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Sam Harris
Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation. He is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and has studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of...



An Atheist Manifesto

Sam Harris argues against irrational faith and its adherents

(Page 4)

Religion as a Source of Violence
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—Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.—and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews versus Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians versus Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians versus Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants versus Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims versus Hindus), Sudan (Muslims versus Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims versus Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims versus Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists versus Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims versus Timorese Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite versus Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians versus Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis versus Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point. In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last 10 years.

In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious: Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree. Religion inspires violence in at least two senses: (1) People often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it (the inevitable psychopathic corollary being that the act will ensure them an eternity of happiness after death). Examples of this sort of behavior are practically innumerable, jihadist suicide bombing being the most prominent. (2) Larger numbers of people are inclined toward religious conflict simply because their religion constitutes the core of their moral identities. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religion. Many religious conflicts that seem driven by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are religious in origin. (Just ask the Irish.)

These facts notwithstanding, religious moderates tend to imagine that human conflict is always reducible to a lack of education, to poverty or to political grievances. This is one of the many delusions of liberal piety. To dispel it, we need only reflect on the fact that the Sept. 11 hijackers were college educated and middle class and had no discernable history of political oppression. They did, however, spend an inordinate amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise. How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not a matter of education, poverty or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is this: A person can be so well educated that he can build a nuclear bomb while still believing that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Such is the ease with which the human mind can be partitioned by faith, and such is the degree to which our intellectual discourse still patiently accommodates religious delusion. Only the atheist has observed what should now be obvious to every thinking human being: If we want to uproot the causes of religious violence we must uproot the false certainties of religion.

Why is religion such a potent source of human violence?

  • Our religions are intrinsically incompatible with one another. Either Jesus rose from the dead and will be returning to Earth like a superhero or not; either the Koran is the infallible word of God or it isn’t. Every religion makes explicit claims about the way the world is, and the sheer profusion of these incompatible claims creates an enduring basis for conflict.
  • There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us-them thinking achieves a transcendent significance. If a person really believes that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. It may even be reasonable to kill them. If a person thinks there is something that another person can say to his children that could put their souls in jeopardy for all eternity, then the heretic next door is actually far more dangerous than the child molester. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism or politics.
  • Religious faith is a conversation-stopper. Religion is only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and—all too often—what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. Only a fundamental willingness to be reasonable—to have our beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments—can guarantee that we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.

It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The endgame for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality. While all parties to liberal religious discourse have agreed to tread lightly over those points where their worldviews would otherwise collide, these very points remain perpetual sources of conflict for their coreligionists. Political correctness, therefore, does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.

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Dig last updated on Dec. 7, 2005

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By Myron Hoitomt, December 11, 2005 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment
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I just stumbled on this web-site and find it of great interest. I was raised a Chritian (Lutheran), but upon reaching adulthood, realized that religion was sending the wrong message. I remember hearing my fellow classmates (Catholic) discussing confession of their sins and then laughing about the fact that they were now free to commit the same sin again (and they did). The clergy of every faith have recently been exposed as sexual preditors. A priest in Wisconsin murdered 2-people because they were in a position to reveal his pedopholic actions. He committed suicide when evidence pointed to him.

My point being that it is too convenient to sin again; as the only requirement for eternal forgiveness is to believe in God.

I don’t want to prohibit anyone from practicing their religion. I do want them to follow the US Constitution that provides for “freedom of religion”, which can also be interpreted as “freedom from religion”. I don’t want people pounding on my door and trying to intercept me on the sidewalk to convert me to their philosophy. Prayer in public schools, inserting “God” in public political statements, and “intelligent design” in school curriculum are just a few examples of the need for “freedom from religion”. I have not heard of any atheist activity to prevent people from practicing their religious practice/philosophy in their own home or place of worship - this includes volatile subjects such as abortion and gay marriage. No man should have any authority over a woman’s body.

The present political climate in the US is a prime example of what happens when religion becomes part of politics. If the present trend continues we will be no better off than the people in Iran that are led by Ialamic Clergy.

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By Jessica, December 11, 2005 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment
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Thank you, Lynn,(several comments above) for elucidating what had been eluding me: I slowly came to the realization that I didn’t believe in any god. After years of searching for the “right” religious belief for myself and discovering none that fit my rational mind, it did slowly dawn on me that there was nothing to believe in, hence no “right” belief. I do believe in tolerance for others’ beliefs, although it is challenging for me to practice at times because of the sheer irrationality of those beliefs. (Belief and reality don’t always hold hands, do they?) My rational mind wants to shout out from the rooftops, “Can’t you see that there’s nothing to see?!!” I do love my religious friends and family, but keep my rational thoughts to myself because they have such a difficult time of their own being tolerant, or at least not pitying me.

I appreciate the dialog here; all of it is good information for me to enter into my rational files. And despite those who will pray for me over my rational thought, I will not be changing my mind unless real evidence gives me a reason to. I’m not holding my breath, nor am I concerned. Thanks for listening.

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By aop, December 11, 2005 at 11:39 am Link to this comment
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I’ve seen many variations in this comment thread on the old, hoary chesnut “You atheists are just as dogmatic as religious people.”  This thoughtless bit of nonsense needs to be put to rest.  Religious folk, who otherwise live their lives much the same as atheists—using inductive reasoning to predict what will happen from past experiences, testing hypotheses, not believing in vampires and fairies, etc.—allow for one giant, gaudy exception to be made in the case of JHVH and the hereafter.  To paraphrase Sam, all we atheists are doing is living our lives with some semblance of intellectual consistency.
To accuse atheists of being as “dogmatic” as the religiously devout, is an intellectually risible argument.  I might likewise say that the moon is filled with delicious candy and that anyone who denies it is being “dogmatic.”

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By James Ebberts, December 11, 2005 at 10:58 am Link to this comment
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It is tiring over the years to even say why belief in a God comes from mankind not from God. The Bible was written by mankind period and when this is pointed out to believers, some say it was inspired by God; whatever a belief is or is not it is interpreted by mankind.

Without scrutiny of evidence, which believers in God refuse to accept, it is a false pretense to explain the world of the unknown by abelief in a Diety.

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By Yahzi Coyote, December 11, 2005 at 10:56 am Link to this comment
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“Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl.”

Now add these two facts:

1. God is watching.

2. I have a telephone.

I am not asking God to intervene, to bend the laws of physics, to constrain the rapist’s free will; all I am asking for is an address.  Just call me and whisper an address into the phone.  I’ll do the rest.  Heck, the call can be anonymous.

I freely accept the limitations of space-time, the necessity of my own action to create justice, the moral responsbility for my mistakes, and the risks that are associated with stoping criminals.  All I want is an anonymous phone call.

Why is that too much to ask from God?

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By Sam Prenduzal, December 11, 2005 at 10:07 am Link to this comment
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A Jewish carpenter had to undergo torture and execution to atone for MY sins? He was born of a virgin, changed water into wine, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven?  For some time now I have pondered how so very many people at least as intelligent as I am, and bearing graduate degrees from accredited institutions of higher learning, could believe such obvious nonsense.  Clearly, the “cons” of religious belief—control (over oneself and others), consolation (in the face of hardship and the inexplicable), connection (to one’s community), continuity (with one’s past)—are functions that humans the world over seem to crave and for which religious belief appears useful.  I don’t believe in God but I am inclined to think that the “God Concept” is just too useful for us to dispense with.  And as modernity and its various technical and moral trappings induce greater anxiety in people, my guess is that many will cling ever more tightly to religion, heightening a paradoxical explosion of both science AND superstition.

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By Sara, December 11, 2005 at 10:07 am Link to this comment
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I know a few Katrina refugees here in Colorado and their stories are amazing! The new friend of mine was working on Bourbon Street with a drug and alcohol addiction, therefore living a life of destruction. After the hurricane struck he fled to Colorado to be here with his father. Upon arrival, he realized that his life needed to be changed. He immediately found salvation in God and now has life again. Through the horrifying event that took place in New Orleans, this man has rekindled life through faith and perseverance and is the happiest he has ever been- even without all the material things he once had. Though many lost their lives on that day, many reawakened their lives. To all the atheists- what would you rather have? People dropping off the earth only to decompose or, people changing their lives from destructiveness to productiveness and are a living testimony of a world changing event and how it has effected their lives in a positive way? There are some positive stories out there, you just have to search to find them, but it is hard to find the positives when you are looking to find the negative to justify God not existing. Don’t get me wrong I know there are some sad inconceivable stories that are being told with no explanation to why a human must feel pain this bad, but life is so much bigger than situations. This tragic event doesn’t have to be so black and white. God is so multifaceted and everyone has a different experience with Him. God is amazing in that He is a true mystery and that is the fun in pursuing Him. God is always a mystery- like the man you have always wanted so badly and pursuing him is what gives you the butterflies every time you touch him. Not looking for answers in life is rewarding, I promise. If we all knew exactly what was going to happen to us in our lives or after life, it would not be as valuable if we knew all the answers. I can understand an atheist point of view, but I don’t when atheism is so subjective that faith doesn’t exist and that it is unintelligent. I feel confident in saying that faith is not an intellectual subject, but a subject that identifies oneself of their dignity and character. It is always a reassurance of who we are. I can testify for my new friends that through this experience, they are better off now regardless of what happened.

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By Mark Plus, December 11, 2005 at 10:02 am Link to this comment
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carib says,

when you can cite an example of a rational , peaceful tolerant government headed by committed atheists, we’ll talk.

Although Cuba’s atheistic government runs a police state and participated in the Soviet Union’s proxy wars in the old days, in many respects it has shown a higher regard for human life than the Jesus-loving U.S., despite its poverty.


1. Cuba experiences few hurricane deaths because the government routinely moves its population out of harm’s way.

2. Cuba engages in biomedical research to find treatments for tropical diseases in poor countries ignored by for-profit pharmaceutical companies in capitalist countries.

3. Cuba offers to send its physicians and medical supplies to distressed countries (including to the U.S. after Katrina, as I recall).

In fact, when christians ask rhetorically about all the hospitals built by atheists, you can point to Cuba’s contributions to the Third World’s healthcare.

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By The Fool, December 11, 2005 at 9:32 am Link to this comment
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Nice essay, Sam.  You are a voice in the wilderness.

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By Raymond Towne, December 11, 2005 at 9:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hello Mr Harris:
I most appreciated your investigation of “religious moderation”, but I have a question.
  You close your piece with with the heuristic “one’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence”.
  Thomas Paine opens his Age of Reason with the contention that “it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be faithful to himself”; he then distinguishes “revelation” to an individual from subsequent multiple hearsay transmission of that divine communication.  With respect to the Virgin Birth of Christ, he notes “such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their [Mary and Joseph’s] bare word for it, and we have not even that”; then, weighing the probability of Christ’s resurrection, he offers a rule similar to your closing proposition:  “A thing which everyone is required to believe, requires that the proof and evidence of it should be equal to all, and universal”.
  Yet, Mr Paine opens his work with “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.”  Similarly, in his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin opines that he believes in a supreme being and an immortal soul (although he is more a satirist than Mr Paine).
  So, query - is Paine’s deism a mere transitional intellectual form to the atheism you articulate, or is there grounds for further investigation at the boundary layer between belief and unbelief as we, historically conditioned beings, experience it?  I suppose this latter is the invitation that “inklings” give.  Like Paine, your prose is delightfully caustic - are you also, as he appears, a person of inner vision?
  In my own life, I find, as the shadows begin to lengthen, the furies that stalk the young—anger, lust, and addiction—are joined by a fourth more terrible, regret.  I look for mental tools to ward off these evils, and I take my son to church (eucharistic rite) because I sense he will face the same challenges as he matures; I hope this slow, dull, real-time ritual (which does offer brief periods of contemplation, upon entry and after communion) will provide some antidote to the virtual-reality and actual-reality temptations he will face.
  I acknowledge my present approach is cautious (perhaps too cautious to you) and pragmatic (merely pragmatic to dogmatic theistic revelationists).  As to whether it is properly deliberate, or just residually sentimental, I seek further input from the likes of you.
  Any takers at Truthdig?

  Kind regards.

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By Thomas R Ellis, December 11, 2005 at 8:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Martin J Burn wrote in comment 180:

“I for one am amazed that otherwise (and seemingly) normal people still believe in talking donkeys, a global flood, cockatrices, unicorns, zombies, dragons, ghosts, six-winged angels, a walking talking snake, demons, devils, sea monsters, satyrs, witches, human-headed six-winged beasts and magical fruit—all of which are contained within their ‘holy’ book. Now is the time to proclaim we live in the 21st century, and not the 21st year.”

Yes, it is amazing, but also very important.  The beliefs of the religious are as self-evident to them as the beliefs of the atheists are self-evident to them.  And there are many many more believers than atheists. Each side sneering at the other accomplishes nothing.  What’s needed is a point of view that can establish a common Universe of Discourse for the two sides.  But each time someone tries, both sides attack.

Anytime a person - of whatever convictions - indicates that he’s unquestioningly certain of his beliefs, I know I’ve found someone else to ignore.

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By justaguy, December 11, 2005 at 7:48 am Link to this comment
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Thanks for the article. A good read. Just one comment.

As an athiest, I get tired of the believers’ morality argument—If you don’t believe in god, then your actions have no consequence, so why behave morally?

My answer: Because it’s a big, dark, scary universe out there that doesn’t give a damn about human beings in general, or you and me in particular. So we’re all alone. Unless we learn how to live together.

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By David, December 11, 2005 at 6:19 am Link to this comment
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Thank you for putting in such an eloquent and precise form exactly what I have been thinking and trying to argue for for years. Thank you.

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By C. H. Nguyen, December 11, 2005 at 4:46 am Link to this comment
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I loved the article.  I have recently started to read and listen to Richard Dawkins, and sometimes I feel that same burning animosity towards the religious as he does.

I understand why a person would turn to religion—the thought that there’s a person always watching over me, protecting me and guaranteeing eternal paradise for my soul would feel like a warm blanket on a cold morning.  What I don’t understand is how anyone over the age of 5 can still put faith in it, especially in light of all the facts.

The Golden Rule (not “Jesus’ Golden Rule”) is more than enough for atheists like myself when it comes to most issues of morality.  Christians usually can’t understand this, and I think it has to do with a dependence on that man-written, thoroughly mistranslated book of ancient brainwashing they call the Bible.  I think my friend (a born-again Christian, no less) said it best: “Religion is maybe for the weak-minded and those that can’t deal with [reality].”

I believe there are two things that are most frustrating to me in my life: problems with women and problems with computers.  Trying to have a logical conversation with a religious devout is a close third though.  wink

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By Ian Pepper, December 11, 2005 at 3:49 am Link to this comment
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Dear Sam Harris,

As a lifelong atheist, I essentially agree with you.

But a few INDISPENSABLE caveats:

1)Tracing apparently vigorously secular and anti-religious crimes (Pol Pot; the Holocuast) back to religion is a dishonest fudge. Let us atheists freely concede that in addition to Communist doctrines of Stalinism, etc., contemporary fundamentalist delusions also include:
a)the “market fundamentalism” that, even according to a dyed-in-the-wool member of the political mainstream such as as heroic environmental activist Robert Kennedy Junior, has already morphed into an American-style Corporate Fascism which threatens to wreck the planet entirely, and which is based on the principle of infinite growth of physical systems (the world economy, human population) on a physically finite system (the Earth), as well as
b)scientism, which leads to delusions as bizarre as the that “science is guaranteed to render nuclear energy safe and clean someday, so we can continue to ignore its dangers in the present,” which is, technically speaking, every bit as wacky as anything any fundamentalist would say about biblical guarantees of an afterlife.

2)People can be devoutly religious and also rational, as long as they are not fundamentalist.
3)Religion may seem irrational to us, but the empirical evidence we atheists claim to respect so much compels us to concede that the “rationality of the irrational” consists in the way in which religious faith often endows individuals with the moral courage, optimism and hope they need to work to improve this world. How does this work? Why does it work?
4)Religion may be objectively untrue, but it is a poorly chosen enemy. The enemy is injustice and exploitation, and there are atheists and religious people on both sides of the divide. 
5)Atheists are not invariably people of conscience. We are often cynical, cold-hearted, manipulative killers. On the other hand, if you have ever fought for social justice, then you have found yourself, inevitably, in the company of devoutly religious activists.

Ian Pepper
Berlin, Germany

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By alee, December 11, 2005 at 2:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I both enjoyed and agreed with much of the article I would have preferred that it be titled, “An Atheist’s Manifesto.”  I am an atheist (with very slight agnostic leanings), but I don’t feel that this author, or any author, has the right to claim to speak for me.

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By Ron Dodd, December 11, 2005 at 1:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great article- as was your book! I agree with you and have a website ( that deals with the separation of church and state, especially in science classrooms, and offers some items for sale (decals, hats and shirts) that feature a science/evolution mascot, Evolushark- a blue shark formed out of the word “Evolution”.  Included is a history of creationism, the Scopes Monkey Trial and the rational for the site (ten percent of any profits go to the NCSE). We non-theist and others of like mind, need to get pro-active in protecting the Establishment Clause from the raptured right’s attacks. They have had an unchallenged free ride imposing their religious dogma on our secular society by gaining control of key positions in all branches of our federal government. Ron Dodd

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By abnoxio, December 11, 2005 at 1:05 am Link to this comment
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By George McGinnis, December 11, 2005 at 12:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A quote from the beginning Editor’s Note, “Truthdig asked Harris to write a charter document for his thesis that belief in God, and appeasement of religious extremists of all faiths by moderates, has been—and continues to be—the greatest threat to world peace and a sustained assault on reason.”

Do you not see how secular extremists use the fundamentalists of all faihs to accomplish their ends? I heard a Michael Moore comment, “When history is written many years hence, this war will be called the “fundamentalist wars”.

I believe in a sense this is true, but only because the fundamentalists are being used by secular powers-that-be for their ends.

Powerful secular interests in Saudi Arabia have financed Osama Bin Laden and the numerous jihadists in Moslem countries for the purpose of ending the Saudi Royal family’s control of the oil and in turn the United States’ supply of oil from the Middle East.

Powerful secular Zionist interests in Israel have encouraged fundamentalist Religious Zionists to settle on Palestinian land in the West Bank for the purpose of increasing Israel’s portion of Palestinian land while the fundamentalists wait on God to let them take over all of the land that made up the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, by force if necessary.

Powerful secular American political campaign strategists have secured the votes of fundamentalist Christians by stressing hot-button religious issues to help win elections. Also, knowing the Bible Belt’s belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible, they found almost complete support among them for the Middle East war due to their Premillinialist doctrines.

The manipulation of the “religious” has probably been an element in all wars. Hitler’s “God is on our side” speeches certainly influenced the German state Church to accept his doctrine of superiority.

This may be the reason Jesus told us there would be “wars and rumors of wars”. He knew our hearts and our resistance to “loving our enemies” along with our need for revenge.

George McGinnis
Glendale, CA

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By Gilman, December 10, 2005 at 11:43 pm Link to this comment
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As an atheist, I appreciate your attempt while finding your longwinded argument could use a lot of sharpening.  For example, on a factual basis, your conflation of “less religious” countries with atheism is neither good social science nor convincing.

As an argument about religion, Karl Marx’s Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law is both more to the point and more powerful.  I also suggest to you a close examination of Engels’ 1892 English Special Introduction to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.

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By Dave Belfer-Shevett, December 10, 2005 at 11:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This has been a fascinating thread to read through (and read through it I did, probably to the detriment of my sleep schedule). 

What I find fascinating is, as several have said, the intolerance for either ‘side’ to respect the views of ‘the other side’.  The most tangible of this conflict is the “Believers” vs the “Non-Believers”... or to put it more directly ‘theists’ vs ‘atheists’. 

I’ll state for the record that my personal view, and yay, I shall even say that which I can, through rational, deliberate, researched thought, can only come to as the ‘correct’ view, is that the existence of a ‘deity’ is essentially unknown, and in fact, may be unknowable (this is where my views vary from the strict definition of ‘agnosticism’ - I cannot say deliberately that the existence of a deity is unknowable, because… we don’t know.)

This ambiguity is that which makes agnosticism a path that holds no seduction for those that require guidance and acceptance in their lives.  You won’t see folks proclaiming from the street corners how they have been SAVED by embracing NOTHING! 

Why is it so difficult for the society, nay, the human race in general, to simply state “We don’t know”, and move on?  Why must we create phantom beings, and even worse, PRAY to them, WORSHIP them, and make entire life-altering decisions BASED on them, when there is no evidence other than fairy tales spawned from nighttime fireside stories to support them? 

I accept that somewhere, somehow, however inconceivable it is to us, that there may be a being greater than us.  Rockin.  Can’t wait to meet them.  Will it alter how I view the world?  No.  I will still be critical in my views, detailed in my research, and objective in my decisions, because I have yet to see any reason, any possibility, any HINT of reality that shows that there is some larger being that cares one iota in my life or the lives of anyone else, and certainly won’t care if I go to church on Sunday, hold kosher, or pray daily toward a rock in Asia.

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By Dr. Carl F. Selnes (MSgt Ret.), December 10, 2005 at 10:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good and evil are relative.  They depend on the immediate experience of the individual or group.  God and Gods are human creations, empty wishes for the Superman, Spideerman, Wonder Woman, or such to “save” someone from discomfort, injury, and death.  Straws to the drowning man.  Most manufactured religions are invoked for personal power and wealth.  If on cannot secure the benefits of shelter, food, sexual relations, and clothing, then they resort to such delusions and illusions as religion, politics, and wealth.

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By Sara, December 10, 2005 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
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When “acts of God” occur, atheists always say “if your God were real why would this happen to people who believe in Him”. I know a few Katrina refugees here in Colorado and their stories are amazing! The new friend of mine was working on Bourbon Street with a drug and alcohol addiction, therefore living a life of destruction. After the hurricane struck he fled to Colorado to be here with his father. Upon arrival, he realized that his life needed to be changed. He immediately found salvation in God and now has life again. Through the horrifying event that took place in New Orleans, this man has rekindled life through faith and perseverance and is the happiest he has ever been- even without all the material things he once had. Though many lost their lives on that day, many reawakened their lives. To all the atheists- what would you rather have? People dropping off the earth only to decompose or, people changing their lives from destructiveness to productiveness and are a living testimony of a world changing event and how it has effected their lives in a positive way? There are some positive stories out there, you just have to search to find them, but it is hard to find the positives when you are looking to find the negative to justify God not existing. Don’t get me wrong I know there are some sad inconceivable stories that are being told with no explanation to why a human must feel pain this bad, but life is so much bigger than situations. This tragic event doesn’t have to be so black and white. God is so multifaceted and everyone has a different experience with Him. God is amazing in that He is a true mystery and that is the fun in pursuing Him. God is always a mystery- like the man you have always wanted so badly and pursuing him is what gives you the butterflies every time you touch him. Not looking for answers in life is rewarding, I promise. If we all knew exactly what was going to happen to us in our lives or after life, it would not be as valuable if we knew all the answers. I can understand an atheist point of view, but I don’t when atheism is so subjective that faith doesn’t exist and that it is unintelligent. I feel confident in saying that faith is not an intellectual subject, but a subject that identifies oneself of their dignity and character. It is always a reassurance of who we are. I can testify for my new friends that through this experience, they are better off now regardless of what happened.

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By Brenda S., December 10, 2005 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This blog became boring very quickly.  As I read on and on and on I realized that the arguments on both sides, intellectual sounding though they may be, are very, very old.  It is a pointless blog.  Whatever position you hold upon entering - you will hold even more strongly when you leave.  The atheist do no favor to their cause, nor the Christians with this pointless sparring.  In fact, if conversion is your goal you are instead aiding your opponents cause.

Christians - do us all a favor.  Leave this blog, and do not respond.  The Bible says that when a reasonable man and a fool argue, the fool wins.

Instead, find someone who you love, or who needs your love and give them a hug - it’s a much better way to spend your time and it’s the kind of mushy, warm and fuzzy gesture that atheist hate.

Gotta go…think I’ll call my sister and tell her I love her.

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By Tony Shifflett, December 10, 2005 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment
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I grew up in an extremely religious household.  What you say is true—religion shuts down the mind.  I’ve seen this is my Sister, particularly.  It’s the comfort factor that shuts down the mind, and makes it so people do not think about the human condition and situation. 

Overcoming the religious gene here in America is, and will continue to, happen.  These things take time.  Each generation here there are less and less religious people. 

Right now their influence is at high tide.  They are at maximum political influence, and it’s downhill from here.  I myself believe that the next 50 years or so will see off the influence of the religious in this country, and we’ll start to see European-like church attendance. 

I live in a very urban area, and I know of no one that openly professes their faith in the workplace.  Those that actually attend church on a regular basis are far and few between. 

We seculars here in America are slowly winning, but, I must admit, it is slow slogging.  I would just say that it’ll get easier over time.  People here in and Europe need to remember that we’re just starting out.  Many people came here in the 17th and 18th centuries to escape religious persecution.  Thus, this country started out with a high level of fervent religious belief, and that cultural foundation is what has kept the situation going.

The church leaders know that religion is under heavy assault here—that’s why they fight secularisms like they do.  But, we WILL win in the end.

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By Rebecca Schoen, December 10, 2005 at 8:00 pm Link to this comment
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This article would have been much stronger with references.  I also feel that it has a very arrogant air about it.  How dare I not be an aethist?  I’m obviously not as compassionate as aethists.  Or as smart, and oblivious.

That’s quite easy to which to take offense.

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By Cassandra, December 10, 2005 at 6:38 pm Link to this comment
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I *finally* got a chance to sit down and read this (I’ve had the link bookmarked for a few days)!
Excellent job.  Thank you Mr. Harris, for such a great piece!!

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By Marlon, December 10, 2005 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment
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Congratulations on finding an enthusiastic group of like-minded mimics.  I had posted a comment on the real reason for the existence of both religion and faith-based education which for some reason you chose to ignore.

This leads me to question how many posts are simply being deleted? I have concluded that despite your feeble attempt to use science. logic and open discussion to explore a topic you have chosen instead to arbitrarily ignore comments from respondents instead of showing any difference of opinion.

If that is the case, there is no valid reason to visit your site except to admire your opinions and limited view of the world.

Good luck in your skewed perspective.  The world will never agree with you and despite this very brief flicker of attention we will all carry on as if you had never existed at all.

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By nwhit, December 10, 2005 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment
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“Not believe in God! You might as well not believe in Santa Claus! You might hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. Nobody sees God, but that is no sign that there is no God.”

I didn’t think that adults ever believed in Santa Claus, I suppose I was wrong.

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By Mark Plus, December 10, 2005 at 4:20 pm Link to this comment
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carib writes,

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

It doesn’t follow that humans can’t construct those properties in the part of the universe under our control. For example, if we can use our technology to deflect an asteroid from striking the Earth, we will have exerted some design and purpose over a tiny cosmological event. Many atheists have pointed out that we humans have to do these things for ourselves because we can’t depend on a god to solve our problems.

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By Jann Burner, December 10, 2005 at 3:31 pm Link to this comment
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Once upon a time in the ancient days, long before writing, (before the first scientist) when man lived in the moment and thrived upon the still warm memories of real Gods and Goddesses, the story tellers of old had a problem. Their stories became interwoven and entangled and elongated over time until a good tale was as complicated as modern brain surgery and yet there were no written words to memorize, no script to refer back to. No storyboard. How to keep it all straight?

The early story teller would create an architectural wonder within his mind. He would build a palace and grounds within his imagination. And this palace and its attendant gardens would be very specific, very detailed and very predictable. Each flower and arrangement of trees and bushes and each entrance and hallway and sleeping room and dining room and banquet room and storage room would be very specific, furnished with very specific pieces in a very precise order. In his mind this would be a place he could return to time and again and feel secure that it would always be the same. Flowers never wilted and paint never faded in the mind of the story teller. This would be a universe of mnemonic devices, encoded with all the cues necessary for the telling of his long tale. This was the original Memory Palace.

This was Natures first Random Access Memory, complete with an icon shell with which to connect the myriad lines of bio-computer code. Simply point with the imagination and click with willful intent. No mouse necessary. Thus armed, the ancient story teller could hold his audience spellbound for hours on end telling a perfectly wonderful and magical story and then, a month later, in another town, tell it again, exactly the same.

We are God’s Memory Palace. We are an interactive holographic construct of dynamic memory being visualized by a higher form of consciousness.

We choose a forgetting when we choose to incarnate in this Earth Frame. We forget who we really are and where we originate from.  We choose, often, a second forgetting, when we forget that there is even such a thing as “Spirit”.  But although we have chosen to forget what we are and where we originate, we have remembered to give ourselves “clues”.  In every life there is a trail of clues to our truth.  If we pay attention we each have the opportunity to wake up in time.  To literally wake up within this dream we call our “Life”.  Until we “wake up” we are stumbling around like sleep walkers, bumping into one another, incurring pain and creating drama.  But once we begin to “notice” the clues we have left and the clues which have been left for us by others, then we start falling into synchronicity and then flow.  As we begin to wake up we discover that it is a pathway and a trail.  We are not lost, we have not been abandoned. We are not lost at sea on a tiny raft awaiting rescue or death.  We are cruisers.  We have a point of origination and we have a final destination and we are on a Path.  We are not a chance assemblage of molecules.  We are holographic God sparks.

By discovering these clues along the trail of your life you’ll gradually come to—“understanding”.  And what specifically will you come to understand?  Well for one thing, you will come to understand that this is not the “end of the day” reality you have been taught and a second thing you will learn, is that you are much, much smarter than you have ever been led to believe.  But most importantly you will want to pick up these clues so that by the time you pass on beyond this frame, you’ll have succeeded in “getting it!”  You don’t want to be utterly confused and taken by surprise at death, at the moment you detach and separate from your body.  You want it to be a gradual unfolding.  “May your spirit outgrow your body before your body gives up the ghost.”  There’s nothing worse than having wasted a life stacking up stuff, stacking up “scientific facts” and chasing vaporous ego dreams until you become so distracted that when your time finally comes to separate Spirit from body, you’re taken totally off balance.  You don’t have a clue, you don’t “get it”.  You don’t want to end up wandering as a ghost or maybe attach to another and become part of their dream.  Now’s the time to, “Get a clue”.

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By Conrad, December 10, 2005 at 3:31 pm Link to this comment
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>>>The trouble remains: there is no, and will not be, academic, final proof God doesn’t exist <<<


>>>>>> Personally, I do not see God as my nursemaid and I believe the existance of such a being or beings is no more provable as that there isn’t. <<<


The “agnostic” statement that God’s existence can neither be proven nor disproven is certainly true. But it just begs the question, why believe in something for which there is absolutely no evidence, especially if you’re willing to admit that it can never be proven? I can generate an infinite number of theories and speculations that can never be disproven, simply by positing phenomena that are by definition unobservable. I posit that the entire world ceases to exist when I sleep and then recreates itself when I wake, and you can’t prove me wrong!

Why should we even leave the door open to one particular such fantasy just because it was generated thousands of years ago and has somehow managed to dupe an awful lot of people? One of my favorite quotes is: “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.” The point I take from that is that there’s no sense believing in things that are fundamentally unobservable, or especially in hypotheses that seem fundamentally designed to defy testing or investigation.

Most agnostics are really atheists at heart that just can’t quite part with the past, or just can’t quite bear to tell their religious friends that they are talking to an imaginary friend, or that they will not join their friends on a grand Carribean cruise in the sky when they die.

I sympathize with those concerned about finding a solid basis for morality to govern the behaviors of individuals within a society, and I can’t say that I’ve found any single compelling answer, though there are many candidates. But I am certain of one thing: that inventing an imaginary friend who watches us to know if we’ve been bad or good so we’ll be good for goodness’ sake is not the answer. Clearly there’s no reason to outright dismiss the existence of this enforcer of good and evil when the imaginary friend’s name is “Santa Claus”, but believe it when the imaginary friend’s name is “Jesus.”

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By Bob, the Atheist from California, December 10, 2005 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
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Replying to J.J. Ramsey #136…Are you saying that Jesus is an original resurrected savior God?

Sorry Sir, but practically every historian disagrees with you. Sure, you can nit-pic certain authors for being vague, but at the end of the day, the jesus god is a copy of several earlier gods that were also invented by cultures in the region. Nothing special. Even Justin Martyr provides proof that the jesus fable is just that:

“When we say that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 21, written in the 2nd century}

The originality of Jesus

Who was the Son of the highest God, and the biggest healer in Antiquity? He healed the sick and even raised the dead. Hear and behold: former paralysed walked again, the blind could miraculously see again, and the deaf could listen and the mute speak after the Master’s gentle touch! But he did not only heal the body, he also healed the soul. They called him Saviour and Redeemer, and he healed both rich and poor, men and women, young and old, slaves and free men, friends and enemies. In one occasion a paralysed man was brough to him in his bed, and took his bed and left walking after the Saviour had touched him. What was this Saviour’s name?

… Asklepios.

Who was born by a mortal virgin mother and had a divine Father, and was known as the “Saviour of the world”? Before he was born his parents wandered to a bigger town, and prophets had foretold his birth and that he would be a king. This instigated a search for the infant Saviour by a leading figure who wanted to kill him. After growing up the Son of God was shown all the kingdoms of the world from a high mountain. He also walked on water and when he met his end his mother and his favorite disciple stood by him. He then tells his mother: “Do not cry, I’m going to heaven”. When he dies he utter: “It is finished” and the earth trembles and darkness cover the land. Then he ascended to heaven, and his greatest achievement was to conquer death.

His name was of course…Hercules.

We all of course know the Redeemer who was no figure of pagan Greek polytheism. He was the true Saviour who wanted to help and save the sinful humans, by sacrificing himself. But he was willing to do this, out of love, pity and compassion for the humans.

His name:...Prometheus.

Now, who was the real Son of God, born by a mortal virgin mother, and often presented as the venerated newborn infant, or depicted riding a donkey? He healed the sick and did numerous wonders, among those making fine wine from plain water. He was killed but resurrected from the dead and became immortal. The followers of this God often ate a holy meal in a kind of sacramental union with the deity to achieve immortality after their death. One of this god’s finest achievements was his death, his sacrifice, which delivers the whole human kind.

The God was the very popular Dionysos.

Who is the “Light of the World”, the One, the God who defeated death? Born of a virgin mother, considered the first true King by the people. Who rose from the grave and ascended to heaven. He defeated death, and must be considered the single true God.

Of course the Egyptian Osiris!

Now, the real God often called the “Light of the world”, “The good shepherd”, “The lamb” and is “…the way, the truth, and the life”. Identified with a cross. Who could that be?  Jesus brought salvation. Osiris brought salvation 1,400 years earlier

Horus, (the son of Osiris).

The original “Light of the world” was the mediator between God and man and was born on the of December. Local shepherds witnessed his birth and gave him gifts. He had 12 disciples, and when his work was done on earth he gathered together to a last supper, and then ascended to heaven. At doomsday he will return to pass judgment on both the living and the dead. The righteous will go to heaven and the sinful will be killed in a giant fire. Sunday is his holyday, and this religion gave us the seven days of the week. His followers called each other “brothers” and their leaders “fathers”. They practiced babtism and established a sacred meal ritual, where flesh and blood was symbolically consumed by initiates. Above earth was heaven, and below the dark hell with demons and the sinners.

The ‘Light of the World’ is of course the sungod Mithra.

Wise men were led to his birth by a star, and his conception was miraculous. After his birth the ruler in the area wanted him dead and started a hunt for the child. But his parents were warned by a heavenly messenger who told them to escape over the river with the holy child. Here, he was met by shepherds. The boy grew up and did many great deeds, and was the mediator between God and man.

His name: Krishna.

Who then, was the God whose mother was told by an angel that she would give birth to a holy child destined to be a Saviour? Even as a child he instructed the priests in the temple in religous matters, while his parents were looking for him. He started his religious career when he was ca 30 years of age, and surrounded himself with 12 disciples. One of the disciples is his favorite another is a traitor. He and his disciples abstain from wealth and travel around talking in parables and metaphors. This God called himself “Son of Man” and was referred to as “Prophet”, “Master” and “Lord”. He did many great wonders and healed the sick, blind could see again and deaf hear.
He also walked on water. When one of his disciples tried to do the same, he started to sink - his faith was not strong enough.

We are here obviously talking about Buddha.

Our Saviour cannot be mistaken for any other. He performed countless miracles on earth, miracles well attested to by bystanders. He healed the sick and the crippled, restored sight to the blind, cast out demons, and even raised the dead! His birth was of a virgin, foretold by an angel. While still a child, he exhibited extraordinary knowledge of religious scripture. He reformed the corrupt and worldly religions of his day. He was crucified, rose from the tomb and appeared to his disciples to prove to them his power over death, after which he ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. He was known as “the Son of God!” His message is of love and compassion.

We give you: Apollonius of Tyana

And there is of course the God-man, the prophet, the founder of a great monotheistic religion that still exist today. He preached that there was only one true God, and his teachings focused on the eternal fight between good and evil. The teachings include the idea of the Saviour will wake the dead and pass judgment on all. The righteous ones goes to Paradise and the sinful straight to a burning Hell. The very word of Paradise stems from this religion. This semigod started his career in his early thirties, and had a following of disciples. As a band of monks they wandered around, preaching their religion. He was eventually killed and sent to heaven.

And he was the Persian Zarathustra.

The problem for Jesus is that all these deities are much older than him. You don’t have to be very bright to see where the authors of the Gospels got their “devine inspiration” when they created the Jewish version of the popular God-Man/ World-Saviour of Antiquity.

The 12 disciples are also mythical and never existed.

The reason why all these narratives are so similar, with a godman who is crucified and resurrected, who does miracles and has 12 disciples, is that these stories were based on the movements of the sun through the heavens, an astrotheological development that can be found throughout the planet because the sun and the 12 zodiac signs can be observed around the globe. In other words, Jesus Christ and all the others upon whom this character is predicated are personifications of the sun, and the Gospel fable is merely a rehash of a mythological formula (the “Mythos,” as mentioned above) revolving around the movements of the sun through the heavens.

For instance, many of the world’s crucified godmen have their traditional birthday on December 25th (“Christmas). This is because the ancients recognized that (from an earthcentric perspective) the sun makes an annual descent southward until December 21st or 22nd, the winter solstice, when it stops moving southerly for three days and then starts to move northward again. During this time, the ancients declared that “God’s sun” had “died” for three days and was “born again” on December 25th. The ancients realized quite abundantly that they needed the sun to return every day and that they would be in big trouble if the sun continued to move southward and did not stop and reverse its direction. Thus, these many different cultures celebrated the “sun of God’s” birthday on December 25th. The following are the characteristics of the “sun of God”:

The sun “dies” for three days on December 22nd, the winter solstice, when it stops in its movement south, to be born again or resurrected on December 25th, when it resumes its movement north.
In some areas, the calendar originally began in the constellation of Virgo, and the sun would therefore be “born of a Virgin.”
The sun is the “Light of the World.”
The sun “cometh on clouds, and every eye shall see him.”
The sun rising in the morning is the “Savior of mankind.”
The sun wears a corona, “crown of thorns” or halo.
The sun “walks on water.”
The sun’s “followers,” “helpers” or “disciples” are the 12 months and the 12 signs of the zodiac or constellations, through which the sun must pass.
The sun at 12 noon is in the house or temple of the “Most High”; thus, “he” begins “his Father’s work” at “age” 12.
The sun enters into each sign of the zodiac at 30°; hence, the “Sun of God” begins his ministry at “age” 30.
The sun is hung on a cross or “crucified,” which represents its passing through the equinoxes, the vernal equinox being Easter, at which time it is then resurrected.

Sun worship can be traced back 12,000 years to
every continent and culture. Some cultures made
human sacrifices, some used animals, but all of them did something radical to appease the various Gods.

As for the Jesus myth:

An eternal, immortal God, does not die. Neither is he born.

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By Simon, December 10, 2005 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment
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Although the general gist of the essay is interesting and, if nothing else, needs to be added to the dialogues on the internet on faith, politics, etc, there are a few problems that I have picked up in the posts about this article.

1)An acceptance that ‘facts’ are real and provable.  Barely anyone discusses the non-rational belief system that surrounds the assessment of arguments and discourses based upon the assumptions that, a) facts exist provably and b) that we have a complete theory which can allow us to interpret these facts accurately and in an unbiased fashion. Granted this is based on certain continental, post-modern theories of knowledge, but there are many published philosophers on this subject: Foucault, de Certeau, Baudrillard to name a few.  A question that should be asked is: What is the theory by which we are interpreting and ‘factualising’ reality? Problems with an accepted epistemological approach in my book.

2)There seems to be a general acceptance of ‘morals’ as being existent separate from some kind of god figure, as if they themselves have some kind of objective worth outside our interpretations of actions which we perceive to be good or evil (most likely on purely intuitive grounds).  If a god, or some objective measure of goodness or evilness, does not exist then it is problematic to say that there is a set of moral standards by which to measure certain behaviours.  Yes, I personally abhor the ideas of rape, murder, war and abuse of political power. But, can I create a complete theory of morality without resorting to some objective or transcendental ‘other’? The answer is, quite sadly, no.  (Some of you may attempt to use certain Benthamite arguments of utility, but again these are flawed, as are Rawlsian ‘veil of ignorance’ arguments).  Ethics as a body is greatly problematised without some measure against which acts are deemed ethical or not. God is such a measure, and is used as such.  I do not ascribe to its purported existence and hence have to take more of a nihilistic view on ethics and morality.  Also see what Euthyphro has to has about God and goodness (summarised as the following: if God says something is ‘good’ is that act actually ‘good’ or only ‘good because God says it is, in which case God could be telling us that acts which are inherently ‘evil’ are ‘good’ simply for his own benefit).

3)Faith is intrinsically non-rational (i.e. not based on some logically complete system which accepts the existence of ‘facts’).  Arguing about faith is rather like arguing about love, hate or various other emotional dispositions.  I can take actions which may seem to be correlated with statistical experiences of loving (or claiming to love) someone (giving them a hug or a kiss), hating someone (declaring war on them) or believing in something (going to Church) but this does not imply or prove that I love, hate or believe in something.  I cannot physically prove something which I experience in an entirely non-rational way.

4)Language is another major problem in this argument.  Linguistic philosophers often discuss the problem of experience and reality versus the recounting thereof.  To exemplify this, the word ‘rock’ can only convey an idea of what ‘rock’ is, it does not necessarily convey the immediate experience of this rock that I hold in my hand right now.  Language is incomplete in its ability to re-interpret experience.  Mathematics as a formal system is similarly flawed (see Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem if you are worried here, also for interests sake take a look at the debates within pure math about the existence of a set between the countable infinite and uncountable infinite sets – we would think that something like mathematics would be able to come up with ‘one’ answer). If you are interested in the philosophy of statistics and econometrics, then McCloskey makes an entertaining (if occasionally flawed) argument with respect to the problems of economic and statistical systems. 

5)Additionally, there are problems with the argument that acts of nature (called by some, ‘Acts of God’) disprove God.  The reason for this being that there is (according to Christianity) predestination and ‘God has a plan’.  Hence his plan can incorporate such acts of nature. Moreover, the physical experience is generally one through which we want to prove our worthiness for heaven. Having done so, if God chooses for us to die, then that is His choice and we will be in his presence for eternity anyway (had we believed in him).  So, it’s all good. Acts of Nature are cogent with Christianity and most other monotheistic religions.  It should also be noted here that Harris’s interpretations of Heaven are somewhat flawed, generally the Bible (especially since the New Testament) simply propagates the idea of ‘being in the presence of God’, not necessarily the Carribean-esque experience he purports it to be.

The above all being said, that there is dialogue going on and that there are people questioning is necessary.  Undoubtedly I will have people incensed by some point of mine and they will duly respond (the occurrence of which I encourage).  However, before responding to anything that I have to say (in my inexperience) I would rather recommend reading more.  If nothing else what I do here is meant more as an advert for certain opinions and authors rather than a propagation of a specific dogmatic view.

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By Jon Igelsrud, December 10, 2005 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
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Anthony Cerminaro in #173 wrote:

Not believe in God! You might as well not believe in Santa Claus! You might hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. Nobody sees God, but that is no sign that there is no God. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

Great.  Another 14th century brain with a computer and a modem.

Dude, come on, you’re having one over on us right?  You’re working with Ali G yes?

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By tigerdrawers, December 10, 2005 at 11:38 am Link to this comment
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A fine article, but exactly how many believers do you expect to abandon their cherished beliefs in response to your appeals to reason?

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By Renee, December 10, 2005 at 11:35 am Link to this comment
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Absolutely fascinating.  I am an atheist, but I am also amused by the religious arguments.  Sam Harris is a brilliant mind with the gift of writing, and he is finally saying what many of us have been thinking—in a very eloquent manner.  Thank you!

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By Robert Mein, December 10, 2005 at 11:21 am Link to this comment
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We are on the verge of a new Neolithic age; biological sciences will re-invent what it is to be human. Those that rely on a collective delusion to feel secure in this vast universe will be threatened more than ever before. In the face of massive and rapid change many will embrace religious fundamentalism. There is a growing battle of ideas; those that stand behind reason and truth are the buttress of civilization. I stand in the army of reason and I think this powerful article gives good reason to be on guard and to protect our bastion of freedom and reason against the barbarians.

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By ElrondCanuck, December 10, 2005 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
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Stupid remarks like Caribs drive me nuts.  Who cares if athiests or religion have killed mor epeople.  The sadness lies in the fact that people believe in something that has no foundation.  My g/f is christian, but smart.  It is so hard to get her even consider that her beliefs may be wrong.
The point is that there is truth, which is the intent of science.  Whether it finds a good thing, a bad thing or whatever, it doesnt aim to predetermine its answer.
The other incredibly frustrating thing is that being an atheist ostracizes people.  It the worst form of religious persecution.
America is not a nice place.  Being Canadian living in the states, I can’t believe how much more selfish this society is.

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By OTIS, December 10, 2005 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
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We are nothing but apes, quit trying to fool yourself into thinking otherwise.

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By Mark Marco, December 10, 2005 at 10:01 am Link to this comment
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Sam- Well written article, but also very funny. Fundamentalism is bad, Anti-Fundamentalism is bad, we’re all bad but then that would make a moral judgement based on irrational belief systems which means that atheism is a belief system but…...(head explodes….)

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By dennis, December 10, 2005 at 8:47 am Link to this comment
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“Christian freaks please abstain, there is nothing for you to debate here.”

Yup, that sounds like every atheist I have read or met. They’re right, they use Ad Hominem attacks and there’s no room for real debate.

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By Jann Burner, December 10, 2005 at 7:57 am Link to this comment
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It is not “faith” nor the “lack” of faith which is causing “problems” in the world.

That “thing” we so naively refer to as “faith” is, in actuality, recognition.  A recall and a remembering. I have a dog which is terrified of any large truck.  He has never, to my knowledge, four years, even seen a large diesel truck and yet if he even hears one drive by on the road he will cower.  Now the “story” I heard is that when he was very young he arrived in the neighbors pasture in a large truck with his owner.  A cattle carrier had tipped over in a storm and he was in the large rig tow vehicle.  In the mud and the storm and the chaos of screaming cows and yelling men, the big rig tow vehicle tipped over as well.  This is when we figure he escaped or was thrown from the vehicle and a few days later, ended up at my place.  My point here is that it would be easy for a primitive society to point at Big Diesel trucks as some sort of source of Evil which frighten puppies and children.  Or that his “faith” in humans has also implanted in him a deep fear of things dark and noisy etc.  The reality is, it is a MEMORY imprint of a very traumatic experience.  If he could speak he would probably not even recall the night, but the imprint is there.  Like wise it is my MEMORY that I carry imprints from previous life experiences and at an even deeper level I carry cellular and DNA memory of a time even before I was in what we call human form. (subject of an entire other article) It isn’t religious faith. It has nothing to do with faith. The problem in our current social setting is the misplaced “FAITH” people place in what we call Science, as if it were the be all and the end all, when in fact it is merely a group of very myopic, short sighted men (usually men) who dig a very deep intellectual hole in the hope (the faith) of gaining a larger “View”.

Recently with the debate over intelligent design versus Science it is very telling how the Science Priests LAUGH at the idea that anything OTHER than science is even being proposed.  It is so totally against the religion of Science that they initially laugh at the idea of ANYTHING being outside or above or larger than Science and then they begin to grow angry.  In the end, it won’t be the Christians against the Muslim or the Jew it will be the man of Spirit (the human who has access to memory recall which hasn’t been erased by Science) against the Scientist Priest.  And, I am afraid that when it comes down to that the Scientist will loose because he really has NO basis other than a very fragile intellectual stick figure over which he has loosely draped his “beliefs” to base his reality upon.

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By Michael pientsch, December 10, 2005 at 6:08 am Link to this comment
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WOW theres lotsa comments, i hope someone reads mine..

I have a few points that i wish to make:

1)  To look at an organized religion is as tigger says redekirus. If each persons faith is individual, and their faith based on a person relashionship with their god than isnt everyones religion soley their own? Hence are not the actions and words of each individual reprisentitive of only them and those who think alike? It seems that aithiests tend to emphasise fanatisism and violence as bing the fault of religion.    NO!!! mulsims arnt terroists, and catholics not child feelers.  My point is : RELIGION DOSNT KILL PEOPLE. PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE.

2) The bible isnt so crazy. Jesus is found to speak in parable. So if “god” relates in metaphore shouldnt we look at it in terms of a metaphore? and use logic? It says ladies shouldnt speak in church..was this possibly because it would have been unnacceptabel to the culture at the time? Or for other reasons, who knows. And the CRAZY ASS RULES THAT NOBODY CAN LIVE BY!!! It irks me that these people quote leviticus and numbers… The new testements sole purpose is to abolish every rule made in the old and erect new ones. These are love thy brother/neighbour and accept jeebus as saviour… thats not to hard is it? to try and be less spitefull and more understanding? to quest to be a better person? And even the old testement isnt too wacky… the ten commandments are pretty darn much common sence for better living. comeon, how many problems would be solved if nobody stole, or cheated? and the lords name in vain can be interpreted as avoiding vanity, and PEOPLE WHO CLAIM THEIR WORDS ARE THOSE OF GOD!


3)you need to be able to reason to belive. I can honestly say that i am a christian. This is because i can consider that their may not be a god. I cant articulate what im trying to eloquate… if that is a word,


4) FINALLY… yar… A biologist will tell you that god did not create life. It came from weird gasses and ultraviolet radiation and electricity and rose slowly via evolution. A phisisist may say that the rock came from a star formed in a nebula after the big bang… heh “bang”... but one wonders where that came from… i know its an old argument but science may be in my favour. Objects at rest tend to stay like that. So what sets what in motion? and how was their anything to wish something could happen… bah, its a mystery…


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By Verse, December 10, 2005 at 4:59 am Link to this comment
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I agree with Sam Harris. It is time for the truth.

I tire of ignorant wingnuts who push their ridiculous bronze age ideas onto our laws and in our schools, while baselessly insisting that all those different deserve to fry eternally in hell. The evidence is that we evolved and are related to monkeys and earthworms, just like every other living thing on this planet. When we die, we rot. The universe has existed, will always exist and was not created by somewhile some multi-dimensional uber being who can see you when you taking a crap. Puh-leaze.

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By SMBond, December 10, 2005 at 4:12 am Link to this comment
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I just love how Christians pick and choose which Bible passages are “accurate”, which ones were “man made”, and which ones are the “Word of God”.  Cracks me up.  Here’s a couple for you:

“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” (Mark 3:29 KJV)

“And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10 KJV)

Ah yes, that’s right.  Your God, the father of your Christ, will punish people for using the brains he gave them.  What a nice guy!

I refuse to believe that a being powerful enough to create the universe and life in it would create a species such as ourselves and then tell us (1) how to use our brains or (2) tell us not to.

Clearly, they [Christians] only acknowledge Bible passages to be the “Word of God” if they work for their benefit or support their agenda.

Clearly… this is a god that was created in the image of man; not the other way around.

I deny the Holy Spirit.


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By Justin Smith, December 10, 2005 at 3:59 am Link to this comment
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There were some good points raised in the article that I wanted to discuss, but which have been covered in the ~200 comments received so far. Therefore, I’ll only discuss what I believe was lacking in the article.

To me, Harris doesn’t convince that religion, not politics or human nature, for example, is the driving source for violence.

In my opinion, Harris did not give a thorough treatment of the atrocities committed under the godless regimes.

I believe Harris won’t convince many that atheism isn’t a philosophy or worldview. There are hundreds of books on it that one can usually find in the philosophy section in bookstores, written by philosophy professors. Arguing for that in a 4 page manifesto is somewhat amusing.

I think Harris seems to believe that the existence of God should prohibit the existence of awful things, like the most obvious, death, but probably also ice cream cones that drip. On the contrary, most all religions that I am familiar with themselves specifically mention not only the good but also the bad in their scripture.


“Countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on Earth.”

I believe that depends on how one is defining “religious”. If by church attendence, then yes, probably that is a correct statement (of course, some hold “church” to be the entire body of believers, not just a physical place). If by declared believers or by countries that have state declared religions, then probably not. I wonder why there are still crosses on many of those flags if such things are supposedly no longer relevant.

I think about these questions sometimes:

1) Is there a society, anywhere, anytime, that didn’t have any religious center?

2) Are my present family members, past ancestors, and future family who are/were/might be relgious, ignorant?

3) If religious = ignorant, why do we hold people like Newton and Martin Luther King Jr., to name two out of thousands of such people, in such high regard? Wasn’t their religion a huge motivation in their incredibly important contributions to humankind?

An interesting, thought-provoking article, but has areas that need more beefing up in my opinion.

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By Jon, December 10, 2005 at 3:16 am Link to this comment
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Did anybody notice that this thing starts out with bad guys raping a little girl? Isn’t that the argument that the “patriot” in my Junior High School used on the “pacifist”? “Yeah, well what if a whole bunch of commies was raping your mother? What would you do then? Tell them to give peace a chance?” What if a whole bunch of atheists were raping your mother? What would you do? Tell them that they had failed to sufficiently embrace reason? The whole article seems childishly petulant. The myth of human reason seems less believable than the myth of divine mercy. I guess I just lost the debate.

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By Shane Wilson, December 10, 2005 at 2:14 am Link to this comment
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Just forgt everything above because according to The Holy Vet Report, a four thousand year old text and the Infallible, Inerrant and Literal Word of Dog, written by Dog-Inspired Trainers, Christianity is an abomination (Levidogus: 4:5) and all those who practice Christianity should be put to death, again in Levidogus 76:9.

The fact that Christians choose this disgusting and depraved lifestyle that so much offends Dog, proves the validity of The Sacred and Holy Vet report and the Word of Dog. Dog didn’t yap this for nothing you know and His Bark is literally without error. I know this to be true because the Holy Vet Report says so. It would be wise for all who practice the filth of Christianity to repent, accept the Lord Fido as your saviour or else you’ll be sent to the Dog Pound for all eternity, where you’ll be forever nibbled at by giant horned fleas; where you’ll be forced to lap from the Dog-bowl of Everlasting Drool; where you’ll be forced to eat the Hideous Dog Biscuits of Tescos, regurgitated from the bellies of a million dogless sinners as they are roasted alive and forever condemned to tread in the unending and infinitely gooey muck of Dog’s great anti-Fido, Butch. (And Butch likes to hump the legs of Christian men more than anything). Christians, repent of your abomination, confess your sins, accept the Lord Fido as your saviour in Dog’s Heaven and you will see the Light of His everlasting devotion as He sniffs your crutch for the rest of your immortal life.
Go Fetch.

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By Beaming Visionary, December 9, 2005 at 11:33 pm Link to this comment
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Sorry if I duplicate things that have been said already. I haven’t yet had time to read all of the responses.

Doug Tarnopol wrote:

“Who cares what someone’s metaphysics is? I thought the point was one’s actions, not what one believes.”

I’m having a hard time with the implicit claim made here, i.e., that beliefs do not influence actions. On the contray, beliefs are clearly the chief motivator of all human actions.

The reason I don’t stick my hands into a pot of boiling water to retrieve cooked spaghetti is that I believe I will experience considerable pain in so doing. The reason I don’t bat an eyelash when a man approaches me on the street and claims the world will end in six hours if I don’t offer him a lap dance is because I believe he is nuts. In each case I have evidence for my beliefs—something the religious adherent by definition lacks unconditionally. (It really would make things easier if fundagelicals would accept that fact that the Bible is evidence of nothing but its own human creation, but the vexing and unfortunate truth is that there seems to be no dissuading those indoctrinated at a tender age.)

These counter-examples are trivial, but so was the errancy in the example it addresses.

“Atheism is no guarantee of right action, just as theism is not.”

This is exactly what Sam himself explicitly claims—indeed, he uses examples of ersatz or agenda-driven “atheism,” such as communism and Nazism, to underscore the shallowness of religious believers’ fingering such solecisms as evidence of “failed atheist world views” or what have you.

To pretend that Sam’s entreaties encouraging rational discourse and the shedding of bogus superstition equates to an embracing of the “secularly” rooted annihilation of human beings is beyonf folly—but it’s also exactly what the local minister wants the members of the flock to think. Where facts fail, instill fear and loathing instead. Republicans, buoyed by the rise of Christian idiocy within top-level U.S. government today, routinely use this tactic nowadays as a surrogate for adequate defense of their befriggered positions: Label the other guy unpatriotic or un-American—thereby painting him as the archetypal enemy—and there’s no need to actually offer support for a failed agenda. It’s maddening.

Of course atheism per se is not sufficient to bring about positive change. But on a global scale it may well be necessary, and if the examples Sam provides don’t convince people of this, nothing will.

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By Gautam, December 9, 2005 at 11:08 pm Link to this comment
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Buddha was not a god - he was perhaps the greatest man who ever lived.

In Anguttara Nikaya, Buddha said:

“Do not believe anything simply because you have heard it.

Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.

Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumoured by many.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all then accept it and live up to it.”

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By Ricky Jimenez, December 9, 2005 at 8:43 pm Link to this comment
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Certain things jump out at me from Sam’s manifesto:

1. He fails to distinguish between atheists, agnostics and the secular deists who detest organized religion.

2. He accuses religion of causing much bad behavior.  However it has not been established to my satisfaction, that the perpetrators were motivated by their religious beliefs rather than just citing them to justify what they did for other reasons.

3. Sam’s arguments are old hat and were given a form, similar to his, by 19th century writers so I am mystified by his current cult status.

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By Bob, December 9, 2005 at 7:36 pm Link to this comment
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Another Bob writes:

>Here are two equally stupid, nonsensical, unprovable >statements:

>1) God exists.
>2) An invisible, intangible, completely undetectable pink fluffy >bunny lives under my bed and causes me to have cravings for >carrots.


>Well, here are two more:

>1) God doesn’t exist.
>2) There isn’t an invisible, intangible, completely undetectable >pink fluffy bunny lives under my bed and causes me to have >cravings for carrots.

>You can’t prove those either, now can you?

You are perfectly right, Bob. All four of the above statements are non-sensical, because the subject of each is an entity of which we can have no KNOWLEDGE.

Try this: A.There is an invisible, omnicient, malevolent monster in red clothes, riding a sleigh, who is going to eat your children on the night before Christmas.  B. There is not an invisible, omniscient….etc.

Are you going to hide your children in response to statement A if you read about it in a 2000 year old book?

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By Amy, December 9, 2005 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment
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Excellent article.  I would recommend the book series “Conversations With God,” in which “God” explains such things as why Hitler went to heaven why God “allows” catastrophes.  For example, why does God “allow” there to be world hunger?  Because humans choose it to be.  Humans could end world hunger tomorrow, if we chose to.  We choose not to. 

I am not a religious person by any means, but the CWG series really rang true for me.  Check it out.

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By The Atheist Jew, December 9, 2005 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment
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Great article.  The last paragraph was fantastic.
I just wonder why when naming the conflicts in the world he called Israel “Palestine”.  I guess two people on this planet just can’t agree about everything.

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By Sekait, December 9, 2005 at 6:31 pm Link to this comment
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A pretty good article, though I’m not sure it is quite an “atheist manifesto”. I myself have somewhat mixed feelings on religion. I’m no theist, but I feel this article falls a little short on making a solid case for atheism.

1. While it’s true that religion has killed millions, it is also true that it is has inspired millions. From Beethoven’s Ode to Joy to Leonardo’s Last Supper, it is impossible to deny that religion has inspired many of the greatest works of art in the world. By contrast, how many novels, paintings, or musical pieces has atheism inspired?

I suppose Thus Spake Zarathustra (the book and by extention the musical piece) could be called “atheist-inspired” art, but then again, do you really want people to draw their inspiration from Nietzsche instead of Jesus? Probably not.

2. It doesn’t provide any real basis for ethics. It dispells God but doesn’t explain why human life matters, for example. This may sound cold, but from a purely rational perspective (which atheists seem to endorce) there is no reason to consider humanity more valuable than anything. Our love for others is an _emotional_ response, not a rational law, and reason only tells us how to do things (such as helping humanity), not what is ethical.

Indeed, that is what I find wrong with most atheists. They replace God with Reason as their source of values but don’t explain why things are inherently good or evil (even Reason itself is not inherently superior to irrationality and attempting to prove it is means using reason and thus begs the question). To put it another way, reason tells us why religious fundamentalism is harmful but not why we ought to minimize harm.

Yes, Stalinism is irrational if you believe that human life and freedom have inherent value (which cannot be proven by reason alone). The flipside is that if you believe that humanity is worthless (not too hard to conclude given the size of the universe) and that freedom is actually bad (it can be misused), then it follows that there is nothing wrong with a totalitarian dictatorship.

This is not to suggest that reason is useless or that we should all take up religion. What I’m saying is that certain irrational ideas are just as necessary as reason if we want to have things like ethics, love, and so on. Like it or not, there is no reason why a happy world is _inherently_ better than a hellish one.

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By Marga Lane, December 9, 2005 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment
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Interesting comments all along. Looking at the two last ones: # 191 is leading back to Sam Harris’ original claims. Thanks for that!
# 192 joins others in defining all as “-selfish- humans”, but do we not simply speak only of European Descendants, of the colonial powers ???
I believe the present world situation is a WHITE problem, we who have brought the industrial, technological wonder, the atom bomb, caused the accelerated depletion of earth’s safety and resources,  and all in the name of Judeo-Christianity (and Islam = the third religion of Abraham).
The Nature People certainly can not be blamed for “our” doings!
That countries with low religous activity are safer was shown in Germany after WWII. The churches remained empty, since the people felt betrayed by the lack of messages from the pulpits against the Nazi regime. Though church and state are connected in Germany to this day, until now the church taxes were used for social advancement mostly. Religion no longer seemed an issue amongst,  and therefore no longer divided its people (an exception might be staunchly catholic Bavaria, but even there religion was seen as its tribal belief only, lived out in quite a secular way). It is to be seen how Germany will develop under its new female leader who has given the first signs of a religious revival in that country.
The Church is ALL POWERFUL and as such a reason for TERROR as are all leaders who resort to such POWER.
Would religions have survived this long without their constant infusion of terror???
Sam Harris does not dispute spirituality and faith, since we in fact are all spiritual entities ( read about quantum physics or cell biology).
To have faith in oneself or others who practice peace, justice, unconditional love is absolutely necessary.
Critical thinking is much needed and for that and for encouraging much needed dialogue, Sam Harris is to be much congratulated.

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By Martin Naskovski, December 9, 2005 at 6:03 pm Link to this comment
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I’m not so sure the notion of God is flawed entirely as the article subtly implies. Some of the greatest intelectual minds ever born on our planet have sought the existence of the ‘creator of all things’, be it a God, a force of nature, label it as you will. What I do _believe_ (emphasis on /believe/) is undeniable is that we still can not answer with certainty how the notion of time came about - was time always there? Or does time only make sense after the ‘big bang’ and before that the notion of time didn’t really exist? What was “there”, wherever that may be, prior to the ‘big bang’? Was the ‘big bang’ created by “God”? Is it God’s will? Where did any and _all_ of what we are aware of really begin?

I think these are the kinds of answers religion, and I might add even science, has so far failed to answer.  Will science ever uncover these hardcore truths? When? I doubt I’ll live to see any of it. But I suppose having a belief in lieu of a validated idea proven by fact is acceptable… for now at least.

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By Victor Panlilio, December 9, 2005 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment
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Pat Flannery pompously held forth in #192: “Atheism is about recognizing and accepting what is obviously true, nothing more, nothing less.”

Uh, and since when has it been conclusively demonstrated that atheists have an absolute monopoly on truth (or on rationality)? See my post above (#148) citing “On Bullshit”—as well as the Francis Collins quote—keep in mind that his scientific track record is impeccable, and I doubt that most of the atheists who denigrate religious belief as irrational would be hard pressed to match or better Dr Collins’ accomplishments. Also, do read up on Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, and the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. And as carib noted so aptly in #189, “You really can’t just dismiss the epistemological question.”

Most of the atheistic commenters, unforunately, have chosen to do so. Which is why not one of them seems to have gone back to the question I asked (in #148): “Why is there _anything_ at all, rather than nothing?” Ahmed’s post (#153) cites some of the arguments from Thermodynamics, but most of our readers are apparently not familiar with that field, or with Godel’s theorem. Hence their quick embrace of ‘atheism’ as being more ‘rational’ than ‘religious’ belief. Arrogance covering up ignorance, just like the religious fundamentalists. Pot, meet kettle.

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By Gary, December 9, 2005 at 5:34 pm Link to this comment
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Peter Attwood said:
      Revelation 13 testifies that the religion of the whole world is based on the twin doctrines that killing others preserves you from death, and that enslaving others makes you free (Rev. 13:10) - and this kingdom is backed by economic coercion (Rev. 13:17).  Anybody want to deny that?

I will strongly deny “that”, and further state that Mr. Attwood has gotten it completely backwards!

In one of the few places that clarity CAN be found in this book, Revelation 10 states ”He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity” clearly means to say that he that enslaveth shall be enslaved, NOT made free,
And “he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword” likewise says the exact opposite of “killing others preserves you from death”, as Mr. Attwood claims.

Another rare instance of one of the “unambiguous” ravings of the unknown author of Revelation is verse 16.
“all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:”

I just looked around and see at least four people with no such marks (it says “all”, only needed to find one); clear proof of no correlation between this passage and present day world conditions as Mr. Attwood is boldly claiming.

Of course Seven headed, Ten horned Leopards with Bear feet and Lion mouths “bobbing” in the ocean in Revelation 1 is such an obvious match with today’s World events that I probably shouldn’t have even revealed such damaging evidence here; I just don’t know when to shut up, I guess!

I confess that being “unsaved” (and proud of it; took many years and much research to achieve) I must be content to interpret the sentences of the Bible with my mere “human” understanding of the English language while Mr. Attwood likely has access to a “supernatural” interpreter, arguably the same “entity” who apparently didn’t have the time to answer the pleadings and prayers of the tens of thousands of beautiful children crushed and bleeding under their homes and schools in the recent Pakistan earthquake; too busy “interpreting” Revelation for the apparently “more valuable” Middle class “Born Again” folks, I’ll bet.

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By Marilyn Burge, December 9, 2005 at 5:28 pm Link to this comment
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Arguing that Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, etc. were atheists and evil misses the point.  Osama bin Laden and others have also perpetrated great evil on us, and they are very strong believers.  This is nothing more than another version of ‘my god is better than your god.’  It misses the point entirely.  The point is, the so-called evil atheists were reared in a culture that had strong religious ties, and these ties might well have had an effect on the degree of dogmatism that manifested itself in those evil men.  The real culprit is dogmatism, which religion, by nature, demands we observe and practice. 

There was a strong element of power run amok among those evil men.  This same element is displayed in many religious figures.  Isn’t this the man element in Falwell’s looniness?  Osama’s insanity?  The list is endless. 

We see reality rather dimly, but we are doing better than those of earlier times that proclaimed that the sun revolved around the earth, that storms were evidence of their god’s wrath, and that disease was caused by ‘vapors.’  And, over time, we will do even better, given the chance to ask questions and seek answers.  That is where religion fails us the most:  it claims to have all the answers, if only we will follow it faithfully.  It demands that we cease asking questions and seeking answers.  Suppose we had done that before the time of vaccinations, public health practices, anaesthesia, and sanitation.  Asking questions and seeking answers is the one element that has given us the much-improved world in which we live.  We owe it to ourselves and posterity to continue our quest for reality.

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By Tony Beamer, December 9, 2005 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment
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Harris is confused…. He thinks most of the problems of the world are due to people following the rules of a god that you can’t prove exists.

What would happen if that god was removed and we all were atheists?

We’d be following the rules of something else with just as much unproveable furvor to motivate our actions - our subjective opinions, our subjective view of morality, our cultural bias, etc.

Instead of “god said”, it’s now “we said” or “I said”. Instead of killing because god says it’s right, we kill because we say it’s right. According to who? Relativism doesn’t allow you to do this…unless you’re gonna be equally dogmatic about your moral beliefs as the religious people are.

You’re just another religion - minus the god. So, tell me why is this any better? It’s not.

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By Rick, December 9, 2005 at 4:54 pm Link to this comment
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I think that it’s unfortunate that one can’t call oneself a Christian unless one believes in God as an anthropomorphic, sentient being who listens to your prayers and takes some active involvement in people’s lives.  To think that people cling to such a concept is very sad.  I would like to take out all the stuff in the New Testament about miracles, virgin birth, resurrection and everlasting life and just have a book about Jesus the teacher; a book about love and how to live a moral and responsible life on Earth today. That would form the basis of a Christianity that would be a positive force for real revolutionary change.

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By Harvey Ardman, December 9, 2005 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment
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Sure I can, Carib—dismiss epistemology, that is. 99% of it is doubletalk and the rest is tautology. Read your Wittegenstein.

My life experience tells me that rationality helps me understand reality. It’s never disappointed me yet. It’s gotten 100% on every test I’ve given it. I’m talking real world stuff, not theory.

Religion, on the other hand, has never helped me understand reality, or at least not in a way I can test. In fact, it has griveously misled me, and would continue to do so if I let it.

As proof, I would like to submit exhibit A, comment 173, by Anthony Cerminaro. Let me quote just a couple of paragraphs:

“Yes, Sam, there is a God. God exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

This is silly on the face of it. Do you have to believe in God to love, to be generous, to be devoted? Do you have to believe in God to experience beauty and joy? Ridiculous. Atheists and agnostics experience all of this.

All of these wonderful things need no supernatural explanation. They are aspects of human nature, and they are real for everyone, regardless of religious belief or lack of it. They have been part of us before we ever thought of religion and will continue to be part of us once we finally free ourselves of our superstitions.

And another paragraph from Mr. Cerminaro…

“Not believe in God! You might as well not believe in Santa Claus! You might hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. Nobody sees God, but that is no sign that there is no God.”

To my mind, this reasoning is totally falacious. We might theorize the existence of a billion different things and say they might be true, even though no one has ever seen them. Vampires, flying saucers, Spiderman, calorie free milkshakes, money growing on trees, anything the mind can conceive of.

Trying to prove something exists by its absence is twisted reasoning indeed. In fact, it is not reasoning at all. It is babbling.

But whether or not God exists is only the tiniest beginning of what’s wrong with religion. It is patently obvious that all of the traditions, all of the ceremonies, all of the rules and regulations, all of the punishments and rewards, all of the sins and in fact the entire ornate structure of every religion on Earth has nothing whatever to do with God.

It is all the work of men (and by men, I don’t include women—most religions have been weapons in the hands of men to control women). It should all be filed, according to the Dewey Decimal System, under fantasy and science fiction.

In addition to the violence that it fosters, it is an enormous waste of time, money and energy. If humanity had put the same effort into rationality, there’s no telling how much more we might have accomplished by now.

I don’t know if there is a God, not with certainty. But I do know that no one has any more (or less) knowledge of God than I do. We are all equal here—Popes and Rabbis, bricklayers and Down syndrome children. And for one subset of society to pretend otherwise is almost criminally arrogant, and sociopathic in its effect.

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By Hassan Ahmad, December 9, 2005 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment
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It’s really amazing the way some ignorent people use religion as their scapegoat. They forget that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed brought peace to violent, merciless people and changed humanity to peace loving, tolerating people. Just because those people went backwards does not indicate the religion is at falt, rather its the people who claim to follow the religion.

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By Tony Kehoe, December 9, 2005 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment
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“That’s why there’s never been an atheist equivalent of a Mother Theresa, A John Paul II or a Martin Luther King “
What’s so great about a cow who lets the sick die without any pain killers or a killer lies that condoms don’t prevent AIDS?

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By Dank, December 9, 2005 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment
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#187:  “Nobody has ever worked for a better world who does not have faith in the possibility of a better world. That’s why there’s never been an atheist equivalent of a Mother Theresa, A John Paul II or a Martin Luther King.”

You can bet there have been.  However, most have had to live closeted lives.  Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, and Francis Crick were a few atheists working to make the world better (with the first two butting heads against religious dogma).

And I wouldn’t put John Paul II on your list.  Anyone who believes 50% of the population should be discriminated against regarding employment, and who aids and abets child molesters isn’t a good role model for theists.

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By Michael Foody, December 9, 2005 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
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I enjoyed the article but I don’t think atheists are any kinder or more moral than other humans. Belief in god is silly and ultimately wasteful, but it doesn’t makes people behave any worse in therms of net effect. Rather it dictates the forms and targets of brutality, oppression, and hate.

Humans are essentially selfish and this isn’t totally a bad thing, still, if people can commit atrocities pinned to the mantle of such a childish fiction as religion I do not doubt that if we saw it as necessary we could construct more sophisticated and terrestrial rationals for the very same actions. My point is humans are more selfish and brutal and lazy and callous than most will admit. Because we are in denial of our nature we are incredibly adept at inventing “noble” sounding reasons for our inevitable cruelty. Religion is a powerful tool for veiling our motives but just as we have learned enough about the world to cast its absurdity into starker relief so to have we innovated (and will continue to innovate) new ideologies to cloak our baser motives. Humans change less than you suggest with such mere changes of dress.

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By Pat Flannery, December 9, 2005 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment
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First of all, thank you Sam Harris for your wonderful book and this fantastic article. 

Second, in response to some of the silliness in these comments:

1.  Harris doesn’t claim that atheism is a panacea.  He merely points out that countries with higher levels of atheism also have fewer social ills.  He even makes the point that there is no established casual connection.

2.  Harris doesn’t claim that atheism helps people to feel good or establishes their moral superiority.  In fact, he illustrates the fallacy of holding a belief just because it makes you feel good. 

3.  Harris doesn’t claim that secular government will have a better human rights record than religious government.  he confronts the issue head on and shows where secular governments have commited atrocities.  What he has shown is that those atrocities had nothing to do with the government’s being secular, and everything to do with their not being governed by rationality.

Atheism is about recognizing and accepting what is obviously true, nothing more, nothing less.  The consquences of those facts are beside the point.  It is a fact that God does not exist, in the same way as it is a fact that the sun will come up tomorrow.  Start dealing with it, people.

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By lightiris, December 9, 2005 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment
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>That’s why there’s never been an atheist equivalent of a Mother Theresa, A John Paul II or a Martin Luther King

Eh?  When there’s an institution for atheists that’s recognized on both a national and international level and possesses the organizational and political clout of the organizations these individuals had behind them, this conversation can be had.  Until then, the comparison is ill-conceived if not downright preposterous.

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By carib, December 9, 2005 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment
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Well, the value of rationality is that it leads us toward understanding reality.

Er, Harvey, why do you believe that?

You really cant just dismiss the epistemological question.

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By Astoria, NY, December 9, 2005 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment
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Thank you for your thoughtful article. Although I don’t consider myself an athiest I found your thoughts for the most part to be stimulating and reasonable.

I’d like to make one suggestion that may strengthen your argument. You state” Consider the ratio in salaries between top-tier CEOs and their average employee: in Britain it is 24 to 1; France 15 to 1; Sweden 13 to 1; in the United States, where 83% of the population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead, it is 475 to 1. Many a camel, it would seem, expects to squeeze easily through the eye of a needle.”

I’m suprised that nobody before me has mentioned this to you, but in this paragraph you are doing the exact same thing that most athiests accuse theists of doing; drawing a parallel between two statistics that you have not proved as related. Like attributing the rise in global temperature to the decline in pirates.

I’d suggest that when you make such claims that you attempt to use actual rationality in your approach, as the lack of doing so erodes your case since you pitch yourself as someone who is rooted and evidence and rationality. Consistency is key, as you must demonstrate that you fully subscribe to these principals yourself.

In this case you have not provided any evidence for your claim of correlation between “belief that Jesus rose from the dead” and “salary gap.” Please strengthen your argument in this area.

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By carib, December 9, 2005 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
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The most influential atheists of the 20 the were Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. The first two were responsible for t more people w killed than were killed in all the religious wars in history. when you can cite an example of a rational , peaceful tolerant government headed by committed atheists, we’ll talk.
By the haw , here is Dawkins view of the universe:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

Of course, if such there true, then all this hand-wringing with deaths from disease, etc. makes no sense. Why should you expect anything different What’s more, why bother to try to do anything about it. Heck, if the universe, is pitiless, then Joe Stalin had it right. Go thou and do likewise.

With religion, you can atleast hope that there is good in the universe and work to defend & increase it. There is no atheist argument at all for wanting to better the world. Until they can come up with one, I’ll continue to believe, thank you.Nobody has ever worked for a better world who does not have faith in the possibility of a better world. That’s why there’s never been an atheist equivalent of a Mother Theresa, A John Paul II or a Martin Luther King

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By Joshua, December 9, 2005 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment
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“Reason leads me to a belief in God, not away from it. My reasoning is simple. Love exists. God is Love. Therefore, God exists.”

You declared equation before existence.  That’s not a particularly good way to go about things.

“Now, you can say that this power does not exist. I say it does and can be tapped into. The question is not, “Who is right?” The question is, why do you care if this is what I believe? Why do you feel the need to try to prove me wrong? Why not just let the people of faith be and find your own path to happiness?”

Believers dominate the American population and they drive elections.  Elections, in turn, drive legislation.

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By Discordian Pope Cäsänövä Fränkënstëïn the Lesser,, December 9, 2005 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment
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I have not read in such a long time lines as moving as “they died talking to an imaginary friend”. That sentence is brutal in its simplicity, yet by its honesty.
I had such a hard time when I introduced myself as an atheist, I agree with you, atheists should not define themselves with what they aren’t but what they are. The Bright Movement is geared towards that. When people heard I was an atheist they always said: “but EVERYBODY believes in THE superior power, it is impossible to be an atheist”. I was so sick and tired of that asinine answer that i stopped answering altogether.
Now that I have chosen a religion; discordianism, I continue refusing to answer, you are not a dangerous madman for choosing the wrong religion.
Anyone who tries to impose his worldview to anyone else is so pigheaded to admit everything he knows is a big lie.
Anyone who thinks the future is set in stone is in store for a big dissapointment.

”  I won’t believe in heaven and hell. No saints, no sinners, no
devil as well. No pearly gates, no thorny crown. You’re always
letting us humans down. The wars you bring, the babes you
drown. Those lost at sea and never found, and it’s the same the
whole world ‘round. The hurt I see helps to compound that
Father, Son and Holy Ghost is just somebody’s unholy hoax,
and if you’re up there you’d perceive that my heart’s here upon
my sleeve. If there’s one thing I don’t believe in

it’s you…. Dear God” XTC

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By FJ, December 9, 2005 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment
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A worthy attempt, but hardly the first. The challenge is to translate this sentiment into everyday life, to make it clear in one’s social, economic and political life that you do not subscribe in unfounded beliefs and that you do not think highly of those that do either.

Until we atheists and agnostics articulate the way we feel about this matter (as opposed to just keeping stumm) we will be overlooked as a social force.

Time to stand up for the Enlightenment?

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By Brad, December 9, 2005 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
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Wonderful article.  I, too, got the link from James Randi’s “Swift” (which I read every Friday.)  I look forward to reading more of your work.  Thanks.

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By Thorrific, December 9, 2005 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment
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Yes, this is one giant paragraph.  To save space.  Just suspend your Grammatical beliefs momentarily, OK?

Once upon a time there is this “God” ....The Story Goes that “God” has the attributes of being Omnipotent, Omnicent, Omnipresent, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and Present Everywhere! He had a friend that He had made, a beautiful angel named Lucifer. Then Lucifer and some other angels that “God"also made got mad at “God” and rebelled against Him, so “God” cast him out of “Heaven”, and sent Lucifer to another place called “Hell”, to punish him Forever.  Somewhere during this process Lucifer becomes “Satan”, a.k.a. The Devil. He becomes “God”‘s Eternal Enemy.  Then, some undefined time later, “God” gets lonely and bored, so “God” creates “The World”. It takes Him seven days to do that! Wow! During this time, “God” also creates the first human being, a man named Adam.
Then He takes a bone out of Adam and makes a woman named Eve out of it. “God” also makes a special, fancy tree and puts it in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve live. The tree is called “The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil”. “God” tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of that tree. A little while later “God”‘s Enemy, The Devil, shows up and fools Eve into eating the Forbidden Fruit, and then Eve fools Adam into eating it too! Then “God” gets mad at His
Created Beings, mad at them because they are not “Perfect”, even though He did not actually make them to BE perfect, seeing as He is Omnicient, Omnipresent,  All-Powerful, and all Knowing, and thus can do exactly ANYTHING that He wants to do. So, “God” kicks Adam and Eve out of The Garden of Eden. “God” tells them that from now on that they are “Sinful”, and that all the kids that they have will be Sinful also, and everyone on Earth that comes after them, people that “God” made too, will also be Sinful, all because of the bad, bad thing that Adam and Eve did so long, long, ago ...... Then, after “God” kicks His imperfect,
confused, stupid creations (that He made) out of the
Garden of Eden, He tells them that because they and
all their decendents are Sinful, that they must spill
Innocent Blood in a Sacrificial Atonement Ritual of
Animal Sacrifice, over and over, always constantly
propitiating “God”‘s Righteous Blood-Thirst Anger, or
else after they die they will have to Go To Hell to
live with “God”‘s Enemy, The Devil, FOREVER….and
then “God” says that He will send a “Saviour” someday,
eventually, who knows when, to “Save” all the Sinful,
confused, imperfect people that “God” made. Then, time
goes by, and “God” “chooses” a certain Family to be “God’s Chosen People”, and “God” makes up a whole
bunch of Laws [see Leviticus 15 or Deuteronomy
23:1-2] that are Impossible By Design to follow
completely, so that the ““God”‘s Chosen People"people are forced to rely on Ritialistic Animal Sacrifice for the Atonement of the Blood Covering of Sin, with the result that ““God”‘s Chosen People” become even more and more Sinful, since they can’t possibly follow all those intricate laws .... (which, according to the doctrine,“God” did not even want them to really be able to completely follow in the first place), most of which concern the proper techniques for Animal Sacrifice Blood Atonement Rituals, in order to assuage “God”‘s Righteous Blood-Thirst-Anger at His stupid, confused, imperfect people that He made, and that He “chose”, because they are not Perfect, ....because they are Imperfect, just like He made them. So, “God” chooses these people to be His “Chosen People” and also He makes some of those people write some stuff down on some scrolls ... stuff like “You have to do whatever ““God”‘s Chosen People” say or Else “God” will GET you, will CURSE you, and send you to Hell FOREVER!”.  Then, after continually punishing the confused and imperfect “Chosen People” that He made (along with all the other people that He made too, but did not “choose”), then a few thousand years Later, long after Adam and Eve died, “God” gets tired of Animal Sacrifice Blood, and then He has to make Part of
Himself into a person called Jesus, and “God” is Jesus’ Dad, and Jesus is “God”‘s Only Son, and they are both really kind of the Same “God”.....And oh yeah, Jesus had to be “born of a virgin” because human sex is dirty and bad and so very material and un-miraculous, so then “God” sends His Son Jesus, who is also Himself, “God”, to Planet Earth so He can grow up and be Innocent and Perfect, and then get killed in
a Ritual Human Sacrifice of Blood-Atonement, because “God” demands that a Blood-Ransom of Innocent Blood be
paid for Sin. (Infanticide, Suicide, and Cannibalism?)
It is not exactly clear to Whom the Blood-Ransom gets paid ... is it “God”, Jesus’ Dad, with His Righteous Blood-Thirst Anger who got Paid with Jesus’ Innocent Blood? Or is it The Devil, “God’“s Eternal Enemy, who gets paid with The Blood of Jesus? Is that what happened? Did “God” have to make a
“Deal with The Devil” so he could Ransom from Hell all
the confused people that He sent to Hell because they
were too stupid and imperfect to be Perfect? (the way He made them) .... Then “God” changes the rules, (Dispensation theory) without really telling anyone about it for several hundred years, (especially not the “Chosen People”, they really got left out of the loop ... for thousands of years “God” told them “KILL ANYONE WHO PREACHES ANYTHING THAT DEVIATES FROM THESE LAWS!” and then He shows up as “Jesus”, preaches AGAINST the Old Testament Laws, and so of course the “Chosen People” killed him, just like “God” commanded them to do!), at least not until the Catholics came along and “Divinely Compiled” the various books of the Old & New Testaments hundreds and hundreds of years later….(and oh yeah, you also had to be a Catholic Priest (upon pain of DEATH) who could read Latin in order to read and understand the New Rules ... at least until the “King James Bible” was published) ... and “God” makes the new rules to be like this: No longer will “The Chosen People” have to sacrifice tons and tons of animals for the Ritual Atonement of Sin ... NOW all Anyone has to do is “Believe” (whatever that means) in that “Whole Story”, the Story of Adam and Eve, and the Need for Blood Sacrifice, and how “God” made Himself into Jesus, who “God” sent to get killed, as a Ritual Sacrifice, so He could have some REALLY INNOCENT BLOODfor a change, His Own Son’s Blood, so that “God” could “save” all the confused, dumb, imperfect people thatHe made in the first place, so that He could save themfrom His Enemy, The Devil, His First, Best, FavoriteAngel that He made, who kind of works for him, becausehe torments Sinners in Hell Forever, after “God” sends them there to be punished for all eternity becausethey were not Perfect when they were alive for a very short time on Earth, ALL BECAUSE they are Related to Adam and Eve ...... and if you DON’T “Believe” in that “Whole Story”, about Adam and Eve, and the “Chosen
People”, and how Jesus, who is part of His Dad, “God”, died for our sins, because only Innocent Blood is the accepted form of Payment for sin, and if you DON’T “Believe” that “Whole Story”, then “God” is gonna send you to Hell Forever to be punished by His Enemy, The Devil ... and that is a “Just Punishment” for being so stupid, imperfect, and sinful, just like “God” made you. And then, after “God” divided Himself into “God”,  Jesus, and The Holy Spirit, and had Jesus killed so Hecould have some Innocent Blood, then He waited around up in Heaven for a few thousand more years, and during that time most of the confused, stupid, imperfect people that He made on Earth (because “God” is the Creator of EVERYTHING) had to go to Hell Forever, because they had died without “Believing” in “The Whole Story”, or because they had died without ever even Hearing about “The Whole Story”, or because they were too confused and stupid and imperfect to Understand “The Whole Story” (well, it is sort of a confusing story), and most of the people who DID “Believe” in “The Whole Story” were usually EVEN MORE STUPID, confused, and imperfect than all the other so-called Sinners, and the “Saved Ones” then did a whole lot of stupid things to make a huge garbage-pit mess out of Planet Earth, and they also did a whole lot of stupid, bad things in the “Name” of “God”....(whatever that means). But Hold On! That’s not all! “The Whole Story” goes on, and gets even more Complicated! We haven’t even got to the “Book of Revelations” yet!...and of course EVERY WORD of The Bible is 100% TRUE!!! It says so, right there in the Bible Itself!  Then, after a few thousand years go by, thousands and thousands of years AFTER Jesus’ Dad, “God” sent Him to get killed to save the Imperfect beings that “God” made (which itself was thousands of years after the time of Adam and Eve), then, thousands of years later, ANY MINUTE NOW, “God” is going to “Rapture” all the people who “Believed” in “The Whole Story” to come live forever with Him in Heaven, where Beautiful Mansions line Gold-Paved Streets, (well, depending on which Kind of “Christian” you talk to, maybe they get “Raptured” before “The Tribulation”, or maybe they get “Raptured” after the “Tribulation ... which is it? ... they can’t agree on what the Bible actually says, because they are too stupid, confused, ignorant, and imperfect, and besides, the word “Rapture” doesn’t even appear in the Bible anyways). Then “God” is gonna let His Enemy, The Devil, out of Hell, where The Devil has been working for “God” by punishing Sinners for Him for the last several thousand years, punishing them for the “reason” that they are sinful, because they are related to Adam and Eve, and also punishing them if they don’t “Believe The Whole Story”, or if they were not part of ““God”‘s Chosen People” (who are ALSO now going to Hell Forever too, because they don’t “Believe The Whole Story” (the part about Jesus) , but they are still ““God”‘s Chosen People”, even though “God” is gonna send them to Hell .... Maybe they are ““God”‘s People That “God” Chose To Send To Hell”, but you still have to do whatever they say, because it says so in the Bible, because they are “God"s Chosen People” and if you cross them then you will wind up in Hell, just like “God’s Chosen People” will too), Because The Devil is “God”‘s Enemy, and thus Of Course Naturally Punishes “God”‘s other Enemies, The Sinners, the stupid, confused people that “God” made, and so the Devil gets to come to Planet Earth for Seven Years because “God” lets him, to do bad things to people, the people that “God” made, and to make them EVEN MORE CONFUSED and stupid and dumb than they already are, and to make Life a lot harder than it already is (as if it wasn’t hard enough), “God” sends The Devil to Earth for seven years to cause wars, disease, famines, madness, murder, World Government, confusion, and economic collapse, and to do a whole lot of other bad things to the people that “God” made, and then when “God”‘s Enemy, The Devil, is done doing “God”‘s Work by Tormenting Sinners On Earth, then “God” lets Jesus “Come Back” to Planet Earth, only a few thousand years after His last trip to Earth, (back when “God” had Him Killed, remember, because “God” needs Innocent Blood so bad, to pay the Blood Ransom to The Devil, His Enemy….or does the Blood get paid to “God”?) So, Jesus comes back to Earth, along with “God”, and a Big Army of Angels, and they are REALLY REALLY MAD at all the stupid, confused people that “God” made, (or at least “God” is, because Jesus (who is also part of “God”) Loves Everybody, even those that He sends to Hell forever to be tortured by His Enemy The Devil), and so they REALLY KICK THE CRAP out of Planet Earth, and they Beat Up their Enemy The Devil, who is also"God”‘s First, Best, Favourite, Most Beautiful Angel that He made, and send him back to Hell, from which they had let him loose seven years before, and to REALLY PUNISH EVERYONE, all the REALLY STUPID, CONFUSED, IGNORANT, IMPERFECT PEOPLE that “God” made, because they are related to Adam and Eve, and are thus Sinful, and because they did not “Believe The Whole Story”, and are thus Sinful, because they are Imperfect, the way “God” made them, THEN “God” destroys Planet Earth and sends everyone left on Earth to HELL FOREVER, along with “God’s Chosen People”, who did not “Believe The Whole Story”, to be tortured Eternally by “God”‘s Enemy, The Devil, Who Hates “God” and Always Works Against Him, but who of course also naturally works FOR “God” by tormenting Sinners forever, punishing them because “God” wants them to be punished, because they were stupid, and confused, and imperfect, because they are Related to Adam and Eve, just like He made them, because He is Perfect, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Omnicient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent, throughout all Space and Time, and because He Loves Everyone So Much… and if you don’t “Believe” ALL THAT STUFF, EVERY WORD OF IT, then “God” is gonna send you to Hell Forever and Ever and Ever, Amen.
The End.

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By Derek Meek, December 9, 2005 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
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Other sane people DO exist. YAY!

I teach you, the overman, man is something to be overcome.  - Friedrich Nietzsche

You Who hate the Jews so much, why do you adopt their religion? - FN

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By Martin J Burn, December 9, 2005 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment
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Nice article. I found the URL on the (British) National Secular Society website:

I for one am amazed that otherwise (and seemingly) normal people still believe in talking donkeys, a global flood, cockatrices, unicorns, zombies, dragons, ghosts, six-winged angels, a walking talking snake, demons, devils, sea monsters, satyrs, witches, human-headed six-winged beasts and magical fruit—all of which are contained within their ‘holy’ book. Now is the time to proclaim we live in the 21st century, and not the 21st year.

Just think… without religion and its regressive dogma we, as a species, would be flying amongst the stars. Not flying planes into skyscrapers.

M J Burn

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By Keith Matthews, December 9, 2005 at 11:42 am Link to this comment
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This is one of the best dissections of the neurosis we call religion I have ever read. Utterly devastating to anyone with a mind not corrupted by the irrational dogma of “faith”. The author deserves wider recognition for the lucitidy of thought and clarity of language shown here. Wonderful!

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By Dan Lewis, December 9, 2005 at 11:37 am Link to this comment
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I didn’t read all 170 comments yet, more like half.

Doug Tarnopol said it best, so let me quote him:

“I look forward to a positive argument for a secular basis for morality, in order to undermine the oft-repeated fundy charge that atheists are moral wolves, and a strong statement of tolerance. One can’t expect tolerance if one is not prepared to give it.”

Let me add that Doug is right elsewhere as he says that Harris’s argument is too sure of itself, just as dogmatic as the fundamentalists in the opposite direction. The problem with this argument is not statistics or bullet points or cleverly-turned phrases; it has plenty of all of them. The problem is that the article has no sympathy with those it polemicizes against.

I don’t think that the discourse on religion around the world has lowered to the point that our only remaining option is to start a shouting match, breaking through the crusted-over ears of half-asleep, unreasoning fools. At least, that is not how I tend to talk about religion.

Think for a second about the last time someone shouted at you to convince you of something.

Didn’t work, did it? The way I change my mind when I am shouting, someone speaks to me quietly, takes my elbow and gently leads me out of my error. They appeal to my integrity, not my sense of being correct. They talk about the things that matter to me most. They are willing to admit that their case is full of uncertainties, loopholes, and contradictions. They see things from my point of view. They are, in a word, sympathetic, even if they don’t agree with me.

“I should think that in country that is mostly religious and not likely to change any time soon, but which has immediate political need for a new progressive majority, which will necessarily need relgious folks, as the civil rights movement did, I can see no point in alienating the very allies who are like-minded in every respect but the metaphysical.”

I’m a Protestant and a progressive. So what does this article have to say to me? Even if every word is true, they are dead words to me.

I’ll recommend The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology in a Culture of Pluralism by David Tracy. It is a paean to finding the truth in any religious expression, finding points of contact that connect us even as we insist on the differences between our religion and another’s.

If you loved Harris’s essay, be sure to go to There are plenty more just like it.

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By Jeff Friedman, December 9, 2005 at 10:57 am Link to this comment
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Thank God I’m an Atheist!!!

I think I’m going with Spaghetti Monsterism. I’ve been touched by his noodly appendage… Heaven is a sripper fatory with beer volcanos…

Great article…

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By Andrew Kole, December 9, 2005 at 10:50 am Link to this comment
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Mr. Wernig makes the point that anti-sematism, from which I assume he means anti-judaism (as not all semitic peoples are jews) is not a german invention.  In addition, while on the hole, I agree with Mr. Harris’ assertions,i notice an air of “political correctness” within each of their statements. 

It is correct to point to christian and muslim fundamentalism and their inherent problems.  It is also patently wrong to omit judaic fundamentalism from this list. 

Is not the capricious and self-serving god of the old testament the same god in the torah?  Did not the jews “inherit” their land after , according to tradition, the destruction of its previous inhabitants?  Is not the jewish terrorism that eventually caused the british to leave the middle east on par with the palestinian terrorism of today?  What ever happened to the other victims of “The Holocaust” as homosexuals, dissidents, and the infirm seem to have been lost through time.

It is right to address grievances toward one’s people.  Alternatively, hypocrisy is not a boon to which anyone is entitled.

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By Bryson Brown, December 9, 2005 at 10:46 am Link to this comment
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This is a nice piece—anger and all.  Religious faith is the ultimate intellectual shortcut—it provides certainty without evidence, self-righteousness without conscience or reflection, and authority without knowledge or understanding.  We’d be a lot better off without it. 

One source of resistance to this lesson is that we also use the word ‘faith’ in other, more credible ways:  I have faith in my friends and family, that is, I trust them to help me, to treat me well, and so on.  And this faith makes an important contribution of my quality of life.  But it’s not based on ‘faith’ in the religious sense.  I have real evidence for my faith, in the concern and care my friends and family have shown me in the past.  So it’s not at all like having faith in an invisible sky fairy who will put everything in your life to rights.  But the superficial parallel confuses all too many…

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By Thomas R Ellis, December 9, 2005 at 10:31 am Link to this comment
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Many of the people who have put comments here have denigrated faith - to one degree or another - as being inferior to reason.  And have characterized belief in God as irrational, while claiming that atheism has a distinctly rational basis.

Religious belief, it seems to me, is non-rational rather than irrational.  It says that simply because we can’t prove, or otherwise know, something with certainty, doesn’t mean that it can’t be true (I’m excluding fundamentalists here).

Atheists, meanwhile, don’t seem to see that they are placing a lot of faith in the idea of rationalism.  Godel’s Theorem is not necessarily limited to mathematics: all belief systems are based on at least one unproveable assumption.

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By Anthony Cerminaro, December 9, 2005 at 10:28 am Link to this comment
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Yes, Sam – There is a God

You are wrong. You have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. You do not believe unless you see. You think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by your mind. All minds, Sam, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Sam, there is a God. God exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no God! It would be as dreary as if there were no Sams. There would be no childlike faith, then, and no poetry, no romance, to make tolerable this existence. We would have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in God! You might as well not believe in Santa Claus! You might hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. Nobody sees God, but that is no sign that there is no God. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it real? Ah, Sam, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No God! Thank goodness God lives, and God lives forever. A thousand years from now, Sam, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the hearts of men, women and children.

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By Michael Scott, December 9, 2005 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
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Well worded, well thought out essay.  Thank you for expressing so eloquently exactly what I feel and have a hard time putting into words.  Got the link to your blog from Randi, who is also an island of rationality in a sea of archaeic belief.  On behalf of all thinking Canadians, thank you!

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By Ken, December 9, 2005 at 9:58 am Link to this comment
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I agree with Sam.  And I’d like to counter a common thread that tends to run through some of the (mainly theistic) comments.  While it might on the face of seem unjustified to counter religious belief simply because ‘that’s what people believe’ or ‘that’s how they cope with life’, there’s only one problem…THEY INSIST ON IMPOSING THAT ON EVERYONE ELSE!!!  The vatican has used its position at the UN to impede proper sex and health education in Africa (so has your current administration) which, thankfully, we in Europe have recently decided to break with and endorse the use of barrier contraception in the fight against AIDS. 

Non-believers have been cornered…we’ve no choice but to throw down the gauntlet on the question of transcendence.  We have to challenge this nonsense, not for the sake of it, but because we’re trying to wrest our world back from those who believe in eschatological nonsense, not to mention particular views on how a moral life should be led.

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By Rod Rees, December 9, 2005 at 9:53 am Link to this comment
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Attwood (#19) says:
“How are you dogmatic atheists any different from your religious competition?  [1] It’s just Pepsi and Coke, isn’t it?

And that brings me to my next point, which is that….‘atheists’ are generally passionate devotees of their gods - their own [2] reason, their [3] pseudo-scientific theories….”

[1] Excuse me, but the difference between atheism and religion is rather blatantly obvious: Atheism demands evidence whereas religion demands faith.  What could be simpler?  How, in your quest for truth, could you miss such an obvious difference?  Surely you don’t rely on faith when crossing a busy intersection, so why make decisions about the existence of supernatural entities without reference to evidence.

[2] True, as an atheist I am a “passionate devotee of reason.”  How else am I to differentiate between fact and fiction, if not through reason?  Should I rely on divine revelation, or maybe crystal gazing, to perceive the state of the world?  Aren’t you, yourself, attempting to use reason in making your arguments, albeit in a rather limited fashion?

[3] Finally, what do you mean by “pseudo-scientific theories?”  Could you be referring to the pseudo-scientific theory of Intelligent Design?  Or the pseudo-scientific attempts to prove, through divine revelation, that gods exist?  I’ve never heard of an atheist who is a devotee of such pseudo-science.  I’ll take real science over pseudo-science any day!

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By David Ross, December 9, 2005 at 9:36 am Link to this comment
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As Shakespeare wrote, “When valor preys on reason, it eats the sword it fights with.”

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By, December 9, 2005 at 9:22 am Link to this comment
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A response to Open Jabber, who said “Have you found the body, Sam?”  All we know about Jesus’s supposed crucifixion, death and resurrection comes from the New Testment - NOT some contemporary Herodotus.  My husband swore that Horatio Hornblower was a real person because he read a biography of Hornblower as well as all the Hornblower books.  It took me several hours of searching and downloading info from the web to convince him otherwise.  If the Bible is basically fiction,the fact that no body was produced is utterly beside the point.

I was a life-long Catholic and until I was 20, wanted to be a nun. While my aspirations to the convent eventually died out, I continued as a believer although I differed with the Church on birth control, abortion and other issues.  When I read Sam’s book, it was as if the scales fell away from my eyes.  For the first time, I carefully scrutinized what I thought I really believed and SURPRISE - I didn’t really believe it.  It was like “the Emperor’s new clothes.”  All my life I had been taught that there was a god, that Jesus was his son and also God.  I think that the better word is “accepted.”  I accepted this information rather than believed it.  When I read Sam’s book, I had to ask myself if all that I had been taught was factually correct. 

I am a lawyer and facts have special meaning for me.  The FACT is that there is absolutely no empirical evidence that there is a god.  Why on earth would I believe something for which there is not one shred of evidence.  Sam forced me to confront the true facts and I now no longer believe or accept.

I DO believe that people can be good, ethical, moral and altruistic without believing in god.  You can have a meaningful life and find purpose in living without religion so the argument that people need religion to find meaning just doesn’t hold up.

I am perfectly content and at peace with my decision to reject theological fantasies and ancient superstitions.  I thank Sam for freeing me from their shackles.

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By Frank Prinzel, December 9, 2005 at 9:10 am Link to this comment
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An individuals concept of God and His/Her relationship to humanity is a reflection of ones own desire and nothing more.

There is no “proof” to this or that. It is determined by your inner self, your persona and the results of the pleasures, pains, injuries, sufferings and joys you have experienced.

Religion is a Roarsach test of sorts. Hence, the hideous state of its history.

Personally, I do not see God as my nursemaid and I believe the existance of such a being or beings is no more provable as that there isn’t.

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By comandante agi, December 9, 2005 at 9:02 am Link to this comment
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Thank you Mr. Harris for this insightful and hard-hitting article. You have plainly stated what many people believe, but have been afraid to say previously.

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By Amy, December 9, 2005 at 8:57 am Link to this comment
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In #128, David Steer asks “...if God doesn’t exist why spend so much effort denying his/her existence?”  Well, in the first place, David, most atheists don’t deny God’s existence.  We see the hypothesis of God’s existence as very unlikely to be true, not supported by the weight of the evidence, and the result of irrational thinking.  We are people WITHOUT a belief in God.  So, your question could be better formulated as “Why do you atheists spend so much effort saying that belief in God is not justified by the evidence?”  Well, let me count the ways.  1) Because the effort of those professing the belief in God is about 20X greater and needs to be counterbalanced.  2) Because belief in God is intellectually dishonest, and thus unethical.  3) Because belief in God contributes to a Culture of Irrationality.  4) Because many people who believe in God treat certain minorities badly (gays and lesbians, atheists, agnostics).  5) Because belief in God is the starting point for violence for those who feel obliged to enforce God’s will on Earth.  6) Because belief in God is the starting point for many obstacles to progress, e.g. stem cell research.  Those are just a few of the reasons why we spend so much effort on it.  It’s a dirty job, but somebody has got to do it.  Amy

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By Paul Gretschel, December 9, 2005 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris has an eloquent, courageous way of explaining an unpopular belief shared by many of us. I applaud him.

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By Dan, December 9, 2005 at 7:41 am Link to this comment
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Another guy recycling all the same garbage, then acting as if it’s new. Not really as smart as he thinks he is. Actually, little more than plagiarism.

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By John C. Randolph, December 9, 2005 at 7:35 am Link to this comment
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This essay goes in the bookmarks.  I’d place it very close to Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth.


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By Anthony Cerminaro, December 9, 2005 at 7:25 am Link to this comment
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Reason leads me to a belief in God, not away from it. My reasoning is simple. Love exists. God is Love. Therefore, God exists.

Mr. Harris’ beef is with organized religions and particularly with “literalists” or fundamentalists who are politically active. He ignores entirely the good, beauty and complexities involved in the various beliefs of the world’s great religions and lumps all people of faith together in some sort of whacko category.

C.S. Lewis, a man of deep faith, was no whacko. Nor is Houston Smith, the chronicler of the world’s great religions. I refer the reader to the works of these men for insight into the rationality of religious belief.

Mr. Harris also totally ignores the concept of spirituality. For many, spirituality is not religion, per se, but the active and vital connection to a power outside oneself that unites living beings. For me, this connection is to the spirit of lovingkindness, unconditional love or the Deity who is Love.

Now, you can say that this power does not exist. I say it does and can be tapped into. The question is not, “Who is right?” The question is, why do you care if this is what I believe? Why do you feel the need to try to prove me wrong? Why not just let the people of faith be and find your own path to happiness? 

If atheism is your path to happiness, fine. I am not trying to convince you of anything. I am only trying to explain my beliefs. Take what you need and leave the rest.

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By Ward Roland, December 9, 2005 at 7:23 am Link to this comment
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Those who nerdily insist that atheists shouldn’t be identified in the negative (with a ‘non’ prefix) had better come up with a word that doesn’t derive from the Greek roots for ‘without god.’ Besides at the national alchemists’ convention, people who aren’t alchemists would soon be thinking of THEMSELVES as ‘non-alchemists.’ It’s still a religious world, good or bad. Let’s move on.

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