Dear Marketplace Friend,
With the disappearance – or, the decline – of most local newspapers, the Wall Street Journal has been tasked with the assignment to become more than an office rag for the One Percenters. In publication since 1889, it is America’s largest circulation daily paper. The Saturday/weekend edition moves to broader spectrums of life’s experiences to treat themes broader than just business and politics.
It was intriguing to open the Review section on Saturday while hearing the live broadcast of Whitney Houston’s funeral in New Jersey. The lead story – and two pages – offered “Religion for Everyone,” which allowed Alain de Botton to give a preview to his soon-to-be-released book, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believers Guide to the Uses of Religion (Pantheon).
Botton is a 42-year-old Swiss native – and, Sephardic Jew – whose atheist philosophy has found a home in London. He has a high regard for some attributes of religious faith while having no need for any theology to go with it.
He leads the article with a mild lament; it reads like the obituary for spiritual life: “One of the losses that modern society feels most keenly is the loss of a sense of community. We tend to imagine that there once existed a degree of neighborliness that has been replaced by ruthless anonymity, by the pursuit of contact with one another primarily for individualistic ends: for financial gain, social advancement or romantic love. In attempting to understand what has eroded our sense of community, historians have assigned an important role to the privatization of religious belief that occurred in Europe and the U.S. in the 19 th century. They have suggested that we began to disregard our neighbors at around the same time that we ceased to honor our gods as a community…”
Later, he notes that “…Religions are a repository of occasionally ingenious concepts for trying to assuage some of the most persistent and unattended ills of secular life. They merit our attention for their sheer conceptual ambition and for changing the world in a way few secular institutions ever have. They have managed to combine theories about ethics and metaphysics with practical involvement in education, fashion, politics, travel, hostelry, initiation ceremonies, publishing, art, architecture – a range of interests whose scope puts to shame the achievements of even the greatest secular movements and innovators…”
The compliments are sincere, but he lumps all “religion” in the same bucket. The incredible societal impacts of the Judeo/Christian faith systems have won most of the awards for which he nominates religion-in-general for consideration. What is it that makes these Biblically-founded movements a source of community and community impact?
Jesus summarized the essence of the worldview underlying the Scriptures: Love Your God, and Love Your Neighbor was his core tenet (cited in parallel, in Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28). Take those faith-founded core values off the table, and you don’t get the results applauded by de Botton.
Much of his weekend writing was a proposal for a new kind of dining option – his name, the Agape Restaurant – where the experience of a church fellowship hall could be replicated. Really?
In an interview found elsewhere, he responded to a question with this: “The salvation of the individual soul remains a serious problem – even when we dismiss the idea of God. In the 20th century, capitalism has really solved (in the rich West) the material problems of a significant portion of mankind. But the spiritual needs are still in chaos, with religion ceasing to answer the need. This is why I wrote my book…”
Funny: that’s why God wrote His Book… and why He sent His Son to flesh it out…