About the Author
The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence. It addresses issues such as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand and – where necessary – change the world. These ideas are delivered though a range of channels: from videos, books and products, to classes, events and one-to-one therapy sessions.
Headquartered in London, it operates around the globe with twelve international branches (Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin, Istanbul, Melbourne, Paris, São Paulo, Sydney, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Taipei). The School of Life is a rapidly growing global brand, with 3.6 million YouTube subscribers, 293,000 Facebook followers, 68,000 Instagram followers and 138,000 Twitter followers. The first US School of Life Conference took place in San Francisco in March 2018. Over three days 400 attendees took part in interactive lectures and philosophical debate. Our next conference will be held in LA, March 2019.
The School of Life Press brings together the writing of teachers, psychologists and philosophers under the creative direction of series editor, Alain de Botton. The aim of all the titles is to share a coherent message with one voice.
Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In the past, invoking God was the most impressive and powerful way of signalling the importance of anything: a battle, the collection of the harvest, the start of work on a new building.
Weddings were also emphatically religious events. A couple weren’t just promising things to one another; they were making a promise in front of a divine being who, on their death, would judge the worth of their efforts. Religions helped us properly recognise the gravity and strangeness of the act of marriage.
Today, we probably don’t see marriage in explicitly religious terms, and this presents us with a conundrum. If we are interested in marriage ceremonies, we have little choice but to use a set of rituals drawn from religion – although their original meanings are liable to leave us cold. We may want to capture the noumenal meaning of getting married, but the only people offering us this possibility wrap it up in a lot of deeply implausible theological speculation.
Our conundrum is the result of a historical process that we might call ‘bad secularisation’. Traditionally, religions did two distinctive things. On the one hand, they preached ideas about life after death and the creation of the cosmos. On the other hand, they provided potent rituals for marking the great events of our lives. They continually invited us into noumenal time: in baptism, in marriage, at funerals, on certain special holy days. They commissioned art and architecture specifically designed to take us out of the present moment and to give us a perspective on our existence as a whole.
Secularism proceeded by disputing the big theological claims. But at the same time – and without thinking about it very much – secularism also stripped away the psychologically helpful rituals that happened to have become embedded in the faiths. When secularism threw away the bathwater of theology it threw away the baby of ceremony. It supposed that because religions had been the guardians of ceremony, we couldn’t any longer need or legitimately want profound and elevated rituals to help us at the great moments of our lives. But at its heart, ceremony isn’t essentially tied to religious faith; noumenal time – in which we see our lives as a whole – doesn’t have to rely on convictions about God speaking to Moses or the soul surviving the death of the body.
The task of good secularisation is to steal from the ceremonial techniques of religions while disregarding their explicit theological content. Religions have intermittently been the holders of many genuinely helpful, creative, interesting and wise ideas that shouldn’t be left only to those who happen to believe in the surrounding theology. The priority is to rescue what is still inspiring and relevant from all that is no longer easy to believe.
In this book, we will describe in detail a wedding ceremony that uses unusual language, special actions and peculiar rituals to place it outside phenomenal time, in order to help us enter the noumenal space of a life-changing event. Crucially, it contains no theology. The ceremony seeks to learn the underlying insight of religion without leaning on its superstitions. We believe that a wedding should use unfamiliar words; it should (ideally) be in a building that speaks of eternity; the celebrant should be a little imposing; we should wear clothes distinct from our normal attire; we should admit our failings and grasp the failings of the other (and yet still both be willing to share a life). We should, in short, be reminded that we are doing something out of the ordinary, which is at once potentially very good for us, for society and for future generations, yet genuinely terrifying and grave as well.