aspirations, e.g; perspective, (the aim being to make us feel small and thus put our problems into proper view)
– reviving a sense of community, e.g; by setting up ‘Agape’ or ‘Love’ restaurants. In these, families and couples would be seated with strangers so that they are forced to interact with others. Tables are given topics for discussion and time limits – for example, ‘what do you fear?’ or ‘whom could you not forgive?’
– rules and surveillance, with rewards or punishments for infringing moral codes
– the abolition of subjects such as literature or history, in favour of those which would nurture the soul, e.g; flower-arranging, calligraphy and tea-drinking. Paintings in public spaces would also be grouped, not by artist or period, but according to which soul faculty they would feed.
It’s interesting stuff, but he seems to have missed the point. Without Christ, we don’t just have less stuff or more bad days. We are utterly, irredeemably lost – cut off from God and from life itself. All the temples in the world can’t fix our condition and all the discussions in the world can’t resolve our sin. As one reviewer comments, ‘Christianity does not offer consolation, it offers salvation’.