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.