or, was he always mad? his twitter is fairly mad. what’s the consensus on Botton these days?
ANYWAY, I am prompted to say this because of this Guardian article that describes Botton’s plans “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.”
I have to quote some more of the article so you can get a better idea of what the whole project is about:
De Botton has insisted atheists have as much right to enjoy inspiring architecture as religious believers.
“The dominant feeling you should get will be awe – the same feeling you get when you tip your head back in Ely cathedral,” he said. “You should feel small but not in an intimidated way.”
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.
“This is a more constructive atheism than Dawkins, who is about the destruction of ideas rather than contributing new ones.”
Okay, so now you have a good idea. The ‘Temple to Perspective’ is going to be an incredibly elaborate affair, Botton wants it to be built in the City, and he’s already raised half the funds from a group of property developers who wish to remain anonymous.
I have two main problems with this whole concept, which are:
- Atheists aren’t robots. We have the capacity to feel awe and wonder when in a cathedral, or mosque, or synagogue (at least I do). Beautiful architecture is beautiful architecture. It’s totally unnecessary to segregate ourselves.
- And: think what you like about Dawkins (that he’s belligerent, patronising etc) BUT he is never, EVER destructive. His whole point, and what seems to drive him, is that nature (and consequently, the science of nature) is deserving of our awe and wonder. My question is, why do we need to build another building, specifically for atheists, in order to experience ‘human transcendence’? When, you’d think, that atheists are capable of experiencing that in everyday life, observing the world for what it is and appreciating everything it has to offer. Dawkins says it better than me –
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?
Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998)
Update: An hour after this was posted I got a string of direct messages from Alain de Botton himself on twitter! He said that I had misunderstood the project, that I should read his new book and if I don’t like it he’ll send me a cheque, and that the Guardian is unreliable. I said alright, I’d take him up on his offer, but that it’s not just the Guardian reporting it that way (the Daily Mail article on it, for example, is headlined Battle of the Atheists!, and the copy is almost entirely the same as the Guardian article). So… I guess I have to read his new book then! I’ll get back to you…