boutique atheism : babel banter

What are the limits of scientific rationalism? But what actually is atheism, besides an ecological and scientific dirt disher despite Chris Hitchens  perhaps stuck in limbo, a purgatory of the missionary position somewhere in rhetorical rebuttal to the anal perversions that only a Yahweh could invent for private amusement. The genius of atheism is that it has comprehended and calculated exactly how to package the most abusrd and ridiculous of its content for reasonably intelligent people, the “kind of smart” and they can’t seem to swallow enough of it. And with it is an almost intangible gift for stimulating reactionism and reinforcing the most nefarious apsects of institutional fear mongering that fire and brimstone pulpit politics can shovel out almost equal to hyper-active, attention-deficit disordering of the senses that atheist agitators seem so adept at.

Look, de Botton, can we just leave out the pretentious “de” and be content with Bottons-up? Well if you inherited $500 million, could we permit a bit of folly? Atheists and fundamentalists fall into the same trap that sexism is prone to aggravate through an expansion of the gender divide. Atheism for the most part, is kitsch, cheap entertainment and an aesthetic and spiritual failure. Gnosticism holds a certain plausibility, at least a basis from which to understand desperation, absence and betrayal. Botton is just an exercise, beautifully written of course, of how far we can depart religious culture before falling into the void.

---Artiste Pieter Bruegel l'Ancien Année c. 1568 Technique huile sur panneau de bois de chêne ---

Giordano Bruno had a great religious intuition, poetic and a lanyard of artistic tension:  an infinite universe contrasting with the needs of a finite universe. contrapuntal and mutually antagonistic, but at least they’re scrapping. Bruno filled matter with divinity, a pantheism.  Equally intuitively, Duchamp asserted that matter is  endless nothingness.infinite.  Bruno claimed a gesture of conscience: to become aware that infinity is God’s image present in each grain of the universe, which may have picked a few lines from Spinoza. Duchamp reverted to a gesture of unawareness: “The unaware is an orphan, an atheist, a single person.” Celibacy and atheism can be preserved only through unawareness in his conceptual postulation. The single person is a figure of the incredulous, just as the orphan is the figure of abandonment to nothingness. Within a religious context, Duchamp cultivates a pure kind of atheism,minimalist and Dada, rising up from preserved chance.But what begat the activity of the preserved? And there is still no articulation of a first mover, that breath that set the wheels in incomprehensible motion.  So, the more one looks at it, the more the Modernism, the atheism: there is a sense of showmanship, of  trendy window dressing on the longer more complex  narrative that does not resolve conflict between religion and secular, atheistic, Modernism.

Jonathan Brean: A 46-metre-tall, open-air structure representing the age of the Earth, with fossils lining the interior walls, the human genome inscribed on the exterior, and a millimetre-thick band of gold at the bottom to put humanity’s lifespan in perspective, the proposed temple is backed by anonymous money and awaiting planning approval for a site in the city’s central financial district.

Some authors do library readings. But for the launch of his book, Religion for Atheists, Swiss-British pop-philosopher Alain de Botton unveiled this plan for the first of what he hopes will be a network of atheistic shrines and temples across Britain and perhaps the world….

---Perhaps they tacitly agree with me, though they'll never admit this, that 'atheist philosopher' is an oxymoron. One can be either an atheist or a philosopher, not both. For anyone trying to understand the complexity of life at ground level only will inevitably travel a maze of blind alleys, eventually finding himself at an intellectual dead end. Read more:

With the roar of Christopher Hitchens silenced, there is high ground to be taken in the atheist game, and this is Mr. de Botton’s big play. Richard Dawkins, who denounced the temple as a waste of money that could be spent on education, is a top-flight popularizer of science, but his claim that religion is child abuse can sound shrill even to the godless. Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are intimidatingly scientific. Plus, as Mr. de Botton describes it, all these so-called New Atheists have allowed their aggression to cloud their imagination.

“So opposed have many atheists been to the content of religious belief that they have omitted to appreciate its inspiring and still valid overall object: to provide us wi

ell-structured advice on how to lead our lives,” he writes in the book.

He takes it as given that religion is false, but on his account, it is less like a nurturing, living tree to shelter the weak, and more like carrion to be picked over by people who are too clever and cultured for the typical fripperies of the self-help aisle….


Read More: can Heidegger's thinking be sympathetically classified as “anti-aesthetic,” because he suggests that any such anti-aesthetics would remain blindly entangled in aesthetics (in the same way that, for example, atheism remains implicated in the logic of theism—both claiming to know the unknowable); in his view, any merely oppositional movement remains trapped in the logic of what it opposes (QCT 61/GA5 217). For Heidegger, as we will see, the only way to get beyond aesthetics is first to understand how it shapes us and then seek to pass through and beyond that influence, thereby getting over it as one might “recover” from a serious illness (ID 37/101). Because the aesthetic approach continues to eclipse our access to the role artworks can quietly play in forming and informing our historical worlds, Heidegger thinks that only such a post-aesthetic thinking about art can allow us to recognize and restore art's true significance, helping us recognize the inconspicuous way in which art works to shape our basic sense of what is and what matters---

…The proposal to save the baby of ritual from the bathwater of supernatural belief, however, does seem to strike a viable middle ground between blind faith and the cold void. He is not the first to attempt it. The best known is Auguste Comte, whose scheme for a religion of humanity, complete with temples, was as eccentric as Esperanto, and about as popular. Other examples include everything from French revolutionary temples to reason to Shirley MacLaine’s New Age rediscovery of the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, a Catholic pilgrimage across Europe.

In cherry-picking through the faiths, Mr. de Botton unabashedly takes what theologians denounce as the “buffet” view of religion, but he does it well and smartly, with pithy insight on grand themes, as in his previous books on topics like love, travel, status anxiety and the relevance of Marcel Proust to modern life. His examples of artistic rapture, and the metaphysical doubt in which it left him, are drawn from a life lived in the most elite cultural circumstance, raised in Switzerland but schooled mostly in England, the son of the late Gilbert de Botton, a mega-rich financier, art patron and committed atheist secular Jew.

“My feelings of doubt had their origins in listening to Bach’s cantatas, were further developed in the presence of certain Bellini Madonnas and became overwhelming with an introduction to Zen architecture,” he writes….

Read More: --- The same question holds for sacrilegious or anti-religious art (see Ernst’s The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses, pictured). See also Leo Steinberg’s wonderful letter about Updike’s review of Ernst, including: “Mr. Updike is right to say that ‘this scene cannot be enrolled in Christian iconography—it has no Gospel authority….’ But enrolled it may be in the iconography of medieval folklore, drawing authority, not from the canonic, but from Apocryphal Gospels.”---

Like the French celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, known as BHL, AdB’s name has a catchy triple-barrelled abbreviation. But unlike the French, who idolize their public intellectuals, or Canadians, who are embarrassed by them (especially when they run for prime minister), the British love to hate them, and by philosophizing over such bourgeois agonies as the tedium of international tourism and the drudgery of working in an office, AdB invites the worst of it….

Read More: ---They come across like witty art installations, but would these follies – sorry, "temples" – convince any religious adherent to cross over? It's unlikely. And why couldn't a Christian or a Muslim enjoy the Temple of Perspective, just as an atheist can be stunned by Gaudi's Sagrada Familia? Architecture and godliness don't necessarily go hand in hand. The great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed the beautiful Cathedral of Brasilia and several other churches, laughs about the fact that he has been a lifelong atheist. What De Botton seems to be preaching is his own rather narrow definition of atheism, with its own unified philosophy, set of rules and even architectural brand identity. It feels rather like, er, a religion.---

…“Is there any public intellectual more unpopular than Alain de Botton?” wondered one critic. Others called him “insufferably smug,” the “thinking man’s Stephen Fry. Still annoying, though,” and “a writer so grand nowadays that his entire works are written in the royal ‘we.’ ” “He’s a perfectly nice fellow, but it’s not philosophy, It’s cream-puff stuff,” said the academic philosopher A.C. Grayling.

But all this sneering criticism is offset by the success of his books, and his ability to secure financing for his most ambitious projects, first the School of Life, a small shop in London he converted to a club that offers pop-philosophy classes and therapy sessions, and now a new New Atheism, this time with the trappings of religion, even temples, like a cult for the faithless, with AdB as its intellectual pope.

If the prospect of a self-help writer for faddish urban neurotics creating a major global quasi-religious movement with piles of money and its own special architecture sounds preposterous, consider Scientology. Tellingly, Mr. de Botton does not. Neither does he mention Islam in the book. In fact, there is little reference to anything other than Christianity, Judaism and certain strands of Buddhism….

Image: Read More: --- Frida's mother did not approve of the union and did not attend the wedding ceremony. She said that Diego was too old, too fat and worse yet he was a Communist and an atheist. She described the marriage as being: "… the marriage between an elephant and a dove." Frida's father however, an atheist himself, was less resistant to the marriage and did attend the wedding ceremony. He understood that Diego had the financial means to provide for his daughter's medical needs. On one of Diego's frequent visits to the Kahlo home, Frida's father took Diego aside and said, "My daughter is sick and always will be….she's intelligent but not pretty…I see that you are interested in my daughter…eh..?" When Rivera replied that he was, Kahlo said, "She is a devil". "I know…" Diego replied. "Well, I've warned you," Kahlo said and left the room. Frida's father was the only one to attend the wedding ceremony.---

…Unlike the New Atheists, he freely credits these religions for important insights, such as the need to commune with strangers and acknowledge anger and weakness. He compares the Catholic Church to McDonald’s for its intense focus on consistency, and writes poignantly about death rituals, which, like weddings, can make unbelievers feel uncomfortably free.

Religions “know that to sustain goodness, it helps to have an audience.” Despite all the huffing from the New Atheists, they also know that “it is in the end a sign of immaturity to object too strenuously to being treated like a child… Important parts of us retain the elemental structures of earliest childhood.” That is the insight on which he bases the entire notion of religion for atheists — that like children we need authority, our knowledge needs frequent formal repetition and our deepest emotions need external validation.

At times, this focus on pomp and ritual can make it seem like he is writing “about the joys of military parades without any conception that the job of soldiers is to fight,” as former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore put it.

Some of his proposals for atheism are plausible, such as the notion that art could serve psychology as it once served theology, and so museums should be organized into themes such as self-knowledge, love, fear, compassion and suffering.

A quarterly day of atonement sounds manageable, even if compliance might be tricky without the useful threat of hellfire.

More radical is to get rid of history and literature, as they are now taught, and focus instead on topics of relevance to the soul, like love and death. Universities “would be required to confront the problematic areas of our lives head-on… There would be classes in, among other topics, being alone, reconsidering work, improving relationships with children, reconnecting with nature and facing illness.”…

Image: Read More: ---William Glacken. ---Returning to Minnesota, he renewed his acquaintance with Ellen Rolfe, niece of the president of Carleton college. She declared the only change in him was that he now spoke with a correct “a.” Their marriage in 1888 pleased her family not at all. “A daughter of one of the leading families of the middle west was marrying an atheist, a shiftless son of a Norwegian immigrant.” Her father was among the builders of the Santa Fe and other railroads. As for Thorstein, he partly looked upon the marriage as a solution to his financial problems, and so it might have been, except that the Santa Fe Co. was soon involved in financial difficulties. He and Ellen spent several years on a farm of her parents at Staceyville, Iowa. It was a period “of indecision and floundering,” but Ellen stood by him stanchly. Together they read Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” they studied Henry George, William Morris, the leader of English socialism, and the current books of John Stuart Mill and Spencer. Then, with funds supplied by Ellen’s father, Thorstein returned to school, registering at Cornell in 1891. It was the stepping stone to his career as instructor at the new University of Chicago, founded by the Rockefeller millions in 1892. He taught economics, socialism.---

…Given the current preoccupations of universities, this does not sound so far-fetched. Neither do his proposed Temples to Tenderness, honouring the non-religious aspects of Marian devotion. And it is surely not so hard to imagine some trendy foodster launching an “Agape Restaurant” (agape is a classical Greek word for brotherly love) in which you are invited to sit and dine with strangers, following Jewish and Christian traditions.

But other proposals make it seem like we are missing some crucial piece of irony, because he could not possibly mean what he writes. It is disorienting, as if he might abruptly announce that of course he was not serious, and you would feel stupid for believing him. Even the temple idea sounds like it could be a put-on.

In his proposal for an annual Feast of Fools, for example, imitating the medieval Catholic festum fatuorum, he says we should acknowledge the need for occasional debauchery by choosing one night a year to “set out into the night to party and copulate randomly and joyfully with strangers, and then return the next morning to our partners, who will themselves have been off doing something similar, both sides knowing that it was nothing personal, that it was the Feast of Fools that made them do it.”

Maybe he is joking, or exaggerating, but he does not say so, and on page 35 of an e-book bought from Penguin U.K. (the book is not out in Canada until March) there is a really quite horrible pornographic image of a party, obviously photoshopped, and captioned “Yearly moment of release at the Agape Restaurant.” It shows maybe a dozen people in what looks like a beer hall, with no fewer than three couples engaged in oral sex, including a bare-breasted young woman pleasuring a naked grandfatherly gentleman in a baseball cap, and an older woman in a corset and stockings sprawled over broken wine glasses on a picnic table as a naked man grasps her from behind. This is a European edition, but still, if this is the New New Atheism, then religion is more relevant than ever.


The Latin inscription on Christopher Wren’s tomb in St Paul’s says, ‘Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.’ I suggest Mr de Botton do the same just about anywhere in the West — he’ll find temples to atheism aplenty. They are the eyesores that disfigure our cities’ skylines, the pickled animals in our art museums, the nasty warrens of our council estates, the gangs of empty-eyed youths harassing our neighbourhoods.

These are the churches in which one can worship the moral and aesthetic achievements of atheist modernity. These are the reflections of the fact, seen as such by anyone not blinded by atheist rage, that the choice of cultures available to the West isn’t Christian or atheist. It’s Christian or none.Read more:

…The choice between beauty and ugliness in aesthetics exactly parallels the one between good and evil in morality. The soulless brutalism of 20th-century architecture parallels the soulless brutality of that century, in which more people were killed than in all other centuries of recorded history combined. The grey ugliness of the South Bank or Barbican is the aesthetic equivalent of Lubianka cellars and Auschwitz ovens. They are all reminders of the abyss awating those who worship at the altar of secular gods.
All those physical disasters spring from the disastrous metaphysical idea that man sits at the centre of his own universe, rather than at the periphery of God’s. Looking for God only inside himself, man finds only himself there. Usually, he is terrified by what he sees, and this terror colours and distorts everything he creates. Ugly becomes new beautiful, virtual new real, vulgar new profound. ( ibid.)
“All this twaddle, the existence of God, atheism, determinism, liberation, societies, death, etc., are pieces of a chess game called language, and they are amusing only if one does not preoccupy oneself with ‘winning or losing this game of chess.”
― Marcel Duchamp
According to the OECD, Americans work on average 25 hours a week, as against a little over 17 hours for the Belgians, French and Italians. The Dutch, Italians and Germans get twice as much time off on holiday as Americans. 43% of Americans age 60­-65 still work, compared to only 12% of Belgians, French and Italians, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, that prompts plenty of criticism and ridicule on either side of the Atlantic. And who could be in a better position to slam European sloth than a British expat in the US like historian Niall Ferguson, in his essay “The atheist sloth ethic, or why Europeans don’t believe in work”. Read More:


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2 Responses to boutique atheism : babel banter

  1. Scott says:


    I would say, and not meaning to sound offensive just for the sake of it, that the ideas expressed in this writing concerning atheism are incoherent at best.

    You seem to make the argument that religion is necessary for the sake of a moral compass (something I will take for the sake of discussion but I also disagree with) but take it as a given that the cosmologies of religion actually reflect reality in some way, which they do not. Certainly science is just another way to construct a view of the universe in which to place ourselves, however the prime distinction is that the method of science is predictive. If religion were predictive the most atheist nations in the world, such as those in eastern Europe, wouldn’t also be the most socially stable, and nations such as Pakistan where over 100 million people pray five times a day would see some reprieve to violence and suffering delivered from God.

    The argument follows next what is literal truth? And does it really matter… the answer is yes, because when people take religious mythologies such as Adam and Eve or the resurrection of Christ as literal historical fact it gives them a platform for discrimination against those who believe in some other sort of fairy tale. There are many things to learn from the Greek classics without worshiping Zeus, just as there is much to learn form the Bible or Qu’ran without taking literal value in the stories they tell.

    Also you propose that atheists see the world as centered around them instead of around “god”, and that this makes them self centered. This is an over generalization if it is true at all. The typical religious view is that the universe was created by god(s) and set in motion to revolve around people, this is self and anthropocentric. Further most religions depict and understand their deities as being human like, as having thoughts and wishes as humans do and carrying out other human actions such as having emotions and plans. It is one thing to define your deity as the hardwiring of the universe such as the Hindu dharma, but this isn’t what actual practitioners of religions actually mean… Then take the case of Christianity where a person must actually believe that God literally was a human being in the form of Jesus. It is delusional and self-centered to say that the prime mover of the Universe is/was literally a human being.

    If some one is actually using the process of science to guide their view of the world in an informed manner they see that we are only part of this world (universe much less) and that things would go on about the same without us as they did before we existed and will after we cease to exist. We try to describe our place within existence but have the maturity to recognize that we are not special in any cosmological sense.

    There are many ways to derive morality and organize social functions, religion as we know it has usually been the primary way of doing this but there are others. Luckily in the end, because there is no sentient god or heaven or hell, it really doesn’t matter at all and we are free to live our lives based on how we actually treat people and the other components of our earth with which we may interact with.


    • Dave says:

      thanks for the comments. I was crashing and bashing somewhat, but the “celebrity” atheists are grating and constructing a cult industry armed with all the weapons of invidious comparison. You are very eloquent and I hope your remarks are broadly read and discussed. Best

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