Magazine article The Spectator

What Would Dawkins and De Botton Do ?

Magazine article The Spectator

What Would Dawkins and De Botton Do ?

Article excerpt

Two years ago this week the philosopher Alain de Botton unveiled his proposals for a giant gilded tower in central London at which atheists such as himself could indulge in a spot of self-worship. This edifice was to be 46 metres tall and a line of gold at the top would pick out the years on earth at which creatures almost as brilliant as Alain, i. e. human beings, have been kicking around. He wanted his tower to have majesty and mystery, 'like you get from looking at Ely Cathedral', and added:

'You should feel small, but not in an intimidated way.'

I don't know if this monumental Tower of Arse has got the go-ahead, or how long it will be after it is built before God smashes it in half and scatters its smug worshippers to the four corners of the earth, as detailed in the Sibylline oracles. Alain's proposals were criticised by the High Priest of British Atheism, Richard Dawkins, causing a schism in their church from which they have yet to recover. De Botton's suggestion that one should not feel intimidated by a temple built to himself reminded me a little of Dawkins's rewriting of the Ten Commandments. Gone was all that tiresome thou-shalt-not stuff, and in its place we had encomiums on living a good life - get out a bit, see lots of people, make sure you put your rubbish in the correct recycling bags etc - the sort of thing you might find on a leaflet in the foyer of your local council, a leaflet for which you have paid good money through the council tax and which is unsurpassable in its irrelevance and presumption. Alain wouldn't want you to feel intimidated by his fatuous tower, Richard doesn't want you to be intimidated by his uncommanding commandments.

Nothing should intimidate anybody, because we're all too grand for that, and we shouldn't have proscriptive rules and regulations.

It would seem to me that the first hymn to be sung at Alain's temple of atheism would be Eddie and the Hot Rods' inane but tuneful comeback hit 'Do Anything You Wanna Do'. Barry Masters and co. asserted, with some force, that they didn't 'need no politician tell me what I shouldn't be/ neither no optician tell me what I oughta see'.

I wonder if either of them, Dawkins or de Botton (not Barry Masters), saw the story in this week's newspapers about the study carried out by researchers at the University of Manchester. This suggested that there was direct correlation between a higher number of visits to 'religious places' and low crime figures. Not only did young people (the study covered those aged between 18 and 34) who attend church show far less propensity to commit crime - especially shoplifting, drug-taking and music piracy - but the more often they went to church, or to the mosque, or wherever, the less likely still they were to commit these crimes. …

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