Reviewing Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists for the Guardian, Terry Eagleton expresses his distaste for the tradition of “reluctant nonbelief”—thinkers who do not themselves believe, but find some sort of social utility in belief. This is a tradition that ranges from Machiavelli to Jürgen Habermas, Eagleton argues.
God may be dead, but Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists is a sign that the tradition from Voltaire to Arnold lives on. The book assumes that religious beliefs are a lot of nonsense, but that they remain indispensible to civilised existence. One wonders how this impeccably liberal author would react to being told that free speech and civil rights were all bunkum, but that they had their social uses and so shouldn’t be knocked. Perhaps he might have the faintest sense of being patronised. De Botton claims that one can be an atheist while still finding religion “sporadically useful, interesting and consoling”, which makes it sound rather like knocking up a bookcase when you are feeling a bit low. Since Christianity requires one, if need be, to lay down one’s life for a stranger, he must have a strange idea of consolation. Like many an atheist, his theology is rather conservative and old-fashioned.
(His point about de Botton’s theology recalls his review of Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion.)
Read the full review here.