CERN, the giant particle physics laboratory near Geneva, is the holiest place on Earth.
I realize this might seem like a strange statement, especially coming from an atheist like it does. Nonetheless that is my opinion. Let me explain.
What does ‘holy’ mean? One could play a delightful little game of semantics with it, probably ending with an ironclad proof that by the rules of semantics, slips and dot-bothering most cheese crackers are holy. But that is not my meaning. ‘Holy’ means important, but not just important like a functioning engine is important to a flying plane. ‘Holy’, if one thinks how people use the word, means something that has value beyond its physical parts; not necessarily any ill-defined (and in my opinion nonexistent) spirit-world quality, but something symbolic and powerful, some quality that tells something of us, and some quality that makes us remember, and by remembering, makes us respect and adore.
To many Americans, I suppose, the Declaration of Independence is holy, not in any way associated with gods and divine ectoplasmic matters, but as a tangible symbol of a will to try building a good world, or at least a nation way better than the one that existed then.
Likewise, the site of some special death or act of daring might warrant calling a spot holy: everyone can no doubt summon up a few of these. The place where a tyrant died, the place where innocence was lost, the place where a discovery was made.
And in this colloquial sense CERN is, indeed, the holiest place on Earth: the greatest and (maybe) most expensive scientific experiment yet done, a prying into the most fundamental forces of all existence, and performed not because it would make someone rich, or be a propaganda feat for some nation, or even yield a bomb of humongous magnitude, but because of simple and sweet human curiosity: the want to know how things work, how they are, the all-probing attempt to press the rough cloth of inquiry ever closer to the beautiful folds of the invisible glass statue that reality is.
That is why I think CERN is the holiest place on Earth. Okay?