As with his previous books for the “educated reader” looking for a light but worthwhile introduction to philosophical and moral issues, Alain de Botton relies upon a mix of photos and illustrations with witty or profound captions to lighten the heavier lessons of his text. He glides over as much as he digs into. Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion indicates by its subtitle the utility to which he puts beliefs and rituals. Whether this fervent application of Photoshop and pious belief in the transformational potential of humanism will find many converts, given its erratic and at times superficial coverage of issues and ideas, remains as open-ended as its contents. These direct the seeker to secularize ancient stories and venerable practices in the therapeutic service of one’s own growth and that of the community, bereft of belief in a higher power.
Born in England to a family of Jewish ancestry but one lacking personal investment in its spiritual inheritance, de Botton respects the cultural legacy and virtuous examples inculcated by religion. He contrasts his gentler skepticism with the harsher diatribes of prominent neo-atheists. Instead of damning the damage done in the name of faith, de Botton urges a mature acceptance of the benefits religion has given people in the past. By applying ethical lessons in short but sprawling chapters organized around a righteous virtue or moral principle, he encourages skeptics and non-believers today to learn from centuries of religious experience in dealing with human limitations.