Atheist Temple Worship, Alain De Botton Plans Temples For Atheists
Battle of the atheists! Alain de Botton plans 'temple for the non-believers' in the heart of London as antidote to Richard Dawkins 'destructive' approachTwo of Britain's most outspoken non-believers have clashed over proposals to build a £1million 'temple' to atheism.
Alain de Botton wants to create a 46-metre tower in the heart of the City of London.
He says such a structure would celebrate a 'new atheism' and be an antidote to what he calls Professor Richard Dawkins's 'aggressive' and 'destructive' approach to non-belief.
'Why should religious people have the most beautiful buildings in the land?' he asks. 'It’s time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals.'
But Prof Dawkins hit back, saying: 'Atheists don't need temples.'
De Botton's plan is for a temple to 'evoke more than 300million years of life on earth', the Guardian reports.
The temple will have a single entrance for visitors. The roof will be open to the elements and the walls are likely to feature fossils and geologically interesting rocks.
Every 10cm band of the interior wall would represent a million years - with a narrow band of gold to show the relatively tiny amount of time humans have been on earth.
The tower’s exterior would be inscribed with a binary code denoting the human genome sequence.
De Botton says he wants to adopt the idea, prevalent in religion, that awe-inspiring buildings can give people a better sense of perspective on life.
'You can build a temple to anything that's positive and good,' De Botton told the Guardiam. ‘Because of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens atheism has become known as a destructive force. But there are lots of people who don't believe but aren't aggressive towards religions.'
But Prof Dawkins has criticised the project. The author of The God Delusion said: 'I think there are better things to spend this kind of money on.
'If you are going to spend money on atheism you could improve secular education and build non-religious schools which teach rational, sceptical critical thinking.'
De Botton said he has raised almost half the money to fund the project from a group of property developers who wish to remain anonymous.
He is launching a public appeal in a bid to make up the shortfall.
If permission is granted by the Corporation of London, construction could start by the end of 2013.
But attempts to secure public sector backing have struggled, while discussions with City authorities about a possible site stalled because 'they can't be seen to be connected to anything to do with atheism', the project's architect, Tom Greenall, told the Guardian.
The philosopher said the best place for the temple is among the towers of London’s financial centre because he believes it is where people have most seriously lost perspective on life's priorities.
He is not the first atheist to see the value of creating ‘temples’ to non-belief.
During the French revolution churches were converted to 'temples of reason', while London’s Conway Hall, which opened in 1929, is run by the humanist South Place Ethical Society, whose aims ‘are the study and dissemination of ethical principles based on humanism and free thought, the cultivation of a rational and humane way of life, and the advancement of research and education in all relevant fields’.
But humanists said it was misplaced for atheists to build quasi-religious buildings.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Society, said: 'The things religious people get from religion – awe, wonder, meaning and perspective – non-religious people get them from other places like art, nature, human relationships and the narratives we give our lives in other ways.'
But De Botton insists atheists have as much right to enjoy inspiring architecture as religious believers.
The Rev George Pitcher, an Anglican priest at St Bride's, Fleet Street, and a former adviser to the archbishop of Canterbury, 'rejoiced' in the idea.
'Building a monument acknowledges that we are more than dust, Mr Pitcher said. ‘Whether we come at that through secular means or a religious narrative, it is the same game.
'This is a more constructive atheism than Dawkins, who is about the destruction of ideas rather than contributing new ones.'
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