Blog special: Alain de Botton on his ‘temple of atheism’….

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The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton has a new book out on atheism, and some press reports suggest that he wants to build a ‘temple to atheism’ in the City of London.  Some religious folk have then argued that this shows atheists have finally found a sense of awe and wonder in the world.  I sent out a tweet saying that I thought the idea of a temple of atheism was a very silly idea.  Alain then emailed me to say that he had been misreported in the press.  I suggested that he wrote something to set the record straight, and he kindly sent me the following piece….

” Beyond ‘Temples for Atheists’ – An explanation.

I am conscious that the phrase ‘temple for atheists’ has had the power to annoy a great many good and clever people – and because my idea is as I conceive it inherently non-contentious, it’s clear that I must have explained it extremely badly, for which I’m sorry. Let me start again.

My starting point is that a great many religious buildings are powerful works of architecture: even committed atheists like myself recognise that many cathedrals, mosques, temples and churches are extremely successful and beguiling as buildings. The religious explanation for this power has often invoked God in the creative process. Medieval Cathedral builders quite literally believed that the hand of God was guiding them in their extraordinary creations.

As an atheist, I can’t believe in the supernatural explanations for the greatness of religious architecture. I analyse the power in terms of such features as mass, scale, material, sound, air quality and so on.

My suggestion is that contemporary architecture look more closely at the examples of religious architecture, in order to give their buildings some of the qualities that are most appealling in religious buildings; to put it bluntly, in order that these effects not reside heretofore only in the cul-de-sac of religious architecture.

The architects I have come across who have already been at work on this, and very brilliantly, are Louis Kahn, Tadao Ando and Peter Zumthor. In the world of art, James Turrell has explored similar ground – as did Mark Rothko, with his astonishing Rothko Chapel in Texas.

What unites Kahn, Ando, Zumthor and Turrell is that they know how to create abstracted sonorous spaces that take us out of the everyday and encourage contemplation, perspective and (at times) a pleasing terror. Especially in the work of Turrell, science is not far from the surface as a tool for generating such effects. It’s about playing with scale, and confronting us with a new perspective on ourselves. The dividing line between museum, observatory and meditation chamber are blurred in fascinating ways.

My suggestion is that places like the Rothko chapel or Turrell’s Skyspace are valuable exercises. I wouldn’t mind if there were a few more of them in the world.

This idea has been greeted with complaints that these places already exist: there already are science museums and observatories and even religious buildings. Why do anything more? Why create anything new?

The answer has to be personal, it has to do with one’s appetite for taking on something unusual. As someone heavily involved professionally in the world of architecture, I look forward to a new generation continuing to build on the achievements of the past. I don’t have a set plan for what might be built. I am not architect, but I find it fascinating to see what architects might design. It’s a struggle to get any building off the ground, and Thomas Greenall’s idea began life as a piece of paper architecture to illustrate a point in a book. I’m not sure it will ever take off quite as it is, perhaps it will, but I feel that things like it should – even though I’m not personally entirely sure how.

Evidently the term ‘temple for atheists’ has set up uncomfortable associations. People have imagined I might be interested in worshipping an absent deity, or perhaps setting up a cult. Nothing as dramatic or as insane is on the cards. I’m simply arguing that contemporary architecture analyse the high points of religious architecture throughout history – and that we should allow a new generation of architects to tread in the footsteps of great secular creatives indebted to the ecclesiastical, people like Kahn, Ando and Zumthor.”

What do you think?  Do you agree with Alain’s point of view?

74 comments on “Blog special: Alain de Botton on his ‘temple of atheism’….

  1. He also wrote to me as well – I think there’s a big effort on his part to set the record straight:
    Token Skeptic Interview with Alain de Botton on Religion For Atheists

  2. Damocles says:

    “the cul-de-sac of religious architecture.”, Oh well as long as he doesn’t come across as conceited.

  3. Steve Pursglove says:

    From Alain’s explanation, and other interviews he’s done recently, I’m sure he’s got a point. The “cul-de-sac” phrase is perfectly made, in my view. Why should inspiring and contemplative buildings be the exclusive domain of religion? There are many other ideas in his book, all of which made me think “Hmm, I hadn’t looked at it like that before”, but all of which are worthy of very serious consideration by atheists. He runs the risk of being shot by both sides (as is already happening), but radical and original thinkers often are. His wisdom and bravery deserve respect.

  4. JimC says:

    “It’s a struggle to get any building off the ground” – I certainly agree with that.

  5. Arthur says:

    So is Alain de Botton gathering funding to build a 105 ft (?) monument to atheism or not?

  6. dave says:

    who’s Thomas Greenall?

  7. Arthur says:

    Someone above agrees with Alain de Botton by writing, “Why should inspiring and contemplative buildings be the exclusive domain of religion?”. Answer: They’re not. Try Art Galleries just for starters.

    Re: Alain’s last point, “we should allow a new generation of architects to tread in the footsteps of great secular creatives indebted to the ecclesiastical, people like Kahn, Ando and Zumthor.” Is there something disallowing this now?

    • brian t says:

      I was going to ask the same question: architects are already free to design what they wish, and they do, so what’s the problem? The “problem” is that designs don’t become reality unless someone pays to make that happens, so I suspect Alain is pointing at the clients, not the architects themselves.

      In medieval times the churches were the clients, the ones with the money, so they got the most beautiful buildings and commissioned the religious music: then, as now, money talks. But I still don’t see the problem, or anything that needs to be changed today. If you look at the recent skyscrapers built in London, such as the “Gherkin” and the “Shard”, they may as well be “temples to atheism” for all their religious context.

      I recently saw the movie “Working Girl” again, the one with the beautiful opening shots of Wall St., and Carly Simon’s inspirational hymn about capitalism as the “New Jerusalem” ..!
      The World Trade Center stood out there as a beacon to the world of commerce, and a target: its destruction was distressing to everyone, regardless of beliefs or lack thereof. Does A de B really think we need to artificially promote atheism in architecture, when we have a world full of beautiful buildings that are not churches?

  8. [...] everyone is talking about Alain de Botton’s new book. Good. It looks like a worthy tome. I’ve yet to read it (my [...]

  9. makoho says:

    He’s got a point. I like it when a building fills me with wonder, awe, or contemplation. Usually that inspiring moment is followed by a disappointing one when I realize it was build for a deity that doesn’t exist.
    How refreshing and welcoming a building would be that insipres awe, wonder, contemplation, and curiosity, and leaves out the bit that says I’m under some deity’s judging eyes.

  10. Geoff Coupe says:

    This time at least he seems to have been able to state his case without a dig at Dawkins, unlike in the press reports about his descriptions of his tower.

    That’s what really irritated me about de Botton’s performance in hisTED talk (on Atheism 2.0). He opened it with a thinly-veiled sneer at Richard Dawkins, saying that “many [people] who live in North Oxford” simply find religion ridiculous. De Botton then went on to say that:

    ‘I’m interested in the kind of constituency that thinks something along these lines: that thinks, “I can’t believe in any of this stuff, I can’t believe in the doctrines. I don’t think these doctrines are right. But,” a very important but, “I love Christmas Carols, I really like the art of Mantegna. I really like looking at old churches. I really like turning the pages of the Old Testament”.’

    De Botton created yet another Dawkins strawman by his sneer, because, in fact, Dawkins is in just the kind of constituency that de Botton claims he is interested in. Dawkins is on record as recognising himself as a cultural Christian.

  11. Lisa says:

    Isn’t he simply talking about art here? x you can build a great work if art to create wonder and amazement, but it is not really a temple x a temple built for ‘perspective’ gets everyone to worship perspective as a religious concept, thus creating the god ‘perspective’ – religion for atheists is a paradox, atheists creating temples is art x still I am intrigued and haven’t finished thinking about this x I have built a temple in Glastonbury, primarily to honour the water, with shrines in honour of crtain deities x if you build a temple, build belief and structure around it, people will find their own way to see god in it x whether built by atheists or not x

  12. merkuto says:

    I absolutely love a number of religious buildings, I think the Notre Dame cathedral is the most beautiful man made thing I have ever seen, I would love to have something that monumental and gorgeous that could be claimed by rational thinkers as part of their own. I’d like to imagine that it would serve as a counter to the argument that religion is good because look at the beautiful things it has inspired, and that clearly these artists couldn’t have done such wonderful work without that inspiration, but I don’t have much hope of that. It would just be written off as derivative, a mere copy of the religious pioneers in temple building, but I still think it’s an inspiring idea.

  13. Gary Clarke says:

    I think Alain de Botton misunderstands the nature of atheism, certainly at least what my atheism means to me.

    The earth and nature are atheism’s temple, a multitude of places to reflect upon and within.

    Religion’s temples are an impressive conjurer’s prop designed to distract and mislead the unwary and naive into transferring their wonder to the artful charlatans. There is no need for them for an atheist

    • Berber Anna says:

      I disagree that impressive, beautiful architecture is irrelevant to an atheist. Consider the Natural History Museum in London. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings I know, with its carved pillars with the tiny monkeys, its grand, Roman-esque design with the galleries, and the stairway with Darwin presiding.

      There’s nothing wrong with a conjurer’s props. Illusions are awesome, beautiful ways to understand how your senses and perception work. The only problem is in the conjurer himself, when he pretends that his tricks are more than trickery.

    • Gary Clarke says:

      @Berber Anna

      In fact, you and I agree. I’m not arguing that impressive, beautiful architecture is the sole preserve of religionists and of no relevance to an atheist.

      If there is a difference it is that religionists use beautiful buildings to appropriate for themselves all that is beautiful in the world, where as I, in my self diagnosed atheism, appreciate impressive buildings as another form of beauty.

      I read that we are both deeply suspicious of the conjurer’s motivation.

  14. Deep Survivor says:

    Flying Spaghetti Monster has commissioned an exploratory committee for spec’ing out the proper region of Italy for his house of worship.

  15. I live a few blocks from the “The Human Anatomy Museum of the University of Turin (Italy)”, an authentic “science cathedral” dating back to 1739:

    http://www.pianetatorino.it/museo_anatomia_umana1.htm

  16. piglet lil says:

    “The earth and nature are atheism’s temple, a multitude of places to reflect upon and within. ”
    Whilst I agree with this sentiment, I am also full of awe and admiration at humankind’s creativity and vision as embodied in cathedrals or works of art and music – and it matters little to me that they may have been created to honour a god that doesn’t exist. The art exists, and the courage, ingenuity and creative life force of humankind exist and are wonderful. I marvel at and revel in those things and don’t feel I need other works to be created solely with the purpose of telling religious people ‘look, we can do it without your stupid god!’.
    On the other hand, I’m not against anyone striving to create art for any reason whatsoever – the more the merrier!

  17. Stan says:

    His building should just be called a building. Temple insinuates a place to worship. It would seem he has taken the appreciation of architecture and raised it to worship of mans ability to build “cool” things.

    I agree with your initial observation, it’s silly.

    • A de K says:

      Agree. Religious architecture followed the function of gathering for worship, the overall effect of the architectural style being awe-inspiring. How about the functions of the buildings of AdeB’s namechecks? Zumthor (e.g. bathing); Kahn (e.g. displaying art); Ando (e.g. museums…and churches of course).

      Function first, then a deliberate measure of pleasing terror.

      Richard Wiseman’s initial response gets straight to the point that there are already plenty of temple-like buildings inspired by something other than religion.

  18. keith says:

    Every time I see an article like this I think of this remarkable result showing that nonautistic atheists are just theists in denial: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/05/29/people-with-aspergers-less-likely-to-see-purpose-behind-the-events-in-their-lives/

    • Berber Anna says:

      Interesting. I’m autistic, but I do have a fairly good theory of mind. I’ve been raised atheist, but I did explore various religions as a child and adolescent. They just never rang quite true, so I’m back to square one, being atheism.
      I wouldn’t conclude from that article that non-autistic atheists are theists in denial, by the way. Seeing meaning or correlation in unrelated events isn’t purely the domain of theism. One could for instance believe in fate or the paranormal without believing in a deity as such.

  19. Ronda says:

    Utter foolishness. A building is a building, and there are many impressive examples of architecture. If you’re a believer, none of them would be possible without God, and if you’re an atheist, none of them are God-inspired. I think it shows his insecurity with his own atheism that he feels a need to compete, frankly. I am a Christian, and I feel that there are many “temples to atheism” in the world already. Many of the incredibles structures in Dubai, for instance, would surely qualify–there is nothing religious about them, and they are awe-inspiring.

  20. Mark Jones says:

    Alain de Botton seems to appreciate that there is just a construction method that dictates the ‘awesomeness’ of a building. So, there is nothing peculiarly religious that gives a building the features he wants. Which would suggest that any ‘awesomeness’ is not inherent in the religious buildings, but a cultural response, perhaps. Plainly, architects have used the same methods on both types of building, so one wonders why he finds a difference between the religious and secular? If any difference is just a cultural response, this might make his proposal pointless; plenty of us secular folk already find awe aplenty in non-religious artefacts, and don’t need pseudo-religious ones, and the religious would not find ‘atheist’ architecture awesome either, obviously.

    But, to be fair, I guess atheists still in thrall to religion might find it awesome, because of their cultural baggage. Perhaps if he were clearer on that score, his message would be better received: “Some of us are having trouble letting go of our religious culture, so can we have a little pretence, please, to satisfy our hunger for awe?” Is that his project? I’m not sure that his is a big enough constituency for that, but I could be wrong. And, to be clear, his constituency is not those who simply find enjoyment from some religious phenomena, else it would include Dawkins and me, and he and I feel no need for such temples.

  21. Lazy T says:

    A temple of atheism, or rather ‘not a temple’ of atheism?
    A nice building to the glory of nothing?
    Sounds like an old fashioned folly to me.

  22. As a religious person Atheists strike me as a strange institution. Mind you there are as many different types of Atheists as there are any other religious group. There are those who believe what you sense is all there is in the world and they’re good with those.Then there are those who seem to harbor some desire for what religion has. Some of the second group look towards the advancement of technology and the singularity with religious zeal. And some, like Alain de Botton here, who spend their time going “Psh, that’s not so special, we could do that.”

    It seems to me like jealousy. But it’s a jealousy towards a proposed nothing. And the more Mr de Botton asserts his point the more apparent that becomes. If you are truly uninterested in God you wouldn’t need to write a book about how your non-god is just as good.

  23. Gaxx (@gaxx) says:

    I think Alain de Botton makes some excellent points here and it’s a shame they weren’t represented as such by the press-at-large. Reading more around his recent thoughts (particularly from the Philosophy Bites podcast) I think this stems from the general mind set of making use of the very valid tools used by religious groups.

    This doesn’t, of course, mean aping them or conceding any ground from an atheist stance but merely accepting that some of the tools used by religions and religious people are entirely valid and useful ways to get things done. After all – we wouldn’t eschew the hammer just because religious types might have been using it for thousands of years. Why shouldn’t we make use of the same architectural tools?

  24. Zebulon Pike says:

    I find this guy tiring. First I heard of him was his TED talk where he told “us Athiests” that we need to be more like religious people, now he telling us that we need to build structures like religious people.

    I have no issue with the idea that religions have aspects of value, they certainly do. What irks me about him is the assumption that the secular community lacks those very things of value.

    He claims to be an atheist but it seems that the things he values most in life he can only relate to in religious terms. While the rest of us are living our lives, performing our family traditions and creating the work of our lives, he has to constantly compare it to the one thing we have actually rejected.

    Here’s an idea Alain, maybe you should pay more attention to what people actually do and stop worrying about why they do it.

  25. [...] statement was also sent to Richard Wiseman (and others), and is attracting some good comments on Wiseman’s blog.Share this:ShareFacebookEmailPrintStumbleUponRedditDiggPosted in Culture, Religion | Tagged Alain [...]

  26. Berhard says:

    i do not see any connection between atheism and architecture, or vice versa.

    I also see no need to answer religious people fuzzing about religious architecture …

    If you want to build some kind of “atheist temple” you would have someone to pay for it… I expect that tere are few atheists that want to pay for the erection and the maintenance of such a building.

    If you want to hava a kind of “atheist temple” would prefer it to be a lightly elevated circular platform. Just as atheism it gives you no shelter, illusions or solace and especcially no impession of awe… Atheism is a lack of beliving in god, so i belive a temple of atheism (i.e. a house for no god) should be lacking a building as such…

    I do not share the opinion “that contemporary architecture look more closely at the examples of religious architecture, in order to give their buildings some of the qualities that are most appealling in religious buildings”. I prefer the “form follows function approach” (also usually applied in religious buildings).. so why copypasting chirch arcitecture to contemporary architecture… If you can’t see the ave in bridges, Antennas, skyscrapers already there, burj califa, Janktse dam taipeh 101 i wont be able to help you…

    • Berber Anna says:

      “atheism it gives you no shelter, illusions or solace and especially no impression of awe”

      While the former two may be correct — although the community of atheists provides plenty of shelter, as in the case of that boy who wanted a religion-free graduation ceremony and was kicked out by his parents as a result — solace and awe are certainly in the domain of atheism.

      I feel awed every time I look at the night sky, when I see the Moon, Mars and Venus, and on clear evenings even the stars and the faint line of the Milky Way. I feel awed to know that there is this immense galaxy out there, that the Earth is just a comparatively tiny speck of dust that happens to have tiny parts of it walking around and looking up at the night sky. To be one of those tiny insignificant Earth bits, to be the totally random result of eons of coincidences and natural processes — to be able to stand there and see it all, against all odds — that is the most awed and awesome feeling ever. That is solace, and reason, and it’s enough for me.

      I’d rather be random than created. Come on, don’t we all feel more awed at randomly formed natural structures that happen to resemble other things, than we do at statues of those things (no matter how expertly carved they are)? To be the product of chance is much more interesting than to be the product of design. Design is inevitable, chance is incredible luck.

    • Berhard says:

      Basically, i just wanted to indicate that “not beliving in god” as such, may not provide the illusion of “things happen for a greater reason”, “dying is just a transition to heaven” or other illusions of solace or awe… (The “community of atheists” may give you much more.)

      In my opinion the ability to see awe in the world is independent of any religion and/or atheism…

      I have to think about your other thougts but i expet that i see the world a bit different in that of i don’t think it being interesting to be the product of chance (and even less to be a product of design).

  27. gussnarp says:

    If this “clarification” is really his view, then he’s just wasted a lot of pixels and typing time. He hasn’t said anything new, different, or that anyone isn’t already doing. Look at religious architecture and learn from it? Anyone study architecture lately? Have they stopped doing that? I think that one is covered. Build new beautiful buildings for secular purposes? Has he looked at church versus secular architecture lately? Church buildings in the modern era are mostly hideous cracker box things, while museums, libraries, schools, hospitals, even office buildings are the really cool spaces now. What he seems to be arguing for is for architecture to keep doing what it’s been doing. Unless he wants to get into some specifics of what he is really talking about, he seems to be either calling for a temple or monument, or calling for nothing at all.

  28. Emma says:

    Yes. It sounds great. People who built (for example) cathedrals in the middle ages believed in what they were doing. That’s why you can’t say ‘but cathedrals already exist, so we don’t need any more’. Sorry to be using an example of a religious building, which I know is probably unhelpful! But people should build things they believe in and believe are necessary, not just follow an ancient template. I’m atheist, too, but cathedrals and the like ARE imposing, and maybe that’s missing a bit in today’s architecture. I love London’s gherkin, though!

  29. [...] 31/1/12: Alain de Botton has explained what he means in greater depth at Richard Wiseman’s blog. I can sort of see what he’s getting at, but it doesn’t seem to be saying anything very [...]

  30. meg says:

    I know exactly what De Botton means and I would LOVE to be able to enjoy a beautiful atheist temple – to be able to experience such ambiance as provides peace and awe, without having to encroach upon theist territory…. Somewhere purpose-built to celebrate scientific achievement and great people (some of whom the trad churches put to death), and indeed atheism itself, where I as an atheist would feel entirely at home and welcome. Sorry, visiting a museum or art gallery etc is not the same. Don’t worry Alain – you are entitled to your wishes and views as much as any other atheist, and you speak for many.

  31. ladymac says:

    I agree with Alain.

  32. Wolfdude says:

    When i first read about a person building a Temple for Atheism. I thought it is rather a sarcastic view and i didnt really think anybody would do that. Because putting Atheism on religious clothes is kinda absurd and thats what i found sarcastic.

    There are many known temples all around the world for example in Egypt. Those temples built for those kings (ordinary people) who described themselves as Gods and even after so many years some people still think that theres actually some kind of magical answer to all of the arhictectures, writings and such. But when i read it, i didnt know anything about Alain De Botton so its really easy for someone to think about it in such way.

    Along the whole discussion I agree with Richard Dawkings. As he said building schools or spending that time and money for educating people would be more logical.

  33. Mervulon says:

    Ultimately, I just don’t really see the point. Build awe-inspiring buildings for whatever secular purpose and functionality you want, but to build a building just so that it can “be secular” seems pointless and circular in reasoning i.e. “it is what it is.” There are plenty of structures, from museums to bridges, that have the power to transfix the imagination, whose purposes are clear, free of any religious intent or dogma. If the sole function of this “temple” is provide aesthetic appeal, I would argue that it is art rather than architecture, more statuary than structure.

  34. Kharamatha says:

    The piece tells me that he’s a dolt.

    “I’m simply arguing that contemporary architecture analyse the high points of religious architecture throughout history – and that we should allow a new generation of architects to tread in the footsteps of great secular creatives indebted to the ecclesiastical, people like Kahn, Ando and Zumthor.”

    Really? You believe that you are the first person who ever noticed that old houses are pretty? You believe that you have had some arcane revelation that eluded many generations of architects?

    • Kharamatha says:

      Of course, an alternate explanation is that he’s disingenuously backpedalling.

      What’s more parsimonious?

    • meg says:

      Oh he’s a dolt, eh? Not an intelligent person with a point of view, whether or not you agree with it? My my. How bitter and critical are people who think they are so much cleverer.

    • Kharamatha says:

      Dolts have points of view, too. “Point of view” doesn’t mean “not dumb”.

    • Kharamatha says:

      (Besides, I already did allow for the possibility that he’s an intelligent liar. What more do you want? :P)

    • brian t says:

      I don’t think he’s a dolt, I just think he’s out of touch with everything that’s gone on in the last ten years. 9/11 – an explicitly religious act of terrorism – and the rise of the Internet. If there’s got to be a “temple”, I’ll vote for the virtual one that allows people to express themselves freely: the one that is under attack from those who think that people need to be protected from reality.

      As I said: all he’s doing is giving ammo to the “atheism is a religion” people. I like the way Bill Maher put it recently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mA-57ZkL6Q

  35. All architecture is fundamentally atheist, if by atheist we mean the absence of any need to posit something beyond the physical world to explain its existence. What good ‘religious’ architecture shows is the extraordinary ability of human beings to achieve an entirely human notion of the sublime using the materials to hand. And talking of cul-de-sac, it’s certainly the case that modern so-called religious architecture is almost entirely valueless – I can’t think of a single modern church that doesn’t pack the punch of an average out-of-town supermarket.

    • Factoidjunkie says:

      While I generally agree with you, a review of Mormon temples erected in the past ten to twenty years reveals some serious attempts at improving on the “out-of-town supermarket.”

  36. Henry Ruddle says:

    I’ve been defending de Botton in various forums because a lot of people seem to think he is proposing an atheist cult or something, but he doesn’t help himself by using the word atheism to mean more than it does. I think it will be fantastic if more humanist, skeptical and science-oriented groups take over defunct churches to make the same point.

  37. Veronique says:

    De Botton has done himself no favours and has actually brought unwelcome press on the head of atheism. Now we have to counter even more silly charges that atheism is a religious cult or worshipful sect.

    He says himself that he has been misrepresented in the press – surprise, surprise.

    He could learn some street smarts and media savvy before he puts himself in front of the press.

    Architects do their thing every generation. Buildings are buildings and get made to the wishes of whoever commissions them. There are some glorious buildings around and there always will be. They will also always be dated to the generation during which they are conceived and built.

    Just please don’t create yet another building where there is no need for one. Stop being wasteful. All cities are already crowded with buildings, good, bad and indifferent. Spend the money on keeping people alive, reducing the impact we have on our habitat. Do good works, don’t replicate more unnecessary buildings.

    A much better idea.

    • meg says:

      Yes well that would be fine, wouldn’t it, bow down to the critics and unintelligentsia just to avoid their criticism and silly comments…I don’t think so, imagine what WOULDN’T be done in the world if everyone thought that way! I think atheists should do what atheists want to do unashamedly. If the church has it’s stamp all over the community and in our faces, I don’t see why we can’t have some nice buildings if we should so wish. “Where there is no need for one” – that’s subjective. In fact if we’re to think that way, then let’s be fair about it – there’s no need for any religious building. Why don’t we reclaim that land, pull down the existing churches and use the space for the public good – build a hospital or clinic etc, or sell that VERY valuable land for funding child protection or elder care. Except of course its privately owned isn’t it, with taxpayer assistance and no accountability. No good defending the rights of theists and criticising your fellow atheists! Atheists are not all the same you know – we don’t all think the same and have the same needs or lack thereof. It would be better press for atheists frankly if those of us with feelings and “needs” came out and spoke up rather than leaving it to the individualists who are cynical and don’t need anyone or anything. That’s what’s being blamed (rightly) for the lack of cohesion and caring in our community.

  38. Veronique says:

    Well Meg. You appear to be snarkier than I could ever be.

    Let’s just say we don’t agree and leave it like that. I love Living Architecture but no more monuments thank you.

    Opinions are always subjective, Meg, don’t be too disingenuous.

    You are right – atheists are no all the the same. You are nothing like me.

    • meg says:

      I don’t think your posting was generous or fair to an intelligent man representing the views of more than a few, and as for media savvy, he is a famous published writer and researcher…. he has done more than most of us. As for not doing himself favours, I wish I had his royalties LOL. Sorry if I was snarky, didn’t mean to be personal, it is not you yourself alone but I am totally fatigued by reading atheists who consider it their duty to tell other atheists what they may or may not do, how D B is ruining atheism (what a lot of rot) and who are always suggesting some holier-than-thou idea of what money should be spent on. The fact is, money gets spent on many things most of us would disagree about. Can we not say “not for me” but go for it, might be nice? Or better still – just why not? There will be more monuments always, it’s natural for people to build such. It’s just a matter of whether or not you agree with the context. Saying “we have no need of such” is speaking for others where you cannot. And finally, there’s nothing wrong with me not being like you. It is not a fault but somehow you are inferring some superiority in that statement.

  39. The Anonymous Agnostic says:

    Why can’t the aetheists use the theists’ temples?
    Aetheism is just another form of religious fundamentalism. The statements ” God definitely exists” and “God definitely does not exist” are both similar in that they are both statements which can not be proven. To make either of these statements has always smacked of extreme arrogance to me. People of a religious persuasion should keep their relationships with their gods private. The same goes for aetheists – they should keep their non-relationships with their non-gods private too.

  40. GBJames says:

    Oh! I get it. You think cool buildings are neat and there should be more of them. No argument there. So what is the purpose of using the word “temple”? There are thousands of dreadful temples out there (drive past a Kingdom Hall sometime).

    Reliance on that particular bit of language changes a quite pedestrian (and rather dull) comment into one designed, dare I say, to create controversy. Good for book sales, eh?

  41. [...] Alain de Botton’s grandiose plans to build an Atheist Temple in London?  Well, according to Richard Wiseman’s website, Botton claims he was “misinterpreted”.  Basically, Botton now claims that he was [...]

  42. Mervulon says:

    Having re-read his “clarification” once more, it really is pretty feeble. “As an atheist, I can’t believe in the supernatural explanations for the greatness of religious architecture. I analyse the power in terms of such features as mass, scale, material, sound, air quality and so on.” Yeah, no kidding. You and everybody else, including plenty of religious types. And “My suggestion is that contemporary architecture look more closely at the examples of religious architecture…” is more than insulting to the countless students of architecture, history and philosophy who have done so for generations. Does he flatter himself that ANY of this is original thought? Denigrating dissenters to his whole idea as merely ‘clever’ (rather than intelligent, like HE is) further suggests an attitude of conceit that, unsurprisingly, wishes to manifest itself in the form of a “temple” of all things. So, why do this? “The answer has to be personal, it has to do with one’s appetite for taking on something unusual.” It certainly has to do with one’s personal appetite. But self-aggrandization is, sadly, not all that unusual. It’s just tiresome.

    Okay. For an original idea… design the most awe-inspiring and uplifting temple you can dream of, borrowing from all traditions that have come before, and then make it to enormous scale… but make it holographic. So it isn’t REALLY “there’…. Get it? ;-)

  43. BERT says:

    i wish i could get to de bottom of all dis!

  44. Gail Carlyle says:

    To be frank I don’t think he does himself any favors with his choice of words. I’m not sure how I feel about it, as there are many things in this life that we revere, and view almost the same way some would view a temple. I used to be dragged to the Kingdom Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses as a child, and now a firm atheist, I hate all religious buildings, so all I will say is, let people be free to build, create, inspire whatever they fucking want, lets just not argue over such petty imeterial topics.

  45. BERT says:

    with a name like his he could be forgiven for acting like an arsehole isnt that right richard………….

  46. Good grief! I love this site, but need reminding never to read the comments here.

  47. dom says:

    A “church for atheists” is something De Botton has pilfered from Nietzsche. Nietzsche spoke about a longing for places built especially & ONLY for quiet contemplation.

  48. dom says:

    Treating De Botton as anything other than a purveyor of other peoples ideas is a mistake. He writes books/tv shows for people who own copies of books by Satre, Nietzsche et al, but don’t actually read them.

  49. BERT says:

    a toliet is a place for quiet contemplation .. unless your names george michael……

  50. If it’s an architectural excercise then build whatever you like but what does that have to do with Atheism? Alain De Botton claims to be an Atheist but continues to critiscize and insult Atheists. Why would we want to emulate religion with an Atheist temple. The title of his book was insult enough.

  51. Alat Presto says:

    Alat Presto…

    [...]Blog special: Alain de Botton on his ‘temple of atheism’…. « Richard Wiseman[...]…

  52. vivek01 says:

    He writes books/tv shows for people who own copies of books by Satre, Nietzsche et al, but don’t actually read them.

  53. This is rather great. That is definitely give me an concept.

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