A very interesting perspective by John Gray here on the proposal for the creation of atheist temples (discussed here). What struck me about the piece was its recommendation to atheists to support existing churches and religious structures exactly for some of the reasons that Botton describes. The point might be expanded to apply more generally to secular support for religious institutions — not a reason from autonomy or separation or one of the other usual liberal reasons, but one more merits-oriented, as it were. From the conclusion of Gray’s piece:
[Auguste] Comte wanted his new religion to be based on science, so the temples of humanity pointed only as far as science could reach. That is why his new church failed. The very idea of a science-based religion is an absurdity. The value of religion is that it points beyond anything that can be known by the methods of science, showing us that a mystery would remain even if everything could be finally explained. The heart of religion isn’t belief, but something more like what Keats described as negative capability: “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”.
Rather than trying to invent another religion surrogate, open-minded atheists should appreciate the genuine religions that exist already. London is full of sites – churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship – that are evocative of something beyond the human world. Better spend the money that is being raised for the new temple on religious buildings that are in disrepair than waste it on a monument to a defunct version of unbelief.