A new book out by an atheist argues that religion offers values that atheists shouldn't dismiss. Alain de Botton argues in Religion for Atheists: A Non-believers Guide to the Uses of Religion that there are things that religion gets right and atheists should not reject them along with religion: "The error of modern atheism," he writes, "has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed." These uses include how to deal with death, foster community, celebrate holidays, caring for others.
I think de Botton misses a very fundamental element. These values are grounded in a certain worldview. These practices come about because of the things we believe - like we are accountable to God, He has created with intrinsic value, the material world is not all there is. Without the beliefs, the view of the world that makes sense of these values, they fall away. It's like the stucco on the frame of a structure. If the frame isn't there, the stucco just crumbles. So while I think de Botton is recognizing true values, he fails to realize they need a worldview to sustain them. In that way, the atheists who abandon these as superstition are at least being consistent.
But approach this the other way, de Botton is pointing out values he recognizes as being true and real features of the world and humanity. He recognizes the innate and virtually universal human instinct for these values. That gives credibility to the Christian worldview. As Greg puts it, Christianity is bolted to reality. Christianity of all religions best makes sense of the values we innately recognize to be true. Christianity is a worldview that provides the best structure to support these values. Not in a pragmatic way to maintain their use, but as a way of making sense of what is true.
You can't abandon religion and expect to sustain for long the values that innately rise up from the worldview. But when you recognize true features of the world and human nature, the reasonable thing is to find the worldview that best accounts for them.