Tell us about your latest book A Religion for Atheists…
‘In my book, I argue that believing in God is, for me as for many others, simply not possible. At the same time, I want to suggest that if you remove this belief, there are particular dangers that open up – we don’t need to fall into these dangers, but they are there and we should be aware of them. For a start, there is the danger of individualism: of placing the human being at the centre stage of everything.
‘Secondly, there is the danger of technological perfectionism; of believing that science and technology can overcome all human problems, that it is just a matter of time before scientists have cured us of the human condition. Thirdly, without God, it is easier to lose perspective: to see our own times as everything, to forget the brevity of the present moment and to cease to appreciate, in a good way, the miniscule nature of our own achievements. And lastly, without God, there can be a danger that the need for empathy and ethical behaviour can be overlooked.
‘Now, it is important to stress that it is quite possible to believe in nothing and remember all these vital lessons – just as one can be a deep believer and a monster. I am simply wanting to draw attention to some of the gaps, some of what is missing, when we dismiss God too brusquely. By all means, we can dismiss him, but with great sympathy, nostalgia, care and thought.’
Could you describe the inspiration behind your most recent idea to start a ‘Better Porn’ site?
‘I recently published a book-length essay called How to Think More About Sex. In it I covered all kinds of topics related to sex, and mentioned also that part of the problem with porn is how demeaning it is to human intelligence and dignity. So one suggestion is not to ban porn but to improve it.’
Why did you set up the School of Life, which aims to apply philosophy to everyday situations?
‘To transmit wisdom – it’s ridiculous to suppose that there’s nothing that can be taught about how to love, work, raise a family, be a friend, confront mortality… These are staple subjects at the school, a place for frienship, inquiry and discovery.’
What do you think draws people to London?
‘The feeling that here, at last, is a place which won’t leave you feeling that the party is going on elsewhere.’
What do you like the city?
‘I’ve been here 30 years – and love the airport most of all.’
And what would you change?
‘Most of the architecture is appalling. I’d raze most of the city and start again. I have made lots of sketches of what needs to be done.’
The School of Life is based in:
70 Marchmont Street
Tel: 020 7833 1010