Picture: Tony Robinson signing at Pembertons

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Alain de Botton – Religion for Atheists

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Alain de Botton begins by saying that he does not believe that God exists, but moves swiftly on.

He talks about religions as dishes at a buffet or cafeteria where we can select what we like from each. He makes cultural reference to literature and music stating that we wouldn’t listen to a single musician or composer or read a single author. Comparing Catholicism to The Beatles would seem to be something of a stretch.

The essayist and philosopher turns to religion and education. He suggests that the secular approach to education is mechanistic whilst religious education plays to the fragile reality of human existence. He talks about ritual in religion that harnesses the community to deliver truths to the inner self.

Oratory in the Pentecostal church creates a far greater response and involvement than the average university lecture.

Another station at de Botton’s imagined buffet is the one where we consume art. He argues that art does not realise
its potential to move us. When art is combined with religion the messages are simplified and more effective. Alain de Botton was confused by Rothko when he first saw his work at The Tate and believes that his messages have been obscured by an ideology of coolness.

He comes closest to describing religion when he talks about them as institutions and organisation and when he references religious community.

His arguments were carefully constructed but ultimately very narrow. He focuses on the structures and cultural outputs of religion but avoids entirely both the intentions and purposes of religion.

Jim Naughtie talks to Alex Crawford

Alex Crawford opens with a stunningly frank and raw passage from her book Colonel Gadaffi’s Hat. With her colleagues and facing death in Libya she contemplates fear and regret thinks of family and friends then realises she has a phone signal “shit if we are going to die I’m going to let people know about it… I phone the office and ask to be put live on air.”

The war was ugly and disorganised. The rebel army didn’t even have a communications network at the beginning. Even the conclusion of the war was messy. After Alex Crawford had entered Green Square in Tripoli with the rebel army the fighting flared up again and Saif Gadaffi gave a defiant press briefing from the leader’s compound.

Amongst the horrific stories of witnessing brutal killing at the closest of quarters and losing “eleven of my nine lives” there is humour in a story about her family. Naughtie asks what she tells her children “well I did say to my one child that the children in Iraq would love to have the food on her plate ‘take it to them then’.”

Review: Lionel Shriver talking to Rosie Boycott

Lionel Shriver was a must see booking at this year’s Hay Festival and the event did not disappoint.  Shriver was here to talk about her ‘new’ novel ‘The New Republic’ – a book where everything is not as it seems.

First the book isn’t really new it was completed in 1998, written before ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’.  Secondly it’s a comic novel: about terrorism.  Third it is set in the fictional province of Barba, tacked onto the south of Portugal – though the narrative was greatly influenced by the writer’s experiences in living in Northern Ireland, her home for 12 years.   Shriver’s bitter distaste for terrorism came through forcefully.  The novel embodies that distaste “there are two things that terrorists can’t stand – being ignored and being ridiculed.”

As the session drew to a close Rosie Boycott asked Shriver what her text novel would be about “fat” said the author.  Boycott a journalist to the core responded without a beat “is that because of your brother?”.  Shriver was clearly unsettled, revealing that her elder brother had been morbidly obese and died as a result.  “We are meant to be hungry” the author says “being sated is unpleasant.”