I recently finished Andre Comte-Sponville‘s The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality.
This book came out last year and it is now out in paperback. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s definitely worth picking up a copy. I finished it over the course of a few lunches and found it to be inspiring and enjoyable.
As a rule, I rarely write anything in books. (Somehow, I feel like I’m defacing the book if I write anything in the margins.) However, reading through this essay, I was underlining/highlighting all over the place and picked up useful conversation topics every page or two.
Several parts of the book stood out to me.
The author talks about how atheists try to make up for religious occasions they must let go of when losing their faith. Sometimes it works (atheist weddings, anyone?) — other times, we fail. Like when we hold atheist funerals:
… But where death is concerned? Technically, of course, it is possible for funerals to be a purely civil affair; burials and cremations per se do not require religion. A moment of silence and contemplation could suffice. Silence and tears could suffice. Yet it must be admitted that they rarely do; a nonreligious funeral almost always seems flat, artificial and impoverished — like a poor copy of the original…
(Did he just compare us to cheesy Christian media?)
There was this excellent (lack of) connection between religion and morality:
… A good deed is not good because God commanded me to do it (in which case it would have been good for Abraham to slit his son’s throat); on the contrary, it is because an action is good that it is possible to believe God commanded it. Rather than religion being the basis for morals, morals are now the basis for religion…
The optimism is the kind you never see in atheist books. Like in this description of why anyone should embrace Humanism — it’s not the “life of nothingness” some people make it out to be:
No one can deny that much about the human condition is appalling. But this is no reason to stop loving life — just the opposite! All trips end eventually. Is that any reason to renounce undertaking on and enjoying it? You only live once. Is that any reason to spoil the single life you do have?… it is a powerful reason to go on paying the utmost attention to life, peace, justice… and our children. Life is all the more precious for being rare and fragile. Justice and peace are all the more necessary, all the more urgent, because nothing can guarantee their ultimate victory. Humanity is all the more moving for being alone, courageous and loving…
What about that Humanism, anyway?
A religion of man? Definitely not. What a sorry god man would make! Humanism is not a religion; it is an ethics (which includes our responsibilities toward other animal species). Man is not our God; he is our neighbor. Humanity is not our church; it is our demand…
After making the case for atheism, the author moves on to talk about “atheist spirituality.”
It’s this section where the author gets overly-philosophical. It wasn’t my favorite part of the book, but in short, Comte-Sponville says there is an atheist spirituality that is independent from religion.
It’s not a dealbreaker, though.
The book is not anti-theist (the author even mentions how he wishes there was a God — alas, there’s no good reason to believe that) and, in many ways, it gives plenty of credit (perhaps too much) to religion for what it has done for the world.
It’s an easy-to-read book, filled with exuberant passages, that stands in stark contrast to other writings on the subject which rip down anything and everything connected to religion.
In case you’re interested, fellow blogger Ebonmuse also wrote a review of this book recently.
(This review was solicited by a publisher; however, the opinions expressed are my own.)