TED, Alain de Botton, and Atheism 2.0

Atheists Proselytizing

Atheists Proselytizing

I recently was pointed to a wonderful TED Talk, which I’m sharing here, that brilliantly addresses an issue I have struggled with for years. This issue can best be understood in several concepts that Alain discusses in this talk, which I’ll leave you to in a moment. I’ll come back to this, and other, issues regarding faith, religion, morality, ethics, community, etc. in later posts no doubt.

I have what I think is a very simple, very open attitude toward religion or, more accurately (because religion is an entirely different animal from . . .), faith and how we should exercise it ourselves and respect it in others. What you believe in terms of a higher power is really none of my business and should in no way affect my relationship with you. It seems to me that how we live our lives, not what we say we believe or have faith in, is the most important discriminator in how well we can work together in pursuit of common goals. The only thing that can botch any chance of our having a relationship is if you insist that your belief is superior and, therefore, I must accept it to be truly worthy. Pull that on me and I become stone deaf.

A respected Law Professor of mine once said if he had to choose between someone without what he would consider the “right” politics, but who was nevertheless a good person, and one who had the “right” politics, but was lacking in the humanity department, he would always choose the former. I believe we can replace the word “politics” with “religion” and it is equally true. I am far more interested in how you treat other people and your relationships, whether business or personal, than I am in what you believe in.

Getting back to the video, Alain addresses his concept of atheists better understanding the good things religion has inspired people to create and bringing into our lives. He points out how community, art, and music – among other things – are lacking amongst atheists – as a group; and I think he’s right. As a group, I believe ethics and rational morality play a big role in how we see the world. I often say that if the only thing making you a good person is your fear of being punished in an afterlife, you really need to think about your priorities. For me, being a good person and living an ethical, honest life is reward in and of itself. However, we have few ways (I have none) of enjoying community in how we view our place in the cosmos . . . because there aren’t any.

I’ll let the video speak for itself. Check it out. It’s excellent on the subject. I plan on watching it again soon.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

3 responses to “TED, Alain de Botton, and Atheism 2.0

  • Si

    I think most of his observations (though not entirely original) are true in this case, but here’s the thing that still bugs me…
    Just because an institution uncovers certain positive applications for life, doesn’t mean the institution itself is justified in any way whatsoever!!!

    I completely agree that Sermons are better at motivating audiences than lectures.. But does that justify the context in which most Sermons are delivered.. ?

    The technological/medical/scientific discoveries that resulted from both world wars were numerous and undoubtedly beneficial to humanity in ways we are unaware of.. Does that justify the wars.. Of course not.
    Should pacifists start being more liberal towards warfare because of something we benefited from as a result ??
    If you told me nothing beneficial resulted from communism/fascism/socialism any failed/failing political system whatsoever, I’d say your were likely wrong!!

    It’s the same thing imo, and completely obvious that something beneficial can come out of something misinformed. Especially a religious/social institution focused entirely on a very defined approach to living life through unity and belief, mostly executed over long periods of time
    Absolutely we should try and apply certain of these beneficial elements to the secular world if it’s at all legitimately possible out of the context of religion.. (Though how seriously they’ll be adopted by the majority is questionable, as we all know that meditation for instance has its benefits in more ways than one and is unfortunately favored mostly by the new age types and hippies outside of the religious context..)

    But should any of this take away from the fact that the vast majority of religions claims are, well, nonsense..? Deluding the majority of the planet.. Responsible for so many atrocities and accentuating much of our existing antisocial primitive and territorial behavior!

    Plato said – Beware, beware of the man of one book. For the man of one book believes in half truths and there is no greater lie than a half truth..

    Do we ignore this because half truths inadvertently uncovered something that’s potentially beneficial in some area of life even when applied outside of religion, regardless of all the atrocities and delusion they’re responsible for??


  • If Russ Ackoff Had Given a TED Talk « Systems Savvy

    […] several times and I’m reasonably certain I will watch them again. I recently shared a talk by Alan de Botton on this blog, which I found fascinating and, apparently, so did quite a few others. They are all […]


  • Rick Ladd

    05 March 2014 – The comment for which I added this response has been removed at the request of the person who made it. Although I would have preferred to keep it, I have chosen to honor this person’s request, removing it completely. My response can stand on its own.

    Thank you for our kind words and comment, Matthew. I was raised a Jew and am convinced one of the best things I got out of that experience – which translates well into the secular world – is the idea of living “the good life”. The idea has nothing to do with Champagne and Caviar, either, but is about being a good person; doing “mitzvot”, good deeds. In Judaism as I’ve studied it, this is paramount even to believing in God. I think it’s a useful concept. Glad to be helpful. I’m just learning about de Botton myself, so I too will reserve judgement somewhat until I know more. I was recently told he is completely disconnected from others and want to check that out. Thanks again for your comment.


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