Temples to atheism

David Greusel

February 3, 2012

I disagree. All these buildings you list are temples of humanism, not atheism. They celebrate human achievement and greatness, not human unbelief.

A temple to atheism, however, seems to be a natural extension of a worldview that is becoming increasingly "religious" in its manifestation.

David Greusel
February 3, 2012

Thanks for your comment, mgeertsma. I take your point. But have you considered that a monument to "human achievement and greatness" is itself a statement of unbelief in something that transcends humanity?

Just a thought...

February 3, 2012

Honestly, I'm not sure. Somehow a monument to human achievement seems more self-serving and selfish than a temple to atheism, which still places its focus on something other than ourselves (even if that something is nothing).

This is really just my own emotional reaction to the idea--a temple to atheism strikes me as idealistic and whimsical (in the same sense as a religious temple or cathedral) in a way that a house of art, a house celebrating human greatness, is not.

You're right, though, that a monument to human achievement is, on some level, a statement--but perhaps more a statement that we ourselves are gods, rather than a statement about the existence (or non existence) of a higher power.

Jason Summers
February 4, 2012


This is an interesting article and I follow your argument (though having lived with great comfort in a Holl building, I'm perhaps more sympathetic to him); but if the time I've spent in Italy has taught me one thing about the historic churches, it's that they were as much temples to art and culture as to God and that they often were funded by and celebrated work created by apostates, agnostics, and atheists. It's very difficult to disentangle these things when they are embedded in structures created in the context of a religious and political oligarchy.


Joel VanderWeele
February 7, 2012

Regardless of how you feel about de Botton’s project, he does raise an interesting question about how we think about church/temple architecture: If Christianity was established as an organized religion last week, and we wanted to send a message with our temples, monuments, and churches, what sort of beliefs and values would we want them to embody? Do today’s houses of worship embody those beliefs and values?

I agree that the fine art galleries and concert halls have captured the prominence once enjoyed by churches and cathedrals, but we should be careful not to ignore the importance of art (not just fine art) in Christian life. Part of what made the churches and cathedrals of yesteryear so great was that they served as the centers of community life and culture; houses of worship in the broadest and best sense. We don’t worship God solely by contemplating his greatness surrounded by our friends and family, we worship him by using the gifts God gave us: by creating beautiful paintings, discussing good books with friends, making well-balanced soups, teaching children how to ride a bike... Our worship has many forms, and our houses of worship should reflect that.

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