Temples and Follies
Two things have caught my eye recently. Firstly, Alain de Botton’s continued plans for a ‘temple to perspective.’
The idea for this is to have a large, conic structure (shown) some 46m high, each centimetre of which will represent a million years of the earth’s history. The bottom millimetre of the whole structure will be a band of gold – representing human-kind’s time on earth… giving the visitor a renewed sense of perspective of their place in the world and its history.
De Botton proposes that this be built in the financial district of the City of London. The real estate costs would therefore be huge, and the construction costs considerable too.
I’m interested in this being contemporary to the eviction of the Occupy London protest, which happened yesterday. In one sense, I can think of no better ‘temple to perspective’ than to have had this encampment right in the middle of such wealth, to have had a place where the hungry were fed, where ideas were shared rather than bought or sold, and where the lonely were welcomed.
I wonder if the money that the Temple to Perspective might cost could be better spent encouraging those who need to gain some perspective – the ‘Masters of the Universe’ who work where it is proposed – to experience the humanity around them in a different way.
I think there are further problems that make me think that this idea it’s a folly. Why? Because it locates an existential question in an objective place.
The city, our whole world, is a rich resource for enquiry and inspiration. We need not to build temples, but to see the world as a temple. To see each thing as sacred, as having the potential for beauty, for transformation, for guiding our thoughts. And, funnily enough, that’s one of the key lessons I’d picked up on in de Botton’s earlier, and highly recommended, book, The Art of Travel.
So what about churches? Beautiful and historic they might be, but they too are so much folly, because they are attempts to build solid walls around communities that should not be interested in inclusion or exclusion. The Israelites had their most formative moments when they were based in tents; things started to go badly wrong when they moved to a stone temple.
London, or LA, does not need another phallus, another temple to help us consider our place. What it needs is a culture that encourages us to see our whole environment, each person, each place, as riches to help us do just that. And then let’s use the money to help the homeless.