Author Alain de Botton has announced a bold new plan for a series of Temples for Atheists to be built around the UK.
‘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’…
De Botton has begun working on the first Temple for Atheists. Designed by Tom Greenall Architects, this will be a huge black tower nestled among the office buildings in the City of London. Measuring 46 meters in all, the tower represents the age of the earth, with each centimetre equating to 1 million years and with, at the tower’s base, a tiny band of gold a mere millimetre thick standing for mankind’s time on earth. The Temple is dedicated to the idea of perspective, which is something we’re prone to lose in the midst of our busy modern lives.
De Botton suggests that atheists like Richard Dawkins won’t ever convince people that atheism is an attractive way of looking at life until they provide them with the sort of rituals, buildings, communities and works of art and architecture that religions have always used.
It will be very interesting to see if this idea catches on. It isn’t cheap to design and build such structures and I wonder if the funding will primarily come from wealthy individuals or atheist organizations.
Two other things are very interesting:
1. The argument that having a building for your cause is noteworthy. A building implies permanence and stability. If a group has enough money or followers, a building is a testament to that. Also, the specific design of a building can represent an idea or cause. In this case, the building is intended to help people think about perspective. In the end, a building is not simply a functional place but has a lot symbolic value.
2. More from a sociological point of view, it is interesting to hear De Botton argue that the mechanics of religion are successful even if its content is untrue. In other words, religious practices and behaviors are attractive to plenty of people and atheists need to find their equivalent. Religion’s power, then, is not just in a belief in or experience with the supernatural but is also a social phenomenon that successfully brings people together.