Tim Crane at The Point:
The familiar charge that atheism itself is a kind of religion or church is therefore deeply mistaken. Without sacred things, there is no church. But are atheists really excluded from employing some idea of the sacred? While some seem to think that they too are entitled to employ the idea of sacred things, if I am right, they are either mistaken or are using the word in a very different way. The philosopher Simon Blackburn, for example, complains about the “religious appropriation of the sacred” and says that “to regard something as sacred is to see it as marking a boundary to what may be done.” That’s true, but there are many ways of drawing boundaries without marking out the sacred: moral prohibitions and other taboos draw sharp boundaries between things to be done, but these are not necessarily between the sacred and the profane. What atheists mean by calling something sacred, normally, is that it is very precious or has some special kind of significance that goes beyond any pleasure or satisfaction it delivers in a present moment. But the notion of the sacred that I have been using is very different, since it essentially involves religious practice or ritual that “points” towards the transcendent. There can be nothing like this in an atheist’s world picture—and this is why there can be no atheist church.