Faithless Temples

Alain de Botton, the philosophically orientated author, schoolmaster, and sage of our time, has proposed buildings of social, ordered, congregation; inspirational architecture within which to contemplate and confess, to reinforce shared beliefs and morals, but to each other… not to a higher being.

Faithless temples is not the missing seventh album from the popular london electronica group, but the concept of taking the physical manifestation of group worship and stripping out the supernatural, the postmortem anxiety, er… All the god bits.

Now we could discuss religious architecture or faith. Or both. Humour me if you will as I’ve never really thought about this subject for long enough to formulate my thoughts let alone my opinions.

I suppose I should start with full disclosure. I am a Christian, a member of the Church of England. I am both christened and confirmed. My attendance at Church is regular… but not frequent; Christenings, Christmases, and Cremations if you like.

It was the decision to Christen my children that made me think about the subject of faithless beliefs, faithless worship and worshipless faith.

Break it down (as Stanley Kirk Burrell once said)

Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion suggests that rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because they’re packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. Blending deep respect with total impiety, Alain (a non-believer himself) proposes that we should look to religions for insights into, among other concerns, how to:

  • build a sense of community
  • make our relationships last
  • overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
  • escape the twenty-four hour media
  • go travelling
  • get more out of art, architecture and music
  • and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs.

I think I tend to agree with this. Whilst remaining a believer myself and proudly so, I think it would be sad if those opposed to religion missed out on all the… well…. the good bits.

Anyway – back to the architecture.

“The proposed London temple, designed jointly by the architect Tom Greenall and Jordan Hodgson, will be a huge black tower placed among the skyscrapers in the City of London. The tower will be built from different types of stone from across human history forming a kind of geological timeline; at its base is a band of gold 1mm thick signifying man’s time on Earth relative to the planet’s age.

De Botton hopes this monument to humbleness will be a cure for modern egotism and navel-gazing. “Often a religious building plays around with our perspective: it’s very large, or it’s very old or both. It recalibrates us in space or time, so you walk in and feel tiny.”

De Botton once wrote a book called The Architecture of Happiness and is a part of Living Architecture, a scheme to encourage innovative buildings in beautiful corners of Britain. He says that a new temple could compete with great historical churches. “It will have a timeless quality.”

What do you think? Is there a place for non-religious worship-worth architecture? How would you behave inside? What would you get out of the experience? Does it make you view religion in a different way?

Or has the philosophical author just made us think?


Adam is the Publisher of Copse Magazine and owner of Sailfin. He spends his time hosting and making websites for other people, copywriting, and publishing white label content for other companies alongside Copse Magazine, his creative outlet. He has two children and lives in Kent in the South East of the UK.