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Old 01-27-2012, 06:09 PM   #1
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Temple for Atheists to be Built

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‘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’.
Alain de Botton has laid out his plans in a new book, Religion for Atheists, which argues that atheists should copy the major religions and put up a network of new architectural masterpieces in the form of temples.
‘As religions have always known, a beautiful building is an indispensable part of getting your message across. Books alone won’t do it.’
De Botton argues that you definitely don’t need a god or gods to justify a temple. ‘You can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good. That could mean: a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective.’
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.
‘Even the most convinced atheists tend to speak nicely about religious buildings. They may even feel sad that nothing like them gets built nowadays. But there’s no need to feel nostalgic. Why not just learn from religions and build similarly beautiful and interesting things right now?’
Dezeen � Blog Archive � Alain de Botton plans temples for atheists




My first reaction was that de Botton appears to be making atheism a religion by giving atheists a place to gather. But then I thought it over and realized it could be a place for them to gather and discuss. But then again, isn't that what some religious people do anyway? I mean, you have youth church groups, Jewish men gathering to interpret the Torah, Buddhists to meditate, etc.

So this led to me wondering what exactly is religion. If its a belief in God or many gods, then leave out Buddhism and make that simply a philosophy. If it is to question the meaning of life and where we came from and where we're going, then atheism can be considered to be a religion.

Also, what sort of art could atheists come up with? No offense, but if they come up with something that resembles a science book, I would find it boring. Unless there's a lot of gold, stained glass windows and mosaics involved.
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Old 01-27-2012, 06:37 PM   #2
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I'm not a big fan of religion, but I am a big fan of their art and architecture. Some beautiful creations have been made in the name of religion and I'm thankful that I get to look at them and read about them. I kinda like this guy's the idea of building something grand for the sake of building it or for something that isn't religious. I think a building just dedicated to atheism is kinda lame, but I like the idea of building something in the name of perspective, or love, or friendship or whatever. Funding is the issue and that's something the churches never seem to have a problem with


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Also, what sort of art could atheists come up with?
That's kind of a silly statement to make. Since when are all artists religious? I would bet that the majority are not
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Old 01-27-2012, 06:43 PM   #3
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That's kind of a silly statement to make. Since when are all artists religious? I would bet that the majority are not
OK, maybe so. I was thinking what would be on the walls and ceilings of an atheist temple. I guess I underestimated what could be painted or sculpted.
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Old 01-27-2012, 06:47 PM   #4
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I guess there wouldn't be the iconography, which would be a shame, but I'm sure they'll come up with something. Maybe nature based? Tree motifs and whatnot. I think it could be quite beautiful.

Actually, a wood ceiling carved to look like the canopy of a tree would be awesome.

The buildings should be for everyone though. Saying 'for athiests' isn't productive
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Old 01-27-2012, 08:01 PM   #5
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Interesting, there was a brief Q&A with de Botton on the TED blog last week:
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What do you think of the aggressive atheism we have seen in the past few years?
I am an atheist, but a gentle one. I don’t feel the need to mock anyone who believes. I really disagree with the hard tone of some atheists who approach religion like a silly fairy tale. I am deeply respectful of religion, but I believe in none of its supernatural aspects. So my position is perhaps unusual: I am at once very respectful and completely impious.

What is it you’re most interested in in religion?
The secular world believes that if we have good ideas, we will be reminded of them just when it matters. Religions don’t agree. They are all about structure; they want to build calendars for us, that will make sure that we regularly encounter reminders of significant concepts. That is what rituals are: they are attempts to make vivid to us things we already know, but are likely to have forgotten. Religions are also keen to see us as more than just rational minds, we are emotional and physical creatures, and therefore, we need to be seduced via our bodies and our senses too...Religions are fascinating because they are giant machines for making ideas vivid and real in people’s lives: ideas about goodness, about death, family, community etc. Nowadays, we tend to believe that the people who make ideas vivid are artists and cultural figures, but this is such a small, individual response to a massive set of problems. So I am deeply interested in the way that religions are in the end institutions, giant machines, organisations, directed to managing our inner life. There is nothing like this in the secular world, and this seems a huge pity.

Don’t you think that, in order to truly appreciate religious music and art, you have to be a believer--or, at least, don’t you think that non-believers miss something important in the experience?
I am interested in the modern claim that we have now found a way to replace religion: with art. You often hear people say, ‘Museums are our new churches’. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not true, and it’s principally not true because of the way that museums are laid out and present art. They prevent anyone from having an emotional relationship with the works on display. They encourage an academic interest, but prevent a more didactic and therapeutic kind of contact. I recommend that even if we don’t believe, we learn to use art (even secular art) as a resource for comfort, identification, guidance and edification, very much what religions do with art.
De Botton's several published books are of the pop-philosophy genre--easily digested applications of core texts and themes in Western thought to contemporary angst, Great-Books-meets-self-help. I think his most recent book, which this temple project presumably ties into, is his first to address the general topic of religion at length, though I've seen him talk about it in interviews before (he's described his family as "very atheistic Jewish" and recalled, with masochistic fondness, his father reducing his sister to tears for entertaining the idea that there might be some sort of higher power in the universe).

My guess is this temple project is the sort of thing most atheists (and some agnostics too) will immediately find either intriguing or pathetic, without much in-between.

In the city of Varanasi in India, there's a temple built in the 1930s (basically a project of Gandhi, who inaugurated it) to Bharat Mata, "Mother India," containing only a giant marble relief map of pre-Partition India. No such "deity" actually exists in Hinduism (though there was, at the time, a proto-national emblem along the lines of France's Marianne by that name) and the temple was meant for all Indians, regardless of religion, caste or ethnicity. Not unsurprisingly, today it's mostly a curiosity for foreign tourists. A thoughtfully designed, aesthetically appealing building replete with familiar symbolism can have its place in maintaining a vibrant community (though the statistically average church/mosque/temple is in fact pretty humble). But it's not what actually binds that community nor what keeps people coming, as all those exquisite empty cathedrals scattered across Europe attest. What unifying worldview would de Botton's temple be embodying? Or if there isn't one, in what way will the design concept be different from any other Cool Postmodern Building? And what exactly will the space be used for?
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Old 01-27-2012, 08:42 PM   #6
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I just realized I watched his Atheism 2.0 talk last week.
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Old 01-28-2012, 11:56 AM   #7
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Old 01-28-2012, 06:57 PM   #8
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Don’t you think that, in order to truly appreciate religious music and art, you have to be a believer--or, at least, don’t you think that non-believers miss something important in the experience?
I dunno, I think non-believers can still find something of interest and appreciation in music or art that professes beliefs different from theirs. Perhaps they appreciate the artist or musician's dedication to the subject matter. One may not be a believer but may still be interested in the stories from a whole other standpoint, and like the way an artist or musician put their own spin on a biblical story. Or maybe the art or music reminds them of someone they know who feels that way, and they understand and respect their loved one's views better, even if they personally don't agree.

If any of that makes sense.

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I am interested in the modern claim that we have now found a way to replace religion: with art. You often hear people say, ‘Museums are our new churches’. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not true, and it’s principally not true because of the way that museums are laid out and present art. They prevent anyone from having an emotional relationship with the works on display.
I'm not sure if I necessarily agree with that, either. Sure, I could have academic discussions about the artwork, but I still can tell when a piece of work has moved me emotionally or not. Whether or not I state that reaction aloud is up to me, but I've no doubt of my feelings.

As for an atheist temple/building/whatever, hey, if people want to gather to bond over something they believe or are interested in or whatnot, go for it. There is something to the whole idea of finding others who get your interests and beliefs and understand them.
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Old 01-28-2012, 07:12 PM   #9
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I dunno, I think non-believers can still find something of interest and appreciation in music or art that professes beliefs different from theirs. Perhaps they appreciate the artist or musician's dedication to the subject matter. One may not be a believer but may still be interested in the stories from a whole other standpoint, and like the way an artist or musician put their own spin on a biblical story. Or maybe the art or music reminds them of someone they know who feels that way, and they understand and respect their loved one's views better, even if they personally don't agree.

If any of that makes sense.
It makes complete sense and I think it's nonsense to even have to try and justify it. Otherwise, nobody would care about Greek art, or early Roman art, or Egyptian art, etc, etc. I think it's safe to say nobody is still a believer of those religions, yet their art is just as appreciated as the religious art of today. Atheists and Agnostics aren't robots. It's crazy it's even being discussed
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Old 01-28-2012, 09:36 PM   #10
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Dawkins disapproves of de Botton's plans:
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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...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."



I've never heard anyone say "Museums are the new churches" and found the analogy strange, though not in quite the way de Botton seemed to. Art museums are almost by definition about a discrete series of interactions between the visitor and each individual artwork s/he stops at. In major cathedrals (which I assume are the "churches" of the analogy, the average church being nothing particularly special to look at) the individual "artworks" on hand are meant to work in tandem with each other to facilitate an overall environment that directs contemplation outward, towards spiritual matters--as Rothko said of his paintings for the nondenominational Rothko Chapel in Houston, if your gaze stops at the canvas, then the work has failed to do its job. That might be what de Botton meant by calling museum presentation "academic," though if so it doesn't seem like the right word to me; you can certainly still have an "emotional relationship" with the artworks in a museum, it's just a different kind of emotional relationship. Also, even in a major cathedral, the viewer's relationship to the art will be different depending on whether you're there as a worshipper participating in a Mass, or a tourist passing through, for whom the place is more akin to a monument, a spectacle that may serve a social purpose but is not a social space in the usual sense.
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Old 01-29-2012, 12:00 AM   #11
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I completely agree that it's a contradiction in terms.
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Old 01-29-2012, 03:34 AM   #12
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Dawkins disapproves of de Botton's plans:



I've never heard anyone say "Museums are the new churches"either and found the analogy strange, though not in quite the way de Botton seemed to. Art museums are almost by definition about a discrete series of interactions between the visitor and each individual artwork s/he stops at. In major cathedrals (which I assume are the "churches" of the analogy, the average church being nothing particularly special to look at) the individual "artworks" on hand are meant to work in tandem with each other to facilitate an overall environment that directs contemplation outward, towards spiritual matters--as Rothko said of his paintings for the nondenominational Rothko Chapel in Houston, if your gaze stops at the canvas, then the work has failed to do its job. That might be what de Botton meant by calling museum presentation "academic," though if so it doesn't seem like the right word to me; you can certainly still have an "emotional relationship" with the artworks in a museum, it's just a different kind of emotional relationship. Also, even in a major cathedral, the viewer's relationship to the art will be different depending on whether you're there as a worshipper participating in a Mass, or a tourist passing through, for whom the place is more akin to a monument, a spectacle that may serve a social purpose but is not a social space in the usual sense.
I've never heard the phrase "Museums are the new churches" either, but I kinda get the comparison (and please forgive my lack of elegance, being it's 3am after a Saturday night )
I assume when people go to church, temple, etc, they're going for answers or at the very least to contemplate life; to think about the big questions and what it means to be alive. For me, I love going to museums. It helps that I'm a 10 minute walk from the Royal Ontario Museum, but one of my favourite things to do is to go on my own, put some relaxing music on my headphones, and walk through the museum at my own pace. The beauty of the artifacts speaks for itself, but what I'm most interested in is looking at the pieces...sometimes for an awkward amount of time... and trying to wrap my head around the time that has passed between that artifact being made - being handled and used for it's intended purpose - and it sitting in a glass box in front of me. Not only the time, but the advances our race has made since those times. How life has evolved. What has happened between that piece being buried... lost in the ground... and being unearthed. If I'm looking at fossils..or bits of meteorites... those time periods are almost infinitely larger. But what they have in common is that they help me place myself somewhere in the history of life and the history of the universe. When I'm looking at a 10000 year old neolithic stone scraper, I'm not just amazed at the ingenuity it took for a prehistoric man to fashion it out of his surroundings, but I think of how that lead to ever more complicated inventions, through the bronze age, iron age, and eventually to the tools we use today. Apart from that, I'm amazed that these artifacts were able to exists through so much of our cultural evolution. So much so that I've started a (rather modest) collection of antiquities myself. It blows my mind that I can hold in my hand, a Persian arrowhead that may have been used against the Greek army. Or a coin showing the name of Alexander the Great that was minted in his time. Or a tooth of a creature that existed 10 million years before modern man took his first step on the planet.... It's almost impossible to wrap your head around. All the history that came between: The birth of Jesus... The fall of Rome... The rise of Medieval Europe... the crusades... The fall of Constantinople....The discovery of America... The King James bible.... The English and American civil wars... And these pieces existed, the way they are found - the way they were made by another person - for all that time. Just sitting, waiting to be found... It's incredible.... just incredible
So when I go to the museum and I look at these things, what I experience is no less profound than what a believer feels when he or she walks into church.... I find it hard to believe that they're hit any harder than the way I am. I'll go as far as to say there is no way they have a more profound and life affirming feeling than I do as I see the wealth of human experience and beauty of the natural world when I walk through a museum

 
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Old 01-29-2012, 06:38 AM   #13
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In Europe, churches and cathedrals were mostly built during a time where architecture still looked nice. They followed the architectural design of their time, i.e. baroque, gothic etc. To stand out, they were built especially dominant and most of them look very beautiful indeed. They were more often than not paid for by blood money. But still, most of the time the church was basically bankrupt and needed to find all these different ways to get some money which went directly into the building of new cathedrals and other church buildings.
If you look at churches that were built, or rebuilt, in the last 100 years, you see they are not nearly as impressive or beautiful. Just the same, if you look at any other kind of building, museums, houses etc., the architectural design of historic buildings is much more beautiful than those soulless buildings which were inspired by the Bauhaus style and other modern arcthitectural styles too much.

I don't see the need for a temple or anything like that. Being of no belief, I don't need a time or place to gather, and I don't feel like I have anything more in common with another atheist/agnostic than I have with any religious person, except for the believe in God. I don't think atheism should become anything like organised religion.
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Old 02-03-2012, 10:12 PM   #14
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"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."




Build it.

As a Christian, I'm not offended.
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Old 02-03-2012, 10:14 PM   #15
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Just the news they were waiting for!
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