Alain de Botton’s ‘temples for atheists’ is just an eccentric Follie 1


Alain de Botton, the UK-based Swiss writer, television presenter, and entrepreneur, wants to build a series of temples for atheists all around the UK

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.

You can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good,” he continues. “That could mean: a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective

OK, lets put some context to this. Mr de Botton has a new book out, “Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion“. At the time of writing there are three reviews there, two very positive from folks who have read the book, and one review by a chap who explains that he has not actually read it (How the frack do you write a review for something you have not actually bothered to read). Is this just a PR stunt to push the book? Well, tempting as it might be to think that, I suspect he is quite serious about this proposal, so I’m going with a ‘No’ on that one.

If he is really going to do that, then what will he actually build first? Apparently it will be the “Temple to Perspective” – a hollow 46 Meter stone monolith located in the City of London. Its height will correspond to the age of the earth – one centimetre per million years, with mankind’s time on the planet represented by a gold band around the base one millimetre thick.

Its cute of course, but totally batty. Like all Follies it is extravagant but serves no practical purpose at all except to perhaps highlight just how eccentric he is. I’m quite happy for him to build whatever he wants wherever he wants, but as for the claim that it is a “temple for atheists”, well I suspect many non-believers will be more than a tad skeptical about that.

Atheism is of course not a belief system, it is simply a conclusion (You did know that … right?). The process is one where you examine religious claims with a skeptical eye looking for evidence, and finding none, reject the claims – that’s it. It is not a worldview, does not dictate how you should dress, nor does it give you any guidance on ethics or morality; it is just the rejection of daft religious claims. As for all the other stuff such as morality, well we have humanism, philosophy, logic and reason to call upon as needed.

Mr de Botton might decry the lack of beautiful non-religious buildings, but I’d counter with the thought that we already do have some. For example …

  • The British Library
  • The Natural History Museum
  • The Science Museum
  • The National gallery
  • The Eden project
  • The Large Hedron Collider

These are not only great monuments, but also immensely practical expressions of what being human is all about. For in the above we find expressions of truth, beauty, love, passion, inspiration and wonder. What is missing, what gap will these new temples fill, in what way will our lives be made better by an utterly pointless hollow tube of stone?

As for Mr Botton’s follies, I might indeed scratch my head and ask why bother, but if he does indeed wish to erect these edifices, well I have no problem with that.


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One thought on “Alain de Botton’s ‘temples for atheists’ is just an eccentric Follie

  • 33rd Square

    Great post. I think your list of non-religious buildings could be expanded (more globally perhaps). How about democratic symbols, like the US Captiol building, or the Canadian House of Parliament?