Remember, Alain de Botton’s grandiose plans to build an Atheist Temple in London? Well, according to Richard Wiseman’s website, Botton claims he was “misinterpreted”. Basically, Botton now claims that he was merely asking architects to build on the achievements of the past. In an emailed “correction” to Wiseman, Botton said this:
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. 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 Zumthor.”
Yes, yes, but who’s preventing architects from doing that? But frankly, there’s a lot of great modern architecture—much of it here in Chicago—that doesn’t have a lot of resonance with ecclesiastical buildings. Take the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or even the Sydney Opera House: both could be considered monuments to secularism. We don’t always have to ape Notre Dame to create beautiful buildings in which wonderful things can be seen or heard.
Botton’s long mea culpa represents a failure of accommodationism: atheists don’t need the trappings of religion to have a fulfulling life.
Oh, and an alert reader reminded me of something I had forgotten, but speaks to de Botton’s self-styled comity. In 2009 Caleb Crain gave a pretty negative review to de Botton’s book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, and then posted about it on his (Crain’s) website. de Botton went ballistic (many of you might remember this):
Caleb, you make it sound on your blog that your review is somehow a sane and fair assessment. In my eyes, and all those who have read it with anything like impartiality, it is a review driven by an almost manic desire to bad-mouth and perversely depreciate anything of value. The accusations you level at me are simply extraordinary. I genuinely hope that you will find yourself on the receiving end of such a daft review some time very soon – so that you can grow up and start to take some responsibility for your work as a reviewer. You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that’s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review. You present yourself as ‘nice’ in this blog (so much talk about your boyfriend, the dog etc). It’s only fair for your readers (nice people like Joe Linker and trusting souls like PAB) to get a whiff that the truth may be more complex. I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.