Alain de Botton, an atheist, wrote a most fascinating book called “Religion for Atheists.” The person who recommended it to me said it would strengthen my faith, and he was right. Botton examines religious practices and teachings—not to debunk them, but to applaud how they meet actual human needs. It’s fascinating to read a committed atheist faithfully unpack a Scriptural story, looking for positive elements that atheists can learn from. In so doing, Botton is giving me totally fresh insights into my faith.
Take, for instance, his chapter on education (which presents strong arguments for attending a Christian college, as opposed to a secular universities which “rarely consent to ask, let alone answer the most serious questions of the soul”). He says Western intellectuals, suspicious of eloquence, apparently assume transformative ideas can be taught by stating them once or twice “via a lecturer standing in a bare room speaking in a monotone.” Likewise, we watch a movie or read a book which prompts us to reexamine our existence. But, “Three months after we finish reading a masterpiece, we may struggle to remember a single scene or phrase from it.
Christians, however, recognize the importance of regularly revisiting important themes. The Christian calendar is filled with annual reminders—Lent, Ash Wednesday, Epiphany, Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension Sunday, and more. Christians memorize key Scripture, regularly recite the Apostle’s Creed, follow a lectionary, hear multiple sermons on the same Bible stories, follow a Common Book of Prayer, use Sunday school curriculum which repeats important themes every few years, etc. We drill in what’s important.
Botton writes, “There is arguably as much wisdom to be found in the stories of Anton Chekhov as in the Gospels, but collections of the former are not bound with calendars reminding readers to schedule a regular review of their insights….At best, we haphazardly underline a few of the sentences that we most admire in them and which we may once in a while chance upon in an idle moment waiting for a taxi.”
So when you think, “Oh great, yet another sermon on prayer/forgiveness/servanthood/the Beatitudes/whatever,” recognize that we repeat these themes because they are important.Leave a comment