As I was driving in my car today, I was listening to a radio interview with the philosopher Alain de Botton that caused me to linger a moment in my car and ponder before going in to work.
De botton was discussing his new book, which urges non-believers to embrace some of the positive aspects of religion. Himself a committed atheist, de Botton was arguing for the secular world to be bold enough to teach and guide people to live better lives. All of us -whether we believe in the supernatural or not- need guidance to live the best life possible.
Speaking of our obsession with individual freedom, de Botton says "freedom basically means I want to be left alone and no one should guide me, no one should teach me anything. I am an adult, and being an adult means not listening to anyone else about the art of living." As traditional moral institutions crumble, we are constantly asking anyone with any advice at all for us, "who are you to tell me how to live."
Obviously, these traditional institutions have often abused their persuasive powers and earned our distrust. We are now left with not only a reluctance to follow on moral matters, but a reluctance to lead as well.
As de Botton put it: "Some of the people with the best ideas will retreat and say, 'well, it's not for me to influence anyone.'" When artists and intellectuals have abdicated their responsibility to use their wisdom and insight to influence others to be better, the voices of our consumer culture are ready to fill in the void.
This problem is one that Michael and I have often discussed. As lovers of art, music, and literature we feel deeply the absence of voices advocating for a better way of life. As musicians, we feel an urgency to offer an alternative to the pervasive nihilism of popular culture in a way that is meaningful to both believers and non-believers alike.
In doing this, we don't wish to be preachy. We aren't trying to persuade anyone to accept things they don't already believe in. But as de Botton put it, we all need to be reminded from time to time to act on those things that we already believe to be right.
If you'd like to hear the entire interview with Alain de Botton on Radiowest, follow this link