Saturday, 28 January 2012

A temple to atheism, and a few notes

This week Alain de Botton may have suggested plans to build a temple to atheism in central London.

He says that you can build a temple to anything that's positive and beautiful: to love, friendship, calm, perspective; as well as to Jesus, Mary or Buddha.

I've got to say I'm at a loss as to what I'd expect to find inside a temple to atheism. With religion it's obvious what you will find. Most religions have their own iconography but atheism doesn't. Religions are far more than buildings and imagery, though. They have their own philosophical and historical backgrounds, but here to atheism is lacking something - the very word means "without gods". No-one is just an atheist.  Whether they know it or not they must have some other philosophy.

Whether this philosophy is hedonism, skepticism, rational humanism, utilitarianism, Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, nihilism, one of many I've forgotten, or a mix of the above everyone lives by something and this where I'm not sure what to put into a temple to atheism.

Alain de Botton suggests it could be filled with a history of life on earth but this is skewed quite heavily towards the skeptics' movement that is associated with atheism. Associated, but not equivalent to atheism. You don't have to be an atheist to be a skeptic, nor are all skeptics atheists. Furthermore, I do don't see that this really adds anything that the Natural History Museum doesn't already provide.

I would, however, really like to see a church for atheism.

Churches can actually provide a lot for their community. As well as being a way of getting people together every Sunday the sermons offer words that many people find comforting, thought-provoking and even good advice. The local church can be a focal point for charitably minded people to meet and organize, and the local vicar is often seen as a sage source of advice for those with troubles.

While I realise that organizing atheists is like herding cats, maybe this would be useful. Things like a place to go and meet people on a Sunday morning, a focal point for charitable organization, someone trustworthy enough to ask advice from are good things for a person to have around regardless of their religion.

Atheist "sermons" would talk about logical fallacies, applying rational humanism to every day life, offer secular words of wisdom, or sing the praises His Noodleness.

I, for one, would go every week. Ramen to that.

Other news:

Sasha Laxton is a boy. This story first appeared five years ago, when Sasha was born and the parents made a point of not revealing the sex of their baby. The article linked to reports Sasha seems "remarkably normal".  He, of course, grew up as free from gender stereotypes as his parents could manage. Ultimately, it seems that Sasha was far freer to choose his own gender identity than most other Children, and I'm curious to see how this will turn out, though I suspect that his peers at school will make a point of enforcing some gender identity onto him.

I redesigned this site so that it doesn't look like every blogger account at the start. I hope it suits you.

And lastly, I've vowed to myself I'll write something every week on here over the weekend. If you come here on a Monday, and there's been no update for a week, please feel free to get into the comments and kick me into action.


  1. It's a cool idea. Dawkins makes a good point but a boring one in that it'd be more useful to spend the money on other things. But meh to useful.

    I'd say that the sermons should be lectures, rather than sermons. You could invite guest speakers to tell the congregation about philosophy, evolution, literature, astrophysics, etcetera.

    Of course, you wouldn't have a mass like most churches, because those are just the mindless repetition of Church doctrine. I suppose you could cobble together a bizarre imitation by reciting the virtues of rationality and the steps in the scientific method, but it'd be a bit silly.

  2. Yes. Now that I've read about it, the idea seems like a waste of money, and I'd prefer to see it go towards, say, doing more to improve the relevant sections of the Natural History museum, if that money were to be spent on something relevant. But promoting rational thinking would be good too.

    The Australian Skeptics and Western Sydney Freethinkers do similar stuff to your proposed Church of Atheism. They meet up, talk about particular issues, have dinners, have guest speakers, organise events for charity, attend conferences, give talks at conferences, and other assorted good things. If I were still in Australia I'd go every week, too. :)