13 March 2013
by Dr Mark Keown
A friend recently posted on Facebook an article entitled “A Truly Godless Place: Why We Designed a Temple for Atheists” (http://www.good.is/posts/a-truly-godless-place-why-we-designed-a-temple-for-atheists). The article speaks of atheism learning from religious devotion and developing contexts in which secular people can meet their “need to be awed” – something that “we feel whether or not we subscribe to a faith.”
The writer speaks of a need for creative architecture that inspires awe, as do the great Cathedrals of Europe. One example is a “Temple to Perspective” which is a building designed to represent the history of the earth. A building was slowly built (a la a Cathedral), designed with each centimetre of its 46 meters symbolically encapsulating a period the history of life on earth. On the outside, an interpretation of the human genome is inscribed. The mapping of the genome is seen as “a celebration of one of humankind’s greatest achievements and a reminder of “our fragility.” The tapered towner top represents the expansion of the universe.
This piece really struck me as I read this. First, I sense that this kind of thinking is begging the question about the universe – why are we so awestruck? Could there be something behind it? I marvel at what blinds the atheist to this. Take the genome for example – what a marvellous moment of chance created randomly!
The temple raises a second question – why are the Cathedrals of Europe so awe-inspiring? Is it purely because they are great buildings, or is there something more going on. My recently deceased Dad was atheistic or agnostic until his latter days. The Cathedrals of Europe shook his confidence. He wept as he stood in them. They caused him to contemplate the possibility of something beyond. Could it be that the great monuments speak of the reason for the universe? I wonder if this Atheists Temple will backfire and bring to life a number of theists?
A third thought is why such monuments are required for people at all. Cities and buildings are amazing. We can become so city-bound that we forget the awe that our natural world has to offer. Perhaps Europe has lost connection with the glories of nature? The greatest Cathedral is of course the Universe, our world, the natural world – it is glorious! Why do we need such buildings at all? Just head up a mountain peak, walk a beach, contemplate in a forest, lie on your back on a clear night and look at the stars. Or consider the small things like a flower, a butterfly – and then there is God’s people – people watching and considering the greatness of what humanity can do (e.g. the genome), surely brings not only awe, but more, the one that stands behind it all.
That said, such buildings have a real and potentially great purpose – I should imagine as people stand in one such as the “Temple to Perspective,” some will look beyond the building and human builders to the one who formed such a universe in the first place. I suspect the writer of the article is close to getting it.