Thursday, January 23, 2014

A non-believers guide to the uses of religion by Alain De Botton

Quotes from the book that I would like to discuss:

Location 91 For instance, much of what is best about Christmas is entirely unrelated to the story of the birth of Christ..

Loc 161 ...look away and assume that a government agency will take care of the problem

Loc 295 ...there are few more effective ways to promote tolerance ... than ... to eat supper together

Loc 454 Medieval Christianity certainly understood this dichotomy...on New Year's Eve ... The Feast of Fools
Loc 465 in 445, the Paris Faculty of Theology explained ...that the Feast of Fools was a necessary event in the Christian calendar, in order that foolishness, which is our second nature and is inherent in man, can freely spend itself at least once a year
Loc 469 ...we cannot be naive about our nature 

Loc 649 ...on the wall of churches and public buildings... their purpose was straightforwardly didactic: they were meant to provide a compass...   By contrast .... libertarian theorists have argued that public space should be neutral

loc 734 There are few things that secular society believes in as fervently as education
loc  846 It has been the essential task of the Christian pedagogic machine to nurture, reassure comfort and guide our souls
loc 856 Differ though we might with Christianity's view of what precisely our souls need, it is hard to discredit the provocative underlying thesis, which seems no less relevant in the secular realm ... that we have within us a precious, childlike, vulnerable core which we should nourish and nurture on its turbulent journey through life
 loc 919 A university alive to the true responsibilities of cultural artifacts within a secular age would establish a department for relationships, an institute of dying and a centre for self-knowledge... curricula to engage directly with our most pressing personal and ethical dilemmas

loc 999 Aside from needing to be delivered eloquently, ideas also have to be repeated to us constantly. ... our best thoughts reinforced to counter the continuous pull of distraction and disintegration. ... Religions have been wise enough to establish elaborate ... How free secular society leaves us by contrast ... We honour the power of culture but rarely admit with what scandalous ease we forget its individual monuments. ..
loc 1092 ...Zen Buddhism anointed the tea ceremony as one of its most significant pedagogic moments ... Every aspect of the ritual has meaning, beginning with the cups, whose misshapen form reflects Zen's affection for all that is raw and unpretentious. ... the tea ceremony is a mechanism for bringing to life ideas about which participants already have a good intellectual grasp and yet continue to need encouragement to abide by. ...
loc 1106 .. but the mikveh ritual, associating outer hygiene with the recovery of a particular kind of inner purity, like so many other symbolic practices promoted by religions, manages to use a physical to support a spiritual lesson.
loc 1113 Religions understand the value of training our minds with a rigour that we are accustomed to applying only to the training of our bodies. ... They do all this not in order to deny us freedom but to quell our anxieties and flex our moral capacities.  
loc 1216...console and tame .. We require effective centers for the restoration of our whole beings; new kinds of retreats devoted to educating through an array of secularized spiritual exercise ..

loc 1288 is simply the wrong question to raise.  The apposite point is not whether the Virgin exists, but what it tells us about human nature that so many ...felt the need to invent her ...
loc 1301Though such longings go largely unmentioned in adult society, it has been the achievement of religions to know how to reanimate and legitimate them.

loc 1335 Religion teaches us to be gentle on ourselves in those times of crisis when, desperate and afraid , we confusedly cry out for help

loc 1377 ..the secular age maintains an all but irrational devotion to a narrative of improvement, based on a messianic faith in the three great drivers of change: science, technology and commerce.

loc 1411 Christian and Jewish marriages, while not always jovial, are at least spared the second order of suffering which arises from the mistaken impression that it is somehow wrong or unjust to be malcontent. ... Within the religious ideal, friction, disputes and boredom are signs not of error, but of life proceeding according to plan... ...the faiths have the good sense to provide us with angels to worship and lovers to tolerate

loc 1426 Pessimists can have a far greater capacity for appreciation than their opposite numbers, for they never expect things to turn out well and so may be amazed by the modest successes ....

loc 1509 Spinoza had no patience with the notion of an anthropomorphic Supreme Being ... For him, 'God' was merely a scientific term for the force that had created the universe ... Spinoza proposed that we use our imaginations to step outside ourselves and practice submitting our will to the laws of the universe

loc 1541 Science should matter to us not only because it helps us to control parts of the world but also because it shows us things that we will never master

loc 1568 Moreover, time spent in museums seems to confer some of the same psychological benefits as attendance at church services

loc 1619 Christianity, by contrast, never leaves us in any doubt about what art is for:  it is a medium to remind us about what matters. It exists to guide us to what we should worship and revile if we wish to be sane, good people in possession of well-ordered souls. ... The German philosopher Hegel...indicated that art engages us through both our senses and our reason...

loc 1645 We may associate propaganda with corruption and tasteless posters, but Christianity took it to be synonymous with the artistic enhancement of our receptivity to such qualities as modesty friendship and courage.

loc 1670 It is fundamental to the power of the Christian story that Jesus died in more or less the greatest agony ever experienced by anyone.  He thus offers all human beings, however racked by illness and grief, evidence that they are not alone in their condition

loc 1692 By its very nature, life inflicts on us universal pains based on timeless psychological and social realities

loc 1702 Christian art understands that images are important partly because they can generate compassion, the fragile quality which enables the boundaries of our egos to dissolve, helps us to recognize ourselves in the experiences of strangers and can make their pain matter to us....

loc 1849 The curators should co-opt works of art to the direct task of helping us to live: to achieve self-knowledge, to remember forgiveness and love and to stay sensitive to the pains suffered by our ever troubled species and its urgently imperiled planet... Museums should be places that use beautiful objects in order to try to make us good and wise.

loc 1919 What if we are also influenced by the houses, hospitals and factories around us? ... strive to put up buildings that could advance a case for goodness through their beauty?

loc 2055 ..there are places which by virtue of their remoteness, solitude, beauty or cultural richness retain an ability to salve the wounded parts of us

loc 2060 We need psychoanalytically astute travel agents who could carefully analyze our deficiencies and match us up with parts of the world which would have the power to heal us

loc 2271Comte recognized that a secular society devoted solely to the accumulation of wealth, scientific discovery, popular entertainment and romantic love--a society lacking in any sources of ethical instruction, consolation, transcendent awe or solidarity- would fall prey to untenable social maladies.


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