Religion For Atheists
Religious rituals have a place for
non-believers, says author.
Special to the Jewish News
lain de Botton, in the first
chapter of Religion for
Atheists (2012, Pantheon,
$29.95) charmingly asserts that he
"was brought up in a committedly
atheist household, as the son of two
secular Jews who placed religious
belief somewhere on a par with an
attachment to Santa Claus."
His parents would regard anyone
"who harbored clandestine religious
sentiments ... with the sort of pity
more commonly reserved for
with a degen-
As his parents
did not believe,
de Botton himself
did not believe.
Until, in his mid-
20s, he underwent "a
crisis of faithlessness"
He began to have
trouble with the cul-
tural part of his parents'
atheism. His parents
had disdained religious
prayers, rituals, feasts, artwork,
music, architecture and anything
else tainted by supernatural belief,
but de Botton had begun to lose that
disdain. He found himself admiring
many aspects of religious culture
without giving credence to any reli-
gion's claims to factual truth.
After his father's death, de Botton
did not break faith with his father
about the non-existence of God, but
he did develop an admiration for
some practices of religious human
beings. Why, he asks, should secular
people deny themselves some beauti-
ful practices just because the practi-
tioners make supernatural claims?
With that question, de Botton
examines various virtues that atheists
could profitably copy from religious
groups. Modern, secular societies
usually lack mechanisms for meet-
ing strangers as equals. At a religious
service, we speak and sing together;
we do not need to establish our cre-
dentials as superior to them but only
to join as equals. After the service, we
likely socialize and even eat together.
How different that seems from a
secular meal at a restaurant.
The ritual asking for forgiveness,
November 1 • 2012
practiced by Jews in the lead up to the
Day of Atonement, strikes de Botton
as another useful exercise. On a day
focused on human failure we can
more easily confess our own failings.
Once in a while, a person really does
need to ask forgiveness, or, even more
important, grant forgiveness.
Secular society does without a ritual
for forgiveness. As many political and
business leaders have demonstrated
recently, when conditions call for an
apology, we often just cannot do it.
Religions, according to de Botton,
typically offer scripts for
how to deal with conflicting
emotions. For example, the
author sees a bar mitzvah
ceremony as "an ostensibly
joyful ritual which endeav-
ors to assuage inner ten-
sions." At this joyful cel-
ebration, parents might
recognize, with joy and
with some bitterness,
they no longer need
to nurture their little
child in the same
The author of this book is
not the first secularist to combine a
respect for some of the institutions
of religions, while rejecting their fac-
tual claims. Felix Adler (1851-1933),
groomed to take over from his father
as Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in New
York, felt that he could accept the
theological claims of Reform Judaism,
and so, at the age of 24, started the
New York Society for Ethical Culture.
At its Sunday services, the society
developed its own rituals in support of
secular humanist ideals.
Rabbi Sherwin Wine (1928-2007)
founded the Birmingham Temple in
Michigan in 1963, the first Temple
of Humanist Judaism, at which he
taught a secular humanist Judaism,
maintaining many of the rituals of
Judaism without founding them in
theological beliefs or mentioning the
Wine taught that commitment to
human values matters, whether one
believes in a God or not; Wine called
this his %gnosticism" rather than
Believers reading Religion for
Atheists may find surprising new rea-
sons to value our own practices in de
Botton's lively exploration of the often
positive effects of religion. ❑
To Be Honored
Young Leadership, has served
on United Jewish Appeal's (UJA)
Women's Young Leadership Cabinet
Sally Krugel and Allan
and is a graduate of the Wexner
Nachman, are to be recognized
Heritage Program. She served as
as the Jewish Federation of
Israel chairperson on the Jewish
Metropolitan Detroit's nomi-
Community Relations Council
nees for the 2012 Distinguished
and as an adviser for the Jewish
Volunteers by the Association
Hospice and Chaplaincy Network.
of Fundraising Professionals
Krugel and husband, Richard, are
(AFP) on its National
parents of three sons and grand-
Philanthropy Day, Nov. 14, at a
parents of six.
dinner at the Dearborn Inn.
Allan Nachman holds a long and
National Philanthropy Day is
impressive record of volunteerism
sponsored by the AFP through-
and leadership in the commu-
out the country. More than 30
nity. He has served as president
Southeastern Michigan chari-
of the United Jewish Foundation
ties participate each year by
and Tamarack Camps. He is a
recognizing their volunteers.
member of Federation's Executive
A consummate volunteer,
Committee, serves on the board of
community leader and mentor,
the United Jewish Foundation and
Krugel generously shares her
Adat Shalom Synagogue, has been
talents with the community. She
active in the United Way, Hospice
currently serves as co-chair of
of Michigan and chairs the DIA Friends of
its Liaison (LINC) Program, placing vol-
Modern Art. In addition to practicing real
unteers on agency boards and committees.
estate law as counsel with Butzel Long,
She is a board member of the Women's
Nachman is an accomplished artist and
Department Advisory Service Council,
woodworker. He is married to Joy; they
is an adviser to Yad Ezra, and is active at
are the parents of Elanah and David and
Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
grandparents of two.
Krugel received Federation's presti-
gious Sylvia Simon Greenberg Award for
Hadassah's annual rummage sale begins
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday,
Nov. 13-14, at Sarah and Ralph Davidson
Hadassah House, 5030 Orchard Lake Road,
It continues 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov.
15; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16; and "Bag
Day:' 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18.
For information, call (248) 683-5030 or
email email@example.com .
Offers Test Drives
Friendship Circle of West Bloomfield
has partnered with Tom Holzer Ford of
Farmington Hills to raise money for the
organization. On Sunday, Nov. 4, from 10
a.m.-3 p.m., the dealership will have its fleet
of 2013 vehicles available for test drives on
the grounds of Friendship Circle.
For each time an adult 18 or over with
a valid driver's license takes a 2013 Ford
vehicle for a test drive, the dealership will
donate $20. The goal for the day is to raise
up to $6,000.
Sign up in advance for this fun event by
going to friendshipcircle.org/drive.
Beth El Consecrants
Honored At Service
Bloomfield Township Temple Beth El's 2012
consecrants were honored at Simchat Torah
services, Monday evening, Oct. 8.
Because Simchat Torah celebrates both an
ending and a beginning in the cycle of Jewish
life, the holiday has long been the occasion at
Beth El for marking the beginning of formal
religious education for new students up to
Honored this year were Chloe Giron,
Sydney Hertzberg, Alana Horwitz, Amanda
Horwitz, Leah Kendal, Rachel Khankin, Eli
Mendelson, Mollie Sher, Sarah Solomon,
Jason Stutman, Emily Trumble, Lily Trumble
and Ian Weinberg.