A Learning Experience

[First published on the Freethinkers Mailing List (http://groups NULL.google NULL.com/group/freethinkers-club/browse_thread/thread/249d3b65eecff039).]

There I was, working up to a rant against Allain de Botton’s idea of building an atheist temple, and then he had to go spoil everything by being reasonable (http://freethoughtblogs NULL.com/tokenskeptic/2012/01/31/token-skeptic-interview-with-alain-de-botton-on-religion-for-atheists/). Jerk.

Evidently the term ‘temple for atheists’ has set up uncomfortable
associations. People have imagined I might be interested in
worshipping an absent deity, or perhaps setting up a cult. Nothing as
dramatic or as insane is on the cards. The term was meant playfully,
but has been interpreted literally – for which I’m very sorry. I don’t
care what such places might be called. I’m simply arguing that
contemporary architecture analyse the high points of religious
architecture throughout history – and that we should allow a new
generation of architects to tread in the footsteps of great secular
creatives indebted to the ecclesiastical, people like Kahn, Ando and

So ok, he just wants atheists and atheism to learn from religion
and carry it forward. Why not copy the feeling of community, the
wonderful art, the good vibes from ritual?

Simple enough: he’s asking us to hang our coats on a hook that
isn’t there. The only reason my atheism is noteworthy is because I’m
surrounded by theists. In an imagined future where no-one believes in
the gods, the term “atheist” becomes meaningless and would only be
used by historians. It would be like claiming to be an non-YZALUAist,
when no-one believes the YZALUA actually exists. The same can’t be
said for theism; even if I rarely talk about it, calling me a
“believer” in the existence of the Earth still makes sense.

I already have a sense of community, from this group and others.
I’ve seen some amazing modern art, and I’m on the hunt for new, mind-
blowing music. Generally I haven’t had much use for ritual, though my
love of tea and chocolate comes dangerously close. Most of those have
little to do with atheism save our group meetings, but even in those
gatherings how often do we celebrate our lack of belief?

I’ve already been doing what de Botton has suggested. I just
haven’t bothered to apply it to atheism, and I fail to see why I
should bother.

HJ Hornbeck