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Sam Harris Takes On the Muslim Cartoon Controversy and His Critics

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Posted on Feb 3, 2006
Sam Harris
Courtesy of Sam Harris

Sam Harris

By Sam Harris

Update: Sam Harris responds to the Muhammad cartoon controversy.

In recent days, crowds of thousands have gathered throughout the Muslim worldburning European embassies, issuing threats, and even taking hostagesחin protest over 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper.  The problem is not merely that the cartoons were mildly derogatory.  The furor primarily erupted over the fact that the Prophet had been depicted at all. Muslims consider any physical rendering of Muhammad to be an act of idolatry.  And idolatry is punishable by death. Criticism of Muhammad or his teachingwhich was also implicit in the cartoonsחis considered blasphemy.  As luck would have it, blasphemy is also punishable by death.  Pious Muslims, therefore, have two reasons to not accept less than a severing of the heads of those responsible,” as was elucidated by a preacher at the Al Omari mosque in Gaza.

Let us take stock of the moral intuitions now on display in the House of Islam: on Aug. 17, 2005, an Iraqi insurgent helped collect the injured survivors of a car bombing, rushed them to a hospital, and then detonated his own bomb, murdering those who were already mortally wounded as well as the doctors and nurses struggling to save their lives.  Where were the cries of outrage from the Muslim world? Religious sociopaths murder innocents by the hundreds in the capitols of Europe, blow up the offices of the U.N. and the Red Cross, purposefully annihilate crowds of children gathered to collect candy from U.S. soldiers on the streets of Baghdad, kidnap journalists, behead them, and the videos of their butchery become the most popular form of pornography in the Muslim world, and no one utters a word of protest because these atrocities have been perpetrated ӓin defense of Islam. But draw a picture of the Prophet, and pious mobs convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better demonstration of the manner in which religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipses basic, human goodness. This behavior would be impossible without religious belief. It is time we realized that the endgame for civilization is not political correctness.  It is not respect for the abject religious certainties of the mob.  It is reason.


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

1. Just because you havenԒt seen God doesnt mean He doesnҒt exist.  Atheism, therefore, is as much an act of faith as theism is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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By Inbal, July 27, 2006 at 9:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

With all due respect, you’re not a TRUEMUSLIM. True Muslims are people like Prof. Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi and others who are unfortunately silenced and persecuted. Pls. read what he says about true Islam and how it was distorted by politicians of the hizbulla and chamas ilk who seek only power and don’t give a damn for their people.

Religion and belief in God, should be one’s own personal business. As soon as it gets meddled with politics, the result is fundamentalism, tragedy and terrorism as exemplified by the Islamist terrorists.

You’re speaking about the loss of lives of innocent children? And what about the murder of Israeli children? Aren’t they also the creation of God? Why are you so damn biased? Who’s provoked this war anyway? Who’s bombed World Trade Center in 9/11, murdering 3000 innocent people and many more elsewhere with no provocation whatsoever,if not the Islamist fanatic terrorists? No doubt they too called themselves true Muslims.

And b.t.w. haven’t you heard that the hizbulla are hiding behind the civilian population? What do they care about children being killed? The more for them the better. This is how they and chamas promote their evil propaganda. First they dine and then they whine.

Now, for what purpose has the hizbulla built up for 6 years an arsenal of thousands of rockets? Did Israel owe Lebanon even one inch of their soil? Answer: for the only purpose to annihilate Israel and its people. This is what their war monger said over and over again.

Time and time again, Israel has been attacked by its neighbors and countless terrorist acts and each time it’s being frowned upon: “why, you don’t have the right to defend yourself”. Stay put. How would some other sovereign state react if only one rocket fell upon its civilians?

To conclude then: There’s enough soil, water and air for all of us on this tiny blue spot in the universe. The cost of one war, could save whole Africa from poverty and famine. It’s time to come to senses. If not, we’ll destroy each other and our planet for nothing.

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By Mary Wallman, July 26, 2006 at 10:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

TrueMuslim:  are there not ppl who claim to be muslim that would argue that all westerners should be eliminated?  Sure there are.  Not that they represent you…  Well, just the same: “TrueChristian” doesn’t represent ppl that think rationally, does he/she?  TrueChristian seems to espouse the same beliefs as “GoodGermans,” no?  Genocide doesn’t cure any social ills.  Genocide is morally wrong.  That would be like “playing GOD” right?  Another fiction to be sure… 
The book “Don’t think of an Elephant” has some good advice on arguments of Conservatives & Liberals.  It unpacks the religious right’s methods so that they are easily spotted.  I’m sure that this can be applied to radical fundamentalist Islam as well…  Everyone is in for a long, arduous discourse/battle on how we can all live together in peace.  Sam Harris has shot a voice into the darkness of blind faith apparently with hope to start a rational dialogue on how religion works or doesn’t for us.  TrueMuslim, would you not agree that character assassination only adds spark to the ammunitions that lie in wait among ppl who obviously search for the differences instead of the similarities within us all—religion aside?  I believe that’s called TrueHatred.  Forgive them, they know not what they do, and yet they can vote….!

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By TRUEMUSLIM, July 26, 2006 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i just want all ppl to read comment #3946 by TRUECHRISIAN
and tell me…..who is the terrorist?
the iraqi childrens? the lebanese childrens? the palastinians childrens?
or HIM…the one who wrote this comment?
who want the damage to be all over the world
just plz ppl….answer me
      who is the terrorist?
the one who want a nuke to kill a whole country…and its neighbours too…or those poor ppl who did nothing except being an arabic (muslim or christian) citizen

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By Inbal, July 26, 2006 at 7:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For your information,there’s also an excellent book on the Islam problem called; “Londonistan” by Melanie Phillips. See also her eye opening site: http://www.melaniephillips.com

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By corynski, July 19, 2006 at 6:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Think about it…..  Can there be anything more insane and irrational than this:  The three major religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism - all believe in the same God, the God of Abraham.  But this God gave them all different holy books that tell them who to kill, i.e., to kill each other!  Look around you:  Catholics were killing Protestants in Ireland, Muslims and Hindus in India, Muslims and anyone anywhere!

90% of the world’s population believes in some god or goddess, and some superstition passed down from their goat-herding ancestors.  And each one thinks theirs is the only true superstiion.  How long will it take for the humans to become rational?

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By Mary Wallman, July 18, 2006 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would like to know what Sam Harris thinks of these comments, especially the vitrious bile spewing from the “truechristian.”  As Daniel X. O’Neil puts it in his book “Economics,” we have TRUT, 4/5 of the TRUTH…and that’s the trut!

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By Archeon of thrace, July 18, 2006 at 6:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People who believe in God are simply put delusional.  There is no god, we have no souls, there is no after life.  Death is death - the end, finito, finished.

I have not seen one thing, even just a little tiny thing that would point to the existence of a supra-natural world.

Mohammed was a child molester and evil man.  He was not the messenger of God.  You have to be insane to believe in Islam - probably the most backward of the worlds religions.  Though they (the worlds religions) are all without merit or actual purpose and we should all be working very hard for their destruction.

God is an asshole for allowing all the wars, plagues, crime, and death on this planet - and would not deserve our worship if he did exist.  Being a god believer and “loving” him is like being a 6 year old whose father comes in to your bed room each night to fuck you in the ass, and still loving him.

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By dHo, July 17, 2006 at 11:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was an atheist for awhile, getting into arguments all the time with my friends over God.
Then I decided that there could be a God, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Arguing is worthless, I should just avoid it.

Your points have made me realize that it is very important to spread atheist and reason, for our future depends on it!

Keep up the good fight. I believe in you!

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By Kirk Muse, June 13, 2006 at 8:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It seems to me that there are a lot more questions than answers
regarding God/intelligent designer.

If an intelligent designer created the universe, who or what created this intelligent designer? What did this intelligent designer do before
it created the universe? Where did this intelligent designer get the material to create the universe?

Why can the universe not have existed forever if the creator of the universe can exist forever? Could it be that the “Big Bang” was not
really the beginning, but rather just one cycle in a series of endless cycles?

There are about 200 billion stars in our medium-sized Milky Way galaxy, and there are about 400 billion galaxies in the known universe-plus or
minus a few hundred trillion for the part we don’t know.

The earth is like one grain of sand upon all the beaches of the world.

Was the universe created for one of the inhabitants of just one of those grains of sand?

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By muslim, April 25, 2006 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

to the christians and muslims in here….just a small advise…dont try to argue with those ppl….u wont just gain anything but a headache..they r ppl who doesnt and wouldnt ever beleive in our god…the only one..who created this universe and created U….the one who created the sensetive body u live with…...just want from u to think

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By Russell's Tea Pot Gnome Scandal, April 17, 2006 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The burden of proof is greater for the atheist because she must prove there is no invisible God/architect while living in the very house God made - Perhaps the house was a series of cosmological chances - 1 in 10 trillion now that takes an absurd amount of faith to believe such a gnome(general principle of a practical kind)  There is nothing practical about a DNA strand that maps out who you are and perhaps how you will die yet we keep smashing simple proteins together to show how chance is god and we are all a cosmological accident - If you want to live a life without purpose and order when everything around screams purpose, order, design and even the invisible attributes can be known then that’s just plain denial and according to the Bible you will be without excuse.

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By uchiha, March 19, 2006 at 8:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

—This message is to TRUECHRISTIAN—

TrueChristian, you simply can not differentiate between fact and reality, and you use of constant insults makes your points seem less credible all the time.

Its true that not everything has to be tangible to exist, but it must still have some scientific basis, or some PROOF that it exists. You can’t just say “God exists because I beleive he does” - there is no evidence that God existed, exists, or every will exist.

In the case of gravity and electromagnetic waves you used - those have been proven to exist, as they are some of the most fundamental forces in science. Before you use scienfific analogies and comparisons, I suggest LEARNING your science!

and…
“I say the Iraqis are just here to take up space on this planet. They’re not doing anything to benifit us. George Bush is doing a great job where he is. I hope he sends a nuke to Iraq and just wipe that country out of the map. The only thing the Iraqis know how to do is terrorize countries, they’re all terrorists.Ok, I’m going to say it, I think George Bush is good. He’s one of the greatest president ever.. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! he attack Iraq and many Iraqis died.. so what? I hope he bombs Iraq again, I seriously don’t give a crap if the Iraqis die, I hope bush kills them all, bomb the hell out of Iraq.”

What a twisted little freak you are… of all the people, someone who believes in God, despising “God’s creations” thus, what kind of person are you… thats an absolutely disgusting ideology.

It also reflects the kind of person George Bush is - a twisted, demented individual, much like yourself. Unfortunately, the States seems to be overrun with similar people, to vote him in to office and all

TrueChristian, I don’t know what religion you are preaching, but I hope its not Christianity. Not even Christianity could be that hopeless.

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By Gerhard Gehrmann, March 9, 2006 at 7:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The existence of god, is not a fact, it is an article of faith.  This is why it becomes so difficult to debate the existence or not is so difficult, because the debaters are not speaking the same language.  Faith means to believe in the absence of proof.  Theological systems cannot be proven or disproven, they can only be accepted or not.  This is fine. I accept that it is every persons right to believe and worship as they wish or need.  The trouble begins when you want me to believe as you do, and would force your system on me.

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By unbeliever, March 8, 2006 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To the true christian(this is how you spell it by the way).

  You must be stupidest and most twisted person ive looked at on the internet.We are born,we live a great life, as we know at the end of life,that is it.THE END.Your idioligy seems to say,if your life was not to good,dont worry,theres heaven.If you dont believe in another life,then surely you will make this, one and only life as good as possible for yourself.
  I DO.
  Now go and get yourself a life.(Its good)

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By Eddy1701, March 6, 2006 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

>>Oh, please. “Trans-rational”? What is that some New Age recasting of irrational? If something is not rational, it’s irrational by definition. Give us a break.

This may sound blasphemous (which is part of the problem), but reason alone cannot tell us everything we need to know. Indeed, that is why religion exists in the first place, to give easy answers to questions that cannot be answered rationality.

Still, a very nice essay.

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By corynski, March 4, 2006 at 7:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nonsense Milton.  You can’t tell the difference between myth and reality.  But you’re right, it wasn’t just genocide your benevolent ‘god’ was perpetrating, it was ECOCIDE, killing the plants, trees, old disabled women and infants, blind beggars, everyone and everything.  You’re part of the problem.

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By corynski, March 4, 2006 at 7:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

TrueChristian, you’re wrong too.  Science requires evidence for something to exist.  You can believe in Pink Elephants if you want but don’t push your idiocy on rational people.  If you don’t pray in school, I won’t think in church.

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By corynski, March 4, 2006 at 7:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wrong again, Joe.  Stalin was raised in a religious home and went to the theological seminary.  He used atheism to eliminate any church opposition to his rule.  You think atheists admire someone who killed millions of people?  Then why are the jails filled with Christians, not atheists.  Ditto Pol Pot, learned Buddhism, then went to a Catholic school.  Hitler and his bunch were all raised in religious homes and believed in God.  And Hitler got the Catholic Church to let all his Christian soldiers kill Jews and Commies.  Read your history.

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By Joe Keysor, February 27, 2006 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In exactly the same way that you link people who believe in God to Hitler, I link you to Stalin. Atheists have a dangerous potential for fanaticism!!! They are epistemologically arrogant, believe they have the only real truth, and can slaughter anyone who opposes them with a clear conscience because they have no conscience. Watch pout, the left-wing secular anti religious fanatics are trying to set up a narrow minded and intolerant left-wing police state where people who believe in God are sent to concentration camps!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You are digging for the truth in the dirt - you will never find it there.

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By TRUECHRISIAN, February 26, 2006 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Self proclaimed atheists make me sick, atheists cannot exist in the
United States of America, it is impossible.


They don’t seem to comprehend that by simply saying that there is no
God, proves that in their minds, He does in fact exist. Something does
not have to be tangible for it to exist. If I were to create something
to not believe in, and tell myself enough times, and enough people, I
can “not believe” something into existence. So I don’t believe in
“Snarfgobolus” if I tell enough people that I don’t believe in it I
will eventually have to explain what it is I don’t believe, and then it
WILL exist, if only in theory.


Saying that God doesn’t exist is just plain ignorant, as I said before,
something does not have to be tangible to exist. Gravity DOES exist, we
all have to admit that, but it is not tangible. “But Biph, I’m an
atheist, and gravity is tangible, we can see its effect on the physical
world!” True dat. But you can also see God’s effect on the physical
world, because it exists. “Well, I can feel gravity.” Well, I can
feel God. Sharks can feel tiny electrical fields, since you can’t do
they not exist? Just because you can’t feel something does not mean
that it isn’t there, stop being a dumbass.


Just because you don’t have faith, does not mean that that which you do
not have faith in does not exist. There are millions of people who know
what a Jedi is, so they exist, even if only in our minds. The same can
be said of God. Just because you may have never seen a Star Wars movie,
that does not mean that Jedi have never been, stop being such a fool!
There are so many things in the world that I have never experienced or
felt or seen or heard, but I don’t simply dismiss them, as though my
pathetic opinion matters, into oblivion (well, that’s what I would be
thinking, if I were as pea-brained as all atheists).


The fact remains that God does exist, whether or not you believe in Him
(and the only way to not believe in Him, is to never have had the
thought of a Divine Being cross your mind or brought to your attention,
denial is an acceptance of His Existence). When an atheist tells me
that they are an atheist, I tell them that their lack of faith is
disturbing, and leave it at that, because I don’t have the time to
explain to them the difference.


Atheists, I have a question for you, if there is no God, what is the
point of trying to live a decent and moral life? It seems pointless if
after we die, there’s no hope for us.

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By Milton Mori, February 26, 2006 at 10:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam, with all due respect, either you are the biggest lunatic, or just plain wrong!  First, you say,“Human sacrifice, genocide, slaveholding, and misogyny are consistently celebrated.“I don’t know anywhere in the bible where any of these things are celebrated.  The only exception is Abraham.  However, that wasn’t a sacrifice, but a test of God’s love.  Something which he set up in the beginning.  Moreover, Genocide, this objection becomes more laughable every time I hear it.  It wasn’t a genocide!  Most scriptures continue to emphasize that it was an expulsion of the people from the land.  Now, who were these people that the israelites were commanded to expel/destroy.  They were the dreaded Canaanites.  God gave them 500 years to repent.  However, they continued to do nasty things.  Things that you, the all- reasonable atheist, complains about.  These people were into child sacrifice by fire, incest, bestiality, cultic prostitution and many forms of sadism.  Now, ask yourself this, if your against all these horrid superstitions, how much more is God against these damnable actions.  Why would you blame God for taking corrective action against a cancer that grew worse day by day. 

Your other accusations of slave-holding and misogyny are totally off the mark.  I really don’t feel like answering all your objections, because you probably wouldn’t understand anyways.  It’s people like you that further estrange me from atheism, because it can become as irrational and intolerant as any other faith.  Your arguments are nothing more than arguments-from-outrage.  You have more bark than an actual bite.  To this, your a waste of time.  But good job in mustering an atheist alliance in your book—one that supports intolerance and potential hatred for religious people.  Of course, I thought this was something you argue against in the first place.

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By ramesh patil, February 21, 2006 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
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good site.

religion especially judeo christianity islam is a disease and truth is the only cure.

even is a god existsdefinately he cant be as hateful,and bad as the judeo christian islamic deity : jehova/jesus/allah.

just imagine,they will put u in hell forever
simply bcoz u dont believe in him till he shows himself to u,and at the same time,he did not even reveal himself personally to his so called lst prophet MU_HAM_MAD.

even in the acse of abraham,moses,jesus,etc,they were just mentally unstable people,who heard
voices in thier heads and saw things due to desert heat or something and claim it is their deity or whatever.

actually i can write a better book than torah/bible/koran,and can write that my god
is better more loving benovelent etc.

the need of the hour is so save mankind from extremism or else NUKE WORLD WAR 3 is oming to destroy mankind.

and all bcoz of some lunatic arab semitic fools in the desert got crazy ideas when grazing
goats and sheep.

if u think i am anti semitic,well,blame it on the jews,bcoz they started the ” i am special bcoz my god is better than yr’s ” stupidity.

no one is special,and no one is superior.

we r just parts of nature passing or time on a small insignificant planet,till we die.

and there is no heaven or hell,and if the so called soul exists,then it will be recycled again,just as everyting in nature is.

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By Mary Wallman, February 19, 2006 at 11:22 pm Link to this comment
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Sam Harris’ discussion regarding his book “The End of Faith…”  just aired on CSPAN and completely freed me of my regious moderate"ism!”  This is, I believe, the last “ism” to wrested from my born-into-dogma-slavery-mind.  At last, someone has spoken intelligently, factually, compassionately, and patiently to the question of agnoticism and religious fundamentalism.  Thank you, Sir.  I just purchased your book online!

To say that we stop at a stop sign only because we don’t want to pay a fine (as one commented above) is erroneous in that it neglects the truth of our own fear of pain and suffering/death and fear of inflicting pain & suffering/death on another.  When one moves into the idea that there are no rewards/penalties other than the contribution that you make—your only legacy (which is ephemeral), I believe here is where a true “conscience” is derived.  Sure, we can talk about ego and its place in that argument.  The Buddhists’ have it distilled to the idea of the power of compassion.  This is definitely light years away (as Mr. Harris put it in his lecture) from believing in an imaginary friend who will reward and penalize you according to a list of rules derived from primitive times.

To say that George W. Bush has a direct line with said imaginary friend and therefore said imaginary friend put him in office (also claimed in others’ comments) is to say that our electoral process is the fiction, and therefore, why should we vote at all.  This is exactly the kind of thinking that the founding fathers guarded us against in our constitution.  It’s called separation of church and state.  Here again, religious zealots have erroneous logic supporting psychosis: a severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning.  Hitler ruled over millions, too.  Did God put HIM in power?  I think not.  Just as the “Good Germans” allowed him to push the boundaries of humanity, “Good Christians” have voted Bush into office.  We must not go quietly in the night “because the Bible says so.”  Sam Harris has put into words the many reasons and explanations against promoting the same flawed systems that come from religious ideas that have been the cornerstone of thought, propelling individuals into all manner of insanity.

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By Rob, February 19, 2006 at 2:57 pm Link to this comment
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A good article, Especially because the typical responses of the religious readers like Naqi Khan and TRUECHRISTIAN just makes the article more and more important and true.
 
Where the atheist does not condemn religious people, the typical religious person can’t even resist starting the propaganda here. And the preparedness to compromise and act reasonably are only the first two things that we do not find at the core of any religion based on the existence of a god.

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By Vikas Kaul, February 18, 2006 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
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Sam,

I support your arguments vehemently. And Bertrand Russel’s argument seems infallible! However, what is it about Yoga/meditation that is not in hard rock? It’s hard to reconcile with “belief only” argument. Why does meditation make one feel better than going into trance while listening to “trance”? Meditation leads to higher levels of concentration, an effect observed in people who do drugs (not overdosage).

And how do some people make predictions, however significant or insignificant. This is not hear-say; it’s my own first hand experience and I have substantial proof. Time-travel is only “seen” in Feynman diagrams as far as I know.

National Security Agency has and, I guess, still does hire people who can “see” sensitive sights thousands of miles away. Since you are doing your research in neuroscience and belief, may be you might want to explore this area a little.

My personal experience: I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, I call my family only to realize something has gone wrong half the world away. It hasn’t happened once or twice. Coincidences can’t happen regularly, can they? How can I explain it to myself?

Not having a perfect rational answer to these questions doesn’t mean I can assume there is a super-being, however. But I guess “believers” attribute the answers of such questions to God.

By the way, you should have written a little about freedom of expression vs. cartoon publishing too. Why didn’t a single newspaper in the USA publish those cartoons? I wouldn’t count White House’s phone call out. Cuz the probability of not even a single newspaper publishing those cartoons in the USA is very small! So, why blame Google/Yahoo!/MSN for customizing search results in China? Even if we assume the “phone call” didn’t happen, then either all those chief editors etc. are scared to death or they are infact self-censoring themselves which again has the roots in the fear of Islamic fundamentalism.

M. F. Hussain, an artist in India, has painted Hindu Gods and Goddesses having sex with animals etc. A google search would easily let you know that he has never been given a “fatwa” by any Hindu organization.

Finally, if I may suggest, please read Lokayata or Carvaka school of Indian thought. You would love it, I bet.

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By Lonnie Malcomb, February 18, 2006 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
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Hi,
  I was searching for info on the Koran when I bumped into this web site. Interesting place.
  It is soooo wonderful to be a part of this great country (America). A place with absolute unparalleled freedom.
  In Saudi Arabia, if I heard correct, you are required by law to be a Muslim.
    I am so thankful for my freedom to choose. And with my freedom, I choose to believe in God and be a Christian.
  Whether there “is” a God, is not something that you set out to “prove”. “Seeing the light”, as we often refer to it in Christendom, is not something that happens at the end of a long debate over the existence of God. Where brilliant minds present overwhelming evidence to support “their” theory.
  It is a “spiritual” happening that I know about from experience.
  I recall clearly, when I was in my late teens (I’m 51 now), debating the existence of God. I was quite a skeptic myself. I just couldn’t “see” there being a God. You could not present enough “evidence” to persuade me.
  But one day while I was lying on the top bunk in a jail cell thinking (for five days), I said something I’d never said before. I said, “God, if you’re real, get me out of this mess.”
  Well, I was facing grand larceny charges, and the charges were dropped.
  And for the next few weeks, something inexplicable happened to me. I went from an absolute blindness of skepticism, where no amount of evidence could change my mind, to “seeing the light.”
  There was no “evidence” of any kind involved. It was a spiritual awakening.
  And now I can see billions of pieces of evidence that prove overwhelmingly that there is a God.
  In fact, it’s down right “impossible” for there “not” to be a God.
  Now, if it turns out that I’m wrong, I haven’t missed a thing.
  But what if you skeptics are wrong, and you die, and find out it’s not the end, and that there “is” a God.
  Before that happens, perhaps you should ask God, if He is real, to reveal Himself to you.
              God bless you,
              Lonnie Malcomb
          .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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By TRUECHRISIAN, February 17, 2006 at 3:55 am Link to this comment
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I don’t see what George Bush has done wrong, he’s destroying a bunch of people who shouldn’t be in the 1st place. I say the Iraqis are just here to take up space on this planet. They’re not doing anything to benifit us. George Bush is doing a great job where he is. I hope he sends a nuke to Iraq and just wipe that country out of the map. The only thing the Iraqis know how to do is terrorize countries, they’re all terrorists.Ok, I’m going to say it, I think George Bush is good. He’s one of the greatest president ever.. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! he attack Iraq and many Iraqis died.. so what? I hope he bombs Iraq again, I seriously don’t give a crap if the Iraqis die, I hope bush kills them all, bomb the hell out of Iraq. serioulsy I think the Iraqis are nothing but terrorist and George Bush is doing the world a favour by bombing them and killing them.  they just like to bomb the hell out of each other, so the Americans attacking Iraq doesn’t really make that much of a difference, they’re just speeding up the process. So I solute George Bush I say, those Iraqis are bombing each other anyways, because they’re a bunch of no good 3rd world terrorist and all Iraqis are like that. Yeah, I’ve heard it all, I’m racist, whatever, but think about it, all the terrorism that occured, most of them are from the middle east in some stupid 3rd world country, and I’ll let you know that I will never have any respect for an Iraqi because they’re all no good terrorists.

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By ricman, February 15, 2006 at 3:27 am Link to this comment
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I was about 5 minutes away from been baptized when it dawn on me that I was doing this out of fear. It has been 20 years since I have visited church outside of weddings christening and funerals.
While I do not agree with the Muslims actions I understand their anger. I would be fun to compare the actions of the Christian world if the Muslims should print cartoons of Jesus or the pope involve in some sexual acts with a couple of nuns or boys or the disciples.
I am afraid of religion as it is fueled by fear and the leaders are driven by greed. However I respect that fact that people will believe in anything and we cannot change that.

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By R. A. Earl, February 14, 2006 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment
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In #3453, TRUECHRISTIAN sure makes an ass of himself/herself.

I know many Christians who say they are ashamed and embarrassed by such fanatics and lunatics.

I know I am disturbed by such a posting but not for any religious reasons… I feel a lot of pain for TRUECHRISTIAN… the poor fellow/gal is either putting us on or is seriously mentally ill and should seek immediate medical assistance.

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By R. A. Earl, February 14, 2006 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment
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Naqi Khan, #3570, wrote:

“We are totally against by the publication of those cartoons. Danish authorities must accept the mistake and apology for there acts.

“I STRONGLY against to the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish Newspaper. And i would like to talk with those peoples and i m sure i would be able to explain them. They must respect the religion and there is no use of hurting someones emotions & religion.

“Please stop all these propogandas and all these nosense.”

Well, Naqi… we’re waiting to hear your explanation and, I assume, justification, to support the notion that it’s quite OK for hundreds of thousands of Muslims the world over to terrorize others and destroy property.

I think I understand that Muslims believe that their Prophet actually exists in images. While I think that is complete nonsense, I have to admit that some forms of Christianity present similar silliness to try to get “followers” to believe that when they hear the bell ring, “God/Christ” is ACTUALLY there, in the building, and the “wine” is ACTUALLY Christ’s blood, and the “wafer” is ACTUALLY Christ’s body and therefore these things are SACRED. Clearly, to any rational thinker, this stuff is preposterous, but… that’s religion for you.

But NONE of this can justify the violence and immature, irrational behavior now being demonstrated by Muslims the world over. There’s something mentally deranged about any group that advocates the beheading of someone because they take offense at a cartoon in a newspaper. People who have this little control over their emotions are not competent to participate in society unsupervised.

Naqi… you have been duped by your religion into believing things that simply aren’t so. You have every right to believe whatever you want… BUT… you have NO RIGHT to threaten, destroy and/or do violence to others or their property. If your religion condones CRIMINAL ACTS, then it too should be outlawed in civilized society.

You’re dreaming if you think your religion (or any religion) has a RIGHT to respect. Respect is something you EARN by demonstrating you deserve it.

I’m sure I’ve hurt your feelings again because I have not caved in to your demands. I hope someday you’ll mature enough to understand that whatever you FEEL is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, no one else’s. YOU and you alone are fully responsible for your ACTIONS as well. Emotionally mature people understand and accept this as fundamental to adulthood.

Good luck!

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By Rick, February 14, 2006 at 10:14 am Link to this comment
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Hmmmm, mansions with streets of gold or dozens of “virgins” in a land flowing with milk and honey. Which paradise is one to choose? They both sound so fabulous!

I got it! Which one comes with a Lexus V8 with leather interior, BOSE speaker system and GPS navigation that can drive along streets without traffic or those pesky red lights and speed limits. An angel (my personal valet) rolls it up as I come down from my lofty penthouse suite in the Golden City. I can then drive to the airport, meet my entourage and fly off to wherever on a supersonic jet. All I have to do to acquire heaven is to keep my bank account in order, my stock portfolio up to date, my lawn mowed and hedges trimmed..oh and it wouldn’t hurt to keep the pool sparkling blue.

Sound ridiculous? Well, now you get a smidge of the idiocy a rational freethinker experiences every day with the religious quests for, insistence on and descriptions of “heaven”.

Now if there were rivers flowing with dark chocolate, then we’d be talking…

You see, your eternity, Islam or Xtian, is all about material comfort, pleasure and security. That can’t be any further from what life (in the bigger cosmic picture, not the nanosecond of time your “life” takes up down here) is about. It’s not about having, it’s about discovering. It’s not about reward and punishment, it’s about results and consequences. Life desires to “be”. Life acquires experience, not possessions.

Oh, and while we’re at it “Love means never having to say you’re sorry…” Blink, blink.

What’s up Doc?

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By Rick, February 13, 2006 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment
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Harry, You stopped believing in God at age 9, eh? (About the same as your average kid gives up the skewed logic of Santa Claus). But geez, once again, I’m so the “late bloomer”. grin I agree with you about the nausea that comes on from reading the off-the-scale level of sanctimony that wreaks from some of the posts of these RWNJs (Right-Wing-Nut-Jobs..pronounced ORANGE, as in the color of the jumpsuits of those obliged to pick up roadside litter). I seriously doubt their saved hearts are experiencing the slightest bit of anguish over our mortal souls. More likely, the more intently they vehemently and piously protest, the more the Shakespeare quote “He doth protest too much” comes to mind. Boys and girls, it’s been done.

Same grandstanding approach is used to bash gays, feminists, people of color, you name it. Matter of fact, how frequently they return to their “good book” to justify all manner of bias over the centuries, from heretics to protestant reformists to American slaves and indigenous peoples branded as “savages”, to women who wanted the vote, then control over their bodies to the newest piñata to bash, gays and lesbians.

If I weren’t so concerned about the genuine impeding threat myth-mongers represent to the progress and viability of humanity, I might be able to muster up some sympathy for them. But, by and large, they are either too afraid or too ignorant to let go of their religious security blanket. Besides, there’s no possible dialogue anyway because, well, hell, y’can’t argue with “faith” can you?

I agree with Sam, the moderates are buffering apologists, merely running interference for the more authentic fundamentalists that pray right beside them. Their zealotry approaches psychotic and their reason (I’m being generous here) defies the simplest logic.

I disagree that one day “we’ll know the truth”. I don’t believe “the truth will set you free”. I believe it is the ongoing pursuit of the wonderful experience of life that carries us along. Mythmongering religionists stand in bold defiance of that natural state of being, branding everything as sinful and thwarting our natural inclinations with the threat of eternal damnation. They hold that the secularists are certainly doomed to burning supernaturally *forever* (nice!) but, if you cut out the ridiculous concoction of that, it’s just kicking dust up in frustration over the frequency jamming their own blind faith is causing to their own mixed-up psyches.

It’s become so tiresome, you wish someone would rapture their whiny asses off the planet.

“...and if you theenk you had a nasty taunting dees time, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”—French Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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By Harry Bathwater, February 13, 2006 at 4:32 pm Link to this comment
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People like TRUECHRISIAN make me feel sick to my stomach. God is simply a swear word!
Nothing more. I stopped believing in god when I turned 9

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By Gerhard Gehrmann, February 12, 2006 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment
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For me the I see religion as a means by which some people (usually men) seek to justify the subjugation of other people (men and women) by claiming divine authority to dominate others.  This is the reason why from the begining so called “Law givers” had to claim inspiration from the gods.  Otherwise why would rational intelligent beings let others dominate them, when it would be so easy to just say: I don’t accept your dominace of me.  But with a divine (all powerful master who can and does withhold salvation/redemption/immortality from non-followers) force as the source, rejecting royal authority means rejecting divine authority and recieving the “promised” punishment.  Usually hell or nonbeing or pain or suffering for you and your decendants.

I would like to know if others here see buddism as a religion?  I understand that some forms of “secular” buddism don’t claim the existance of a supreme being/creator or spirit world etc.

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By naqi khan, February 12, 2006 at 11:55 am Link to this comment
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Hi,

We are totally against by the publication of those cartoons. Danish authorities must accept the mistake and apology for there acts.

I STRONGLY against to the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish Newspaper. And i would like to talk with those peoples and i m sure i would be able to explain them. They must respect the religion and there is no use of hurting someones emotions & religion.

Please stop all these propogandas and all these nosense.

Regards,
Naqi Khan
http://www.musicmaza.com

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By Mik`e, February 11, 2006 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment
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If we truely lived what we say we believe- in terms of our literalistic interpretation of sacred texts-
then we would eventually destroy the human race.
Because we are dimetrically opposed to each other in our beliefs throughout the human race, we will always be tempted to “set the world right”.

The bottom line is that God doesn’t need any “little helpers” and we must all come to terms with our own feelings of insignificance and powerlessness if we are to survive in the modern world.

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By Dianah Rohlf, February 11, 2006 at 10:59 am Link to this comment
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“It is an open question whether any behavior based on fear of eternal punishment can be regarded as ethical or should be regarded as merely coward.”- Margaret Mead
Morals are what we are taught are right.  We stop at a stop sign, because most of us, regardless if we’re in a hurry, don’t want to pay the fine.  We stay faithful to our spouses, show respect to our colleages, and earn our money instead of stealing it, because it’s ethical.

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By I. P. Freely, February 11, 2006 at 8:27 am Link to this comment
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One day everyone will know the truth.  It will than be too late.

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By Peter Rutter, February 11, 2006 at 4:36 am Link to this comment
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Please re-read comment 2959 by Pandaj Seth of 02/03.
There is surely something behind all the religious dogma nonsense put about by the main faiths and I do think it likely (no more than that) tnat Pandaj Seth is right and puts it very well.

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By TRUECHRISIAN, February 10, 2006 at 2:23 am Link to this comment
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think we all know who was responsible for that, the Godless liberals who cannot stand having their immorality shoved back in their ugly face!! The defenders of free thought, the Big Bang theory and evolution, are not only striking out at me, but at all Christians. . Last night, while I was sitting on my front-porch swing, gazing up at Heaven, President Bush appeared to me in a vision. He told me that my work was not yet finished, there were still many liberals who had not yet seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

President Bush would not be in the White House right now if God didn’t want him there. President Bush was put in a position of leadership in order to wipe the devil’s religion of Islam off the face of the Earth, so that the Christian God can fill the world with His message of peace and love. President Bush has stated numerous times that he speakes with God in the Oval Office, he even asked God for military advice before the invasion of Iraq. Modern liberalism is the equivalent of atheism, liberals are in favor of killing babies, raising taxes, teaching evolution, and same sex marriage. Jesus is opposed to all of these horrible things.

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By Cheerful Charlie, February 9, 2006 at 10:24 am Link to this comment
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On proving god cannot exist.  Some here have said one cannot prove god does not exist, it is almost trivial to do so.  There is no evidence for god, only assertions.  God created every thing, god is personal, he has will, he is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient.  But all these claims contradict each other.  If god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why does evil exist, why does he not destroy evil, he cannot or will not.

Theists say free will saves god here, man is
responsible for evil.  But if god is omniscient and
if god creates all, as he creates all he knows what
his creation’s future is. If he knows 13 billion
years from now a man named John Smith exists he also
knows all the acts Smith will do and if he is evil or not.  God must at that point decide, “Do I allow
a Universe to have an evil Smith or not?”. And he
must then act.

Every act everyone will do is decided by god personally and purposefully to the smallest physical extent.  Free will is impossible and does not save god, in fact it makes god a bad idea, all evil is thus god’s doing. Punishment of evil is a farce. Even if you say man had free will that does not help. God does no evil because he has a good nature and is incapable of evil, omnibenevolent.  We do not allow this to count against god having free will. If so, god must likewise give man a god like free will and a god like god nature and evil should not exist.
God is evil if he can do this and does not.

How about logic and the laws and rules of the Universe? Is 2 + 2 = 4 something god does or is it outside god?  If god does it, he can make 2 + 2 = 5. He could make man with free will who freely does only moral good. If he can and does not god is evil.
Not good.  If then we say no, 2 + 2 = 4 is an attribute of the Universe, not god.  It is outside and beyond god.  This implies that god can do nothing about it, he is then, not omnipotent as claimed. And this implies all this is outside and beyond him and not his creation so claims he created all are dead. Oops!  there goes omnipotence and creator of everything claims.


And just what are these laws and rules and logic of the Universe that are beyond god by principle?
The idea of a creator omni-everything god is dead.
As an entire class of gods.

Since as an entire class of gods the idea does not work and is dead, these sorts of gods are dead, god almighty, Jehovah, Allah, Brahaman, whatever creator omni-everything god you can think of.  The entire class is dead as a class of gods, all possible such gods.

So are tertiary claims, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, that ethics are derived from impossible gods.

Are ethics like 2 + 2 = 4, outside god?

So when you take a very close, careful look at the very concept of god, all collapses.
And no other class of god can replace the creator-omni-everything god.  None come close, nature gods, pantheism, nothing.  That all was abandoned centuries ago because it was not workable.  All other classes of possible gods (I count about 20) are so distinctly inferior hardly anybody takes them seriously and they cannot replace the now debunked class of omni everything creator gods.

Smearing yourself with chicken blood and dancing around the voodoo bonfire isn’t theologicaly satisfying.

So we take out morals as an absolute, dependent on god and other conceits. God sure hasn’t worked as a cosmic policeman looking at history and recent riots over cartoons with at least 7 deaths known.

Its time to start admitting this.

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By Richard Dovgin, February 7, 2006 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment
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The Horror! The Horror!

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By Pankaj Seth, February 7, 2006 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment
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The challenge posed by Theism will not be met by “Atheism”.

Those that accept the notion of a reality which is intelligently responsive as a whole, they look for more than determinism and mechanism to frame reality… in the West, these persons often gravitate towards Theism. In India, in addition to Theism there is Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Tantra and Buddha’s teaching.

Those that reject the notion of a reality which is intelligently responsive as a whole, they find mechanism to be an apt description of self and world… for them, Scientific Materialism is enough. For them religion, and particularly Theism is unnecessary. They easily gravitate towards Atheism.

In our era, there is the ascendancy of a mechanistic view of self and world, and that will always be rejected by anyone perceptive enough (whether or not they happen to be Theists) to observe that self and world are something more than a complex machine. “Radical Atheism” is the twin of Scientific Materialism which professes that self and world are ultimately reducible to mathematical laws. And with this, the notion of a reality which is intelligently responsive as a whole is disallowed because mathematical laws imply determinism, imply a dead mechanism.

I have already agreed that dogmatic Theism is as dangerous as Sam Harris states. But if in rejecting Theism there is also the rejection of the notion of an intelligently responsive whole, this is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Theists of course wish to dogmatically assert that any intelligent responsiveness of the whole is due to the divine personage called “God”, and that in principle nothing is predictable because it is all due to “God’s will”. But this is another extreme position; in fact, another form of determinism. Once having committed to a “God in charge” worldview, we must then deal with absurd questions like “Why is God this or that way?”.

So, we are seemingly in a position where we must decide between either Theism or Atheism… ugh. Or seen more deeply, this decision is between a dogmatic Theism which drives us insane in one direction and a dogmatic stance of determinism/mechanism which drives us insane in another direction (as Andrew Nowicki points out in comment 3166). Neither mathematics nor a feudal image of a King and his vassals has enough in it to accurately model the complex, multi-layered reality which we are, and in which we exist.

Atheism can bear sweet fruit in its rightful role as a necessary balance to Theism. Atheism can certainly make dogmatic Theisms sound silly (and rightly so). But beyond the simplistic notions of Theism and Atheism, there is Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Tantra and Buddha’s teaching.

The intuition that the sensible and the thinkable rest on a yet deeper reality can come to fruition through these venerable teachings. Because there is this intuition within the human condition, the search must and does take place. Neither faith nor reason can possibly quench this thirst to know. Neither Theism nor Atheism has enough depth.

So yes, reject Theism… but also Atheism. What’s left? There is Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Tantra and Buddha’s teaching. Neither of these ways are religions in that they are not Theisms and do not require “faith”. And they do all aim at a personal knowledge about self and world which is more far reaching than what any thought structure could contain. There are alternative to Theism… but Atheism really isn’t one of them, even though it at first appears to be.

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By Andrea, February 7, 2006 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment
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It’s worth mentioning here that without powerful authorities using religion for their own benefit, religion is really nowhere and always has been. Christianity came to be what it is because of intelligent rulers who used it as a mind-control tool to shape their societies. The same is true today. I personally don’t think we have a “Christian” administration (any rational person can see that this is just a ruse for political purposes) because Fundamentalist Christians outnumber the rest of us in the U.S. as Harris claims. If that were true, all of American culture would represent it, and it doesn’t.  In fact, Christians rail against modern American culture because it does not represent their views in the least.

I believe we have a Christian administration because many non-Christian liberals simply don’t move their asses enough to impress politicians with real fire-within determination so they simply don’t pander to us - and when that happens, we just skulk off as if already defeated. Fundamentalists never do that - they are tireless in their efforts because they believe in them.

As for other parts of the world, our inability to live and let live is far more responsible for the kind of war we find ourselves in today than anything having to do with religious differences or dogma. Osama Bin Laden wages a war of terrorism on us because of his anger with the American influence on the Middle East. This is not a war about whether the Middle East should be Christian, Jewish, or Islamic. It is a battle over whether independent nations retain sovereignty over their countries and their resources in a world where America meddles in the economies and social climates of every country in the world in order to serve our own interests. These people wage war on us not because they are stupidly following an ancient book. They wage it because we have proven to them that we will take everything we want from them at the expense of their culture, their people, their history, their traditions, and their countries. Religion is a handy battle cry. But modern wars (including the Israeli/Palestinian conflict) are about land, resources, markets, and the right to survival. Religion offers what most people cannot muster without some sort of internal assurance that they are doing the right thing – courage in the face of extraordinary circumstances (something most Americans have no real contact with in our safe and comfortable world where no-one is stronger, richer, or more cruelly ambitious than we are). We are far too eager to add insult to injury, and it that respect we reap what we have sowed.

As for our own country, politicians listen and pander to those who make the most noise - and our socio-political world is thusly shaped. Our noise as liberals is abysmal, and therefore our power is following it down the hole. The new Democratic party is the perfect example of how totally ineffectual we are as a body. We talk a lot, but do very little. We prefer to whine than do the work. We hoard our money and time. We are horrible defenders of our own beliefs – and so we get what we are willing to “pay” for.  We’d rather have fancy computers and lattes than put up the money required to get our points across. My liberal friends are far more materialistic than my Fundamentalist Christian parents. Whose fault is that? I guess we can blame that on Christians, too?

“Talk less, do more.” should be the motto of anyone who wants the world to really change. Standing around calling others stupid really gets us nowhere.

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By Harry Bathwater, February 7, 2006 at 5:15 pm Link to this comment
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A few days ago, on his syndicated talk radio show, Mitch Albom, during a discussion of the “Afterlife” stated that if people didn’t believe in a life after this one there would be chaos and anarchy in the world (I don’t fully remember his words and so I’m paraphrasing).

As an atheist who firmly believes there is no such thing as an afterlife I take exception to that.

I am not running amok, causing chaos and anarchy. I am one of the most moral and principled people I know.
In fact, my morals and principles mean more than those of someone who believes in god because I’m not doing it just to get into heaven. I’m not franticly trying to “curry favour” with some imaginary being who gets to decide if I should burn in hell or not.
I don’t lie, cheat and steal because I don’t want to lie, cheat and steal. Not because I’m scared of some kind of retribution after I die.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not a goody goody who thinks he’s better than everyone else.
I love pervy sex as much as the next man (Just not with the next man)

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By Andrew Nowicki, February 7, 2006 at 2:53 pm Link to this comment
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This is certainly not an academic debate about the virtues
of theism versus atheism. Anyone who has the IQ of 100 can
figure out that all religions are primitive rackets. The
problem is that if you are smart, you realize that atheism
may imply absurdism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism),
despair, and suicide. If you are very smart and you understand
Fermi Paradox, you know that all advanced civilizations commit
suicide because life is not worth living. The ancient Greek
philosopher Hegesias was kicked out of the academia (by king
Ptolemy) because he taught his students that life was not
worth living. I doubt that his message would be more popular
today. We do not want to know the truth when the truth is
infinite horror. Religion and narcotics will always be in
demand because they offer what we crave the most—consolation.

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By Tom Mack, February 7, 2006 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Yeaton,

I would argue that the Current War fits that bill. While it may seem to some to be about religion on the surface, it is really about oil down below.

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By Rich Brooks, February 7, 2006 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment
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As a White Nationalist, I beg to disagree with the comment that most “neo-nazi” groups are Christian oriented.  Outside of fringe “Christian Identity” groups (who promote the bizarre belief that modern Anglo-Saxons, not jews, are the direct descendants of the Israelites of the bible), the vast majority of nationalists are non-believers.  We tend to view Christianity as an Eastern religion grafted onto Western civilization with disastrous results for our people’s survival.

http://www.whitealert.com

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By frank linn, February 7, 2006 at 1:28 pm Link to this comment
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The adage “Those who know the least, speak it the loudest”, is evident here. And they know the least because they read so little, and think even less…or what is read bolsters their own beliefs. How many have actually read and scrutinized the Bible, or the Koran…but more importantly, have read counter views, by the likes of Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersol, Richard Dawkins, Dr. Robert Price, Carl Sagan, or Sam Harris? Isn’t it ironic, that most of the great thinkers, scientist, etc., those who, in spite of the counter efforts of theist, changed the the world; societies, and human kind, in so many wonderful ways, were athiest or agnostics. Who to follow? Who to follow? frank

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By Christine Smith, February 7, 2006 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment
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Excellent original essay…and excellent response to comments posed. 

Frequently I meet persons of a religious faith who are convinced our world would fall apart if not for their “good” book…Yes, as you perfectly expressed, “It is simply amazing how widespread this fear of secular moral chaos is, given how many misconceptions about morality and human nature are required to set it whirling in a person’s brain.”

But, of course, it is nearly impossible to have a rational conversation with those who are convinced they are right and the rest of us are “lost.”  Most of them seem to have an “answer” for everything…do not confuse them with facts or rational thought.  Fear keeps them in their self-imposed prison.  Only a few value the intellectual approach…afterall, their religion teaches them that to even question is a “sin.”

Thank you, Mr. Harris, for sharing your rational replies/rebuttals to the questions/objections all of us encounter from True Believers.  So very well stated and written, I really appreciated reading this. 

Christine Smith

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By Alex, February 7, 2006 at 1:03 pm Link to this comment
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In my opinion, the whole argument of atheist morality vs religious morality is missing an important point.  It is a historical fact that the use of religion to codify human behaviour (along with it´s idea of right and wrong) goes back to the very earliest civilizations.  All societies (including our own) used religion as the basic framework to regulate and sanction human interaction, social beliefs and man´s relationship to the world that sourrounds him.
In essence, society has built it´s identity around certain collective beliefs that express themselves in rituals, laws and customs that have an evident RELIGIOUS background.
To say that there can be an ¨atheist¨ morality is to deny the overwhelming influence of ritual and religious sanction in our personal/individual background.  I´m not saying atheists can´t be moral (obviously they can), I´m saying that no atheist can escape the weight of religion when building his own personal morality and values system.  He is surrounded by it, his society is heir to 6000 years of ritual and tradition that he cannot escape. Belief in cultural archetypes like marriage, death, birth, sex, law, family, etc. have thousands of years of deeply ingrained RELIGIOUS sanction behind them. How can an atheist conceive of the idea of marriage without falling into the old ritualistic pattern? He/she simply has no other yardstick with which to measure it´s moral value without inevitably landing on religious precedent.
One only has to take a look at the U.S. Declaration of Independence to find religious and moral rightousness intertwined and at work in civil society.  It´s undertone is clear: ¨GOD INTENDED MAN TO LIVE IN A CERTAIN WAY, AND THOSE THAT VIOLATE THAT DIVINE TRUTH (in this case King George) LOSE GOD´S AND MAN´S FAVOUR. Though reflecting civil society´s stand versus what it considers tyranny, it chooses to uphold that stand through divine and religious sanction.
All modern law is based on religious beliefs, all morality is upheld by a religious precedent and all social attitudes and taboos are supported by a background religious framework.  There is simply no way to separate one from the other…... you´d have to go back 6000 years and start over to have even the slightest chance of changing that.

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By Paul Yeaton, February 7, 2006 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment
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Name ONE war that was not in the name of whoever’s god?

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By KR, February 7, 2006 at 10:10 am Link to this comment
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There does not seem to be a great difference between those who count themselves as having a religious belief and those who don’t.  In both camps there are extremists who will act negatively on their beliefs and there are those who will look on in horror.  Today the actions of Islamists are on display.  Tomorrow it will be the actions of someone else. 

To me, the difference between the comments of Sam Harris and a fundamentalist are not that great.  Both would like to see the rest of the world turn to the same set of beliefs that they subscribe to.  Your aim should not be to eliminate belief systems that disagree with your view of the world.  It is this view that leads to the violence and irrationality you despise.

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By Doug Tarnopol, February 7, 2006 at 7:30 am Link to this comment
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Interestingly, Harris avoids the more nuanced critiques of his article, and goes for the low-hanging fruit.

A criticism made by not just me was why alienate progressive-*acting* folks simply because you disagree with their metaphysics? I’ll take MLK any day, religious or not. I don’t think it matters much what people think, or think they think—what matters is what they do. There are simply too many theists who act in a socially beneficial manner to support Harris’ frankly fundamentalist viewpoint.

And I’m, literally, a lifelong atheist (having had that option in my family, which is rare).

Furthermore, I would like Harris to explain the long history of visual representation of Mohammad in Islamic culture. Why weren’t all those people killed? Where did the patronage come from? Try Persia and the Ottoman Empire, for starters.

Perhaps no particular religion, or lack thereof, has a corner on the irrationality market. Or the rationality market.

I suspect the truth lies in the psychological and sociological—and in history—not in the eyries of doubtlessness invented by (some) philosophers, whether theistic or not.

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By F.S, February 6, 2006 at 10:03 pm Link to this comment
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My mother is a muslim, I growup amoungst muslims, I know what a muslim is about, I had to read the koraan,—but I am not a muslim.
I can tell you this: the world need to stop the muslims, before they destroy the world. Maybe they say islam is about peace but show me one only one muslim country that has peace and love amoungs them. Islam will be the reason of WWIII and the end of the days as we know it.

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By Stan, February 6, 2006 at 10:01 pm Link to this comment
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It was a surprise to me that Jesus taught anything but love and tolerance, so i checked Sam’s cites (the ones that were correctly cited). All they demonstrate is that Jesus adhered to the “law of Moses” and obeyed the Old Testament. Pretty good stretch from there to specifically preaching passages from the OT that Sam finds offensive. Pretty lame, Sam.

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By jmk, February 6, 2006 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment
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If Atheism is so plausable, why does it constantly need such a passionate defense. If indeed there is no God, then why let it bother you in the least. Just be sure that intellectualism isn’t your God. Thomas Merton once said, “we make Gods of what we think about most.”

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By oh mygod, February 6, 2006 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment
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I shall grant you your wish to “eradicate relegious dogmatism,” if you grant mine to distribute wealth so that the ratio of the top 10 pecent to the bottom 10 percent is never more than pi.

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By Ed, February 6, 2006 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment
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Positioning Hitler and National Socialism (or neo-nazism in most of its current forms) in the realm of atheism is utterly wrong.  Hitler and the Nazis often used Christian imagery in their propaganda and saw themselves as a chosen people not just in some sort of genetic, biological sense.  The main reason the Nazis didn’t rely on some statist religion was that no one in Hitler’s party was a theologian and Hitler didn’t require the backing of any religious power to consolidate his position.  Remember also that Nazis were avidly anti-communist and even in those days anti-communist was identical to anti-atheist.

Ultimately Nazi Germany was the reflection of Hitler.  Hitler was an avid occultist and I am sure an avowed atheist would find himself herded of into a camp if openly engaging in such thoughts during the war. 

Check out any of today’s neo-nazi orgs and I imagine you will find most express clear affiliation with Christianity.

I won’t go into communism, but let me say that just because Marx declared religion the ‘opiate of the masses’, doesn’t mean that the communist states that followed didn’t use the trappings of religious dogma to aid in their atrocities.

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By Darian Law, February 6, 2006 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment
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As a believer in evolution, I take issue with the trouncing that many of you have given religion.  Since man evolved from muck, his life has been one of constant strife and struggle.  Religion was one of the tools that man developed in order for him to deal with and accept the struggle that life brings to many, if not most people.  Therefore, since religion is the creation of evolved man, it is therefore natural and is likewise shameful to try to destroy it.

Stalin stated that religion was the opiate for the masses so that those “with” could keep those “without” in line or in control.  Again, truer words cannot be found.  If the many who “have not”  are stripped of their salve (religion), then they will likely decide to “take” from those who “have”.

If you could convince the average person that their one existence is all that there is, then the first item of business for the average would be to take that which you have that he wants, be it money, assets or your spouse or signifcant other.  Killing you would be legitimate and simply prove his dominance and his genes’ worthiness of passing onto next generation.

The lady across the way looks healthy and fertile; I think should forgo religion…

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By Tom Mack, February 6, 2006 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment
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It seems that there are still those who do not see the simple, inherent, truth Mr. Harris kindly takes time to express. A truth I came to completely on my own as a very young man; simply that it is all a very elaborate and very old Story. So young was I that “Dogma” was not applied or even considered simply because I didn’t know what it meant. So young was I that “Transcendence” was not my ultimate goal because I hadn’t a clue as to what “That” meant. And so young was I that Russel’s “teapot” argument would have made perfect sense—as it does now. One of the above readers refutation of said teapot was filled with so many What If’s, and Consider That’s, as to be in itself, a wonderful platform in support of the argument.

Many like me are atheist from youth, where all the trappings have little meaning. I do not need to attach dogma or any variety of transcendence to my life (and my morals are quite fine, thank you). The emotions I feel throughout the course of my life are mine—generated by me, governed by me, and distributed by me. And while I am not an island, I’ll always feel the waves at my feet…without being “taught” to feel them. 

Tomack

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By son nguyen, February 6, 2006 at 9:26 am Link to this comment
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Stop your arguments for or against God already.  It’s a waste of time.  Stop relying on God to help you out in time of needs.  He hasn’t shown any tendencies to intervene in human affairs.  So stop spending time thinking about someone who isn’t going to lift a finger to help you.  The purpose of religions is to help you with living & dying.  Since most religions say there’s an after life, it’s your task to find out if indeed it exists.  If it does, find & follow a religion that helps you prepare for it.  If not, live a life that is beneficial to yourself AND others.  No one can criticize a well-lived life.

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By Dmitry, February 6, 2006 at 8:28 am Link to this comment
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I have come to believe that all religions are man-made constructions that have tried to come to terms with the deeper ebb and flow of human existence. Those who became known as Prophets were exquisitely sensitive and brilliant individuals who were in tune with their moral consciences and sense of justice, as well as with the creative capacity to interpret those feelings in light of the mythology and understanding of their day. Their interpretations became hardened into traditions that became ossified and largely irrelevant as time marched on and humanity changed. However, they still contained the germ of insight into the need to be respectful towards others and to be concerned about the least fortunate, which is the means by which we attain a sense of unity and interdependence of all existence.

I think that a religion should be judged according to this light, and that one should not make blanket statements condemning or supporting any religion or lack of religion. Some religions are well suited towards certain people and they find much peace and contentment and do many good deeds therein, but no single religion can lay claim to all truth, because there is simply no way that any individual can control what the future will bring, and thus all religious and irreligious interpretations are open to change and revisable, depending on what is happening in the present.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that religion is like psychotherapy in that there are different types and no single one works for all forms of discontent and dysfunction, and that one judges them pragmatically; meaning, whatever works for you should be accepted if it fosters compassion and empathy towards the suffering of others and enhances your sense that we are all united in life, and that the fate of one of us effects the fate of us all.

Any thoughts?

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By writerdd, February 6, 2006 at 8:01 am Link to this comment
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Oh, please. “Trans-rational”? What is that some New Age recasting of irrational? If something is not rational, it’s irrational by definition. Give us a break.

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By TomChicago, February 6, 2006 at 5:35 am Link to this comment
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although technically not a “fatwa”, how different is it when Pat Robertson calls for the death of Hugo Chavez?

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By Jonas South, February 6, 2006 at 4:48 am Link to this comment
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#1 Criticizing religion is a waste of time?

A moment’s reflection upon the state of the world compels the conclusion that religion is intruding deeper and deeper into almost every aspect of our lives, and, through the intercession of the Bush regime, into dangerous international waters. Examining this phenomenon is not only worthy of our time, but it is crucial to our eventual survival.

However, the more pressing task is not how to convince people of the myriad silliness of organized religion (which is all too easy to do among the rational, and near impossible among the devout), but how to put the religion genie back into the bottle.

We can start by trying to understand why, after four centuries of enlightenment, religion is making a come back among ordinary people. I think perhaps it never left, but was merely covered up by a thin layer of exceptional science and brilliant discourse, now fenestrated in places, by the willful and the dominant.

The late great cosmologist, humanist and writer Carl Sagan theorized that we humans evolved to follow the leader, that the herd instinct was bred into us through a million years of hunting the prey for food, the success of which was improved when it was orchestrated by a few. Perhaps we have reached a point in our psychosocial development (some might say disintegration) when the stresses are so profound, the insecurities so great, that reverting back to our atavistic instincts is the natural thing to expect. We are back in the dark ages, letting our fears be exploited.

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By HiveRadical, February 5, 2006 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment
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I’ve responded comprehensively to Mr. Harris’s third response here—

http://supercriticalfluid.blogspot.com/

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By Cesar Benalcazar, February 5, 2006 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment
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Dear Sam:

Your “manifesto” and its update in response to criticisms, (I haven’t read your book yet) while enlightening in many of their premises and conclusions are in my view a very simplified analysis of religion.

Religion as any cultural invention belongs to history and language, to real human events with real subjects, agents and real executors. It is therefore remarkable to notice how much you avoid touching the external agents and consequences “the Christian West” and the US in particular have had in the last 500 years on the non-christian rest of the world in your analysis.

The magnitude and the proportion of those consequences in the world are completely ignored and in doing so you take the risk of becoming an apologist to the already well known American “innocence”, while discussing religion as the single most important cause of all evils.

Just by simple default Religion becomes a reductionistic way to understand evil on planet Earth. Too easy.

As much as we’d like to see religion that way in order to facilitate understanding on the clear dangers of it, to make an accurate assessment of it in the real world, is much more complex and contextualized by social, economic, political and historic realities, a historic “ecology” you seem to avoid in your “manifesto”. 

The issue of religion in that way becomes almost a distraction from a far more complex and layered analysis that once left aside, becomes by default an apology to Christianity, its agents and its actions in the world.

The manifesto with all its great clues and irrefutable insights becomes little more than a post-modern analysis of another problem, in many ways disconnected from a real world of historical and Ecological dimensions and consequences.

The central and most evident unmentioned fact is that the West and the US in particular have been the ones who have performed more effectively the monopoly of power, wealth, technology and violence during the last 500 years.

The genocide of Indigenous populations in Africa, Asia and the Americas, The Holocaust, the dropping of two nuclear bombs on civilian populations, the burning of cities from Germany to Japan, Viet-Nam, Cambodia and now Iraq, plus the hundreds of overt and covert interventions all over the world during the last 500 years, can we say, have been “Christian” interventions.

The idea of understanding the actions of the muslim engineers crashing the planes against the WTC on the 11/9, under the religious premises of the 76 virgins wainting for them in heaven is simplistic to the extreme as Robert Pape from Chicago University in “Dying to Win” irrefutably presents. It denies the complexity of the Middle East and the patterns of Western oppression during the last 150 years. Again your manifesto fails in accepting those complexities that could demonstrate unconfortable truths about how religious and not religious issues are intertwined in the interest of domination in the West.

While agreeing with the manifesto arguments against religious faith and organized religion, it fails I think in showing a far more complex analysis of religion in the US, where the “most” idiotic ones are using ruthlessly -and in their own views succesfully- the “least” idiotic ones with different purposes, while the dots all connect in a historic complex puzzle, oil with god and tragic historic idiots such as Paul Wolfowitz with Pat Robertson.

To dismiss to that degree the socio-political and economic analysis from the issue of Religion is to render the discussion just short of a whitewash that simplifies and hide a more nuanced and complex reality of exploitation and the “evils” in the world.

We need more complexity instead of easy simplification in our analysis in order to connect the causal pathways of the damage that we as species are inflicting in the world, in order to respond appropriately. Religion as a human historical issue deserves that too.

The so called “Central Western intellectuals” in some instances with their best intentions are in desperate need to gain a more complex, ecological and globally inclusive way of seeing the world and accepting the challenge of seeing the issues from different perspectives that do not exclude the victimisers by convenience when necessary.

To blame Religion as the main cause of evil in the world is just a partial truth and as such not accurate. Not to mention the rest of its intrinsic historical complexity is to use that analysis to hide a more complex understanding of “evil” which leaves out most of its “best” historical agents. To avoid the complexity of the world is just another way of lying in history.

We don’t have the time to be doing that right now, we are running out of it and to tackle religion at this stage demands by far a more complex and subtle understanding that needs to facilitate the prevention of war and the use of nuclear weapons. I am not sure if your analysis is helping in that direction.

Sincerely,

C.B.

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By Val, February 5, 2006 at 5:32 pm Link to this comment
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I am not an atheist. I am not a theist. I am not an agnostic. That much is easy to state. What I AM? Virtually impossible, since the personal experience of THAT quickly transcends intellect and language.

Pankaj Seth’s comments, among all the insightful (and some not so) comments here, including Sam Harris’ wonderful writings, perhaps sum up my experience best.

“Non-dualism leaves the theism-atheism debate behind. There can only be a personal road to, and a personal knowledge about THAT, because the notion of an objective knowledge about THAT is simply a mental trap that one can fall in.”

Once one has direct personal experience of THAT, the rest of human-created mythology and religion—though both may or may not tap deeper realities of the human psyche and condition—seem like the worship of Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk; puny, wholly inadequate attempts to describe THAT.

If I AM anything, I suppose I’m closest to the Deists—as exemplified in Thomas Paine’s writings (particularly “The Age of Reason.”)

Yet I have enjoyed (and continue to) states of awareness, states of consciousness and of Being that surpass even Paine’s magnificent writings.

ALL such direct experiences of THAT depend on my expanding beyond “my” own ego and allowing the experience of something larger. (You see how mere words already begin to fail one?) It’s not a matter of “losing” one’s ego so much as becoming aware of the proportion of one’s “self” to the vast reality of All That Is.

There are ancient techniques for achieving these awarenesses. Millions worldwide have done and continue to practice them and experience THAT.

Yet I cannot call the experience “God,” as do Deists, for the word itself implies a separation between “me” and THAT. “I” exist as surely as the sunrise or black holes or thirteen parallel universes. “I” exist WITHIN THAT—not apart from it.

As Pankaj Seth points out, this is my “personal road.” For me to claim it as The Truth for anybody but me, as Paine repeatedly illustrates, is for you to accept my Truth as your own, based on hearsay.

That’s what all religions demand: the acceptance of outside second- or third-party hearsay over one’s own experience and truth. Those demands are reinforced by threats. “You’ll go to Hell!” You’ll go insane!”

Quite the contrary. Anybody who studies religions realizes the insanity underlying their dogma and threats. From the historical non-existence of Moses and Jesus to the mythical “40 days wandering in the desert” supposedly endured by Old Testament Jews, to Jonah existing in the belly of a whale, to the proscriptions of Leviticus to the certifiably psychotic rantings and threats of the Bible’s Revelations, to the paranoid schizophrenia of L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology and the proven fabrications of Mormonism’s original “revelations” . . . to the study of all-too-historical and contemporary Crusades and religious wars fought and being fought in the name of God, the underlying insanity of religion is as obvious as every day’s sunrise.

Of Christianity, for instance, Paine said it “begins with a dream (of Joseph dreaming his young virgin wife was impregnated by God) and ends with a murder.”

Anyone wishing to compare Christianity to Islam, for instance, need only visit the brilliant parody site—

http://www.landoverbaptist.org/

scroll down and take the highly informative “Bible Quizzes” based on these religions’ actual “Holy Books.”

This seems to be one of the more sincere and intelligent boards on the web, on these topics.

I cannot tell anybody more than I (and millions of others) know. It’s entirely personal. But from my first experience of THAT, at 25, until now, some 40 years later, I have been a happy camper, and a healthy one, on earth—and far beyond. One of these days, of course, I’ll just stay THERE with THAT . . . and keep going.

There’s an end to THIS . . . but not to THAT.

So, I know what I’m not. More each passing year, do I know what I’m not. Result? I’ve been “happier” every year (even more “ecstatic”).

Pankaj Seth said all that in two sentences, so I’ll shut up now, and wish all of you well on your personal roads.

“Non-dualism leaves the theism-atheism debate behind. There can only be a personal road to, and a personal knowledge about THAT, because the notion of an objective knowledge about THAT is simply a mental trap that one can fall in.”

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By vjack, February 5, 2006 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment
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Outstanding post by one of the most important authors of our time. The End of Faith tops my list of books everyone should read, and everything he written on the web leaves me more impressed with Harris. He is the articulate visionary that the atheist community needs - a true inspiration.

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By A.A. Murphy, February 5, 2006 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment
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Religion likely arose as a longlasting symptom of infantile anxiety. The human infant is completely helpless and thus profoundly stress-ridden. The mother becomes the all-powerful “god” that protects and nourishes; in later life, especially in times of stress, the mind re-creates that relationship with an all-powerful being, or many such beings, as a source of comfort and stability.

This explains why the creation of gods is virtually universal among the human race. The process is very evident among primitive tribes, who spend much of their time catering to various gods and spirits they believe to be lurking everywhere. More sophisticated societies have transformed these spirits into more complex—and humanlike—deities.

By the way, kudos to Sam Harris for addressing these issues frankly and firmly. For too long, the peddlers of religion have been deferred to and catered to by our major institutions, often to the detriment of society as a whole. Science must expose religion as inherently fallacious and pathological, and the sooner, the better!

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By Alison, February 5, 2006 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment
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If my girlfriend and I decide to have babies, we’d like you to help.  That was brilliant.

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By jmr, February 5, 2006 at 7:07 am Link to this comment
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After reading the End of Faith, I e-mailed Sam and shared that with him that morality is probably a survival strategy that man developed to inable tribalism to flourish.  Man needs a society and morality was a necessary ingredient that allowed man to live together and raise families without constantly killing each other.

Since then I took Sams advise and started to read the Koran.  Sam is right about another thing.  If we, as a global community do not shed these mythologies and start to get along with each other, our myths will lead us to disaster.  We can start Armageddon, but we cannot predict it’s outcome.  The only thing that can be reasonably assumed is that Jesus will not show up.

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By William Harryman, February 5, 2006 at 7:00 am Link to this comment
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As usual, Mr. Harris only presents the objections to his narrow viewpoint that he can hold up as straw men then knock down.

Harris’s atheism is a flatland worldview. He conflates pre-rational and trans-rational into irrational because both are non-rational. Human experience evolves from pre-rational (the religions Harris so often criticizes) to rational (Harris’s own worldview) to post-rational or trans-rational (an understanding of the world based on human faculties more advanced than rational thought). Harris never addresses this objection to his argument.

Another area that he fails to address is that the religions he hates so much are part of the natural development of all human beings. They may be pre-rational, but so is a five-year-old and no one tries to make the child change its understanding of the world. Harris must learn to accept that human cultures, like human beings, have developmental stages (see Jean Gebser) and that stages cannot be skipped, no matter how much he loathes them.

What Harris could do, if he were about change rather than negation, is work to create life conditions that might allow people who live in the traditionalist worldview of monotheistic religion to progress to the next step in their evolution. This would actually require that he speak to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists and offer them a worldview that can transcend and include the one they currently hold.

So, Mr. Harris, do you care to put your efforts where they might do some good?

William Harryman
Tucson, AZ

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By Bob wrubel, February 5, 2006 at 1:01 am Link to this comment
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The arguments you offer against the notion that religion is the basis of morality seem superficial, Oxford Union stuff.  Of course the old testament, to speak of only one religion, is full of anachronistic and parochial rules and models of behavior.  Jesus in The New Testament is generally thought to have straightened much of that out, though the later church turned his message back into rigid and stupid dogma.
Twenty years ago, or so, Atlantic published an article called Can We Be Good Without God.  I cant find it now, but if you can I would recommend it.  It makes a good case that most of our Western political and moral thought descends from Christianity. 
Perhaps you have read Albert Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus.  I’m not religious myself, but that book convinced me that people, even intellectuals, can be profoundly moved by Jesus’ example.  I actually can’t think of a better example of a true social revolutionary. Of course jesus is just a man; the religion based on him is as opposite to the tone of his life as it could be.  I suppose that’s your point.
Still, defending your view by pointing out the anachronisms of the Old Testament is a weak strategy, not worthy of a philosopher.

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By David G. Boyle, February 4, 2006 at 11:25 pm Link to this comment
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What surprises me is that the Christonazis like Pat Robertson haven’t issued a fatwa. If this work ever makes it to the Mideast, the Secret Service couldn’t protect Sam Harris.

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By A.H.Jones, February 4, 2006 at 10:02 pm Link to this comment
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The points Sam Harris makes are crucial and brilliant,  but I fear he’ll never reach those who disagree with him.  People of faith consider facts irrelevant.  Their minds shut down when faced with truth.  Faith, they argue, requires a suspension of disbelief.  This is difficult to counter, and to advance the cause Sam Harris so vehemently propounds, he should realize that like Michael Moore, his tone will only appeal to those who think exactly like him.  Humor and respect would help his cause considerably.  He should perhaps imagine how he felt when his father or some other authority figure of his youth gave him a lecture.  Could he listen?  I believe exactly as he does, and I too am angry.  But   anger wins few arguements.  It appears that humans have a biological tendency towards superstition and a need to believe in an overriding order to the universe.  In other words, they are afraid.  In time we can hope everyone will understand that self-reliance and tolerance are the surest path to peace, security and happiness.  For now, I suggest Mr. Harris narrow his focus.  It’s ambitious to kill God with one blow.  But it is within the realm of possibility to change the minds of those who believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

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By R. A. Earl, February 4, 2006 at 8:31 pm Link to this comment
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I hope this isn’t too far off topic or too short an offering for this forum but I just had to get it off my chest…

“The longer I live, the more I see that I am never wrong about anything, and that all the pains I have so humbly taken to verify my notions have only wasted my time.”
  - George Bernard Shaw

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By Pat, February 4, 2006 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
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Sam, I continue to have a nagging concern you’re avoiding the issue of whether a creative energy / binding force can exist completely independent of human-created religion and dogma.

I am more convinced a pervasive creative energy exists.  My inclination reflects appreciation of life’s incredible beauty and immense complexity.  Its not for me to define the force, or assume the clues for proving it exist.  The existence of a creative force has nothing to do with religion.  Humans created religion. 

As a person that does not adhere to a religion, I am comfortable living without proof, or expectation about life after death.  After I die, there may be no recognizable afterlife, consciousness, soul, or karma.  My life force and consciousness leaves my body.  Where it goes, nobody knows.

Am I oversimplifying your point as thinking you’re blaming fundamentalism’s hypocrisy as proof a binding, creative energy force does not exist?  Its my contention that a binding creative force likely exists.  It is irrelevant to this existence whether we get it together or not. 

Sam, I’m sure you’re a good guy, regardless of whether you believe in “God”.  Consider that after death, carry-forward may or may not occur.  This “possible” carry-forward may also not depend on whether you were a “good guy”.  If a binding force exists, it may, or may not take these into consideration. 

The binding creative force may also take into account worship, I don’t know.  I’m still working on that one, since it seems a lot of successful, corrupt persons go to church alot. 

Personal responsibility does not require a belief in “God”.  My sense is that personal responsibility is a very important form of “worship”, and showing respect for what I perceive as the in-describable beauty of life, and the inconcievable complexity of all that we know exists. 

This has nothing to do with being afraid of “God”.  IIts about personal responsibility and how you choose to live.

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By Rick, February 4, 2006 at 5:13 pm Link to this comment
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Apologies for the length but this is really pulling me from my very core:

Yes, how interesting that Sam’s response comes along the same week as this absolutely insane world reaction about blasphemous cartoons. The chasm seems to inexorably widen. My concern is that the polarized beliefs of democracy and theocracy will, with all the potential we have of advancing before us, lead us down a destructive path defending our respective positions. I already see plenty of people essentially calling nations whose publications have opted not to publish, the equivalent of being called ‘chicken’ in a schoolyard brawl. Someone’s gonna get their teeth knocked out—-either the weaker one or sometimes, the cockier one.

Rather than resort to violence, let us concentrate every ounce of our energy on the longer-term benefit of the high road: freeing ourselves of the need for their oil, without the profit of which they would implode in on their own repressive belief systems. Technology has given us the internet for free exchange of information, computers to make further and quicker work of the problems that face us (I’m reading the once impractical ‘ethanol’ push now has wings due to biotech advances that can release the energy from much of our agricultural waste and not pollute the atmosphere in the process). Wisdom is focusing our efforts towards the good of us all. I have found myself unconsciously drifting towards an uncomfortable yet undeniably contemptuous attitude towards fanaticism and fundamentalism, xtian, islamic or otherwise. I can only imagine that’s happening across both cultures as their eyes narrow as they gaze in the direction of their mortal enemy.  Not a good sign when there’s so much work to be done to keep the planet sustainable for us—all of us, not just the privileged few.

Ray Kurzweil’s new book “The Singularity Is Near” will really pique and inspire the imagination of the reasonable person, particularly one who has been released from the preoccupying burden of myth-based dogma. Now that we have reached the conclusions Harris has pointed out about the source of morality, it naturally brings to light our higher responsibility. And curiously (and somewhat ironically), not unlike our dogma-bound brethren, who sincerely hope to save us all for all eternity, we will likely be paving the way to save us all for posterity (and perhaps the true golden age for humanity). The difference is, our efforts are based in a reality-based world of global warming, wars of political convenience, mindless (or worse, religion-prompted) genocide, preventable and crippling diseases, and rampant poverty.  Those of us rejecting religious dogma may need to summon almost “Christ-like” patience and compassion in our determination to effect the changes needed to preserve humanity through this dangerous point in history.

Islam, as Harris points out, is the only world religion that still dutifully follows the doctrine of its source book. Xtians have abandoned all the iron-age brutishness the bible advocates. Nevertheless, it’s 700 years younger than xtianity and by comparison, seems to be going through a “turbulent adolescence” but no different than where xtianity stood in the middle ages thru the early renaissance with its inquisitions, control of monarchies, and holy crusades. The Roman Catholic Church, if anything, showed Muslims, just how undiluted holy fervor should rightly be expressed and their memory is apparently generations long in its potency. Comeuppance is a bitch, isn’t it?

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By Bayesian Bouffant, FCD, February 4, 2006 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment
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To the issue of the teapot and showing the correlation between it and the advent of metallurgy. Now, if we could isolate the very likely situation in which several different nations from the past, unconnected to each other, but living at the same time period, and each nation had members that testified, or noticeable remnants of such testifying, that they had been witnesses to said teapot in a time and place, or had knowledge of it being set in some course that would land it to the approximate position as previously stated, and if these testimonies, adjusted for the invariable change that comes from the passing of time and human errors in transmission, correlated to a strong degree then you’d have, while not easily quantifiable, evidence more concrete than that of the mere teapot.

The only important word in this paragraph is “IF”, because the analogy differs from reality in many important ways. Suppose instead that many different peoples of many different nations claimed to know of this orbiting teapot, but each alleged witness had a different idea of the size, shape and color of the teapot, and even differed as to the number of such teapots. That supposition would be closer to the history of theism.

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By Turk Brando, February 4, 2006 at 3:38 pm Link to this comment
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I have been an atheist for about 40 something years, for me it started with the bombing of those four little girls in the south. (I immediately knew something was intrinsically wrong.)  I also read Bertrand Russell’s book Why I am not a Christian when I was a teenager, I then advanced to Camus, Franz Fanon and others.  How people cannot see that the history of the world is nothing more than the progression of one religious war after another is amazing.  The reality that people place more “faith” and “belief” in some dumb book written thousands of years ago in a language that is not even around now, (not to mention that the people who wrote it didn’t even witness the events they’re writing about) (oh, but yes, they were “inspired” by god)  it is the biggest con of all time.  The fact that many people in this country actually believe that they’re going to spirited up to some utopia some day (never die) says a lot why this country is where it is.

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By KLW, February 4, 2006 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment
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I think this is a very important point: “Three: the burden of Harris’s argument, and the issue which he continues to evade entirely, is whether the simple absence of religious conviction automatically leads to rational thought and or behavior…”

What Harris is proposing sounds great, on the surface, but it way too simplistic and presupposes a flawed view of humanity.  Getting rid of religion, in and of itself, even if it were possible, wouldn’t really solve anything.  As IP says, Plenty of non-religious substitutes are available and could be constructed. 

The real problem is that people have inherent tendencies toward irrationality and mob behavior and a predisposition to adopt dogmas and thought formulas that provide them with a feeling of certainty and relief from the hard work of critical thinking.  Taking away the religion would have to be combined with serious education programs, economic assistance to the poor and desperate, establishment of infrastructure and political stability in much of the world…  just for starters. 

Most importantly, one would need something not only rational, but substantial to provide to people as an alternative.  To ween people away from medieval thinking and barbaric propensities would take a massive, global effort at enforcing civilization on a world that is barely civilized, except in minor pockets.  Ironically, I think it would take some kind of ultra-powerful, benevolent, planetary dictatorship to achieve such aims… some kind of political establishment backed by the power of what, by our standards, would be considered a “god”....

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By Charles, February 4, 2006 at 12:58 pm Link to this comment
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Question for Ian Pepper (11): Where did the myth that Hitler and the Nazis were atheists get started?  They clearly were not atheists.  The Wehrmacht wore belt buckles embossed with “Gott Mit Uns” (God is with us).  And one of the rationalizations for the extermination of the Jews was that the Jews had killed Jesus.  Also, the Hakenkreuz or swastika is a manipulation of the Christian cross.  The Nazis, like most fascists, used religious symbolism and religious tradition.  Our own fascists, the Bush junta, do a bang-up job of manipulating it.  Also, I doubt that “communists” (really fascists) like Stalin and Mao were truly atheists.  They tried to eliminate religion in their cultures because they saw it as competition, and like the Roman emperor Augustus, they wanted to be worshipped as gods.

I think the myth of Hitler as atheist got started on the Right in America as a way of deflecting comparisons of modern conservatism and neoconservatism with fascism.  But I can’t say exactly how this fallacy got started.

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By John the Propagandist, February 4, 2006 at 11:50 am Link to this comment
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Sam,
  Great writing.  I very much enjoyed your Atheist Manifesto, this article, and your book “The End of Faith”.
  So what are rational thinkers that want to change America’s addiction to fantasy to do?
  I know the futility of trying to have an intellectual argument with someone who is unable to see how intellectually dishonest they themselves are.  Hell, I was raised by fundies.  True believers can twist anything to fit.
  Violent force and the destruction of property, like the recent church burnings in Alabama, are also no answer, in that the collective redemptive persecution fantasy that christians believe in will only strenghthen their mindset, and perhaps bring about a more militant and forceful “faith”.
  We’ve got problems in this country with the fundies trying to get science thrown out of schools and the like, but (as of today) no one has threatened to behead me because of my “so-called art”.
  How can we fight this brand of insanity?  When a religion doesn’t have the strength to stand up to cartoons, except to threaten beheading, what is there to argue?  What discussion can be had? 
  “Interesting question Mr. Harris, and the answer is….CUT OFF HIS HEAD!!”
  I guess my fantasy solution would be to let them all, all the faiths with books that profess theirs is the only way to heaven or god or whatever, fight it out amongst themselves, you could have a giant steelcage deathmatch, biggest god wins.  The one rule would be that they can only use weapons described in their holy books, and they have to keep all the violence in their holy lands.  Sadly, that’s not going to happen anywhere but in the dark and serotonin laden recesses of my mind.
  So what is there to do?  Is just having the conversation really enough?  Or is it too late for actual change already?
  Sam, maybe the only hope lies in you, Jared Diamond, and Richard Dawkins coming up with a children’s television show.  Maybe then the next generation will have a chance to break free from the “mind virus” that religion is. 
  And make sure you come up with an Arabic version too!

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By Richard Contiguglia, February 4, 2006 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
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What better current testimony to the truth of Sam Harris’s assertions about the dangers of religious dogma can there be than the current fracas among Muslims over cartoons published by European newspapers, whose only purpose was to make readers think and smile!  The religious fanatics are screaming for death to the individuals, publishers and governments that allow such commentary on their irrational, religious beliefs under the rubric of freedom of speech.  If this is the morality that religions foster, give me atheism anytime.

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By jim, February 4, 2006 at 8:49 am Link to this comment
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When argueing with Xian Fundis I often use the “Gone with the Wind” arguement when they try to use archeological evidence to “prove” the bibleical text is true. That is, first i get them to agree that the movie/book is a work of fiction. That is usually easy enough. Then I would say remember the scene of the burning of Alanta? Ok, I could conduct a dig at Altanta today and go down to the layer of charrred materail from that fire. Does the proof of the burning of Altanta prove that any of the dialogue of the movie/book is fact and not fiction? For some reason this confuses them and they go away….

jim

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By Andrew Nowicki, February 4, 2006 at 8:39 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris is a very persuasive critic of religion,
but his alternative, secular ethics is not a
finished product ready for mass consumption.
According to Harris, “questions of morality are
really questions about happiness and suffering.”

Does this mean that parasitic species. which make
up about 80% of all wild species, should be
exterminated? If they are exterminated, natural
ecosystems will become unstable:
http://tinyurl.com/bvvo6

Nothing can make us more happy than direct
stimulation of our brains’ pleasure centers either
with narcotics or with electrodes implanted in our
brains. The best implementation of Sam Harris’
ethics is therefore implanting the electrodes
in our brains: http://www.wireheading.com/

I used to believe that the best ethics is
proliferation of diversity:
http://www.islandone.org/LEOBiblio/DIVERSIT.HTM

Now I doubt everything. Fermi Paradox implies
that all extraterrestrial civilizations refrain
from space colonization and from transforming the
galactic raw materials into something more useful,
for example manufactured objects or living things.
This means that manufactured objects and living
things do not have greater value for the
extraterrestrial civilizations than the raw
materials. Our values are determined by our
reptilian instincts. When these instincts are
replaced with malleable instincts of the advanced
(extraterrestrial) artificial intelligence
brains, nothing has greater value than raw
materials.

It seems that the entire universe is a big pile
of trash.

________________________________________________

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the
more it also seems pointless.” -
1979 Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg, The
First Three Minutes, 1977, p. 149.

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By KT, February 4, 2006 at 6:53 am Link to this comment
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I read your book, End Of Faith.  It really made me feel secure and sane in my beliefs in rationality and perception.  I really liked what you compared many religions to: What if someone came out one day and stated that a certain TV show or piece of software was a communication to him/her from God. It’s so comical yet so pathetic that most of the world’s population believes in this type of lunacy.  I also agree with you that being a moderate towards religion is just as bad. 

I think it’s wonderful that you’re contributing to truthdig.com.

And brave too.  So many wackos in this country now spewing venom and hate all in defense of religion.  Organized religion now has so much money and has so much political clout, yet they say they are the ones being persecuted by people like yourself.  It’s so stupid yet it’s so real. 

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I’m glad you’re waging the fight as I’m not strong enough to do the same.  Perhaps in another life (metaphorically speaking).  I’ve given up on this country.  I’ll be off to Canada, London, Paris, or Scandinavia.  I’ve been wanting to do this for many years, but what you stated in this article gives me more reason and evidence of my correct perceptions and rational analysis of things in this crazy world.

It’s nice to be able to communicate to an author directly.

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By John Rote, February 4, 2006 at 6:51 am Link to this comment
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Thank you again Mr. Harris for elucidating again the fact that reason and faith are indeed incompatible.  No doctrine or dogma should be beyong criticism, least of all those whose tennants reside beyond the realm of reason.

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By Ted Smith, February 4, 2006 at 6:46 am Link to this comment
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I agree.  As popular as Sam is with the rational among us, I still hope to see him and other “atheists” more often on mainstream TV.  Most people get their news and opinions from TV and there are just too many unchallenged faith-based opinions still coming from well known “pundits” like Falwell, Richard Land, etc.

I really wish there was a way to challenge, in the courts, the televangelists/fundamentalists, or any person/institution putting forward the notion that Jesus was a real historical person.
Similar to what’s happening in Viterbo, Italy.

If it could be shown in court that we have been the victims of a 2000 year old fraud, and that religious institutions have been a party to this con and swindling people out of their money on the basis of the fraud, then perhaps the whole house of cards would come tumbling down.

It would also undermine all religious fundamentalists since eg. Mohammed himself assumed that Jesus actually existed.  Not to mention Joseph Smith’s puerile attempt at writing scripture (Book of Mormon).

Ted

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By TomChicago, February 4, 2006 at 6:07 am Link to this comment
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If there is a way out of the reign of “terror” and the awful, unholy alliance of religion and government in America, perhaps it will be the result of those who simply refuse to deny the obvious, to use one of Mr. Harris’ terms.  It is an unhappy fact that there is such a term as “invincible ignorance”, and we must simply take another road.

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By M Henri Day, February 4, 2006 at 5:40 am Link to this comment
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Well put Mr Harris ! But one can wonder if, in a country where absence of evidence is not considered to be evidence of absence, many are going to listen. Professor Russell’s teapot is still in orbit, and the hope that that orbit will degrade sufficiently quickly to prevent the holders (sincere or insincere, as the case may be) of these beliefs from putting an end to H (not-so-very) sapiens sapiens seems very weak indeed….

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By Chris, February 4, 2006 at 5:12 am Link to this comment
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A great follow-up to a wonderful article.

It never fails to amaze me, the *degree* of irrationality in the 21st Century. I think part of the problem lies in education, I don’t believe that children are taught how to critically think about an issue, far too much time is spent force-feeding facts down their throats and not enough time teaching them how to think through a problem for themselves.

I would like to see rationality taught as a distinct subject at school, the art of reasoning, enabling the next generation to leave school armed with a wide variety of intellectual tools to defend themselves against dogmatic gibberish.

Thank you Mr Harris, keep battling for the truth!

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By Ian Pepper, February 4, 2006 at 4:22 am Link to this comment
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As a committed, lifelong atheist who has emigrated to Europe in no small part because I find the hypocritical religiosity of contemporary American society stifling, and because I believe that the erosion of the separation of church and state has led to political catastrophe there, a sense of intellectual integrity compels me to respond to Sam Harris’ in part conceptually muddled rebuttal to his critics:

One: the fact of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and many, many others demonstrates irrefutably that atheists are capable of irrational behavior and moral depravity. 

Two: the madness of nonpolitical nonreligious political movements such as national Socialism cannot be simply written off as residues or hangovers of predecessor religious tendencies (as a “recurrence” of medieval anti-Semitism, etc.).

Three: the burden of Harris’s argument, and the issue which he continues to evade entirely, is whether the simple absence of religious conviction automatically leads to rational thought and or behavior.
(Or whether there are any number of insane nonreligious substitutes waiting in the wings, for example the Market Fundamentalism that is leading to ecological cataclysm in our time.)

Four: whether religious people in general or atheists in general behave more rationally or morally is an empirical question nowhere addressed by Harris.

Five: absent any countervailing argument, I will continue to stand on the side of atheists and believers who are committed to human rights, democracy, and environmental sanity, and against atheists and believers who hold these values in contempt.

Six: people of faith are faced with the dilemmas of a) reconciling their beliefs with the facts of science, and b) with the necessity for tolerance that is a precondition for survival on this small and fragile planet.
Atheists such as myself should wish them well, engaged in respectful dialogue, and search for common ground.

Anything less would fail to do justice to the imperatives of reason itself.

As a passionate advocate and defender of European social democracy, I also feel compelled to point out that most or all the countries Harris names as havens of atheistic rationality contain large and breathtakingly violent neo-Nazi youth movements whose virulent racism finds tremendous sympathy in the wider population.

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By Fred Howard, February 4, 2006 at 4:14 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris:

It is remarkably refreshing to read your simple, well-expressed words.  Promulgations by most doctorates, literary officianados, etc., on the same subject are usually laden with obtuse and often coined wordage that obscures meaning.  They make my head swim.

You, on the other hand, use simple words to express what for these others would be clouded obfuscations.

Well done.  You are akin, I think, to Thomas Paine.  And I mean this as high praise, of course.

Fred Howard

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By Gilbert Labiaga, February 4, 2006 at 12:14 am Link to this comment
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I read religiously your articles and in particular your view of religion. I found them enlightening and convincing. Mentioning Bertrand Russel, I have read his book Why I am not a Christian,  too. I found the book a scholarly work that cut through religous dogmas.

Though a hard battle science eventually wins. Kudos to you for the good work.

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By HiveRadical, February 4, 2006 at 12:07 am Link to this comment
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Your arguments have only the chance of being nigh to tenable if someone tends along the lines of the agnostic. For to go along the lines of atheism there is an inherent dogma. But even agnosticism has a dogma, that being the dogma that all other dogmas are bad save the dogma that all other dogmas are bad.

But lets take this apart point by point—

1- teapot

Well you have a problem. God has a few differences from the unperceivable teapot. Take the following as an example of such. In LDS(Mormon) theology there’s the fact that God has been very consistent in what he’s revealed to different and separated, yet chronologically contemporary, nations (ala Book of Mormon visitation of Christ and the Biblical revelation of Christ). Aside from even that you have to deal with, despite discrepancies that can easily be accounted to human induced transmission errors through the ages, the many similar strains touching upon God found throughout the ages from sources without the needed links to the disparate other accounts through the ages.

Take, for instance, the common complaint against Christendom as to messianic figures existing far earlier in pagan traditions. Such anti-Christian apologetics attempts to prove that this is proof that the Christian story is simply a conglomerate and kind of alteration of earlier ideas. Yet if one views the whole idea of Christ from the view point of having set points throughout our protology in which a sufficiently full disclosure of a Messiah is repeatedly dispensed by God, corrupted by men and later redispensed by God to a later receptive generation then one sees a very plausible explanation for the similarities found linking most of the worlds significant theological traditions. An explanation with as much, if not MORE, plausibility than that presented by the ‘rational’ anti-theists.

The teapot has no such connection. To further demonstrate such—

Once it was viewed that the terribly complex process of metallurgy had to have been happen-stance-ly observed and acted upon by one fortunate group, and then gradually, would come improvement and disseminated from an initial area out to all the world. Yet the best evidence we yet have has metallurgy simultaneously appearing all over the world. The problem is that this couldn’t have been the product of dissemination from a single location because every location that it is found to have produced metallurgy at this moment in time developed a form of metallurgical modus operandi distinctly different from the other locations. The Mid-East had the forge as it’s medium. In China it’s the cast. In India wootz steel’s production seems almost more akin to an expanded bread baking than the forges or furnaces of the Mid-East or China, respectively. In the Americas they (Olmec) figured out how to properly mingle Platinum Group Metals in alloyswithout ever coming close to reaching the melting points of such.

To the issue of the teapot and showing the correlation between it and the advent of metallurgy. Now, if we could isolate the very likely situation in which several different nations from the past, unconnected to each other, but living at the same time period, and each nation had members that testified, or noticeable remnants of such testifying, that they had been witnesses to said teapot in a time and place, or had knowledge of it being set in some course that would land it to the approximate position as previously stated, and if these testimonies, adjusted for the invariable change that comes from the passing of time and human errors in transmission, correlated to a strong degree then you’d have, while not easily quantifiable, evidence more concrete than that of the mere teapot.

I’ll address the other points, especially that touching on moral chaos born of anti-theism, later in my weblog http://supercriticalfluid.blogspot.com/

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By David Larstein, February 3, 2006 at 11:37 pm Link to this comment
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How is it I can agree with almost all of Harris’ points, I still take atheism as a rather shallow philosphy, a form of spiritual materialism reacting to all forms of dead theology.  I tend to think, ya-ok-good-right-on and so what.  All these concepts are just things people have thought up.  The transcendent paradox of human existance is how language allows us to create concepts and organize ourselves in ways that extend the potential of the imagination.  You want to call it “God”? Ok? You want to have beliefs fine, only don’t get caught in them.  Life is simply an ongoing discovery toward higher levels of universal integration, or else it is an endless parody of outworn literary concepts and and the dramas of those who are trapped by them. 

Everything in this universe is bursting with spirit, with pranah, with “God”.  It’s just sad that the word has become such a meaningless noun.  But , being a noun, it deserves its meaningless.  Making this great mystery into a mere thing is as childish as is gets.  So the concept of God itself is inherently a caricature.  And so must be the contrarian athiest viewpoint.  I think it better to embrace everything with an openness that can take in as much of human existance, tragic and beautiful, as a person can experience.  You understand then that religion is for communities, and communities are always childish.  Unfortunately, atheism is a philosophy of refutation, not of transcendence.  Thus, it’s really not very interesting.

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By MGG, February 3, 2006 at 8:42 pm Link to this comment
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I hate to fawn, but the two essays were amazing.  The brilliance Harris displays in the pieces almost makes me believe in God. 

Thanks Sam

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