Praise be to Alain

I (Lol) went to Sunday School last sunday with some friends.

Well, a Sunday Sermon, to be exact; run by the School of Life. This one was being led by (Sir) Alain de Botton.

Of course God doesn’t exist,’ began Alain. ‘Let’s get that one out the way right now.’

But that wasn’t the point of his sermon. And nor is it the point of his new book ‘Religion for Atheists.’

His point was that religions of the world all have a lot going for them – lovely rituals, beautiful traditions, and overall, the enduring sense of community that they bring. All of which he argues that the secular world could benefit from. His point (cheeky though it was) was that we should stop mocking the world’s great religions, and learn to steal from them instead. We should pretend like we’re at a pic ‘n’ mix or a buffet, and just take out the best bits.

One of these best bits, he argues, is the sermon itself. An inspiring talk that is designed to persuade you of something, and to embue your life with more value. (The School of Life’s Sunday Sermons are certainly inspiring. They take place every month at Conway Hall. There’s even one coming up in a few weeks by Rory Sutherland.)

Above all, Alain sermoned, religion is a great host. It’s bloody great at bringing people together. (Almost as good as it is at tearing them asunder in war). Basically, argues Alain, why not have this togetherness but without the dogma?

It was hard to disagree with the man, captivating orator that he is. So much so that near the end, a Jew stood up in the audience and admitted to everyone that he goes to the synagogue once a week – not because he believes a jot of what the Torah has to say – but because he enjoys the sense of community.

But it wasn’t until the end, when we all stood up to belt out William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ – that great, rousing, secular hymn – that you really got the essence of it. So warm and uplifting it felt to be singing in unison with five hundred other hungover strangers, the effect was almost – well, biblical.

The upshot was that my friends and I, all of us staunch unbelievers, left Conway Hall in Holborn with the feeling that: here was a man who was bang on the nail about most everything, and properly inspiring. A man whose every word you want to hang on. And a man you’re more than a little bit in awe of.

In short, we might have accidentally found ourselves a new God.



11 thoughts on “Praise be to Alain

  1. FYI, that was me, not Andrew McGuinness. I am logged in as me but the site seems not to agree; there’s been a strange bug in the system ever since we signed up to be subscribers so we can read Campaignlive, although that’s still not working either..?? Maybe this is fixable? In the meantime, sorry Andrew…


  2. Definition of BRILLIANT
    2. exceptionally clever or talented: he was quite brilliant and was promoted almost at once the germ of a brilliant idea hit heroutstanding; impressive: his brilliant career at Harvard

    Definition of INSIGHT
    [mass noun] the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something: his mind soared to previously unattainable heights of insight


  3. Very nicely put. Now that everyone produces content, there is so much out there that most of it can only be seen by a tiny number of people. So the role of the creative mind to produce that rare thing that is noticed and is deemed valuable enough to pass on / recommend / comment on / re-package or to re-work and add value to – so it is seen by and impacts on many people – is more important than ever. 


    1. When marketers talk about content, as in branded content, it is to distinguish this type of unacknowledged marketing activity from traditional advertising. The (disastrous) idea is that as ads are more and more distrusted and ignored by consumers, advertisers will outflank them by burying their products within the programming; music; conversation, in whatever form.

      The argument about the relationship between form and content, or medium and message, is another matter entirely.



  4. But of course, there IS a difference between them.

    The chap who listens on vinyl plays through the tracks in the order which The Beatles decided – then pauses, as he turns over, and then plays side two, also in the original order.

    The CD listener plays them in the right order, but might just press the remote control and skip a track or two, and certainly won’t pause between sides one and two because there is no pause.

    And the download listener…well, they might not even download all of it, just the bits they prefer. And then they might play it on “shuffle”, and get even those few tracks in a different order.

    So the container actually does alter the content after all.


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