Via the Guardian:
Plans to build a £1m “temple for atheists” among the international banks and medieval church spires of the City of London have sparked a clash between two of Britain’s most prominent non-believers.
The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre (151ft) tower to celebrate a “new atheism” as an antidote to what he describes as Professor Richard Dawkins’s “aggressive” and “destructive” approach to non-belief.
Rather than attack religion, De Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.
“Normally a temple is to Jesus, Mary or Buddha, but you can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good,” he said. “That could mean a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective. 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.”
Dawkins criticised the project on Thursday, indicating the money was being misspent and that a temple of atheism was a contradiction in terms.
“Atheists don’t need temples,” 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.”
The spat came as De Botton revealed details of a temple to evoke more than 300m years of life on earth. Each centimetre of the tapering tower’s interior has been designed to represent a million years and a narrow band of gold will illustrate the relatively tiny amount of time humans have walked the planet. The exterior would be inscribed with a binary code denoting the human genome sequence…
The temple features a single door for visitors who will enter as if it were an art installation. The roof will be open to the elements and there could be fossils and geologically interesting rocks in the concrete walls.
“Fossils and geologically interesting rocks.” Feel the excitement.
And then the “humanists” chip in:
Humanists said it was misplaced for non-believers to build quasi-religious buildings, because atheists did not need temples to probe the meaning of life.
True enough, I suppose. I’ve never really understood the attraction of “probing” the meaning of life in the first place. It’s fine if you like that sort of thing but…
De Botton has insisted atheists have as much right to enjoy inspiring architecture as religious believers.
“The dominant feeling you should get will be awe – the same feeling you get when you tip your head back in Ely cathedral,” he said. “You should feel small but not in an intimidated way.”
But according to the Rev Katharine Rumens, rector of St Giles’ Cripplegate church, in the Barbican, where the temple is likely to be located: “Awe is not enough.”
She said: “You need a welcome, a sense of belonging and of wanting to return. It might make you feel so insignificant you wouldn’t know how to start. What would this say to somebody who is mentally frail or nearing the end of their life? How does that really speak to the human condition?”
Another Anglican, the Rev George Pitcher, a priest at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, and a former adviser to the archbishop of Canterbury, “rejoiced” in the idea. “He is referring to a sense of human transcendence, that there is something more than our visceral existence,” Pitcher said.
“Building a monument acknowledges that we are more than dust. Whether we come at that through secular means or a religious narrative, it is the same game.”
In a way, yes. And that’s one reason I’d give this temple a miss, but build away, Alain. Architectural follies are often good for a laugh and a gawp. And in a grim old world that’s worth something.