Philosopher Alain de Botton tells Stuart Jeffries (The Guardian , 20 January 2012) a life in writing, “’The nirvana would be if the questions raised by Oprah Winfrey would be answered by the faculty at Harvard*”:
Can’t society get to where De Botton wants it to go without plundering religion? He argues not: “Politicians want people to be nice neighbours but the tools at their disposal are just the tools of modern liberal society, which are nothing.” What about the Tories’ notion of a big society? “They’re sitting in the cockpit and they haven’t got the buttons.”
Religions, he thinks, have the buttons and know how to use them. His book considers the Catholic mass, early Christianitiy’s ritual of agape or love feasts, and Jewish Passover rituals to explore how religions encouraged us to overcome fear of strangers and create communities. He then tentatively imagines a so-called “agape restaurant” where, instead of dining with like-minded friends, you would be invited to eat with strangers. It would be the antithesis of Facebook. “Social media has lots of benefits but compared to Christianity it tends to group people by interests. Religion puts you with people who have nothing in common except that you’re human.” It might be a welcome challenge, he suggests. “I think that’s what we need at a societal level – hosts who are able to produce the benevolence, charity, curiosity and goodwill that are in all of us but we can’t let out.”
In short, what we need is a society where the elite know it’s all bunk but their inferiors believe in and act on it.
* Some of us would rather settle for the first 100 names in the phone book.