If there are no Gods or other Supernatural things that are to be revered, what would be the qualities of a secular church building? What if there is no need for spires reaching toward God, or of internal vacancies reaching astonishingly far upwards into a spiritual abyss? What need is there of gargoyles, or stained glass windows, or monumental sculptures or romanticized heroes or symbols? What is to be celebrated by a secular people and its meeting place?
Of course religion isn’t about stone, wood and plaster, it’s about people and their relationship with their world and especially their inner world; religion is about the personal living questions. Science answers those types of physical questions which can have testable answers, and science can sometimes make statistical guesses about unanswerable questions. An example of an unanswerable question is the Drake Equation, which makes an estimate of how many civilizations might exist in the entire universe. That is an impossible question to ever answer precisely, because even if there were contact with some extraterrestrial civilization it would be within our galaxy, and there are billions of galaxies, so even knowing there was an extraterrestrial civilization wouldn’t answer the question of how many there might be. Even if these other civilizations were contacted they wouldn’t be people, they would be aliens; they might be as alien as our computers. We built our computers and so in some distant sense they are like us, they are extensions of us, because they are designed to answer questions that we can relate to. But these distant aliens, even carbon based beings, might have less in common with us than our own silicon computers.
A religious structure should be for humans, not for aliens of any description, and for helping us to form and support communities of people who care about one another’s well-being. A football stadium has some qualities of a secular church in that it forms a momentary group feeling and comradeship during a game. Along with the physical structure of the building there is the wearing of identifiable clothing and symbols which gives people a feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves. But these are acknowledged by everyone to be temporary associations of a mundane nature and a church, even a secular one, intends to deal with grander life issues – birth, marriage, death and helping one another through these things especially during times of acute stress. It is about a social coming into being, a social bonding together and realization of impermanence.
A football game is something conducted outside of the home, but religion is something you take home and live with through the day and sleep with throughout the night. Religion salves the worries associated with the unanswerable eternal issues: where did I come from, why am I here, where am I going? The meeting place for a secular religion should stimulate these feelings and the meeting together of the people should give intellectual answers to these questions which, even if they are temporary, are satisfying to their congregation’s human emotions.
A secular building must help to give its people meaning for their lives and their community.