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Atheist writers clash over how to not worship a nonexistent God

January 27, 2012 |  9:35 am

Alaindebotton_heathrow

Two prominent British atheist authors are clashing over the best way to not worship a lack of a God.

Writer Alain de Botton wants to erect a $1.5-million "temple for atheists" in London, complete with a 151-foot tower reaching toward a godless sky.

De Botton finds Richard Dawkins' approach to atheism "aggressive" and "destructive." He told the Guardian, "Normally a temple is to Jesus, Mary or Buddha, but you can build a temple to anything that's positive and good. That could mean a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective. Because of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens atheism has become known as a destructive force. But there are lots of people who don't believe but aren't aggressive towards religions."

Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and author of the controversial book "The God Delusion," countered, "Atheists don't need temples. I think there are better things to spend this kind of money on. If you are going to spend money on atheism you could improve secular education and build non-religious schools which teach rational, skeptical critical thinking."

In his upcoming book, "Religion for Atheists," De Botton argues that many of the trappings and teachings of religion are valuable -- just not the God part.

On his Twitter feed, De Botton points out that a temple for atheists fits into a tradition of "secular" chapels, including the Rothko Chapel in Texas and the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany. De Botton's tower, for which he has raised about half the funds, is meant to evoke more than 300 million years of life on earth. "Each centimeter of the tapering tower's interior has been designed to represent a million years and a narrow band of gold will illustrate the relatively tiny amount of time humans have walked the planet," the Guardian reports. "The exterior would be inscribed with a binary code denoting the human genome sequence."

De Botton's "Religion for Atheists" will be published in the U.S. in March.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Alain de Botton in Heathrow Airport in 2009. Credit: Associated Press

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