End of Faith and Other Pulp Fiction

harris-atranSam Harris in The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation has written a lot of uninformed nonsense about religion in general and Islam in particular. Don’t misunderstand. His logical arguments against religious belief systems are entirely valid. For a time when I was in the process of recovering from my own religious experiences I would have endorsed almost everything he wrote. Even mainstream Anglican pabulum was a threat to humanity because it lent social respectability to religious faith and the Bible, and that made it possible for extremist cults — who also claimed faith and the Bible as the foundations of their seriously harmful systems — to germinate. (I was focusing on the intellectual constructs as the easy and obvious target, failing to realize that there was something far more significant at the root of religion.)

At the same time I was going through that phase I could not help but notice a niggling doubt in the back of my mind. Yes, my argument was entirely rational, and borne of experience. But was it the whole story? If there had been no notion of faith or the Bible in any religion, would that really mean we would be living in a Utopia? Was it really only social respectability for faith and the Bible that cults fanned into something monstrous? Was there not also a shared dream of a better world? Should such idealism also be condemned? Was there not also a shared belief in the rightness of doing good? Even the dreams and the morality of the cult could be turned into destructive weapons. But they could also be used for much good, too.

Cults may sprout out from mainstream religions but it does not follow that they are the cause or to blame for them. A host to a parasite is hardly to be blamed for the parasite.

Religion is not going to disappear, or if we believe otherwise, it certainly won’t be demolished by rational answers to its teachings of faith and belief systems. I guess that thought was beginning to dawn on me when I started this blog and that’s why I’ve never been interested in any sort of “anti-Christian” or “anti-religion” crusade of any sort. People will respond to precision arguments and new questions when they are ready. Crusading against irrational beliefs — or against even rational ones based on false data — will rarely accomplish much more among the believers than to send them scrambling for better reasons for holding fast to those beliefs.

That is, polemics like those of Sam Harris are based on a misunderstanding of the very nature of religion and may in fact be backfiring and strengthening religion’s power in the world. It’s only in recent times that I’ve begun to truly grasp this.

So it was with some relief that I read a fact by fact rebuttal of Sam Harris’s diatribes against all religions and Islam in particular. The following (as well as the title of this blog post) is based on a section of Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What it Means to be Human by Scott Atran.

Fact One: (more…)


The end of faith: religion, terror, and the future of reason / Sam Harris. (Norton, 2005) Review

Filed under: Book Reviews & Notes,Harris: End of Faith,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 9:54 am

This is a disturbing book principally for its ignorant tirade against Muslims. As an atheist myself I had hoped for something more rational and informative given the enormous popularity of this book in the U.S. but find Harris here is too often little more than a mega-mouthpiece for Western (read American?) ignorance of Muslims and the Muslim world outside the U.S. borders. I expected to read along with a like-mind since I also see religion and religious faith as a net negative left-over from our evolutionary past that needs to be eradicated just as acceptance of rape as a natural means for reproduction has been eradicated. But I found points of agreement only at a superficial level. It is bad enough that he blames religion as the principle or fundamental root cause of suicide terrorism: he says it was religious belief, belief in a blissful life after death, that enabled the 9/11 hijackers to commit their atrocity. What rot. A slight amount of reflection and simple logic would inform him that if religious belief were the root enabler of suicide terrorism then we would surely have had suicide terrorism for as long as we have had such beliefs in any religion. Pape’s “Dying to Win” is a scholarly research work that amply demonstrates that suicide terrorism is a function of national identity humiliation brought about by foreign occupation and that perpetrators of this form of terrorism since the 1980’s have included both the religious and non-religious and secular, Christian and Buddhist as well as Muslim. Pape’s research pulverizes Harris’s ignorant diatribe. (more…)

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