"Totally coup, yo."

5 Religious Rituals Atheists Can Do If They We Want To Be As Stupid As Alain de Botton




You know, I’m an odd guy. I mean odd beyond my sex acts with furries and constant need to chew my socks. I’m odd because I’m one of those assholes who think it’s kind of important if something is true or not, making me the total opposite of chrome-dome philosopher Alain De Botton.

“I hereby proclaim that all atheists must go on a hajj to Dan Dennett’s house to convince him to stop wearing sandals with socks!”

I didn’t think I was that odd until I saw de Botton’s TED lecture on Atheism 2.0. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, though watching Alain’s lecture, you might be forgiven for thinking it stood for Twit, Egregious, and Disgusting. For you see Alain has invented this weird kind of atheism that involves things that are the opposite of being an atheist. Like, temples, for example.

Anyway, Alain thinks that the most boring question you can ask is not “have you considered Rogaine?” but whether or not religion is true. Which to me, if you’re going around calling yourself a non-believer, seems to be very important. Maybe not as important as hating someone till you die, but it’s real close.

Of course, if an atheist points out to Alain “I am not Larry Fine“ de Botton on how important this question actually is he will label you the Godless version of Rick Santorum, Pat Robertson, the 9/11 hijackers, and Jackie Mason.

According to his article in The Huffington “A Vaccine Ate My Baby“ Post, he prefers to take a different tack than that descendant of slave owners, Richard Dawkins. De Botton wants to remain a committed atheist while at the same time embracing also sorts of things that churchie people are into. Personally, I thought people who swung that way called themselves Unitarian, but I guess not.

So what does he have in mind? In the Huffington piece, he listed five things.

The first was education. Which he says religion is supremely effective at. Though, I think he maybe confusing education with indoctrination. Since he’s awfully keen on the idea of “rehearsal, repetition, oratory and calendars.” Which is great when your holy book never changes and December 25th is always dead-Jew-guy-whose-death-made-everybody-not-Jewish’s birthday. But actual education allows for new ideas. Not a repeat of the old, dumb ones. By de Botton’s reckoning an “important truth” is always an important truth. But at one time, the “truth” said that is was okay for Richard Dawkins’s ancestors to own my ancestors. At some point, probably around the time the shooting started, that stopped being “truth.” If education is just about repeating shit, then the actual truth (as opposed to stupid things we believed at one time) would never emerge.

Next on Alain’s list of atheism-gone-godly is the mind and body. Allie says atheist should do stuff like the Buddhist’s do with their tea ceremonies, or the mikveh baths which is all the rage in Judaism. Apparently, the cue ball philosopher thinks secular types should integrate not believing in God with some type of physical actions. I don’t mind this, actually. However, my psychical action involves my middle finger but when I do that I’m accused of cursing the discourse. Look, if people want to throw back some Long Island Ice Teas, or bathe in whatever the hell mikveh is, that’s fine. Not sure what it’s got to do with being secular, though. Or not secular for that matter. See, the nice thing about atheism is you don’t have to get mikveh up your pee-hole to be one. Its only requirement is a lack of belief in Gods and maybe a support of the separation of church and state. Though, strange women like S.E. Cupp might object to that last point.

The next thing this member of one of the wealthiest families in Europe would like to see is more community among, we, the damned. Just like the Lord lovers. I don’t know anyone who would object to this. However, the main bond that exists among (and I’m speaking as an ex-Christian) Jesus freaks is the idea that everybody else is going to hell. There is a very strongly implied (and sometimes not-so-implied) punishment in religion that, as a community, we Godless Sodomites are never going to be able to compete with. The best we can hope for is that we all want to work toward reason, but what weapon could we employ if someone goes off the reservation? Deny him access to the next Sam Harris debate? Get real.

The Fourth item on Alain de Botton’s bid to be the Uncle Tom of Atheism is his hang up about art and museums. For some reason, De Botton really has a bug up the pooper about Christian art. Christian art is genius, he says. Christian art is saying vital things, he says. He seems not to notice that Christian art is this:

Pope Alain’s final communion wafer of bad ideas is the pilgrimage. He writes: “We want travel to change us, religions honour this wish.” I know people go to Mecca or pop over to Jerusalem now and then, but I’m not sure it’s fair to suggest that travel is especially the purview of the religious. Though, I can understand if you’re into it to get your luggage lifted. Beyond that, though, there is nothing especially divinely sanctioned in travel itself. Despite what all those rent boys might tell you.

Honestly, atheism might be dangerous, it might ruffle feathers, but what it isn’t is complicated. Leave the ritual shit to the faith-heads. There is no price of admission to this dance. You don’t believe in the supernatural? You’re in. What you do with the rest of your time is up to you, but if you want to spend it recreating something a lot of us were happy to abandon the first place, then please count me out.

Follow Joe Dixon on Twitter, or check out his Youtube channel if you want to see him get drunk and read the bible.


  • Kirk Noland

    Nice job Joe!

  • Mike C.

    Oh fuck, the weird PoMo radical relativism track, where everything other cultures believe/practice isn’t just beyond cross-cultural moral critique, but “true” in some unrecognizably mutilated sense of the word—that they won’t drop or rephrase no matter how wrong their use of the word is. There’s a total refusal to recognize a difference between “they believed it was true,” and “it wasn’t demonstrably bullshit—it actually fucking worked.”

    I probably wrote about this before, but I got into an exhausting debate about the topic with a friend’s roommate, while I was drunk at a Korean restaurant.

  • E. Scott Frogelman

    whenever one comes across that type of hands-off cultural relativity shit, just gently remind them about the abhorrent practice of female circumcision.

  • P

    Thank you Joe. And, thanks Mike C. Agreed.

  • Randy

    I agree with most of your points. I haven’t seen the TED lecture, but I think I get the idea.

    Still, I do think atheists would benefit from having a presence on city maps, and from having some handful of behaviours in common (something with spaghetti and teapots perhaps).

    While I think religion is harmful BS, I do think there are some positive things that happen in religious contexts that nonbelievers miss out on, because there isn’t an obvious incentive to do these things, despite that some people get a benefit from them. Atheists tend not to be joiners, so it’s often not possible to have similar experiences outside a religious context, because nobody shows up.

    It’s about providing like-minded people a sense of community without the magic spells, and also about promoting nonbelief to the religious.

    There are church-going nonbelievers. If they aren’t going for their beliefs, it’s for something else, and atheists should be providing that something else. In most municipalities, you’d never know we exist at all. That’s a big social and political barrier to any of the changes atheists would like to see.

  • Anthony

    What lame ideas. That dude can not play in my sandbox until he thinks up better games than pointless ritualistic repetition and pantomime.

  • Son of Tortoise Man

    That is one ugly fucking dude

  • Son of Tortoise Man

    I think he just wants to make people hang out with him

  • Alain “the Button” Hymowitz

    I will have you know that a man can have a cranium like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and still have a human heart, a heart that can love until it breaks, and hate until you die.

  • http://buffalobeast.com/?tag=caigoy-authors Mike C.

    @ 5. Randy

    I hear ya. When I was more involved with religious critique, there was always discussion of how atheists could parallel the organizational strengths of churches.

    Nonbelievers, and those too religiously disinterested to even articulate their beliefs, tend to be more moral than many of their fervently religious counterparts (at least according to polls, and crime stats), but aren’t driven by that feverish urge to impress an angry space monster, so he won’t torture them like a sadistic paternal figure—forever. They don’t, as an orchestrated group, acting in the name of atheism, to do the big, showy acts of charity (that too often come with a sermon).

    My view of religion is more complicated now. It helped reading Dennett. The memes have influenced history in good and bad ways, though that doesn’t save it from being unprovable bullshit—that’s also used to rationalize staggering acts of shortsightedness and inhumanity. Most religions are, ultimately, a way of learning to be comfortable with mortality—though many drift into actually yearning for it (reality itself fills this role for me).

    The trouble with atheism is it’s not very interesting. That’s why jackasses like Botton crawl up from the woodwork. It’s defined by what it’s not—a default position many people would maintain from birth, if no one indoctrinated them. It’s like meeting to talk about not owning a car, or books you haven’t read. I say this as someone who went through an intense phase of separating the beliefs I could rationally defend from those I had to protect from criticism because they were too stupid and insubstantial. I’ve read the work of the “Four Horsemen” of so-called “New Atheism,” and it was all interesting and thought provoking, though I didn’t walk away from it with a new belief, just unburdened by old ones.

    The first suggestion that comes to mind is that we don’t rally around atheism, per se, at all. The science/tech/philosophy events are good. There are a ton of causes, and in as much as logic/science is a philosophy, we’re all putting it into practice whatever we do, and in those things it becomes obvious that superstition isn’t necessary for morality, causality, or anything else.

    Visibility occurring naturally is more compelling to the easily frightened believers, who think anyone who doesn’t swear by some incoherent book is going to sauté their first born. Today, they might learn about your (lack of) spiritual ideologies, and say, “But you’re such a nice person!” (assuming you are, or can fake it). Let that marinate. Maybe tomorrow they’ll shut the fuck up about it all together.

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