The “Flatland” of Atheism?
The New York Times columnist David Brooks recently reviewed the latest book from Alan de Botton, Religion for Atheists, which is an exploration of the religious practices that de Botton believes non-theists could adopt to make their lives “richer.” Brooks concludes his review with this statement: “Many of us would rather live frustrated in the company of the believers than fulfilled in this flatland of the atheists.” (New York Times Book Review, March 18, 2012, p.30.)
Well, that’s an incongruous sentence if I’ve ever heard one. Life is more “fulfilling” with the atheists, but Brooks would prefer hanging out with people who believe in fairy tales because that is somehow more interesting than the “flatland of the atheists?” I don’t get it. If you understand this, please enlighten me by sending in a comment.
In his review Brooks seems to suggest that by jettisoning religion we lose some dimension of joy or transcendence or whatever it is we could keep on having if we continued to believe the crazy metaphysical claims of religion. Brooks is dragging out the old canard that if you get rid of God, you are deprived of some sense of joy or transcendence that only religion can offer.
I beg to differ. Speaking strictly from personal experience of course, I have tried both paths. I have been both very religious and, now, very non-religious. And I can tell you I have consistently experienced more wonder and joy about life as a non-theist than I ever did as a theist. Just last night I had the pleasure of attending an amazing lecture by the biologist, E.O. Wilson. In the course of the evening Professor Wilson led the audience on an amazing survey of the history of life on this planet, the emergence of eusocial species, the evolution of the hominid species and how all this impacts who we are today. His ability to synthesize diverse areas of study was simply jaw-dropping. Here’s one gem from Wilson’s lecture last night: “History makes no sense without prehistory. And prehistory makes no sense without biology.” That one sentence contains more wisdom than anything I have ever read in the Bible.
So if that’s the “flatland of atheism,” I’ll take it any day over Brooks’ preference to dwell in the land of make-believe.