I never wavered in my certainty that God did not exist." De Botton probably speaks for a majority in this country. He insists, however, that the baby has been chucked out with the font water. "We have unnecessarily surrendered some of the most useful and attractive parts of the faiths." Written in a bossy if readable style – it might be the manual for a creepy sect of n on-believers – de Botton's pick'n'mix assemblage is bizarre in concept and flawed in detail.
Envying the church's sense of community, he proposes a return to the Feast of Fools endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1485, but fails to mention that this was actually a continuation of Roman Saturnalia. It was scarcely a spiritual matter in the first place.
In order to bring people together, he weirdly advocates "an ideal restaurant… true to the most profound insights of the Eucharist". Some might regard a decent cassoulet as a more significant priority.
Stressing the need for secular saints, de Botton proposes a list including Warren Buffet and Paul Smith. Is that the Warren Buffett whose $23 billion buy-out of Heinz may double the company's debt? Or the Paul Smith who refused to pick a book on Desert Island Discs because he wouldn't read it?
Insisting that Catholics believe "we need good architecture… to grow into good people", de Botton points out that "it was the Protestant countries that first witnessed the extremes of ugliness that would become so typical of the modern world." If the slums of Naples were more picturesque than those of Leeds or Manchester, you can scarcely say that Catholicism has greatly benefited the favelas of Sao Paolo.
In a chapter on art, de Botton denigrates a circular abstraction by Richard Long compared to a Buddhist mandala: "It does not tell us what we might think about as we look at it and hence it risks provoking reactions of bewilderment or tedium." This is the utilitarian philistinism of a Gradgrind. De Botton has reduced religion to a mechanism. Judging by the laudatory reviews the book received, this piffle fills a faith-shaped hole; but piffle it remains.
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