If the first wave of New Atheism was excessively strident, the second wave is shaping up to be unbearably sentimental. Alain De Botton, a Swiss-British television personality who has recently been selling something called “Atheism 2.0” at tech conferences, has begun planning and fundraising for the addition of what he considers a missing piece of London’s cityscape. As part of his ongoing campaign to refute the charge that atheism must necessarily be destructive, he’s rolling out a grand new project for the historic City of London: a towering “temple” for fellow atheists. Reports the Guardian:
The philosopher [sic] 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’ “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.”
Well, when’s the last time London needed St. Mary Woolnoth to keep the hours, anyway?
The first public rendering of the project, about which De Botton seems fairly serious, was printed in the Telegraph a few days ago. It hardly looks inviting or “positive,” though it’s quite revealing: an ominous black stalk shooting up amid a meadow of Georgian bank edifices and Christopher Wren-designed church spires.
Hilariously, while De Botton’s ziggurat has drawn the ire of Richard Dawkins:
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.”
…it does find supporters among Church of England clergy:
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.