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Response to Reader Comments and Criticsm

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Posted on Jan 26, 2006

By Sam Harris

While “An Atheist Manifesto” received considerable support from readers of Truthdig, a variety of criticisms surfaced in the reader commentary.  I summarize and respond to some of these below:

1. Just because you haven’t seen God doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.  Atheism, therefore, is as much an act of faith as theism is.

Bertrand Russell demolished this fallacy nearly a century ago with his famous teapot argument.  As his response appears to me to be perfect, I simply offer it here:

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

If a valid retort to Russell has ever seen the light of day, I’m not aware of it.  As I tried to make clear in my essay, the atheist is not in the business of making claims on insufficient evidence, he merely resists such claims whenever they appear on the lips of the faithful.  I don’t think it can be pointed out too often that the faithful do this as well. Every Christian knows what it is like to find the claims of Muslims—that the Holy Koran is the perfect word of God, that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, etc.—to be utterly incredible.  Everyone who is not a Mormon knows at a glance that Mormonism is bogus. And everyone of every religious denomination knows what it is like not to believe in Zeus. Everyone has rejected an infinite number of spurious claims about God.  The atheist rejects infinity plus one.

2. You will never get rid of religion, so criticizing it is just a waste of time.

I would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religious dogmatism in our world do not seem good. Still, the same could have been said about efforts to abolish slavery at the beginning of the 19th century. Anyone who spoke about eradicating slavery in the United States around 1810 surely appeared to be wasting his time, and wasting it dangerously.  The analogy is not perfect, but it is suggestive.  If we ever do transcend our religious bewilderment, we will look back upon this period in human history with absolute astonishment.  How could it have been possible for people to believe such things in the 21st century? How could it be that they allowed their world to become so dangerously fragmented by empty notions about God and Paradise? The answers to these questions are as embarrassing as those that sent the last slave ship sailing to America as late as 1859 (the same year that Darwin published “The Origin of Species”).

3. Religion is our only source of morality. Without it, we would be plunged into a secular moral chaos.

This concern is so widespread that I have responded to it at some length.  A version of this response will soon be published in the magazine Free Inquiry (www.secularhumanism.org) as “The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos.”

One cannot criticize religious dogmatism for long without encountering the following claim, advanced as though it were a self-evident fact of nature: there is no secular basis for morality. Raping and killing children can only be really wrong, the thinking goes, if there is a God who says it is.  Otherwise, right and wrong would be mere matters of social construction, and any society will be at liberty to decide that raping and killing children is actually a wholesome form of family fun. In the absence of God, John Wayne Gacy would be a better person than Albert Schweitzer, if only more people agreed with him.

It is simply amazing how widespread this fear of secular moral chaos is, given how many misconceptions about morality and human nature are required to set it whirling in a person’s brain. There is undoubtedly much to be said against the spurious linkage between faith and morality, but the following three points should suffice.

If a book like the bible were the only reliable blueprint for human decency that we have, it would be impossible (both practically and logically) to criticize it in moral terms. But it is extraordinarily easy to criticize the morality one finds in bible, as most of it is simply odious and incompatible with a civil society.

The notion that the bible is a perfect guide to morality is really quite amazing, given the contents of the book. Human sacrifice, genocide, slaveholding, and misogyny are consistently celebrated.  Of course, God’s counsel to parents is refreshingly straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13: 24, 20:30, and 23:13-14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Mark.7:9-13 and Matthew 15:4-7).  We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshipping graven images, practicing sorcery, and for a wide variety of other imaginary crimes.  Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration.  He didn’t (Matthew 5:18-19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20-21, John 7:19). Anyone who believes that Jesus only taught the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor should go back and read the New Testament. And pay particular attention to the morality that will be on display if he ever returns to Earth trailing clouds of glory (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, 2:8; Hebrews 10:28-29; 2 Peter 3:7; and all of Revelation). It is not an accident that St. Thomas Aquinas thought heretics should be killed and that St. Augustine thought they should be tortured.  (Ask yourself, what are the chances that these good doctors of the Church hadn’t read the New Testament closely enough to discover the error of their ways?) As a source of objective morality, the bible is one of the worst books we have. It might have been the very worst, in fact, if we didn’t also happen to have the Koran.

It is important to point out that we decide what is good in the Good Book. We read the Golden and Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses; we read that a woman found not to be a virgin on her wedding night should be stoned to death, and we (if we are civilized) decide that this is the most vile lunacy imaginable. Our own ethical intuitions are, therefore, primary.  So the choice before us is simple: we can either have a 21st century conversation about ethics—availing ourselves of all the arguments and scientific insights that have accumulated in the last 2,000 years of human discourse—or we can confine ourselves to a first century conversation as it is preserved in the bible.

If religion were necessary for morality, there should some evidence that atheists are less moral than believers. But evidence for this is in short supply, and there is much evidence to the contrary.

People of faith regularly allege that atheism is responsible for some of the most appalling crimes of the 20th century. Are atheists really less moral than believers? While it is true that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were irreligious to varying degrees, they were not especially rational. In fact, their public pronouncements were little more than litanies of delusion—delusions about race, economics, national identity, the march of history or the moral dangers of intellectualism. In many respects, religion was directly culpable even here. Consider the Holocaust: the anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, its roots were undoubtedly religious—and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued throughout the period. (The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.) Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields are not examples of what happens when people become too critical of unjustified beliefs; to the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of not thinking critically enough about specific secular ideologies. Needless to say, a rational argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem that the atheist exposes is none other than the problem of dogma itself—of which every religion has more than its fair share. I know of no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

According the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005), the most atheistic societies—countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom—are actually the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate and infant mortality. Conversely, the 50 nations now ranked lowest by the U.N. in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious. Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality—belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God; each factor may enable the other; or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief.  Leaving aside the issue of cause and effect, these facts prove that atheism is perfectly compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that religious faith does nothing to ensure a society’s health.

If religion really provided the only conceivable, objective basis for morality, it should be impossible to posit a non-theistic, objective basis for morality.  But it is not impossible; it is rather easy.

Clearly, we can think of objective sources of moral order that do not require the existence of a law-giving God.  In “The End of Faith,” I argued that questions of morality are really questions about happiness and suffering.  If there are objectively better and worse ways to live so as to maximize happiness in this world, these would be objective moral truths worth knowing.  Whether we will ever be in a position to discover these truths and agree about them cannot be known in advance (and this is the case for all questions of scientific fact). But if there are psychophysical laws that underwrite human well-being—and why wouldn’t there be?—then these laws are potentially discoverable.  Knowledge of these laws would provide an enduring basis for an objective morality. In the meantime, everything about human experience suggests that love is better than hate for the purposes of living happily in this world.  This is an objective claim about the human mind, the dynamics of social relations, and the moral order of our world. While we do not have anything like a final, scientific approach to maximizing human happiness, it seems safe to say that raping and killing children will not be one of its primary constituents.

One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict.  The idea that there is a necessary link between religious faith and morality is one of the principal myths keeping religion in good standing among otherwise reasonable men and women.  And yet, it is a myth that is easily dispelled.

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  • #481654 by Tom Edgar on 4/22 at 7:49 pm
    (301 comments total)

    That last commentary is just too unbelievable.

    No.1 Stalin was a graduate Seminarian of the Orthodox Church and is buried back in Georgian in consecrated ground.  His antipathy towards the Established Church was rooted in his distrust because the “Church” controlled the Government, something with which he did not concur. One has only to view past “Communist Parades” to see leaders crossing themselves, or wonder, that after the deposing of the Communist control of the U S S R, at the IMMEDIATE appearance of the panoply, pomp and pageantry of that ritualistic religion.

    Hitler was born,and brought up, as a Catholic.  He was a long time friend of the Pope Pius when he was the most senior Cardinal,  their connivance, and some say manipulation, led to the deaths of so many.

    Pol Pot was a devout R C and never renounced his faith, as were so many Cambodians who were involved in the atrocities.

    Mussolini never left his Catholic tradition , and it is safe to say that 100% of his troops, that were blessed by the the incumbent Pope as they went to Abyssinia to slaughter the natives were also Catholic.

    South America is replete with horror stories of atrocities committed in the name of the “True Faith.”

    The U K has its share, in the past, of counter measures against the Catholics,  whilst the Catholics have plenty of evidence against them for persecuting any other faith including, and especially, the Jews. Britain’s history of atrocities in the “Colonies”  with emphasis on the Indian sub continent is too horrible to recount.

    The rendition of so many Muslims and others by Americans along with the torture and murder can be safely laid at the door of traditional U S holders of so many variations of Christian ideologies and even George Bush called his infamous invasion in the Middle East a “Crusade” .Not the first that a western nation has made against the infidel Muslims.

    So, not only have your facts straight, do not perpetuate the holier than thou lies, and indoctrinated, hatred of those of us who have no faith. Remember there has NEVER been a war commenced with the avowed intention of removing religion, but there has been many against people whose religions did not coincide with the invaders concepts and was done with varying levels of religious intolerance.

    Finally I point out that within the U S A atheists are, by the overwhelming majority, held at lower esteem that even Islamists, (Just)

    Report this comment

  • #304430 by James Bain on 2/14 at 11:12 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Enlightening reading from both the author and comments ensuing. I don’t have the truth, but there’s a small book out there that might make some difference to the questions asked. I know it led me on some pretty interesting paths to further illumination of answers (not THE answer, though, which, as we all know by now, is 42) to various questions posed by comment posters.
    The author is Ernest Becker, who wrote “Escape from Evil” and “Denial of Death”, among many others. I fancy the former, but both will take you on the same ride. If you’re at all like me, apt to upend stones to see what lives underneath, you’ll get sucked in by the bibliographies and read some of what he read in order to reach the conclusions he writes of.
    Don’t take my word for it; read for yourself. The former book is under 200 pages, packed to the gunwales with thought-provoking stuff. The first time I read it, I knew I’d made a mistake by not paying closer attention to it and ended up reading it two more times in quick succession. I now go back to it, as I do to many other books in my library, to refresh my powers of observation, every year or so.
    It’s good to have an open mind, but not at both ends…

    Report this comment

  • #205919 by OzarkMichael on 12/14 at 11:14 am
    (2512 comments total)

    Sam Harris: Are atheists really less moral than believers? While it is true that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were irreligious to varying degrees, they were not especially rational.

    Golly. Problem solved. Difficulties eliminated. Millions murdered but we dont need to dwell on that. Stalin just needed to think a little more and then his atheism would have been sweetness and light. Oh Yeah.

    There are some atheists that deserve respect. Mr Harris is not one of them. Nevertheless this article by Mr Harris was followed by unending rounds of atheist swooning. I copy but one example:

    Oh Sam, how your work astounds me.  Your reasonable thinking and to-the-point style of writing is really something to marvel at.

    and reflections such as:

    Regarding religious people as having a contagious infection is just good mental hygiene.

    Atheists love to insist on their superior individuality, rationality, and freedom as compared to a person like myself(a ‘born again’ type). Which makes it hard for you to hear me. Listen anyway. You claim to rely on a higher state of rationality, but most of you, like Mr Harris, rely on a higher state of denial instead. That is why you are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

    Here is an example of an atheist who applauds Mr Harris but urges him to take the next logical step:

    Josef Stalin was not as bad as everyone makes him out to be. Stalin was profoundly couragous. It was only because of… (content edited for excessive stupidity)

    Check this thread and count the number of atheists posting. Count the number of atheists who followed Sam’s lead and let the death of millions pass unnoticed. I suppose they were too busy being rational. Too rational to reflect upon millions of murders committed by atheists and what it might mean about themselves, even though the stated purpose of the article was to reflect on such questions.

    Given the opportunity to reflect but using that to sweep it all under the rug…what does it say about atheism today? If atheism is a rising worldview, what does it say about the future? 

    It isnt just that we disagree about Jesus. Its that you profess to have such purity and clean hands when in fact atheism shed the blood of millions… and the atheist murderers were able to rationalize it. How does Mr Harris respond to that? He uses misdirection, rationalization, and denial:

    In many respects, religion was directly culpable even here.

    Most all of you cheered Mr Harris’ performance. At one time in my life I would have too. So I understand how you feel but its better to be honest. Have the courage to face the truth and things will go better for us all.

    Report this comment

  • #156670 by SHOWU on 5/15 at 2:57 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Thank you for the excellent article.
    http://www.internationalremovals-ltd.com/en/logistics- company.html

    Report this comment

  • #127556 by Sandy Taylor on 1/19 at 3:54 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    trying to reach Jenny Zock Babines.  Have lost touch.  My email address is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), please email me.  Love, Sandy

    Report this comment

  • #121131 by Rmelcher on 12/18 at 8:07 pm
    (1 comments total)

    Although I do not believe in a particular God or gods as existing in some external or ruling dimension, I’m still not personally comfortable applying the term atheism to myself.

    It’s rather easy to see the evil effects of religion. History, like the newspapers, tends to record mostly the disruptions of human life. The terrible effects of belief systems in the modern world are also easy to see.

    My question to the atheist is whether one can consider the development of human society, human knowledge and human personality without considering the ongoing dialogue human’s have been having with aspects of reality that are greater than the ‘self.’ One can call these ‘God’ or ‘gods’ or ‘angels’ or ‘archetypes,’ or ‘spirits,’ and one would be talking about similar things.

    Perhaps we are in a time when humanity is ready to abandon its dialogue with these inner or outer projections and to embrace a reality totally based on reason. Harris and others contend that if we do not we are threatened with either extinction or a wholesale return to the dark ages. I can see that this is a rational deduction given present data. It may be the only deduction possible when one has no belief in anything outside of reason. The very data quoted by Harris to indicate our dire straights leads only to one rational conclusion - civilization is screwed. Otherwise one would have to believe that somehow the majority of humanity, which until this moment has depended on religion as one of the primary organizing principles of society will suddenly throw all of that off and embrace wholesale the spirit of pure rationality. This requires a leap of ‘faith’ that is, in my opinion, as irrational as the belief that all things come from nothing - that is, it is a faith based on very little evidence.

    As much as religion is the engine behind some of the most destructive forces in the world, I believe it’s also the one of the forces standing between ourselves, including the rationalists among us, and total mayhem. As much evidence as there is of the destructive effects of religion there is also evidence that religion has played a part in preserving a more or less balanced relationship between the pursuit of reason and the tides of collective hysteria. I believe that, if it weren’t for the so-called ‘religious moderates’ for whom Harris has such contempt, most of the scientists of the world would probably long ago have been hung on meat hooks. To use a religious metaphor, you don’t defeat the devil by meeting him face to face. His forces are too powerful and subtle and have too many convinced that he’s on their side. Likewise, you don’t disarm a dangerous psychopath by asking him for his weapon. Instead you must be patient and subtle, even able to enter his reality, while you gradually talk him down.

    Of course the task of remaining patient in the face of all of the dire complexity facing our world is almost impossible for a person without some sort of faith. As Harris himself puts it in his book, “Faith enables many of us to endure life’s difficulties with an equanimity that would be scarcely conceivable in a world lit only by reason.”  If, however, you can manage the task, more power to ya’.

    For me the best counsel is in the words of another atheist, Richard Adams, in his “Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  “Don’t Panic.”

    Report this comment

  • #119956 by CoForSeparationOfBoardAndBedroom on 12/13 at 8:40 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I share the belief of the agnostic poster that we do not know one way or the other. I disagree with the article’s suggestion that poverty and injustice are not the root of human suffering and that simple removal of faith in deity will solve humanity’s woes. Wish it were that simple. I’d be among the first to celebrate if that were the case but it isn’t. While I concur with the writer’s areligious view overall I respectfully submit that refusal to address humanity’s material woes is part of the problem rather than the solution. Targeting religion alone is definitely not going to solve it. Tyrants have been both non-religious and religious while saintly players on the political stage have been on both sides of the spectrum as well. It is time to get to the roots of the problem. I suggest that calling for immediate switch to atheism and pointing out religion as the bogeyman of an unhumane world is putting the cart before the horse. Solve the underlying problems that lead to suffering first, then await a more realistic and gradual change to rational worldview among human beings.

    Report this comment

  • #106993 by Ralph Clark on 10/14 at 9:33 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    To: Comment #3267 by Jenny Zock Babines on 2/08 at 9:21 am

    > I would like to see a Unified Theory of Spirituality
    > that uses the rigors of Science as a litmus test for
    > divine consicousness.

    Science still cannot deal with consciousness, not on your terms. Consciousness as an experiential phenomenon is still a complete mystery to science. i.e. “how do you get from spatiotemporal synapse firing patterns, to the experience of the blueness of the colour blue”? Of course much work has been done to explain human behaviour in terms of neurological structure and this has been outstandingly successful, but no Scientist can yet explain why we really feel things instead of just acting as if we do.

    This is not a shortcoming of Science by the way, it’s a shortcoming of the question - not all questions make sense, and questions that don’t make sense cannot be answered by Science.

    Anyway if Science cannot explain even human consciousness then it can hardly explain a divine one.

    > I am currently writing a book called THE QUANTUM PRESENCE
    > that uses the recent theories of quantum mechanics to point
    > the way to a universal consciousness we can consider divine
    > if we wish to.

    This has been done to death already, in print and on the net. Have you never encountered Jack Sarfatti? I understand what you are reaching for here, Jenny. But in the end any attempt to label immaterial aspects of the universe - however teleological some theories of spacetime may seem - is nothing more than undiluted anthropomorphism, and in that respect you are no different than your remotest gourd-waving, tattooed and bone-decorated cave-dwelling ancestors who invented gods to personify the land and the sky. It can only *seem* to make sense at all (if you squint really hard) because consciousness, in the sense you mean it, is such an ill-defined concept that you can get away with attributing it to anything. After all if I tell you that stone over there is conscious, how are you going to disprove it? And if you are attributing consciousness to something that cannot even be pointed to, then so much the better.

    I will admit that I have suspicions that the universe is evolving in a teleological way (this is almost entirely Frank Tipler’s fault). But even if the universe were reaching toward some sort of purpose - if the driver of history were “final cause” rather than “efficient cause” - there is no good reason to attribute consciousness to it. Ball rolls downhill, flatworms find food and the world turns, all without any need for the explanatory power of conscious intent.

    > Except for minor aberrations mankind is basicly good
    > without the dogma of organized man-made religions.

    Sort of. Good and Evil are only human concepts. In a universe that contained no intelligent species, neither would have any meaning. Mankind is “basically good” because the default behavioural mode of human society is how we *define* good in the first place. If our species had to eat babies forever in order to survive, once we had become used to it as a society we would still say mankind was “basically good”. Because our yardstick for “good” would be in a different place from where   it is here and now. Moral “Good” is what is best for the majority in the long term. I advise you to read Steven Pinker, then you will know something about human nature at least.

    > Reading and studying the sciences can hasten our own
    > spiritual evolution and understanding of what we are

    I will certainly agree with you on that.

    > and how we are all connected to the Universal Consciousness
    > I call THE QUANTUM PRESENCE.

    Oh not not another mad preacher.

    > P.S. I’m looking for a publisher!

    The market for such books yet exists, but as people hasten their evolution and understanding through science, fortunately it grows less.

    Report this comment

  • #104243 by Panic on 10/02 at 10:38 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Jackie,

    Atheism represents an active disbelief in any form of deity or god. Agnosticism, in distinction, holds that it is not possible to know one way or the other.

    /Panic

    Report this comment

  • #93631 by Vazool on 8/10 at 2:35 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Jackie, your definition of atheist is not right.  I am an atheist, but I don’t believe in any higher power whatsoever.  I’m not sure whether belief in some form of higher power is actually excluded by the definition of atheism, but it is certainly NOT required by it.  Lexicologically speaking, all that is clear is that the belief that the higher power is a god is prohibited.

    Any support for the attempt to build a belief system around the personification or magicalisation of natural processes, however mysterious, should fall outside of the definition of atheism.

    As regards the idea of mysteriousl forces as an alternative to a god, well that depends on whether or not the ‘believer’ concedes that these mysterious forces are just currently inexplicable and are at least potentially open to scientific enquiry.  If so, I suppose they would be a rationalist AND an atheist; if not (i.e. the believer regards these forces as truly magical and forever beyond the wit of mortal man), then he/she is just plain superstitious.

    As far as my own personal definition of atheism goes, an atheist doesn’t need to believe that someone (or something…) is pulling the strings just to make sense of things.  To take a poker analogy, an atheist plays the hand and does not deify the dealer; nor does THIS rational atheist (i.e. me) confuse the rules of the game, however complex and beyond my understanding, with magical energy or a mystical lifeforce.

    Although that might explain my bad luck.

    Report this comment

  • #93548 by archeon of thrace on 8/09 at 5:36 pm
    (687 comments total)

    Dan, I have had to rely on nothing more than my personal convictions and ethno-moral value system to sustain my through great life tests.

    Examples:

    I have faced death.
    I have had to face others who would do me harm with a gun.
    I have lost loved ones to violenc and to disease.
    I have worke hard all my life at physical labour.

    Through all these I have never turned to god, or hoped that some supernatural magical beign would alleviate my suffering.

    In short I have been tested by life, and still god seemed like a petulant asshole, and his book seemed like nothing more than trivial garbage.

    Report this comment

  • #93427 by Jackie on 8/09 at 9:25 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The atheist doesn’t believe in a religion, but he believes that there’s a greater “force” or something above us that rules the universe. What you’re referring to is an agnostic person, who believes there’s nothing above us, nothing rules the universe, there’s no fate or destiny or anything written. Although, there’s the other definition that says that agnostics have no knowledge about religion and greater forces. Do you have more details on this subject? If this is incorrect, then how is a person who doesn’t believe in anything defined?

    Report this comment

  • #74434 by archeon of thrace on 5/31 at 9:38 pm
    (687 comments total)

    It is 72 PERPETUAL virgins.

    The implications are quite interesting:

    1- they never have sex with you - then what is the point of them being virgins, or women even?

    2- you get fuck them, and miraculously they are transformed into virgins by morning - this begs the question of what a virgin is.  It is clear however that logically; once fucked a woman can never be a “real” virgin again.

    So it is clear that this is a paradise designed for simpltons, morons, and the ignorant.

    My favorite part is the one about sitting on brocade cushions eating pomegranites.  It is so clear that the koran is rooted in arabic culture of the 4th century.  Just like it is clear that judaism is rooted in the 50th century BC, and christianity is rooted in the first century.

    Report this comment

  • #72609 by mike 18 on 5/25 at 3:57 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    If religion were necessary for morality, there should some evidence that atheists are less moral than believers. But evidence for this is in short supply, and there is much evidence to the contrary.

    Report this comment

  • #70654 by Arch Leer on 5/17 at 4:15 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Dan,

    If you’ll forgive me for saying so, that doesn’t make any sense.

    My own will and moral principles may or may not be sufficient for whatever tests I might face but of one thing I can be sure: I will do the best I can and I will strive to be true to myself and my principles - and yet not, I hope, so far that I become blind to everything else.

    But whether this will be enough or not, I don’t see anything in the Bible (and yes I have read most of it, several times in fact) that would lighten my load.

    The antics of the ancient Hebrew warmongers, pedophiles, rapists and infanticides that populate the books of the Old Testament have no useful lesson for me except to remind me that some of the worst crimes in history have been promoted and lauded by that very Holy book.

    As for the New Testament, the philosophy preached in the Gospels does contain positive humanist aspects that have been adopted by our modern culture and are today practiced by good Christians and atheists alike - being kind and considerate to one’s fellow man etc.

    As for faith itself, which you decry the lack of, there are two aspects to this.

    On the one hand there is “believing in something” which you seem to find indispensable, presumably for spiritual fulfillment. Well with regard to that, please try to understand this: I can still believe in a philosophy, and I can still HOPE for plenty of things that *may* be without deluding myself about what *is*. Faith is merely a deliberate act of self-delusion usually prompted by fear of the more realistic alternative. Hope is actually harder than faith because it demands that you be honest with yourself that there are no guarantees of any kind about the future (and especially no ridiculous cartoon afterlife as envisioned by bronze-age camel herders). But in HOPE you can still find some satisfaction, if you hope for the right things and if you have the strength of spirit to let that hope guide your actions.

    As for the other aspect of faith - belief in the veracity of some unsupported statement of fact, such as the aforesaid cartoon afterlife - I hardly need to apologize for not being a credulous fool.

    Moreover I don’t need to apologize for continuing to lead a morally correct life despite my lack of belief in an eternal system of punishment or reward. The fact that many religious conservatives seem to believe man would behave like an animal without this heavenly incentive (when evidence to the contrary is all around them in the form of atheists behaving in a civilized and often charitable way), this surely tells us a great deal about the type of men these religious conservatives are. I certainly wouldn’t want to be left alone with one of them while they thought God was looking the other way.

    So, Dan, we atheists and agnostics are not bad people. We can show you hope and charity in abundance. We think faith is just foolishness though. We admit it can seem harder to live without it; it’s a bit like leaving the parental home for the first time and standing on your own two feet. Without the moral crutch of the Bible and excuses such as “I am as God made me” or “Satan led me astray”, we are forced to bear full responsibility for our own moral choices. We don’t judge people by their allegiance to an ancient Middle Eastern cult, we judge people according to how they behave and how they treat others.

    We don’t live as the abject subjects of a tyrant Old Testament god nor as the half-hearted, self-hating acolytes of a tortured New Testament god whose requirements were so strict that almost *none* of his followers are any better at following them than anybody else (choosing to go to a special club every weekend and sing songs about it instead).

    Instead we live as free men.

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  • #70620 by Dan on 5/17 at 1:31 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I would really like to see one of the ones that believe the Holy Bible is a book of misguidance and deceit for the eyes of men, I’d like to see them confronting a situation where a little bit more than some own moral principles and a strong will are necessary. You people wouldn’t even try to believe in something even if someone had a gun pointed at your head. I mean, you’re the losers here..

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  • #57872 by Ralph Clark on 3/10 at 7:54 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    To: Comment #17166 by Bennett S. Bartlett

    You asked:

    “What is it the makes people need to invent an entire story of what happens after death in their religion, and why does anyone subscribe to such obvious clap trap?”

    The religious complexities you referred to are usually described as “mysticism”. All *organized* religions include astounding quantities of mystic mumbo jumbo, and in that statement lies the clue to the answer, which is simple and well understood by sociologists.

    Mystic complexity will always appear in a religious belief system with some rapidity immediately after the appearance of a priesthood elite. In that respect priests are no different than any other professional class: they are only acquiring a jargon.

    In the case of physicians, engineers and scientits there is a least some demonstrable point to the jargon in that it is needed to describe concrete things and necessary ideas, whereas in the case of priests (and some would argue, lawyers) there is no real need for it but they invent a jargon anyway as a means of obfuscating what they are talking about and making it seem more complex and impenetrable than it really is.

    You must realize that the mystical stuff about the afterlife and even the trinary nature of God wasn’t clear in early Christian writings, if it was even mentioned at all. It didn’t appear until the first council of Nicea in 325, when the various local Christian organizations assembled themselves into the Holy Church.

    For the Christian priesthood of the dark and middle ages this was absolutely vital in order for them to interpose themselves between man and God and make themselves absolutely indispensable with regard to any commerce between the two, so that they could gain power and control. By making Christianity hard for the common man to understand, not only did it become impossible for the common man to approach God without the help of a priest, it even became impossible to avoid heresy. i.e. if you didn’t have a degree-level understanding of the current mumbo jumbo taught by the Church then any hostile questioning would quickly reveal you to be a heretic. And we all know what would have happened next.

    This monopoly on salvation was the source of their massive wealth and political power so you can see why they would struggle to protect it.

    The same desire to protect their “trade secrets” and hence their power in society was also what motivated the Church for over a thousand years the to avoid allowing the Bible and the Mass to be translated from Latin into English etc. This didn’t change until Martin Luther & the reformation which engendered the Protestant Church, however the Roman church continued with everything in Latin.

    Of course I am making some dramatic oversimplifications here but I am sure you get the point.

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  • #45895 by Goldy on 1/06 at 2:29 am
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    Why 72 virgins?  Wouldn’t you want at least one of them to be able to give good ...?

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  • #43771 by remarklj@earthlink.net on 12/26 at 10:59 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I think your defense of secular morality misses the point that you have to till the garden you have. That cacti can survive in the desert “proves” that shade and frequent rainfall are not essential to plant life, but it does not prove that you can create a place worth living in without them. 

    Some atheists are moral; indeed, I would argue that most atheists - i.e., people who have thought about the problem and concluded that there is no god - can be moral and are moral.  But the view that a world of atheists would be a better place than a world of deists is actually an elitist, politically correct bit of wishful thinking.  Not enough people can dope out the morality that atheism demands.

    If religious terrorism teaches us anything, it is how few bad actors it takes to disrupt a society.  The prerequisite for social equilibrium - respect for each others life and property - comes not from there being a few people who can behave well but from their being a very small number who do not behave well.  The social utility of deism in general and organized religion specifically must be tested not against the ability of a college-educated man with an IQ of 120 to worry out the categorical imperative; it depends on the ability of the working stiff with the IQ of 95 to find a basis for doing the right thing. 

    Just as we have evolved opposable thumbs, we have evolved the ability to believe in a deity.  We have evolved that ability because, without it, we perish, not because it is impossible for atheists to behave morally, but because, absent a divine law-giver, too many of us behave badly.  In the end, the problem is thus not a philosophical one or even a theological one.  It is a practical one.  However much damage religion has done, it is to morality what democracy is to government - the worst one possible, except for all the others.

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  • #42244 by George on 12/14 at 6:46 pm
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    Which is more irrational; that the universe began with the big bang or it has always existed?  If it began with the Big Bang what caused the Big Bang?  If it has always existed, does this not beg for proof that cannot be provided?  The reality is that no one knows for sure. No math formula can prove an eternal existance of the universe without using imaginary numbers, neither can science. In fact, based on what we know of the universe it is at the very least aguable that the Big Bang happened. What must of caused this? Nothing? So all of us humans are bound to a faith be it religious or atheistic. Truth will only be revealed upon our death.

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  • #41318 by John Crook on 12/08 at 3:10 am
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    It is quite possible to argue against Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy.  However, rather than argue against it directly, I will give a counter analogy:

    Who would use French grammar as a means for calculating the orbit of Saturn (or a teapot)?

    In other words religious belief is necessarily beyond the scope of rational debate.  It is impossible to disprove a person’s BELIEF in the extra-terrestrial teapot.  If you think that is missing the point, take some time to reconsider.  It’s worth it, I promise.

    As for Mr Russell, himself… Consider the following extract from one of his works:

    In extreme cases there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another…. It seems on the whole fair to regard negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from questions of humanity) would be highly undesirable.

    —Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals (1929)

    Or to paraphrase: there can be little doubt of the existence of the orbiting teapot… It seems on the whole fair to posit the existence of an extra-terrestial teapot, despite one or two niggling concerns relating to the ability of porcelain to withstand the extreme temperature differential, so that denial of its presence (apart from questions of expediency) would be highly undesirable.

    OK - its a dodgey paraphrase, but talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

    I also happen to believe that any Philosophy undergraduate could pen a retort to Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy.  Unless, of course she had better things to do.

    A fellow atheist.

    As for Mr Russell, himself… Consider the following extract from one of his works:

    In extreme cases there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another…. It seems on the whole fair to regard negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from questions of humanity) would be highly undesirable.

    —Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals (1929)

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  • #23198 by Bruce LeFebvre on 9/13 at 3:19 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Whoever is helping Sam with his blog needs to remove the spam—it’s cluttering us up and cooling off new bloggers.  Is it possible to remove the SPAM so that we can get back to the subject?
                  Thanks
                    WBL

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  • #18305 by Stephen Lord on 8/15 at 3:34 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    God works in mysterious ways? No…........

    Well put:D however the lack of rationality has never stopped any dogmatist from beleiving what they wasnt to beleive. 
    As per the original manifesto, those who survive usually end up beleiving this was due to god’s mercy.

    I recently saw a post on a health site I use about how a guy delivering a repaired defibulator was miraculously saved by the same machine. 

    One has to only ask what about the guy who died when it broke?  How about those who died while it was being repaired?  but before you can do this you must first dismiss the reason.

    The holy teapot is out there somewhere? 
    Of course people are indoctrinated while the idea of a interspatial teapot is no less ridiculous than santa or easter bunnies. 

    This is the fundamental of the virus propogation, invade the host while the host is at its most vulnerable and the defenses are low. 

    Flying people:  Is it not obvious why they want to believe this.  Is it any less ridiculous than a virgin birth or scientology? 

    Once the defense system is weakened by indoctrination in believing without reason it is easily compromised by further viral ideas. 

    An atheist isn’t going to beleive because the atheist has already asserted reason but a dogmatist has already suspended reason.  All that needs to be overcome is a more attractive empty offer. Wanna see more suicide bombers, just offer more virgins.  Find purgatory a bit harsh, well just invent a new concept of directly ascending to hell.  The bible is so full of contradictions that almost any theory can be supported somewhere so long as it requires no proof. 


    Nowhere can this be seen better in contempory works than the Da Vinci code where one set of belief without questioning is merely replaced to another. I must admit when reading the quote from the vatican about the dangers of peope believing the book at face value the Da Vinci code wasn’t the book that came to MY mind.

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  • #17199 by Bennett on 8/07 at 1:24 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Bruce:

    Religion has certainly provided more than its share of connon fodder throughout histroy, I hardily agree.  But I see something more insidious in the fact that religions seem to encourage believers to believe a set story, evidence be damned.

    I read an intersting post (http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/)
    in which the blogger worries that journalism is suffering, not from censorship, but from too much undifferentiated information.  Governments no longer need to censor information, he argues, because they can put the truth out there along side all the lies, distortions (e.g. reports by astroturf organizations, or this: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2273111&page=1),
    and relentless attacks on media bias, and the truth is ignored or overlooked, especially, it seems to me, by people accustomed to believeing in stories they want to believe in that have no basis in evidence.

    Once a person believes that heaven has seven levels as a “fact,” and that other religious explanations are silly, it is a small step to believe that Iraq had active WMD stock piles (a la Rick Santorum), and all other news reports are silly.

    Scarry stuff to me.

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  • #17172 by Bruce LeFebvre on 8/07 at 9:23 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Bennett:
    I guess I can understand the desire to make an afterlife some sort of magical ‘perfect’ existence and it’s because of the fact that life, itself, is quite imperfect.  None of us, rich, poor, beautiful or ugly, makes it through life unscathed by the reality of existence.  For the believer, since they’re indulging in a bit of fantasy anyway, can choreograph an afterlife however he or she wants it to be.

    It has to be admitted, religion is the cleverest and most successful industry ever invented:  It doesn’t have to produce a product and it doesn’t have to pay taxes!  And for governments it relieves the anxiety of dying, so it provides lots of cannon fodder whenever it seems convenient to have a little war or two.

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  • #17166 by Bennett S. Bartlett on 8/07 at 8:32 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    TO: Comment #16341 by Bruce LeFebvre,

    Bruce: 

    I went back and finished reading the treatise (14881) that I had recommended to you.  The first time through I didn’t get very much past the “God is consciousness” argument, which I found interesting enough to ignore the claim that the universe works flawlessly.  I can only assume that the writer was defining “flaw” in the narrowest of terms.  An earthquake devastating a city would not be a flaw, because it would be the universe operating within some sort of consistent framwork, where as if you woke up one day and say, Colorado had just blinked out of existence—out of consciousness I suppose I should say—then there is a flaw in the counsciousness field (hell, let’s just call it “the force” shall we?).

    Anyway, now that I finished the article, it has the feel of a PR piece for Maharishi University of Management, which used to be called Maharishi International University, or MIU we used to call it (I attended a small Iowa college only 30 miles or so from MIU).  Those MIU folks claimed that they could levitate back then, too (although I never understood the theory until I re-read that post, which I take to say: “when we reach the state of transcendence, the force is with us.”).

    After college, I rented an apartment in town and there was a MIU graduate living in the apartment above me.  On night a fellow MIU grad came to visit my upstairs neighbor for dinner.  After dinner sometime I heard this banging sound above, it made my ceiling shake.  It went on for some time, but I’m an easy going fellow, so I ignored it.

    The next morning, she came to apologize for the noise.  I asked, in a facetious tone, “were you trying to fly,” intending to jokingly suggest that if they were, they did not do a very good job of staying air borne.  She looked at me astounded and in all seriousness, said, “Yes, how did you know.” 

    So, this is a long winded way to bring this back to chosing the myth you like (sort of).  They idea that I am simply consciousness within the greater field of consciousness, and that once I master some technique of finding my place in the field I can fly around like Nemo in the Matrix is a nice myth.    And MIU (or whatever it is called now) does have these two big domes you see as you drive by.  I once saw a “secret” film of what goes on in the domes. 

    These people sit with their legs pretzel style on a mattress covered floor, and after meditating for a while manage to flex their leg muscles in a way that makes them spring into the air an inch or two.  Then they bounce around on the mattress for a while, and call it flying.  And they really think they are flying. 

    I’m sorry that I have not made a coherent point here.  MIU people are not, I assume, indoctinated in childhood, but they sure seem to grab hold of the myths once they enroll in the school.  What makes them love their myth over others, I can’t say.

    But, I want to add something that I find curious.  The author of 14881 described seven states of consciousness—and the last four seem made up out of whole cloth.  Mormons (I dated one once) describe seven levels of after life—again, just made up stuff.  Only in the last year did Catholicism dump the concept of purgatory (or was it limbo, I get confused), another completely made up explanation for what happens after death that no one could know to be true.  No different, it seems, than Mount Olympus, Valhalla, 72 virgins, etc.

    So I end on this note:  What is it the makes people need to invent an entire story of what happens after death in their religion, and why does anyone subscribe to such obvious clap trap?

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  • #16341 by Bruce LeFebvre on 8/02 at 5:57 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I guess I’m turning into a “Bloggie” with this discussion but I hope everyone else is having as much of a ball as I am.

    Beatrice & Bennett:  Thanks for being there and your bright light of intellectuality.  Bennett I did read the 14881 treatise.  It sounds a bit like a religious adherent trying to tie the so-called “creative intelligence” to the current physics rage of “String Theory” or the “The Theory of Everything”.

    Interesting, if not justifiable, and more proof of your theory of ‘indoctrinology’.

    Where does the idea of ‘perfection’ enter the picture?  Surely he isn’t implying the Universe has some destination in mind!  And, I hope he is aware of how many times this one little planet has essentially started the whole process of life all over again.  One would think that a unified ‘consciousness’ would do a little advance planning.

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  • #16328 by Beatrice Cader on 8/02 at 4:56 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I have a question for the pious…  Do we value human life anymore???

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  • #16277 by Beck Out West on 8/02 at 12:17 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Mr Harris,

    Your arguments constitute a strong assault against religion. I would only add the idea of memes to your arsenal. Memetics uses viral behavior as a model to illustrate how information patterns and notions enter and spread throughout society. Many religions exhibit viral behavior, infecting their hosts and immediately seeking replication. Some religions have even developed defense mechanisms that punish those who attempt a cure. Muslims, for example, call for the death of apostates. Looking at religions as biological entities with highly evolved survival strategies is an enlightening exercise. Regarding religious people as having a contagious infection is just good mental hygiene.

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  • #15031 by Beatrice Cader on 7/24 at 10:14 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Good question and well said Bruce!

    As a peace loving person, I really appreciate your comment!

    Thank you!

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  • #15022 by Bennett S. Bartlett on 7/24 at 8:19 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Bruce:

    Seeing that no one has taken you up on your offer, I thought I’d return the favor (you commented on my earlier post).

    I do not believe in omniscience so perhaps I’m not the right person to comment.

    (Although for a really . . . lets say, unique view of omniscience, check out this post by someone claiming that God is consciousness:

    http://www.truthdig.com/dig/item/200512_an_atheist_ manifesto/#14881).

    Anyway, as a starting point, it seems to me (based only on observation) that indoctrination is a powerful force.  People who are steeped in a religious tradition rarely seem to reject it later, however illogical it may later turn out to be. 

    So one reason to accept one set of myths over another is indoctrination.  But assuming that can be overcome, as some people seem to do, the next factor must have something to do with the need for personal affirmation.  That is a need that seems to be intrinsic to humans, although were it comes from I don’t know.

    I’m just flying by the seat of my pants here, but bear with me.  Greek/Roman gods were like humans.  Their human-like characterists were probably attractive because Greeks and Romans could identify with the human foibles in those they worshiped.  But I do not get the impression that Greeks and Romans had the sort of personal, internal dialoge that people seem to have with Jesus. 

    It is nice to see your frailties reflected in the gods, but much nicer to have a perfect, forgiving being in your head—constantly telling you that its OK that you screw up because I, the embodiment of perfection—not to mention your father-figure—love you despite your screw ups, and furthermore, all you have to do is follow my simply formula and I’ll forgive you for your screw ups.

    In other words, “hey, you’re OK,” trumps the less personal, “hey, people are OK.”

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  • #14954 by Brent Kearney on 7/23 at 12:19 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I think that part of the problem of religion is that most people just don’t have the capacity for logic.  I know that sounds pretentious, but consider it, and you’ll find that it explains a lot. 

    Those who live in the intellectual bubble of academia lose touch with the common man on the street and in the fields.  They don’t comprehend modus ponens, or even grasp the notion of “follows from”.  Many people go through life as simple partisans: they’re Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Protestant, and you are with them or against them.  The idea that reasons could stand on their own is foreign and incomprehensible.  An argument for the common person is always an argument from a particular person’s lips, and never something that could stand on its own as an object of deliberation. 

    I am not claiming that these people are stupid.  Rather, I believe that the capacity for critical thought must be learned and developed, and most people are just never exposed to the basics, let alone the honing of these skills that comes from the study of secular philosophy.

    If my assessment is at all accurate, the project of intellectual enlightenment is still in its early infancy.

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  • #14819 by Bruce LeFebvre on 7/22 at 12:48 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    If anyone (especially those who still cling to their belief in some sort of omniscience) would like to respond, I’d like to ask why one would believe in any one myth rather than another.  For instance, why wouldn’t you believe in the Greek pantheon or the Roman one or the Hindu one or the Egyptian one?  What is so convincing or attractive to believe the stories in the Koran, Bible or Torah as opposed to the others?
                Bruce LeFebvre

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  • #14760 by Christensen in Kansas City on 7/21 at 9:18 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Fundamentalist atheists are as spooky as fundamentalists anything else.

    The are, in their own way fanatics.

    I don’t want them in control any more than I do the fundies.

    Sure, Falwell, Robertson and Dobson have their own issues…many of which go beyond Christianity, per se; but so did Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.

    Who needs it.

    Thank GOD for a secular (note, not atheist, secular) state.

    Its a very New Testament idea…“Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s”.

    So, you’ll pardon me if I resist your efforts.

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  • #14715 by Bruce LeFebvre on 7/21 at 4:34 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Bennett:
    Interesting comment on the somewhat spontaneity of morality and compassion.  But morality probably stems from a social/civilized realization that if we are not kind to one another we can probably expect unkindness in one form or another ourselves.  From that point of view it’s simple but also complex because it becomes a factor for survival and altruistic as it seems has self-involved aspects.

    Probably the clue to civilization in general is that we are, by nature, a social animal and have to work out methods that will work for living in close proximity to one another.

    Morality then becomes a survival technique.  If the Meercats on the African veldt can work out social interaction without resorting to violence, you would think that homosapiens with their larger brains could do so.  As it works out, there must have been some quality that didn’t make it to the 21st century in the human brain.
                Bruce

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  • #14690 by Indigobusiness on 7/21 at 12:38 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Religion as a tool is one thing…Religion as a weapon is another.

    http://godisnotanasshole.blogspot.com/

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  • #14674 by Bennett S. Bartlett on 7/21 at 10:44 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam:

    I want your insight on this “problem,” for lack of a better word.

    Years ago, while trying to address a friend’s argument that morality is dependent upon religion (before I read your commendable book), the following analogy occurred to me:

    If I pick up a baby—any race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, it does not matter—and cuddle the baby warmly, I’ll get one response.  If I poke the baby with a pin, I’ll get another response. 

    I (as Everyman) can give pleasure or inflict pain—here the pain is physical, but emotional paid counts as well.  That seems to me to be the two basic ingredients of morality—no religion needed. 

    But what is also needed is compassion, or perhaps I mean empathy: the cognitive ability to equate the baby’s pleasure/pain with my own.  And that ability, given that it seems to be shared by many mammals, would seem to have an anthropological explanation rather than a religious one. So again, these three ingredients—pain, pleasure, empathy—form the bases of a perfectly acceptable, workable morality, no religion needed.

    So, am I missing something?  Or am I, perhaps, only describing a physio/psychological (a term I may have just coined) bases for the golden rule?

    Hope this does not seem to elementary, but before I present this argument to others I’d like to see how it holds up.

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  • #13499 by Beatrice Cader on 7/11 at 3:20 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Hello Sam!

    Are we reading too much into so called spiritualism?

    May be a good idea to learn the basics of happy, spiritual living from our animal friends.  They do not kill for faith based reasons or waste any time arguing about faith…  They only fulfill their survival needs and enjoy the moments they have on this planet earth while sharing and living harmoniously among each other (just watch your steps when they are hungry).

    Why spend so much energy and time arguing on concepts?  Instead, please serve mankind with love and kindness…

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  • #13365 by Kande Trefil on 7/10 at 7:13 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    “Believers go on believing forever without any confirmation because it gives them a feeling of security and also to keep antisocial impulses at bay…”

    I appreciate what you wrote, John; my only disagreement lies in the above.  In my experience, monotheistic believers use religion in an antisocial way, their basic message being “As a believer, I am better and more privileged than others, and included in that privilege is the right to violence towards those who disagree with me.”

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  • #13334 by Indigobusiness on 7/09 at 2:26 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Mike #2 said:

    Hmmm… You speak with an assumed authority and CERTAINTY regarding an athesists take on religion, yet tell us that deeper truth lies in paradox and UNCERTAINTY.
    Your analogy about religious truth being like quantum mechanics is similar gibberish.  How do you “know” this to be true?  Just because?  That doesn’t cut it.  I do not assume that anyone who claims to have first-hand “knowledge” of God is crazy or dishonest.  But I don’t accept as an objective fact, either.  If that person could provide sufficient evidence, I would change my opinion.  So far, no one has provided me with such evidence.  I agree that there may be phenomena beyond the perception of most or maybe all human beings.  But without any perception of them, there is no way to “know” them - IF they do exist.  All we can rely on is what we can perceive.  Everything else is just idle chatter.  The scientific method is still the best method currently available for examining the universe and seeking truth.
    —-
    You seem to forget that the scientific method is a discipline for understanding our existence, much like religious thought, even though many things arrived at via the scientific method, and accepted, are later disproved.

    There are very similar parallels here, and it is a joke to focus on weaknesses while ignoring strengths, and missing the significant point entirely.

    http://godisnotanasshole.blogspot.com/

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  • #13322 by Gary Buell on 7/09 at 9:15 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I read The End of Faith recently and I thought it was a very provocative work. This would perhaps be a better world with more atheists and fewer believers. I myself am more a seeker than a believer but do believe in GOD most days. (I am an atheist on Sundays, however, as I do not believe in the Christian God.) Being is a great mystery and raises great questions,and I think that the answers must be beyond our comprehension, as is God, according to the theologians. God, as a concept, may be too small to contain the mystery, but I have not so far been impressed by attempts by atheists to do so. For may years I was an agnostic.

    Someone once said that simple, literal theism is false, and nonliteral theism is unintelligible. I may have proven that point. I do believe that there is one thing about which we can be certain: that the ultimate truth about this existence is not only more fantastic than we imagine (theists and atheists alike) but more fantastic than we can imagine.

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  • #12810 by John Coelho on 7/01 at 9:42 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Dear sam:

    You’re writing really valuable stuff but you don’t get that most secular people who have a good moral compass are people who are of a higher evolution than many other people who need a Daddy in the sky with a stick. I’ve seen people pull themselves away from alcoholism with primitive religious belief systems, precisely because that’s the only kind of belief system that works for them, because they are primitive people. You would get exactly nowhere with them with a secular ethical system and forget about getting them to do vipassana meditation which would increase their sensitivity and improve their behaviour from a basis of sensitivity.

    The real distinction is between truth seekers and believers. To the degree that you’re the former you’re not the latter and to the degree that you’re the latter you’re not the former. Truth seekers take beliefs and test them. If they prove themselves out they keep them. If not they discard them. Believers go on believing forever without any confirmation because it gives them a feeling of security and also to keep antisocial impulses at bay and give them a feeling of balance with others which is the primary genuine socially useful benefit of belief for those who, unlike you can’t develope their sensitivity through meditation.

    Although you present yourself as an atheist you don’t
    have the mechanistic world view of most atheists.Many people could read your writings and not understand that you’re a mystic because you do vipassana.
    In a healthy situation exoteric religion is controlled by esotericists who lie at the heart of a religion and don’t allow exoteric religion to get out of control. At its best it’s like the Santa Claus myth. It promotes good behaviour. When it promotes bad behaviour it has to go.

    An inductive approach to life in which a belief is validated or or if it isn’t is rejected applies to a number of phenomena that you haven’t, apparently had any contact with. For example, I have tested the idea that making offerings to Kali Ma, Shiva and other god/goddeses brings a feeling of joy. Most atheists would write this off as autosuggestion. I think you should investigate the fact that many Buddhistteachers don’t write off the validity of Buddhist deities from personal experience..

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    (Unregistered commenter)

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  • #11093 by work2live biz on 6/03 at 10:19 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

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  • #10899 by Erwin Franzen on 6/01 at 2:35 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Your arguments in The Atheist Manifesto are solid and well-founded - excellent. It is high time we got rid of religion - all kinds of religion. Sometimes it looks to me like the USA itself has become a kind of religion to many people. This is very dangerous and goes very much against the views of one of its greatest founders, the much misunderstood and almost forgotten Tom Paine.
    Religion belongs to the past of humankind, definitely not its future, because there is no future for humankind with religion…

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  • #10616 by home mortgage calc on 5/29 at 5:41 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

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  • #9105 by mANUEL aLTOBANO on 5/11 at 3:38 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Surprise me that you sold lots, considering all your wrote about are garbages of humanity.  You must love living in hell.

    How about the good stuffs that were accomplished, because of God.  America in God we trust. The country that born the devil like you.  The Roman Empire, Great Buildings.

    You are right there is no one God, there is only the human god, ever growing, ever changing.  I hope you join the human god(J.C., ALLAH,BUHDA, ETC.), and donate your money, energy, and time.  Please donate to me.
    I could used some your devilish money for the human god.

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  • #8626 by Alan Martinez on 5/04 at 2:25 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    There is also another pernicious effect of religion that has become apparent to me lately. This is an effect shared by Hegel and Marx as well. It is the sense given by religion that history has a shape and purpose, and that “everything will turn out all right in the end”. This sense that if we do nothing as individuals and as communities, and that “everything will turn out ok”, is an extremely dangerous attitude considering the challenges that human kind faces today. If we, as individuals or groups do not take responsiblity for our situation, things will NOT “turn out ok”. Belief in a “good” deity keeps people from taking responsiblity for their lives and their communities and is thus really harmful to society.

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  • #8070 by Ga on 4/27 at 10:24 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Oh yeah, prayer does not even work. Well, as someone who does believe in the idea that “it is the thought that counts,” praying can help the person praying in many positive ways.

    However, praying as a way to effect outcomes, or to cause things to happen, is not only without logic, it simply makes no sense.

    Of course, a religionist will say, after praying for someone’s health who recovers, “My prayers have been answered.” As was he or she would say, after praying for someone’s health who DOES NOT recover, “God had something else in mind for him/her I prayed for.”

    God works in mysterious ways? No.

    God “works” as a way for people to cope with disaster, dying and death. Religion has aphorisms and pithy sayings for each and every occurrance no matter the outcome or your prayers.

    “God” and “His” teachings are the creations of Man to try to understand the mysteries of the physical world without having understanding of his physical world. Things like lightning and cowpox are very frightening thing when your do not understand them.

    The Bible’s roots are interesting, in that Man eating from the Tree of Knowledge is a way to explain Man’s transformation from brutish pre-history into civilization and the beginnings of understanding. Of course, evolution explains the same thing, just in tens of thousands more words.

    Yet on into the history of Mankind religions and their doctrines are more of a way to control the general populous than anything else.

    Those how believe have been told to believe what they believe. A child growing up in a Muslim family is told to believe as a Muslim. A child growing up in a Christian family is told to believe as a Christian. Swap the two children and birth and you do not swap a Muslim and a Christian. You swap two children.

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  • #7821 by Ga on 4/25 at 10:48 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The offering of a prayer to those whose faults lie in the want of logic is, of course, illogical. But then, no one ever said that deist religions are logical.

    That one would want to dispell logic as some form of black magic that dissuades the good from paths toward God, well, that is what religion does.

    Fear of logic means fear that one’s religon may be shown to be illogical.

    The point that has been lost by so many is that people are taught their religon. Who here, telling us of their faith in their religon, came to the faith through deep thought and contemplation? They all have been taught to believe what they believe as children.

    And human beings as they are, they dislike feelings of shame and embarassment, and will reject all outside arguments against their beliefs, rejecting even their own willingness for deep thought and contemplation.

    You have been taught to believe in the belief in a god my prayerful friend. You have been taught that the “Good Book” is the one and only true avenue toward morality. And as has been exposed so many time, that book is nothing but good. One may, of course, find some good in it. But then, the good—the only good—to be found their is Secular Humanist in nature.

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  • #7557 by Chip Thornton on 4/20 at 12:56 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam,

    If I thought for one moment that I had an obligation to explain to those who believe only in things discovered the logic behind my faith, I’d consider myself shortsighted indeed. I owe you nothing but a prayer, my friend.

    CT

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  • #7276 by Mike #2 on 4/16 at 1:17 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Indigobusiness wrote:  “Deeper truth lies in paradox and uncertainty, not rationalizations.  The bedrock of religion is not the shifting sand of foolish misapplications.

    An atheist’s take on religion is like a colorblinds’ version of the spectrum.  Get over your ideas of perception and beyond the dogma.  There you might, at least, find fertile ground for an argument.

    Religious truth is akin to quantum mechanics: it is a sticky wicket, but just because it isn’t easily grasped doesn’t discount it.”

    Hmmm…  You speak with an assumed authority and CERTAINTY regarding an athesists take on religion, yet tell us that deeper truth lies in paradox and UNCERTAINTY. 
    Your analogy about religious truth being like quantum mechanics is similar gibberish.  How do you “know” this to be true?  Just because?  That doesn’t cut it.  I do not assume that anyone who claims to have first-hand “knowledge” of God is crazy or dishonest.  But I don’t accept as an objective fact, either.  If that person could provide sufficient evidence, I would change my opinion.  So far, no one has provided me with such evidence.  I agree that there may be phenomena beyond the perception of most or maybe all human beings.  But without any perception of them, there is no way to “know” them - IF they do exist.  All we can rely on is what we can perceive.  Everything else is just idle chatter.  The scientific method is still the best method currently available for examining the universe and seeking truth.

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  • #6878 by Indigobusiness on 4/11 at 4:42 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Deeper truth lies in paradox and uncertainty, not rationalizations.  The bedrock of religion is not the shifting sand of foolish misapplications.

    An atheist’s take on religion is like a colorblinds’ version of the spectrum.  Get over your ideas of perception and beyond the dogma.  There you might, at least, find fertile ground for an argument.

    Religious truth is akin to quantum mechanics: it is a sticky wicket, but just because it isn’t easily grasped doesn’t discount it.

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  • #6405 by Publicus on 4/04 at 11:49 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Morality, in my view, is characterized by empathy and benevolence toward others. Religious “morality” is mere obedience to authority.

    I also wonder about people who say that religion (i.e. “authority”) is the basis for morality. What kind of person would say, kill, unless told by God not to?

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  • #4555 by Eddy1701 on 3/03 at 12:13 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Very good stuff, but there are a few problems if you ask me. For one, I myself don’t believe in an objective morality because I don’t see any way to prove an “ought” from an “is”. So far, all the ethical systems I’ve seen have failed to bridge that gap.

    It is indeed theoretically possible to discover ways to increase happiness, but how does that prove that happiness must be increased? The notion that happiness is better than pain and suffering is a subjective belief, not an objective fact. Afterall, a masochist might want to suffer and regard the denial of suffering as bad.

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  • #4383 by Soos on 2/28 at 6:14 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I love your articles.  You put into words a lot of the things I’d been thinking in vaguer terms. 

    “Were it not for religion, there might not have been a central organizing principle around which the Western world was formed…”
    What about the Code of the Hammurabi?  Matter of fact, that seems to be the central organizing principle around which Western religious morality was formed.

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  • #3889 by shirley ann newman on 2/15 at 7:43 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Yesterday I finished reading; The End of Faith. For the most part it’s in accord with my own perspectives. However, I don’t consider that the Soviet Union was—or that China and Cuba are—communist nations as defined by Karl Marx in das Kapital. The nations to which I just referred are ongoing dictatorships. In his book, Marx held the expectation that a communist nation woud evolve when the “dictorship of the proletariat” withered away, and became displaced by a democratically controlled nation in which the nation’s production is fairly and equitably distributed. Alas, his idealism did not foresee that power is a corrupting influence and that once a dictaorship has been established it remains stubbornly in place—until a violent revolution succeeds in overturning it.

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  • #3768 by Don on 2/14 at 10:23 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Here’s a thought.  It is not presented as a defense of religion as a source of morality.  It is just presented for consideration about the mechanics of establishing/maintaining morality in society.  (Reference here is to Christianity and the United States, but it applies more widely.)

    Religion, and it’s moral teachings, as we experience it in church, has two aspects:  first, the moral code one ascribes to the bible, and second, the fact that people gather, weekly, is significant numbers at church to hear about that code.  Relegating religion to the status of perposterous myths may have the beneficial effect of freeing our culture of irrational and falacious beliefs, but eliminating churches also has the effect or removing a significant platform from which morality is espoused.

    It’s true that the morality widely preached is, thankfully, an edited verions of the full teachings of the Bible, but its dissemination is currently accomplished is some great measure by the church.  If religions go the way of the dodo, then so do churches, and so does one of the significant venues in which morality is taught in our culture.  While it may well be true that there are better sources of morality than religious texts, are there better, more widely attended venues for teaching such morality?  What are they?  It would seem that without churches there is a paucity of institution getting the job done with at least some semblance of coherence.

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  • #3614 by Tyler Frusciante on 2/13 at 2:10 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam. 

    Josef Stalin was not as bad as everyone makes him out to be. Stalin was profoundly couragous. It was only because of the conflict between capitalism and communisim that he was forced to make such sacrifices. if the british and americans would have done there part and participated in world war two in the beginning,to fight hitler instead of allowing hitler to attack vulnerable russia and do their dirty work for them while americans waited back on the sidelines, Stalin would not have resorted to such drastic measures to save his country.  why is it that when the opposite side defends itself they are evil?  on the other hand george bush can kill innocent people in irag and exploit the poor in america and he is a hero ??

    my point being.  you do so well to see through all the religious dogma, I hope you will look through all the political dogma and lies as well

    Long Live Socialism !!!

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  • #3535 by Kande Trefil on 2/11 at 2:25 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Some feel religion is useless. 

    I beg to differ!  Without religion, some of the best satire ever written would have no basis.

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  • #3490 by Beatrice Cader on 2/10 at 5:00 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Hello Sam!

    It is great to have free thinkers like you in this day and age!

    I thoroughly enjoy your articles.

    Someday, I wish to follow some classes in Philosophy… and you give me great insight..

    Wishing you the best,

    Beatrice

    PS:  Have you heard about the Buddha Boy from Nepal?  Observing him may give you some important clues to your research on meditation.

    Good Luck & keep up the good work!

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  • #3464 by Randy J on 2/10 at 9:06 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Wow! I feel like I’ve been in a cave for 35 years and just came out into sunshine. Like truth and reason have kissed each other—and I got to see it!

    Sam’s flawless argument against faith and for reason, coupled with a palpable sensitivity for every sentient being, is so beautiful.

    I grew up in a rigid, rabid religious right home with misguided fundamentalists parents. It was cold, kooky, full of guilt and it turned me into the neurotic, lonely failure I am.

    Ah, but Sam Harris’ writings offer a glimmer of hope! What if humanity finally abandons religion (just centuries of accumulated imagination) and decides, if we need a “God” that bad, let’s just BE “God”.

    What if the collective human conciousness could become ONE, and we discovered that, together, we can be the all powerful, super hero “God” we’ve obsessed with.

    Isn’t that what we all want? To be one conciousness?, to have the closest possible communion with everyone?, to share the greatest possible pleasure? Religion just divides us, and causes pain.

    Maybe, if this “string theory” pans out, we’ll discover more conciousness in other dimensions that we can merge with. And reverse the effects of the Big Bang, driving us apart, and bring us back together.

    Maybe, because I can envision it, there’s a safe, warm place where I, even I, belong. Maybe it’s up to us to create it. Maybe someday we can escape this protoplasm and join that giant orgasm of conciousness, oneness and pleasure. And the universe will live as one.

    Free at last, rj

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  • #3398 by Dan on 2/09 at 7:39 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    QUOTE: Put your faith in God, not man (Sam Harris).

    Why?  I can form a reaonable argument as to why I would put faith in Sam Harris.  Reasonable guy, high level of education, intellect…....the list goes on.  (not to say I’m going to start a Harris religion).

    On the other hand, I could put my faith in God.  Reasons?  He created the Earth in 7 days (how do you measure a day in absolutes???)  He impregnanted a virgin.  He looks after heaven - the place you go when you are good….the hillarious list goes on.

    Ps:  If dogmatic religions are so high up on the spiritual plain, does the promise of the 72 virgins (as is the case in Islam) sound a little bit basic-needs-animalistic?  Wouldn’t a super-computer, lightning fast internet, high tech lab, library sound better?

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  • #3394 by Chris on 2/09 at 7:05 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    In my own personal experiences, I have come to the conclusion that religion can actually serve a purpose.  It can partially civilize the uncivilized.  It can provide a person with perceived strength to face obstalces, get through difficult times, or can become an organizing principle where none exists.  It can also provide a moral code for people who have none. 

    However, once a culture or person has accepted a religion as a way of life, it stifles further development.  My parents, for example, were very religious people and as a result, both lived moral lives, thre was no infidelity, no mistreatment of one another, no drunken violence, no irresponsible wasteful spending, and no instability.  There was also no questioning, or freedom of thought, or freedom of choice, or freedom of expression outside of the narrow parameters of their beliefs.  This seems to be the problem we face on a broad scale internationally. 

    Were it not for religion, there might not have been a central organizing principle around which the Western world was formed, but because of our continued adherence to our primary religions, there is less freedom and development of the mind and society than there could be.

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  • #3383 by Nighthawk on 2/09 at 1:05 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I sent you my essay because I think that religion plays a role in human evoltution when it is helping people achieve balance. Then it’s not “cancerous”. When it merely serves as a mechanism whereby neurotic tendenciesare acted out it is cancerous in the sense I used in the article.
    When a crack head gives up a life of crime because he’s found religion that’s a good thing. Without a belief in a big Daddy with a stick in the sky he won’t behave. Once antisocial traits develope and are not catharted religion is the only recourse for unevolved people. If you look at nonreligious people who are moral you’re looking at relatively evolved people.
    The book Saharasia by James DeMeo discusses religious authoritarainsm in terms of the armored character structure. To understand what I mean by this you need to know a little about Wilhelm Reich’s discoveries in the realm of psychiatry. Amored character structure precedes and leads to totalitarian religion. Not the other way around.

    Much of what you like about Buddhism I find in tantric Hinduism.

    I think your disbelief in astrology and alchemy can be compared to the atheist’s refusal to accept the possibility of a Deity. Unless you’ve had experience with these fields of exploration how do you know they aren’t valid? The Dalai Lama believes in them and asked a freind of mine to be his court alchemist.

    One problem with the word belief, is the different ways it’s used. If someone says they believe in love they may be really saying they give credence to something they know but which is elusive and not always in their consciousness. If some one says they believe that Christ’s mother was a virgin this is pure belief. Noone has experience that would prove that.
    Provisional belief is necessary. If a student doesn’t provisionally believe that chemistry works he won’t even enroll in a chemistry 101 course. But if, after he’s done some experiments and he has proof it works then he will continue to learn more.

    In cancerous religion people go on believing something indefintely with no proof. The belief is the beginning and the end. It’s merely a shield against reality.

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  • #3382 by Nighthawk on 2/09 at 12:38 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The terrorist attacks in Washington, DC and New York a few years ago have led people to wonder how religion could motivate people to commit such horrific acts. Such behaviour might lead one to reject any concern for what lies beyond mundane existence and live a dry secular life but there’s no solution to the human dilemma in this for we all will ultimately want to know what’s beyond our limited scope.  First of all, even though the terms religion and spirituality are often used interchangeably the religion of the terrorists is of a particular common type: it is religion unsubordinated to spirituality. Religion and spirituality denote two distinct phenomena. If we are going to maintain an interest in the beyond we should ask what religion is and how it differs from spirituality.

    Religion is a theological belief system and a code of conduct. Spirituality is the experience of love, compassion and unity . In contrast to religion which is mental, but often not intellectual,  spirituality exists in the realm of feeling and can only be experienced to the degree that the mental function can be transcended. Religion legitimately achieves two purposes: providing a lifestyle in which spirituality can flourish and serving as a"finger pointing at the moon”. In the latter case it points the metaphysical novice toward an experience of God by giving him an abstract though temporary way of percieving God.

    The fact that 90% of religion has become an end in itself is an old story. The religion of the hijackers is cancerous in the sense that it doesn’t subordinate itself to spirituality just as cancerous tissue in an organism doesn’t subordinate itself to the higher needs of the organism.  Much as malignant tissue comes to dominate an organism so does an attachment to religious doctrine or, for that matter, attachment to a secular credo come to dominate the soul and protect the believer from uncertainty. 

    Religion that subordinates itself to spirituality can be found in such practices as the sabbath when the sabbath is observed as a surcease from material concerns allowing the mind to rest on the spiritual and in moral codes that cause one to feel in balance with the needs of society and, hence more open to spiritual vibrations.

    Cancerous religion can be seen in forcing others to observe the sabbath and other moral or religious practices beyond concern for what is hazardous to societal well being.  The motivation comes from insecurity and fear and the result can even be harmful to society.. An example is the Taliban decree that no woman can work outside of the home causing thousands of war widows to starve to death. In contrast, the prohibition and punishment of theft, rape, and murder can from any reasonable point of view be considered justified and not based on malignant religion..

    To the degree that religion becomes an end in itself what unconscious dynamics are empowering it? A good degree of the exploitive, cold uncaring hierarchical nature of society is merely the outward projection of the “ego” or,  the neurotic character structure. This is the contracted egocentric structure of the “bound soul”. If religion is not in service to peoples’ spirituality what other part of human consciousness is it in service to? I think we can see by the results in death and destruction.

    One of the surest ways to know if a motivation is based on this malignant kind of religion is to what degree it focuses on belief.. As a central theme of most western religion, belief is based on ignorance and insecurity. You don’t know what you believe and you don’t believe what you know. The reason you want to believe it is to avoid feeling insecure. If you knew it you wouldn’t need to believe it. If you believe it it’s for sure you don’t know it and no matter how much you hide from insecurity in belief it is always there waiting for you.. We know a religion is full of spiritual ignorance and to what degree it is dangerous to others in the degree of fervor to which it concentrates on belief. Spirituality, in contrast, shows you how to face insecurity through direct experience of the void within. Better to face it than to force others to live in such a way as to enhance your fragile security.

    One of the biggest examples of religion being an end in itself is where it exalts belief above the values it purports to uphold. In my Catholic childhood I was told that a nice guy who is an atheist was of a lower order than a cretin who believed. The atheist would never go to heaven because he didn’t believe where as the cretinous believer might slip in if he repented for any mortal sins he might have committed.

    Of course in the West the inroads of rationalism have steadily eroded the absolutism of Christianity as the result of the renaissance and the enlightenment. Unfortunately Islam never had these two moderating historical events; hence we see belief leading to the mayhem in New York City and Washington, DC. Never the less while the West focuses on the Islamic world looking for allies in the war against violent muslim extremists the focus is on the more educated elites. The rationality these people have gained from secular education makes them more relativistic but there has always been another redoubt of tolerant relativism in the Islamic world, based on spirituality, the mystical Sufi sect, another source of potential allies.

    As far as popular awareness is concerned we have two options: the absolutist religious fundamentalists who are all too ready to sacrifice you to their beliefs and the rationalist who, as a relativist,  is tolerant. But the spiritual or mystical person is also tolerant and a relativist- on a deeper level. The mystic experiences a universe in which only the totality is absolute. Anything in it is only relative to something else. For example heat is relative to cold and good is relative evil. The beliefs of malignant religion bring its adherents into the perpetual struggle between two opposite principles trying to make one of them absolute. For example,  if God, separate from his creation, is absolute good then of necessity there must also be an absolute evil which immediately makes the two only relative to each other but the average Christian thinks that God is absolute good in spite of this.  The spiritual perception that God comprises all opposites making him beyond good and evil solves this source of endless conflict.

    The fact that the rationalist and the spiritual person are natural allies is seen in a number of phenomena. Rationalism has found through science more and more complex ways in which even the smallest speck of matter animate or inanimate is in harmony with everything else suggesting an intelligence behind phenomena. The theory of relativity, in effect a pantheist statement, states that everything is energy.  Einstein, himself, was not conventionally religious but communicated the perception that his endless scientific quest showed him more and more of God’s nature. The intellectual researcher is a truth seeker as is the mystic. The malignantly religious person is “sure” he has found the truth and need look no further. If he is a Presbyterian minister enunciating some Christian doctrine at the table he might just bore you to death with his “certainty.” If he’s a Taliban militant he might actually kill you rather than tolerate any uncertainty.

    . These malignantly religious people are immune to the perception that you have to be empty and only then will God come in. Empty of materialism, empty of religious concepts, empty. Paradoxically, one of the biggest obstacles to an experience of God is a belief in God, as necessary as such a belief might have been in the beginning to motivate someone to seek God.

    Since a spiritual person is a truth seeker he doesn’t blot out knowledge from outside whatever religion he is part of. For example, the population explosion and its resultant poverty, ethnic conflict and ecological crisis, the need for alternative energy to slow down the greenhouse effect and so on are realities that the spiritual person may allow into his mind and he may behave accordingly. If having large families disrupts the balance of nature and contributes to poverty and unrest then he may practice birth control. If the hybrid car pollutes less he may try to buy one, etc. If, however the cancerously religious person spends all his time reading the bible, koran or torah considering all truth to be therein then he may and often does contribute greatly to the problems of the world. In fact studies show that fundamentalist families tend to have far more children than other families and are oblivious to many social and ecological concerns.

    Becauseself exploration is not part of the fundamentalist mind set the religiously motivated terrorist will tell you that he is willing to die because he is a selfless servant of God or the dispossessed. An exposure of motivations will show that the terrorist hopes to gain something for himself whether it be a special place in heaven or the admiration of his contemporaries.

    It’s time that cancerous religion were taken off its pedestal and the motivations of religious fanatics were exposed. Whether it be terror or sociopolitical problems only reason and real spirituality with religion as a junior partner will provide any help.

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  • #3381 by Alicia A. Troha on 2/09 at 12:09 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Oh Sam, how your work astounds me.  Your reasonable thinking and to-the-point style of writing is really something to marvel at.

    I have always found it frighteningly ignorant when people of faith tell me religion is the only source of morality.  A child with no religious upbringing (such as myself) knows murder is wrong, and needs no biblical passages to tell her so.

    Exactly as Sam points out, she knows that actions in which bring suffering or that are detrimental to society are wrong, and actions that bring joy or that are for the well-being of society are morally right.  It is unnecessary to bring religion into this.

    If the Bible *were* the only source of ethical goodness in society, why *don’t* we stone homosexuals to death?  Why *don’t* we torture unbelievers? 

    Clearly our sense of morality comes from somewhere else—within our common sense minds and inborn ideas of what is right, maybe? 

    I was particularly distraught by the idea that because religion seems to be hopelessly conquering our world, we should stop criticizing it altogether.  This type of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mindset is exactly what keeps us from progressing in our world.  Unless we take a first step in thwarting this murderous lunacy, it seems that we are doomed to forever be trapped within the ever-tightening grips of religion.

    Sam Harris for president.

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  • #3369 by Jay Mark on 2/08 at 7:29 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Note to Dan Chatfield (#3331):  If my memory serves me, the original “Latin” of your phrase is “Illigitimati non carborundum.”

    And I say again (with apologies to the oxymorons among us), “God bless Sam Harris.”

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  • #3356 by Janna Nijland on 2/08 at 4:46 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Please, realize that “God” stands for “The Good of All”-the Miraculous and Amazing web of Life of which we are a part.

    Rules in the different Holy Books are attempts of the early church-fathers to curb our greed, channel our relentless drive to reproduce and help us stand still to “smell the roses”.

    Let’s everybody use our mind, stop the dot fights, and do the right thing. Every Kinder-gartener already knows what that means! Shame on us adults!

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  • #3353 by Jason Cooks on 2/08 at 4:31 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam
    Im glad about this I came upon your “end of Faith:” thru a friend
    For us in the Pacific, trying to change the status quo will be met by nuclear bombardment

    Iam firmly believe that this part of the needs a huge emanicipation process. FAITH has transformed these people into nothing but fanatics and a slight attempt to change will be met by the only arsenal available for free - STONES!!!!

    Aside from what is written from other writers but id like to let all know about limited mention by our pastors of the very means of transportation that primitive people in the bible used for transportation
    * Elijah when taken up to heaven
    * Those used during the time of King Solomons Reign within the Temple
    * The remote controlled birds that feed elijah
    * The shark (submarine ) that ingested Jonah
    * In the book of Ezekiel and ....
    all these are “no no ” for pastors here as they will invoke doubt about the power of god and the supposed miracles which can be explained scientifically…etc

    I for one believe in the “Lao Tse Ching” Spiritual living aside from religious living is the way to go The present trend with religious believe in the islands is nothing but a pedagogy of the oppressed adn church and religion is contributing tremendously to poverty here!!

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  • #3347 by Ted Swart on 2/08 at 3:30 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam—very properly—says that: “One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational.” 
    With this statement it is hard to find fault. But, although it is undoubtedly true that the world would be a better place without organized religions, I am at a loss to understand the distinction between spirituality (which Sam supports)and personal (non faith based) religion.
    If I understand spirituality correctly it has to to do with being in tune with the world as it actually is. And it clearly does not require a rejection of the existence of some kind of cosmic consciousenss.  Thus it is that I far prefer to be known as an agnostic rather than an atheist.

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  • #3341 by Judy on 2/08 at 2:24 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Religion brings pain—or at least, it brought me pain.  For me, it was agonizing to figure out that, unlike the people I hung out at church with, I am too rational to share their faith.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if they all really bought it—you mean, you actually believe that?  For a long time, I went to church anyway because I love to sing.  For me, the ultimate intolerance comes from the Christian churches I’ve attended:  the guilt and shame induced by a failure to believe; the Assembly of God church where I attended adult Sunday school and learned their bizarre un-American doctrine that some Christians are better than others because they’ve received the ability to speak in tongues (I wanted to tell them that it was because those who couldn’t speak in tongues were more *rational* than those who could); and the devoutly religious secretary at the high school where I worked who refused to give a late pass to a student because he left the words “Under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance.  My son had a friend whose parents voted for Bush because their church told them to; because we were pro-Kerry, they ended the friendship between our sons.  I expressed my fears about four more years of Bush in a letter to the editor, and received hate mail from two different Christians.  It’s like the New Yorker cartoon where a cop cites someone after 9/11 because he doesn’t have a flag on his car as being “unpatriotic in a patriotic zone.”  I frequently feel that I am being cited and penalized because I’m a nonbeliever in a world of believers.  We don’t believe what you believe, so you must condemn us.  Church taught me that I was supposed to dislike Jews (that one never made sense to me because, hey Jesus was a Jew—not that he’s completely likeable), to dislike Mormons, to dislike Catholics, to dislike atheists, and to dislike scientists who discovered that the earth is older than 5,000 years.  Technically, I wasn’t taught to “hate” anyone, but that’s just nit-picking.  Fortunately, at home, I was taught that racism is horrible and to respect human rights, and those lessons were stronger.  I know a high school teacher who teaches evolution, but doesn’t call it that so he won’t get in trouble.  I know a high school teacher who, like me, is an atheist, but knows that if anyone found out, he could be lose his job (which is why he belongs to a union).  I had a Christian condemn me for being a single parent, until I told him my full story and then received equally undeserved praise for enduring my life.  For awhile, I thought I should raise my sons in the church I grew up in so they’d have a good foundation in morality, but then it occurred to me that in that church, men have all the power while the women do most of the work, so why would I want to hold that out as a worthwhile model for the way my sons should treat women?  And why would I want them to learn hatred?  And why would I want them to be so instilled with a myth that when they couldn’t believe in it, they’d feel forever guilty? I still love Christmas songs and spirituals and I love that goofy book, the Bible, mostly for the stories and the beauty of the King James translation.  Just don’t ask me to believe in it.  (And stop making me feel that if I tell you who I truly am, I will be hated for my atheism).  Thanks, Sam, for being brave enough to tell people who you are and what you believe.  Bravery in the face of irrational opposition is an admirable quality.

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  • #3331 by Dan Chatfield on 2/08 at 1:10 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam Harris remains one of the most cogent, literate, rational writers, possibly since Bertrand Russell.  I forgot the Latin but the translation is “Don’t let the B******s get you down”, Thanks again for your writings and I look forward to your next book

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  • #3327 by Terry on 2/08 at 12:49 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Put your faith in God, not man (Sam Harris).

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  • #3326 by peter Kettle on 2/08 at 12:45 pm
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Bravo, as ever, Sam. Beacon of reason and sanity. Here’s another example of how truly moral the followers of Islam can be: in Iran, since the beginning of this year alone, at least ten young men have been publicly humiliated and then executed in front of thousands of spectators because they were suspected homosexuals. Their parents were forced to watch. They had no trial.
    As you said, ‘draw a picture of the Prophet, and pious mobs convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better example of religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipsing basic, human goodness.’

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  • #3309 by guy ashby on 2/08 at 11:42 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    i read some lines from a translation of the tao te ching - “put away morality, throw away duty, thus the people will return to filial duty and love” and “morality is the penury of faith and trust and the begining of confusion.”  these ideas startled me at the time.  i have come to appreciate them after observing human conduct in schools, churches, families and community life.  the presence of “morals” does little to produce moral behavior.  in fact. it is often the strongest promoters of morals that commit the most flagrant trangressions.

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  • #3303 by milt on 2/08 at 11:31 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Truly amaazing that an author claiming some insight into religion does not understand a major doctrine(papal infallibility) of the largest Christian denomination(Catholic) on Earth, and can cite studies of reincarnation, while with a straight face lecture on the necessity of rationality. Amazing that anyone takes Sam Harris seriously.

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  • #3300 by John Baker on 2/08 at 11:20 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Icing Sam’s refrigerator argument.  Sam has developed what looks at first blush like a cogent allegory for theists. 

    He argues they are a bit like a family that lives off diamond flakes and gathers each Sunday in their backyard to dig for a diamond the size of a refrigerator.  Their belief gives meaning and purpose to their lives.  But Sam believes it is foolish and they should stop this madness.

    Unfortunately this isn’t an important analogy because it takes the religious aspects out of the equation.

    The family that lives off diamond flakes and searches for the mother load is involved in a material enterprise. 

    Theists find meaning and spirituality in the universe (diamond flakes) and pray for the time they will be reunited with the mother load.  This does give spiritual meaning to their lives and so long as it’s peaceful I would argue this is essentially benign.

    I’m well aware that theists cheat and, once they are in power, quickly set up material guillotines to deal with infidels.  This is wrong and should not be tolerated.

    But it isn’t, as Sam knows, an essential aspect of spiritually based peoples.  At least some of whom are entirely peaceful.

    I see nothing irrational about searching for a spiritual aspect of reality.  Or in maintaining that living creatures evidence both a spirituality and a means of perceiving it that is different than the senses employed for rational perception and understanding.

    I don’t buy into the belief that a life lived without spirituality is worthless.

    Any more than I suppose one lived spiritually is better than one lived rationally.

    I am a sexton.  Which means I oversee a cemetery. I have observed that all bodies decompose at the same rate, regardless of their faiths or lack there of.  I’ve seen faith based families suffer from bereavement and rational based families shrug it off as a necessary part of life.  And I have seen just the reverse.

    My wisdom suggests that spirituality is part of reality.  And that to ignore it is foolish. 

    So, so long as it’s peaceful, rational atheists should accept it.  When it is violent as it is with fundamental Moslems, Jews and Christians, it should be denounced and made illegal.


    As we should with violent rationality ala Machiavellianism. 

    Surely we are here to experience reality and to grow from that experience.  So to limit benign experiences seems, to this errant truant, foolish.

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  • #3296 by Bobby on 2/08 at 11:12 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I truly wish it could be that easily dispelled. For the past week I could not even get a bunch of attorney friends to agree that publishing the Danish cartoons was “morally” acceptable. Imagine that! There’s a portrait of Mohammed (“blessed be his name”) in the Supreme Court building, but attorneys have qualms about “provocative” cartoons meant to show the intolerance of Islam. Worse, people even “understand” the ensuing violence. As I work for a public entity, showing the cartoons to my collegues would surely lead to some sort of supension if anyone were offended. Thus, both governments and corporations must tread lightly. Religion is a monolithic TABOO in American culture and self-censorship abounds. Its demise surely won’t happen in my lifetime . . . .

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  • #3294 by Bruce LeFebvre on 2/08 at 11:10 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    You can get a little bit “closer to home” than the teapot theory.  In our own generation certainly a majority of adults, presently, would never have believed in 1960 in the demise of the typewriter, either mechanical or electronic.  There is a population of young people today: 2006, who have never even seen a typewriter!

    I suspect that today’s “gods” will, if the species manages to preserve itself, experience their own demise and lack of interest.

    Frankly, I find it a little insulting for religion to claim to have originated and, indeed, maintained morality.  It existed long before any of these gods were invented and will persist long after they’ve been forgotten.

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  • #3288 by Barbara on 2/08 at 11:00 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I would also add that, supposing there is no god, our moral laws - our moral compass, so to speak - comes from us.  Human beings have recognized that willful murder and child rape are inimical to the general good and have built laws and taboos into their societies to deal with them, as well as with other perceived social ills.  We can continue to argue about some of these taboos - homosexuality, women’s rights, etc. - as we decide if these are inimical to human well being or if they merely serve a political purpose which we no longer support.  “God” has been used as a sometimes useful transhuman authority for a very long time.  Perhaps the task here is for humans to outgrow their need for this authority and to accept responsibility for themselves.  That could take time…..

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  • #3282 by Judith Plowden on 2/08 at 10:53 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Thank you again, Sam Harris. Brilliant article.
    What about fear as a basic cause of too much clinging to religion? Fear of death and fear of the unknown cause millions to seek the comfort of certainty and the fellowship of the herd. Perhaps the many crises in today’s world—nuclear threats, terrorist acts, global warming, etc—are igniting these basic fears even more.

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  • #3267 by Jenny Zock Babines on 2/08 at 10:21 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    SAM HARRIS is a fresh breath of sanity in this world where corruptive organized religion is struggling to hold on to its power in the new millenium. As a former Catholic, Methodist, Scientologist, Unitarian and Metaphysician, I would like to see a Unified Theory of Spirituality that uses the rigors of Science as a litmus test for divine consicousness. I am currently writing a book called THE QUANTUM PRESENCE that uses the recent theories of quantum mechanics to point the way to a universal consciousness we can consider divine if we wish to. Except for minor aberrations mankind is basicly good without the dogma of organized man-made religions. Reading and studying the sciences can hasten our own spiritual evolution and understanding of what we are and how we are all connected to the Universal Consciousness I call THE QUANTUM PRESENCE.  P.S. I’m looking for a publisher!

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  • #3241 by Brian Morgan on 2/08 at 9:47 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I agree with all of your observations concerning religious dogmatism and its sad effect upon the human race at this time in our history. Yet are there not limits to human reason? I have heard it said many times by atheists that the whole universe and our life in it is merely a “happy accident”. Yet reason begs to ask the question “where does eternity come from”?
      Faith is a hard act to swallow particularly among the intelligentsia. It is good to have a sceptical mind even when it concerns human reason. If human reason and its cohort the scientific method were the true paradigms of enlightenment, the mystery of human existence and the origins of the universe would have been solved centuries ago. After all not everyone has been hampered by the constraints of religious tyranny for all time. Someone at some time would have discovered the origins of eternity.
      Human reason is itself an act of faith since human belief is rarely if ever based upon that level of precision necessary for absolute conviction. We have faith in the law of relativity, even though in certain situations it doesnt appear to apply. We have faith in many laws of biology that we can comprehend yet we have no full explanation for the origins of that biology or physiology other than to say its a “happy accident”.
      The statement among many atheists that life is all a happy accident is itself the most primitive form of faith. Therefore intellectual modesty requires those who believe in rationality over religious dogma to recognize that faith is an inescapable characteristic of the human experience. Those with PHD’s or who are very literate on a variety of subjects cannot yet claim to have the answers to all mysteries.
      Until they do they must recognize that they are exercising faith in human reason over anything else. Now I agree that we should have faith in human reason, but it is a faith nonetheless and hence those adhering to it should show a certain level of modesty when confronting the religious zealots in our midst.
      In my humble opinion the only way to be intellectually honest is to keep open the possibility of a God without adopting all of the theological trappings usually attending to such a belief. A humble agnosticism represents the truest form of human inquiry.

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  • #3237 by Morgan-LynnLamberth on 2/08 at 9:42 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam , we do have morality as you state.The errantists Bible -they only like the good parts. Jesus’s hell fire is disproprortional.  They say he was just making the point that we should be serious about life.

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  • #3234 by Gordon Gamm on 2/08 at 9:39 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The authoritarian personality, whether as worshiper of a holy source or of any ideology, believes that without their unquestionable source we are prey to nihilism, hedonism, or anything goes.  I believe this stems from the conservative think tanks who have gotten political mileage from caracaturing the “other” as having no moral compass, moral relativism.  This has served them well and you hear repeatedly lately i.e. “if you don’t obey God’s law or his law as transcribed in holy books or messaged through the Pope or other select few, you are ruderless.  Jimmy Swaggert and Jimmy Baker repeatedly conveyed this message as they blamed the Humanist for the degredation of society.  They portrayed Humanists as having no morals or doing what feels good or the perveyers of situational ethics. 

    In my talks I point out that there are three principle competing world views for our moral guidance: authoritarian, humanist, and postmodern.

    The postmodern model is, I believe, morally bankrupt.  It is the position that morality is only subjective and personal to each of us.  There is no objective basis for morality.  It is a prescription for the immorality of inaction.  The Germans during the Holocost that did not speak out were reflecting a postmodern ethic.  THey told themselves that Nazism was just another moral philosophy and they were not in a position to criticize another’s morality.

    Humanism as a “third way” has a moral philosophy: “People have the capacity and responsibility for morality, values and public policy decisions.  The measure of their decisions is the effect of their choices on themselves and others.”  It is a calculas based on the best evidence available.  Like the scientific method it is not perfect, but a best effort at discerning values.  The tools for being a good ethical decision maker are empathy for another, critical thinking skills, an appreciation for expertise and new knowledge from the social sciences about how as human beings we effect each other.  Finally, we must be willing to make self sacrifice of our own interest for the higher good of the community in order to function ethically as a humanist.  Thus, if the teller at the grocery store gives us too much change and we could get by without returning the excess, we do it anyway because it is right.  Humanist acknowledge that their answers are imperfect and subject to change as we learn more about the human personality.  If we are asked the question asked of President Bush: “What are your most important mistakes?,” I believe that as humanists we would answer that we are continually making mistakes but we reframe them as opportunities for learning. 

    Atheism is merely the absence of a belief in God.  It presumes that the speaker and the listener are talking about the same God who has the same function.  It says nothing in particular about ethics.  Pol Pot, Mao, and Lenin were Atheists and were morally as degenerate as Hitler, who used God on the belt buckles of the SS troops to say “God is on our side.”  I believe that we can create a more peaceful world and a more fulfilling life by emphasizing not Atheism, but the answer to the question: “How does the belief in God or the absence of God effect your moral choices?”  If God is disempowering, i.e. a substitute for action as by prayer petitioning, then it is immoral.  If Atheism serves the believer to give license to mistreat others, then it is immoral.  Humanism,on the other hand,denounces the sacredness of ideas and removes them from critical examination for their human consequences.

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  • #3232 by Andy Hughes on 2/08 at 9:38 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Dear Sam Harris:
    Thank you for the excellent article. 

    Wouldn’t a more correct description of this kind of thinking be “rationalist” rather than an “atheist”? 

    Perhaps I need to read your book “The End of Faith” again, and review,

    Andy Hughes

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  • #3210 by jay weiss on 2/08 at 9:04 am
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Sam,
    I think you succinctly and brilliantly with a nifty assist from Bertrand Russell.  Thank you very much.
    Jay Weiss

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