John Gray reviews Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, a book he describes as being written for “those who do not belong to any religion but who are open to the possibility that religion may be the only effective vehicle for values they cherish.” In Gray’s estimation, such a constituency is larger than is often acknowledged, and de Botton’s book cracks open lines of reasoning that aren’t often explored. Gray’s one criticism could supply a blueprint for the book’s sequel:
Where [de Botton] could have dug deeper is the tangled relations between religion and belief. If you ask people in modern western societies whether they are religious, they tend to answer by telling you what they believe (or don’t believe). When you examine religion as a universal human phenomenon, however, its connections with belief are far more tenuous.
The fixation on belief is most prominent in western Christianity, where it results mainly from the distorting influence of Greek philosophy. Continuing this obsession, modern atheists have created an evangelical cult of unbelief. Yet the core of most of the world’s religions has always been holding to a way of life rather than subscribing to a list of doctrines.