I tweeted this earlier:
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.
I found the backlash against it rather strange and misguided, because I think at heart it’s such a wonderful idea.
Put aside what one thinks atheists should or should not believe (a rather ironic debate, I find); and, put aside the word ‘temple’, which I think most atheists seemed to get upset about. What a great structure – something with purpose: to focus a sense of awe of the world and one’s place in it (where otherwise that might be forgotten easily), or to a sentiment such as love, while still adhering to our current understanding of physics or evolution (even though science and religious faith are not mutually exclusive anyway). It’s a union of science and the artistic soul, and does not force these ideas upon others.
I think we might also put aside the ‘oh but money can be better spent elsewhere’ argument, too – the temple will not be built with our taxes, and besides, that attitude can be applied to most things in our lives. If only we all spent our money (or even banked our money) in such profound ways… Finally, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to enter it.
De Botton said he chose the country’s financial centre because he believes it is where people have most seriously lost perspective on life’s priorities… This is a more constructive atheism than Dawkins, who is about the destruction of ideas rather than contributing new ones.
Is that so bad, to encourage people to look at life in a different way?