The Vagueness Of The Uplift

I have every respect for authors who find themselves unable to believe in God, yet want to take religious faith "seriously." But this review of Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists from David Brooks gets at something fundamental – the occasional cheapness, even condescension, involved in rummaging through ancient religious wisdom to add a bit of meaning to your life. Using the examples of C.S. Lewis and Augustine as models to be turned to for young people wanting a "richer inner life," Brooks compares these spiritual autobiographers to de Botton:

"These writers don’t coolly shop for personal growth experiences like someone at the spiritual mall. They find themselves enmeshed in paradoxes of a richness unimaginable before they became entangled in them — that understanding comes after love, that one achieves fullness by surrendering self, that as you approach wisdom you are swept by a sensation that you have been suppressing all along, and all you need do is release…

…There’s something at stake in these accounts, a person’s whole destiny and soul. The process de Botton is recommending is more like going on one of those self-improving vacations. If all his advice were faithfully followed, we’d be a collection of autonomous individuals seeking a string of vaguely uplifting experiences that might perhaps leave a sediment of some sort of spiritual improvement."