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Sam Harris: The Truthdig Interview

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Posted on Apr 3, 2006
Sam Harris
Illustration by Karen Spector

By Blair Golson

(Page 2)

What kind of fears did you have before writing such a book, and putting your name and picture on it?

There are security concerns, obviously. The Salaman Rushdie effect was not totally distant from my imagination as I was writing the book, but at a certain point you just have to speak honestly about these things, and I’ve taken reasonable steps to ensure my security.

Can you elaborate?

I don’t make my whereabouts particularly well known and I have security whenever I do an event—bodyguards and other precautions that are probably best not publicized.

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Have any of those fears been realized?

I’ve had some reasonably scary e-mails, but nothing that has risen to the level of a death threat.

How do most people react when you explain to them the thesis of your book? You meet someone at a dinner party, let’s say.

It depends where the conversation begins.  If I begin with my criticism of Islam, anyone on the conservative side of the spectrum will tend to understand it, and liberals will find it to be a taboo-breaking repudiation of their political correctness and their multi-culturalism.

Conversely, if I start talking about my concerns about the intrusions of religion into our own public policy, liberals will tend to love this, as they share these concerns, but Christian conservatives will begin to protest. So I can establish rapport, or not, depending on what I emphasize in my argument.

But perhaps the most central thesis of your book, the attack on irrational faith itself, doesn’t that offend people on both sides of the political spectrum?

The most controversial aspect of my book has been this criticism I make of religious moderates. Most people think that while religious extremism is problematic and polarizing, religious tolerance is entirely blameless and is the remedy for all that ails us on this front.

But religious moderates are giving cover to fundamentalists because of the respect that moderates demand of faith-based talk. Religious moderation doesn’t allow us to say the really critical things we must say about the abject stupidity of religious fundamentalism. And as a result, it keeps fundamentalism in play, and fundamentalists make very cynical and artful use of the cover they’re getting by the political correctness in our discourse.

You also say religious moderation closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics and the building of strong communities. What did you mean by that?

Religious moderation is just a cherry-picking of scripture, ultimately. It is just diluted Iron Age philosophy. It isn’t a 21st century approach to talking about the contemplative life, or spiritual experience, or ethical norms, or those features that keep communities strong and healthy.

Religious moderation is a relaxation of the standards of adherence to ancient taboos and superstitions. That’s really all it is. Moderate Christians have agreed not to read the bible literally, and not read certain sections of it at all, and then they come away with a much more progressive, tolerant and ecumenical version of Christianity. They just pay attention to Jesus when he’s sermonizing on the Mount, and claim that is the true Christianity. Well that’s not the true Christianity. It’s a selective reading of certain aspects of Christianity. The other face of Christianity is always waiting in the book to be resurrected. You can find the Jesus of Second Thessalonians who’s going to come back and hurl sinners into the pit. This is the Jesus being celebrated in the Left Behind novels. This is the Jesus that half the American population is expecting to see come down out of the clouds.

Switching gears: to what extent do you see religion—as opposed to tribalism or just a plain desire to avenge past wrongs—responsible for the sectarian violence destabilizing Iraq?

I don’t think you can necessarily draw a neat line of separation here, because clearly the Shia and the Sunni, for instance, have defined their moral communities in terms of their religious affiliation. These communities have a long history of victimizing one another on that basis, so their conflict does have the character of a tribal feud. But the only difference between these two groups, really, is their religious identity—and it’s a marginal difference at best. These are two groups who really do worship the same god. They just can’t agree to worship him in the same way, and for this they’ve been killing each other for centuries.

To what extent will America be responsible if a theocracy takes over in Iraq?

Many people draw a lesson from the chaos in Iraq now—a lesson which suggests that we were rapacious, oil-greedy colonialists who ineptly wandered into a sectarian hell-realm and have inflamed the place. But I think it’s worth stepping back to ask what would be the best-case scenario—had we gone in purely for altruistic motives, to liberate 25 million people from Saddam Hussein and his diabolical sons.

I think it’s quite possible that we would see precisely the same chaos. Now, this is not to deny that we did many things terribly and ineptly, and Abu Ghraib cost us dearly. But it’s likely that we would still have some significant percentage of Muslims who would be ready to fight to the death simply to eject the infidels from Babylon, no matter how altruistic the infidels’ motives.

Given that fact, I think our culpability is somewhat mitigated, because I think there was a very good argument for trying to create a model democracy in the heart of the Muslim world, and Iraq was a plausible place to do that. But none of what I just said should be construed as a denial of the fact that we have done it horribly, or that we’re paying a terrible price for our failures. We are likely to pay for these failures long into the future.

Many people fear that Iraq will adopt Sharia [the Islamic fundamentalist legal code]. Is that preferable to a secular totalitarian regime?

No, I don’t think it is at all. They’re two evils. But if you get a truly ethical despot in charge—a benevolent despot—that may be the necessary transitional mechanism to democracy.

It should be pretty clear that much of the Muslim world is not ready for democracy, and we have to confront that reality. Many Muslims are prepared to tear out their freedoms by the root the moment they are given a chance to decide their destiny.

How we transition to a democracy in the Middle East—a true democracy—is a very difficult problem. We should consider the examples of Muslim communities living in Western Europe, and their failure to assimilate democratic values. If ever there were a test case for how immune a community can be to the charms of democracy, just look at the Muslim communities in Holland or France or Denmark. Look at the crowds of people who want newspaper editors and cartoonists decapitated. These are people who are living in Western Europe. Many of them have lived their whole lives there.

So you really think Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy?

For the most part, yes. Just look at the case of the apostate in Afghanistan who converted to Christianity and who was up for a death sentence. Then, after all the nations of the earth applied pressure on Hamid Karzai, he got spirited away. This is the reality under Islam: you take your life in your hands for criticizing the faith.  A Muslim is simply not free to wake up in the morning and decide he no longer wants to be a Muslim. Such a change of mind is really punishable by death. So unless Muslims reform this feature of their religion, at a minimum, there is not much hope for Muslim democracy.

We’re not tending to talk about all of the deal-breakers that lurk in the mainstream theology of Islam. We’re pretending as though they’re not there, and we’re invading countries and creating constitutional democracies, apparently in ignorance of the fact that a majority of the people still want their neighbors killed for thought crimes. Until you change peoples’ minds on this subject—until you get them to run a different moral calculus, where cartoons cease to be the thing that most animates them, and a genuine compassion for other peoples’ suffering is the real gold standard of their morality—I don’t see how putting the structures of democracy in place will help anyone. You need a civil society before you have a democracy.

Next Page: “The Jewish settlers are really deranged by their theology, and I would argue that they are some of the most dangerous and irresponsible people on earth right now.”


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By David Derush, August 7, 2006 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Morgan, I don’t find your “logic” to be the least bit logical.  It may be logical in your head…but it is not real logic. Real logic brings clarity.  Your words bring confusion.  The simple fact is that creation demands the existence of a Creator just as a painting demands the existence of a painter.  Truth is simple. Truth does not require sophistry such as you display in your thinking.

The likely reason you can’t see such an obvious thing is that you find comfort in your conviction that there is no being higher than yourself to which you will ever have to give an account of your actions or motives.

That is your placebo Morgan.  That is your opiate…..and is wishful thinking on your part.  Generally, people’s theology, or non-belief, is dictated by their morality, not the other way around.  People tend to believe whatever they need to believe to justify themselves.  You are no different in this than the self-righteous evangelical Christian that imagines his largely selfish life is headed for heaven because his theology tells him it is all “under the blood of Jesus”...so God doesn’t even see the true condition of his heart.  He wants to live selfishly and still imagine he has forgiveness and eternal life…and so he embraces a theology that tells him what he wants to hear.  If such people had total authority, they would most likely kill anyone who tried to bust their bubble of self-deception, and imagine they were doing service to God in doing so.

Morgan, you also sound awfully dogmatic and self-righteous.  You sound as dogmatic as a Calvinist Christian.

I would sure hate to see Calvinists Christians have the power to enforce their religious dogma on me…and I would be equally dubious about the prospect of people such as you having the power of civil authority.

Sincerely,
David

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By morgan-lynn lamberth griggsy, August 7, 2006 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I meant conflates-putting stuff together .It was a fool who said non -theists were fools. The argument from increduility is for the gullible. When I look at nature , I see natural causation as the “god” , not a god, as the maker. Just no- mind natural selection does the selecting . To mix [conlfate]  it with mind is to make a contradiction and to obviate that with a two category classification is question begging.Logic is the bane of theists.Harriss knows religion is at best a placebo.

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By David Derush, August 7, 2006 at 11:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One more thing…what does “conifates” mean?

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By David Derush, August 7, 2006 at 11:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I find it amazing that people can look at a flower, or a sunset, or the structure of the atom….and against all common sense, deny that they are “designed objects”. 

The only difference between what man can make and what the Creator has made is this:

the degree of glory and beauty and intricacy of design and interrelatedness of what the Creator has made, is so far beyond what can be attained by human power as to make comparison ridiculous…for example, Michelangelo’s “David”, as a creation in terms of intricacy and nobility, is not even comparable to the shepherd boy himself.

And of course, life itself.  Man can not create life.  But life has been created, and not just bugs and flowers, but life in human beings that has the power to make moral judgments, and to reason and choose.  This is so far beyond what human creative power is capable of as to make comparison ridiculous, completely ridiculous.

Those who think they can reasonably believe that such a miracle as living things “just happened” to come into existence from some combination of non-living things…..and apart from the intelligent design of a Creator, must bear the burden of duplicating the “accident”; of demonstrating that life can be created out of non-living things.  Otherwise, your non-belief in a Creator is not based on reason, but rather on blind faith.

That a person can imagine there is any intellectual integrity in saying that a painting is “designed”, while a human being, or a flower, or a star, are all “undesigned” and accidental….well, it is just hard to relate to such thinking.

I guess that is why the ancient writings state, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God”.

Sincerely,
David

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By morgan-lynn lamberth, August 7, 2006 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One conlfates designed objects like paintings with undesigned objects that natural creation works on ,thus the argument is worthless . It is just the argument from incredulity. Just one more case to show that logic is the bane of theists1

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By David Derush, August 7, 2006 at 9:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very interesting interview.

Personally, I am glad to believe in the Creator, and I find it very easy to do so completely apart from any reference to a book.  All I have to do is look at the amazing beauty of creation.

If I look at a beautiful painting on a wall, it is no “leap of faith” to know that the very existence of such a painting demands that a talented painter exists.  Only a fool would believe that the beautiful painting “just happened” into existence, or “evolved” over millenia from random molecules of pigment and oils and canvas and frame….only a fool would look at a beautiful painting and not know immediately that there was a painter behind it’s existence.  It is inarguable, really.

The same common sense demands belief in a Creator, based on nothing more than the existence of the created universe.

I agree whole-heartedly that the vast majority of human religion gives belief in a Creator a very bad name; but that is more a commentary on the fatal flaw in the character of human beings…that they can make something deadly and complicated out of something that can be simple and life-giving…rather than any proof against the inherent reasonableness in knowing there is a Creator simply from the reality that there is a creation.

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By ed_tru_lib, August 3, 2006 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a pleasure to read, and read of, such a lungful of fresh air and courageous common sense. It will only be when more progressives, even believers or those (usually in public office) who fear them,  are willing to embrace the right, and benefit to all, of these views to be widely disseminated, that we will be back on the path to sanity in so many areas of our society. Thank you Sam, and to all those posters who said “keep up the good work” I add a hearty, and heartfelt AMEN!
O…uh..well you know what I mean.

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By Guitarsandmore, August 2, 2006 at 9:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Scientists’ Belief in God Varies Starkly by Discipline

By Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 11 August 2005
02:24 pm ET

About two-thirds of scientists believe in God, according to a new survey that uncovered stark differences based on the type of research they do.
The study, along with another one released in June, would appear to debunk the oft-held notion that science is incompatible with religion.
Those in the social sciences are more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than researchers in the natural sciences, the study found.
The opposite had been expected.
Nearly 38 percent of natural scientists—people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology—said they do not believe in God. Only 31 percent of the social scientists do not believe.
In the new study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed 1,646 faculty members at elite research universities, asking 36 questions about belief and spiritual practices.
“Based on previous research, we thought that social scientists would be less likely to practice religion than natural scientists are, but our data showed just the opposite,” Ecklund said.
Some stand-out stats: 41 percent of the biologists don’t believe, while that figure is just 27 percent among political scientists.
In separate work at the University of Chicago, released in June, 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.
“Now we must examine the nature of these differences,” Ecklund said today. “Many scientists see themselves as having a spirituality not attached to a particular religious tradition. Some scientists who don’t believe in God see themselves as very spiritual people. They have a way outside of themselves that they use to understand the meaning of life.”
Ecklund and colleagues are now conducting longer interviews with some of the participants to try and figure it all out.
•  Atheist Philosopher, 81, Now Believes in God
•  Science Leader Says President Bush Confuses Science and Belief
•  Intelligent Designs (or Creation Myths)
•  Top 10 Missing Links

http://www.livescience.com/othernews/050811_scientists_god.html

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By Atheista, August 1, 2006 at 8:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We need people like this, atheists who are out of the closet and speak openly. Get active! Join the movement! http://www.atheistactivist.org

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By WesternWorld, July 29, 2006 at 7:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isaac Newton was a “heretic”.

His secret was that he was a believer in the Christianity of the 4th century’s Arius. If the church had known, he would have been run out of the universities and his career would have been cut short.

The Alexandrian Presbyter Arius rejected the notion that Jesus was co-equal with the father because the son was “begotten” and the father was not. The council of Nicea condemned Arianisam. In many places, the Arianists out numbered the Nicenes. Jehovah Witnesses embrace an Arianist type Christianity. Deists and Unitarians are kind of Arianist, too. People like Thomas Jefferson rejected the divinity of Jesus, too.

Maybe Newton was influenced by “Spinoza’s God” as the unbeliever Einstein put it.

______________________________________

Emperor Constantine, the Nicene Council and Arius:

http://community-2.webtv.net/tales_of_the_western_world/RLCONSTANTINE

HOME:
http://www.stopthereligiousright.org

Lots of really bright people are superstitious. But most scientists reject the notion of creationism or a personal God. The believer is the exception among natural scientists, physicists and mathematicians.

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By Kiki Z, July 28, 2006 at 4:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you Sam Harris!!!!!  It is so refreshing to see in print what I have thought to be the truth for quite some time.  I’m glad that Sam Harris is not the least bit intimidated by those subscribing to the sanctimonious dogma that prevails in most religions.  I have read his book, End of Faith, and I’m glad the truth is finding its way into main-stream media, although slowly, it is happening due to progressive writers such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. I personally believe that religious beliefs and born out of fear of the unknown.  The promise of a great reward after death is really the only thing many people have to get them through the suffering and pain of daily living.  For them it’s much easier to accept and believe in an ancient tale passed down through the ages that has no foundation of facts.  I’m puzzled by this declaration of blind faith by people who consider themselves educated yet put themselves on the line for a belief that bears no concrete evidence to the believer.  No facts, just a feeling.  What a waste of time.

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By morgan -lynn lamberth[griggsy or griggs1947], July 28, 2006 at 2:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam knows that religion at best is a placebo and therefore, the inner life of the unbeliever in reality would be fine;but that life does not mean theree is a Sky Pappy.Sam’s inner life leads him to appreciate that existence is a brute fact,not at all explained by the otiose notion of a Sky Pappy. Dennett also knows religion .  Fr. Griggs rests in his Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism.

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By Christopher Livers, July 27, 2006 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I read the article, “The Atheist Manifesto,” and commented on it, and now I’ve read the interview Sam Harris gave as a supplement to his article.  I have not read his book, nor do I plan to.  On truthdig.org, journalist Chris Hedges wrote about life for Palestinians in the West Bank.  One person he interviewed said that it is understandable that Palestinians believe in God, because they are suffering under Israeli oppression and are impotent in the face of earthly castastrophe.  This makes sense to me.

Why do people have “irrational faith”?  According to the position of Harris, those people are simply unenlightened—stupid, in a word.  (Was Isaac Newton stupid?)  Harris is not against a spiritual understanding of life, it seems, since he has respect for elements of Buddhism.  His fight is against religious dogmatism.  Does he not realize that contemplation can, and maybe must, take forms in order for humans to comprehend the spirit which is being contemplated?  This spirit is none other than the individual ego, which Harris claims should be abolished.  Abolished into what?  For the atheist, the ego must disappear into nothingness.  For the believer, the ego is absorbed into its maker, God.

Bertrand Russell, whom Harris quoted in an earlier article, claimed to know with certainty that when he died, his body would rot, his ego would be obliterated, and his existence would end as if it had never existed.  This is outright arrogance.  The believer does not know that his ego will live on, so when claims of immortality are given as reasons for faith, this also is arrogance.  The fact is that nobody knows what happens when a person dies.  But people believe in God because of death, its inevitability.  Russell was correct in stating that his body would rot, but that was his only certainty.  He did not acknowledge that he may have had a soul that would not rot.

My problem with Harris is that he spends too much time with the faults of religious dogma.  Of course people want to have some kind of structure and form to their beliefs in God, who is an incomprehensible being to the intellect.  Instead of worrying about the moral evils of fundamentalist sects, Christian and Muslim, he ought to write about the inner life of believers, and try to make his atheistic claims against those invisible aspects which cannot be argued against because they exist not in words but in feelings.  However, Harris will not be able to be an atheist anymore after that, because you cannot argue with feelings.  You can argue with dogma, but you cannot argue with God.

Christopher Livers

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By WesternWorld, July 24, 2006 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Susan noted:

>a veritable recipe for fascism.

Christian Right wingers are quick to use the term “Islamafascists” but are blind to the facts regarding fundamentalist Christianity. Excluding the level of violence, the two are remarkably alike. Sexist, homophobic, religiously intolerant, given to extreme punishments, driven to use goiverbnment, etc. And we must remember that Islam has lightyears to go to match the violence of Christians before the Enlightenment defanged them. Stone’em. Burn ‘em forever. Yup, gawd iz luv. Forgiveness my ass!

Check this out:

Homosexuals under religion, fascism and Stalinism: Social Consewrvatism as a coercicve tool of the state:

http://community-2.webtv.net/westernmind/REICHOFFICE

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By sns, July 24, 2006 at 7:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

William S. Burroughs once said: ““If you’re doing business with a religious son of a bitch, get it in writing. His word isn’t worth sh*t, not with the good Lord telling him how f*ck you on the deal.”

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By Morgan-LynnLamberth, July 23, 2006 at 6:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Susan28,exactly. Even more so than errantists ,inerrantists rely on faith -I ust say so - to argue plus farfetch apologies of that faith.One says that Job’s children when their god’s Satan murdered his children arrived in Heaven and another one vouches for the morality of slavery. Fools find all kinds of excuses for their psychopathic god .[No insult ,just a fact,] It would be impossible for the sun to stand still without severe repercussions on earth ,but those people gloss over that ,allowing for miracles. And how can they vouch for miracles ? The Vatican’s official miracle finders are ignoramuses , since they have not found one miracle.And now they will testify that four people have engendered miracles in order to make them saints .If the god of the Vatican is not a god of the gaps, then what does it do in the cosmos? And how is its doing any different than it not existing if it is not a god of the gaps.As an ignostic, I find the god notion otiose. Existence exists! It is just a brute fact. The notion of two category classification of origins or contingency and creation or necessary being is a circular argument used to avoid making the contradiction of the unplanning nature of natural selection versus a planning being:look it is the new Omphalos argument - it looks unplanned ,but   our god just fools everyone to think so when it , the god, is in charge. Creationists ,whether special creationists or evolutionist creationists just impose without reason a god into the equation by faith.Faith itself is just a circular argument ,for one has to demonstrate a god first in order to hav e faith in it ! Logic is the bane of theists. Fr.Griggs rests in his Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism.Sam is so right!

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By susan 28, July 23, 2006 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Andy #14218:

agree 100%. religious fundamentalism is like a smoldering flame, it’s always present, but tends to flare up during times of social and financial hardship (ie: that which we create in our “cient states” and increasingly in our own lower echelons). it’s more of a battle flag than an actual cause in itself, but takes on a life of its own once sufficiently stoked. a veritable recipe for fascism.

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By Stan Kossen, July 22, 2006 at 7:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Grofaz wasn’t commenting to me, but I’ll respond anyhow.

Here’s Grofaz’s comment first.
———————————————————-
Comment #6530 by Grofaz on 4/05 at 10:33 am

Why don’t you move to Sweden if it’s so terrific?
————————————

Here’s mine:

Grofaz. Think about what you just said. Is it an intelligent remark, or merely a kneejerk reaction?

It reminds me of the comments “true believers” made during the sixties. “Love it or leave it.”

Referring to “black and white reasoning,” to me, has become trite, but it seems as though there still is a lot of the American population that does not realize how simplistic they are when they disagree with others.

Why do people like you continually boast how “free” the US is when you don’t really want to allow others to have freedom of expression.

I’m an American and I loved it, but I left it anyhow. I have lived in Europe for almost 20 years, and I have never missed living in the US.

I feel much freer living in Europe. Here is a revelation that may come as a surprise to non-questioning Americans who have never heard of Descartes.

I live in France.

In reality, however, I live in the world. Even though you may not have noticed, there is only one world.

Au revoir.

Stan

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By Mark, July 19, 2006 at 1:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m an atheist myself, but I think it’s too narrow to blame religion. The problem is irrational ideologies in general.

And here’s a very topical example: many of the most irrational and rabid Zionist expansionist ideologues are not religious. They’re actually a bit like the Nazis (who were also atheists): they believe fervently in their duty to enable a master race to take its rightful place as ruler over the untermenschen.

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By Andy Hoffman, July 18, 2006 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a lifelong atheist, Sam Harris truly articulates what I believe, like few others I have read before. 

I have a couple of points that I disagree with, however.  I feel that Harris downplays, somewhat, the true grievances of oil-rich states that happen to be Muslim states.  Suicide bombers and even Bin Laden himself are simply foot soldiers who justify their acts through religious fanaticism, but have broad support among the Muslim world for their declared political motivations, articulated by bin Laden himself, for the West to stop interferring in Middle Eastern affairs.

Harris’ semi-justification of the Iraq War illustrates this point.  He fails to understand the true grievance felt by a nation that was attacked unprovoked, and has had thousands of casualties at our behest.  If we continue to think that what is going on in Iraq and other places is the inevitability due to the Muslim mindset rather than primarily the result of Western imperialism and hegemony, things will only get worse.

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By Morgan-LynnLamberth, July 16, 2006 at 3:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Someone in Free Inquiry states that while atheists have every right to put forth their position ,they are unwarranted to link it with evolution. To the contrary, we just make the obvious conclusion that natural causation is opposed to teleology - the unplanning nature of the first does the heavy lifnng while the second is otiose and there is the contradiction therin and its denial ,both of which I above demonstrated to be fallacious. We should tell the truth , not worry if special creationists won’t become evolutionist creationists as Ruse and Eugenie Scott as sycophants do . Why not straight out tellling the truth? Others can preach accomodation of evolution to creationism in the wide sense.Ruse is too much aligned with Dembski, it seems. The L.A.Times states that we non-religious make up 22% of the Democratic Party and we must let the religious have an influence. Fine. Those who find a social gospel shold align with us, but not belabor their religiosity like Carter . We should be heard loudly. Arthur Caplan , Paul Kurtz and Pter Singer should have a commanding voice as Jim Wallis should ,but the media concentrate on the latter as though the former does not exist, it seems to me .Many religious view our standing up for rationality is an affront to their dominance; we shoud be that affront! Fr. Griggs rests in his Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism.

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By Kevin, July 16, 2006 at 12:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Matt Sullivan, you can’t be serious. Equating believing in an invisible man in the sky that watches over us all to a flimsy conspiracy theory shows that you are completely blind. Now, I’m not saying it’s unreasonable to believe that the official story isn’t true, but to claim that it IS unreasonable to believe that a group of Islamic guys with the fear of Allah stirring through their veins perpetrated the acts of 9/11 is ludicrous.

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By Matt Sullivan, July 12, 2006 at 6:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I admire Sam’s work and agree with his insight wrt religion, I think it is interesting to note which beliefs Sam is willing to hold without regard for any basis in fact.  I’m refering to his continued references to al-qaeda and the attacks of 9/11.  Sam seems to accept the government supplied orthodoxy on this issue on faith.  The absurdities of the official dogma regarding 9/11 have been pointed out time and again by the likes of David Ray Griffin, Jim Fetzer and physicist Steven E. Jones.

Sam, if you’re going to renounce Jesus and the 12 desciples then you can’t very well evangelize a faith in Osama and his 19.  If you’re going to demand rationality of belief, then it must pertain to all beliefs.

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By Danny Wilkerson, July 12, 2006 at 10:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I realy enjoyed Sam Harris’s “Atheist manifesto”. http://www.truthdig.com/dig/item/200512_an_atheist_manifesto Anyone have any information on Sam Harris’s organization he is setting up?

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By Morgan-LynnLamberth, July 12, 2006 at 9:20 am Link to this comment
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Sam might devote a book to other major religions .Those might not be deadly in practic ,but they have absurd notions such as karma and reincarnation .Creationist form early earth one to theistic evolutionist ones just want to make an Omphalos argument: it looks as though natural selection had the role in evolution ,but the former ones say their god faked the evidence to make it look evolutionary and the latter implicitly say ,god faked it to make like natural selection did the creative job, but by faith,we know he did it . All creationists just do not want to acknowledge that the cosmos is just a brute fact! None can explain how a god could act on the cosmos as the notion is fatuous and redundant . See Amiel Rossow’s essay @ Talk Reason for an expose of kEneth Miller and others’ obfuscation of natural causation and a deity and see other essays there on naturalism against supernaturalsim . Quentin Smith there peluccidly makes the case for the polyverse not requring a deity.

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By Robert Tambree, July 12, 2006 at 7:38 am Link to this comment
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To all those who say that the task of secularisation is impossible, I suggest you’re committing the American fallacy i.e. seeing how Americans are and assuming the whole world is like that. There are just as many Western European, New Zealand, and Australia atheists as there are American theists, so religion is in no way “geneticall determined” or an impossible adversary.

Atheism has a bad repuation only in America.

Liberal has a bad reputation only in America.

Also, I would like to draw your attention to the suicide bombers of non-Islamic origin throughout history - Kamikaze, Tamals.

Another point… if the motivation of Islamic suicide bombers is religious, then why are targeting America and its allies? Why not secular Sweden? They’re infidels too. Why not the Vatican? Why not the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, den of iniquity? Why America? The World Trade Centre and Pentagon were economic and military targets, not religious targets.

Osama’s grievance about infidel boots near the holy sites is a political grievance just as much a religious one. Interestingly, the USA has quietly withdrawn its Saudi bases…. when Osama says jump, Rummy asks how high?

Last point - everyone on the planet is born an atheist.

Good arguments, Sam - I agree with most of your arguments.

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By Barrie Johnson, July 12, 2006 at 5:39 am Link to this comment
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the faithful cannot be blamed for their failings. since birth, they are exposed to religious belief through mealtime prayers, bedtime prayers, sunday school, church, passing references to god, even curse words. These from the parents whom the child views as gods themselves, because of their size and ability to handle the child. that little sponge like mind of the immature, absorbs this stuff along with the most basic info such as how to breathe, to crawl, to suckle a breast or bottle, to walk, to learn flight or fight responses. the young mind is incapable of judicious thought, so each input is given the same weight as all the rest. The young mind does not start to develop the ability to screen or question input until at least age 4, by which time their religious beliefs are chiseled in stone. They could no more question the existence of god than they could question their own existence. They are brainwashed in fact. Later they develop the warm fuzzy feeling of being protected by an all powerful father figure, and the wondrous knowledge of immortality. They would refuse to apply logical thinking to their religious beliefs even if they could. The wonder is that there is as many nonbelievers as there are. Because of the death of a parent, I was not exposed to religious teaching until age 5, at which time I was exposed to catholicsm. The young mind cannot immediately reject the B.S. it encounters, but it does not put it in permanent file, and in later years that info is rejected as false. The problem lies in the fact we operate on an intelligent logical level, they operate on emotion. you cannot break through to them, no matter what you try.

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By MORGAN-LYNN LAMBERTH, July 11, 2006 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment
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Why would anyone want to worship? Why would a god want anyone to worship it? Low self-esteem! At best , religion is just a placebo. I advocate the terms rationalist, skeptic and naturalist for those who also eschew the paranormal .Our opponents would be the irrationalists , the gullible and the supernaturalists. I call them the irrationalists ,for everytime they compose an argument, we destroy it and all they do is to put the old garbage into new cans. They will never have a demonstration of a Sky Pappy, a ground of being- fatuous and redundant as I have previously shown here . It is irrational to embrace such docrines as it is to embracee flat earthism . Patent officials turn down applications for perpeputal motion machines ,just as rationalists turn down demonstrations of a deity .And faith itself is just a circular argument as Articulett @ Sleptic Society has shown. Why entertain a notion that only makes one feel good when one cannot apply it elsewhere ? We can also say we are agnostics ,because one definition of it is as a method like rationalism[not the continental rationalism ]. Lo,why a god ? To put off dread and to find a meaning for life as Francisco Ayala maintains. See a counselor for the dread and make your own meanings .                  Go to Skeptic Society and Raving Atheists for sustenance in rational ism .Check out also Theology Web for pro and con arguments on a god . I hav e threads there ,by the way!

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By WesternWorld, July 11, 2006 at 10:50 am Link to this comment
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One more thing:

After looking over more of the posts I have to add this:

In the scientific world of substantiated knowledge it is up to the claimant to provide substantive evidence for an existential claim be it God or death rays from aliens. Since there has never been any evidence supporting the existence of any God, it is perfectly okay to be an unbeliever and people should no be afraid to be logical and unbelieving. It is logical. It is a logical default position. Believers think that believing is the default position because they usually have everything backwards, thinking that others have to “prove a negative” It is a logical default position because it is the responsibility of the claimant for the existence of any energy or mass or entity to present the evidence.

American Founder and sage Thomas Jefferson made a profound point when writing his nephew Peter Carr when he came of age. He told him to question the existence of God because if a God exists it will no doubt “homage reason over blindfolded fear”. 

Default position: Unbelief

Required for a change of position:

Evidence!

NONE YET!

My history site:

http://www.stopthereligiousright.org

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By WesternWorld, July 11, 2006 at 10:25 am Link to this comment
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Cassie Lou goes too far and Mike doesnt come far enough. Mike is right about black and white just because of the inherent nature of language and logic.

The problem lies in defining God. I will be honest: I am sure that all religions of humanity and their gawds are total bunk. If I was not sure I would not be living my life the way I do and saying the things I do. I am betting my life on the nonexistence of all of humanity’s deities and trying to help others free themselves from this type of belief-slavery.

I think that people who are agnostic about Christianity, Hinduism, Judasim, and islam ae fooling themselves. While we cant possibly be omniscient, we can make judgements made on moral principles. We can make judgements based on the principles of logic and science. We can make judgements based on history and human nature. Given that, anyone who is agnostic about the religions of humanity hasnt been willing to make a decision.

With logic and science we have to deal with common sense, levels of evidence and the corresponding levels of probability.

As far as I am concerned, there is an extremely low probability of any human religions, almost all of them tribal in origin, having a factual view of he cosmos.

There is so much evidence against religious claims it seems ridiculous, bording on a neurotic need, to believe in any of them.

It is okay to be atheitic towards all of humanity’s invented religions and deities. It is okay to be agnostic regarding the nature of the universe. 

So when a Christian calls me an atheist, they are right as far as their religion goes. The same goes with a Muslim calling me an atheist. But we have to remember that Christians were persecuted in Rome because they were atheists, denying the existence of the gods.

Black and white simply doesnt work in either science or logic but we can be atheists regarding every religiona and deity we have personally tested.

In my mind, ALL have failed the tests so far.

I have a website that strongly attacks Judeo-Christianity and throws in Islam for spice. But it is mostly about the evils of church-state alliances and their history.

http://www.stopthereligiousright.org

Fundies say I can burn but I dont for a minute think that any God could be as ignorant and bigoted as the ones in the Bible and the Koran. They are like neurotic child-emperors on Methedrine and LSD. It is blind and uncritical to think that these books actually represent a real view of the universe. And they fail miserably in regards to the principles of liberty, equality,morality and justice. Their gods are more like Stalinists and fascists, enemies of true liberty of conscience.

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By Morgan-LynnLamberth, July 11, 2006 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
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Why would a Sky Pappy need worship?.Low self-eseem! Why would people ascribe to one what happens naturally ?There are no two category classification of origins or dontingency or creation or necessary being , since that is begging the question of the second element.All thatis trying     avoid the contradiction between an unplanning natural selection and a planning Sky Pappy.  But ,for the sake of argument,how would a god operate in the cosmos and if no god ,how would the cosmos look any different? t                                     Logic is the bane of theists.                                                                Fr.Griggs rests in his Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism.

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By Mike #2, July 10, 2006 at 8:58 pm Link to this comment
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Cassie Lou wrote “An Agnostic is just a pussy that won’t commit”.  This is typical of the narrow mindset.  Can’t think outside the box of “Yes/No,  Black/White, Right/Wrong, On/Off”.  An agnostic is someone who simply admits the truth we all know deep inside - that we don’t know anything about whatever entity/force that could have caused/created the universe we live.  An atheist who says “I know that there is no God” is as foolish as the theist who says he knows there is.  Nobody knows.  We may know someday, but it is likely to be millions of years from now, if ever. 

It is not a fear of “commitment” that stops the agnostic from saying “I believe” or I don’t believe.  It is honesty, recognizing that we don’t have the evidence to claim we know or don’t know.  “Faith” is just another word for pussy, by the way. “Got Faith?”

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By sturgeone, July 10, 2006 at 3:43 am Link to this comment
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jesus himself (in red letters) gave away the whole ball game at Luke 17 verses 20,21….It doesnt get much plainer….“the kingdom of heaven is WITHIN you.”

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By Cassie Lou, May 18, 2006 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment
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An Agnostic is just a pussy that won’t commit.

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By Luke, May 17, 2006 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment
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Jesus is a mentor and God is Nature

All religions must judge their own belief on Nurturing Nature! Nurturing God!

Many people will be misled by mentors from time to time hence they change mentors over-time to religions that seems more palitable!

But at the end of the day or in the ‘grand scheme of things’ God, religion is Nature!

How does your mentor related to Nature or God?

If you’re unhappy with the results then find a more meaningfull mentor….

Religion is a mentor’s teaching here on earth and God is our Wonderful Universe.

You only have to see how the lords pray works to understand Jesus and his teaching!

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. for ever and ever. Amen

===============

Did Christ want?

Christ wanted to nurture nature in my book.

If Christ did want something in my book he’d have wanted you and me and everyone to Nurture Nature.

Just like cradling a baby in your arms.

If you nurture all things great and small then a cradle swings below us nurturing us as well.

Other than that example Christ in my book asks for nothing. Those who preach otherwise don’t give you any other message from God!

And because people try to tell other people other things that God wants then that is why they fight about whose type of God they should follow!

=============================

Give them their religion and their God that is what supports our survival but lead them by example!

Spare the Rod?

We all know the phrase from the Bible that says spare the rod and spoil the child. Does this mean hitting them? Is there another meaning that is possible here? An advisor of mine whilst I was Children’s Commissioner in Tasmania, who was preparing for church ministry, said that her interpretation of the Bible allows us to consider these statements from a non violent perspective. She said that the rod in the Bible referred to the shepherd’s rod. This shepherd’s rod had a crook in it which was used to hook onto the sheep to prevent them from straying, to contain them. I then realized for myself, that the rod was not the staff that the shepherd also had, that I believe was used to beat off wolves and other predators. My own reflections also lead me to this conclusion, as my favourite Psalm, Psalm 23 states that the Lord is my shepherd and that His rod and staff will always guide me and be my comfort.

The rod is to steer me to paths of righteousness with the rod to protect me from harm. Neither of these were there to harm me, and this concept of a benign and loving God, who like a good shepherd was devoted and faithful in looking after his flock is commonplace in the Bible. I humbly and respectfully offer you this alternative way of viewing some Biblical statements as matters for your consideration, to show how it is possible to parent without any violence, but with guidance, care and love.

http://sydney.indymedia.org/node/36826

Frederick Nietzsche

He said when God died he left a little bit of himself in everyone, now what do you want to be?

My answer ‘a mentor’! Lead by example…..

====================

We are one!

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By lamberthml@comcast.net, May 6, 2006 at 12:14 am Link to this comment
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Harris is right about the cherry picking. Read what Walter Kaufmann has to say about such in his two books on religion.Naturalism is my term ,because I am against the paranorman as well.[I’m the lone schyzotypal who is a naturalist,since all the others believe in weird notions,]

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By lurqer, May 4, 2006 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment
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>>>> Comment #8137 by Jon B

” Naming a belief system or non-belief system really comes down to language…”

First, on a topic such as the one being discussed in the interview (and these comments), it is probably best that I first give some idea of “where I’m coming from” (to quote the common vernacular). From the time of pubescence, I have considered the term Organized Religion to be oxymoronic. The concepts discussed under the rubric of religion were so close to the core, so personally idiosyncratic as to preclude the possibility of being imposed by some foreign entity and still retain any independent identity. To peruse various belief systems both in an effort to understand others and to glean ideas seemed reasonable.  But to accept any Organized Religion in toto (i.e. “hook, line and sinker”) was untenable then and in the decades since.

Furthermore, I should disclose that for the sake of brevity, when discussing ideas that in modern American society are usually termed religious, I frequently use the term atheism. This is not because I either like the term or believe it is appropriate, but rather because I wish to discuss something else and don’t wish to get sidetracked. However, in this forum quite the opposite is true.

When Jon B says, ” Naming a belief system or non-belief system really comes down to language…” he is broaching a profound insight. Atheism’s existence in the dictionary (and its definition there) is not the relevant consideration. Language is not just a tool we use to communicate - as important as that obviously is. Language is how we think. When we think we manipulate symbols -i.e. words. If you aren’t using words that accurately describe phenomena, there is little chance that you will think about the topic in an accurate way. (Parenthetically, yes I know there other symbols that are used in thinking (i.e. pictures, sounds, etc), but even then humans usually mix these other symbols with words when thinking about a topic).

When dealing with a large amorphous data set, humans typically divide the set into categories, and then think about these categories. Unless great care is given to this first step, all can be lost. Once, the categories are made, they tend to become fixed in one’s mind and control subsequent thought on the topic. If the categories are poorly conceived, subsequent thought is difficult and confused, and deep insight may be impossible. Hence, great care should be exercised when deciding upon the categories that are to be used in classifying any phenomenon. Particular attention should be given to any miscellaneous category - usually given at the end of the classification system. This is where everything that doesn’t fit is swept, so this is where the limitations of the classification system are most evident. Frequently, this category is defined in terms of a negative - i.e. everything that is NOT one of the other categories.

My objection to the term atheism stems not from its pejorative nature in the society within which I dwell, but rather that I believe that it originates from a mindset that is ill equipped to understand what is being defined. One typically finds the term within a discussion of various religious beliefs. Usually the approach is category A believes this, category B believes that, and finally there is the category Atheism that does NOT believe in any of these ideas. Such a classification system comes from a religious mindset. Only in a society that is overwhelmingly religious would such a classification schema seem appropriate.

One should not eschew a perspective without proposing an alternative. Since the topic is religious beliefs and a wealth of philosophical thought has been accumulated on epistemology - the branch of philosophy that is directed toward theories of the sources, nature, and limits of knowledge (see http://columbia.thefreedictionary.com/Epistomology), this would seem to be a good starting point. While my own epistemological preference is the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce (as opposed to that of William James or John Dewey), when arguing the inappropriateness of the term atheism I usually use the term rationalist, which I then define to mean reason based upon empirically verifiable observations.

Three points should be made at this juncture. First, it is imperative to define what I mean by rationalist for the more philosophically knowledgeable can easily confuse the term with the epistemological branch called rationalism that eschews empiricism. Secondly, unless those to whom I’m speaking have some background in philosophy, I have found they have difficulty connecting the term pragmatism with reason and empiricism. Moreover, the several branches of pragmatism only serve to further confuse. Thirdly, the choice of the term rationalist implies that beliefs, which are based on faith, are irrational - a point rarely stressed in modern American society.

Now to be sure there are plenty of religious people (most of a fundamentalist persuasion) who claim that their beliefs are based on reason and empirically verifiable evidence. It has been my experience that when confronted with the many well-established counter arguments, such people usually fall back on faith. But I typically avoid arguments about religious beliefs. Such arguments tend to degenerate into confrontation, and my experience says confrontation precludes conversion. Rather, I search for the opportunity for the pithy interjection that might provoke some thought. Moreover, without revealing my own beliefs, I’m not above using some carefully chosen ideas from the sacred text of the believer to refute the more objectionable beliefs being espoused. It’s a nice trick to use the self-contradictory nature of the sacred texts to compel an explanation of the most egregious beliefs/activities of the religiously fanatic.

Finally, let’s consider a couple of notes. First, that the above classification system of religious beliefs into the rational and the irrational still allows various subcategories of the irrational into Christian, Moslem, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc. Moreover, one can still further subdivide Christianity into Catholic and protestant, and Protestantism into its many variants. It is just that now you don’t have any leftovers that don’t fit into what is a classification of religious beliefs. Secondly, I have no illusion that my proposed classification system will ever achieve any popular success in a culture that is strongly religious. Few will accept a schema that categorizes their most cherished beliefs as irrational.

All JMO

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By joe sain, May 1, 2006 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment
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ANTI-THEIST is the word I prefer; I stand against all gods ever invented by humans.  I think it is far better to be defined as against gods rather than being without god; it’s a much more positive approach to the problem.  A-theist, without god, is a poor word and could carry a negative connotation.  No one can be atheist on this earth; there are too many gods that have been invented by people; these gods are with us due to history.  We cannot be without them; we can be against them.  (That scientific inquiry demonstrates life on earth only exists due to the sun does not make me a believer in Apollo.) 

This Harris certainly is verbose.  Harris, unfortunately, focuses on his obvious cultural prejudice in the Jewish-Christian-Muslim traditions.  The endorsement of Harris by Dershowitz is troubling.  Harris focuses on condemnation of Islam, Jihad, etc.; where is the equal condemnation of Jewish beliefs?  Don’t the Jews also divide the world into believers and non-believers: Jew and Gentile?  Do not the Jews call themselves GOD’s chosen ones; the true believers.

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By Jon B, April 28, 2006 at 6:21 am Link to this comment
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>>>Comment #8058 by Ed
“is atheism the opposite of religion?”

atheism, as sam puts it, shouldnt even be a term used.  to we have a term for people who dont believe that pluto is the center of the universe?  “a-plutocentrists” ... nah..<<<

Atheism is the opposite of religion. My dictionary is quite succinct. Atheism; the belief that there is no God, or denial that God or Gods exist. Religion is based on the belief in God. How much more opposite can you get?

By the way your arguement is hollow. No one in history ever believed Pluto was the center of the universe. A named belief system (or as in your example a non-belief system) needs believers (or non-believers).

People did believe Earth was the center of the universe, and then that belief system was overturned. People did believe the Earth was flat (some still do I guess, Flat Earth Society) now most people don’t.

People who don’t believe in the big bang and Darwinism are now calling themselves Creationists in response to these ideas. My dictionary cites Creation Science as a “rejection of Darwinism,” as well as “a theory…literal biblical account of creation that can be scientifically verified.” The term is used as both non-belief and belief.

Naming a belief system or non-belief system really comes down to language and whether people feel a need to describe something. Nobody felt a need to describe a believer (or non-believer) of a Plutocentric universe because nobody believed it. There are plenty of Atheists who like calling themselves atheists. Would you deny their pleasure?

I don’t agree with Sam Harris on this. I saw his appearance on The Colbert Report and he was defending a thing called Atheism and countering a thing called Religion. Whether he uses the term Atheism is irrelevant. Everyone viewing the show or reading his book know what he considers himself, a non-believer in God and by dictionary definition an Atheist.

Sam’s logic on this is flawed. Would he reject the word Atheist, I guess make all the dictionaries remove the word, then a new word would come along to replace it rather than use a more cumbersome term, non-believer in God. To me it just sounds defensive. It simply sounds like he doesn’t like the word Atheist, yet others wear the word proudly.

Maybe it’s the connotation it emotes in some people that Sam doesn’t like. Sort of like how Republicans have denigrated the word Liberal. But many liberals won’t give in to Republican treatment of the word and have pride in the label. Sam should do the same thing and take pride in being an Atheist, afterall he has taken a very public stance as a non-believer in God, and as my dictionary calls it, an Atheist.

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By Jon B, April 28, 2006 at 4:57 am Link to this comment
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>>>Comment #7749 by Howard Mandel on 4/24 at 11:10 am
Is atheism the opposite of religion?
Many of the comments seem to pit one against the other as being mutually exclusive. I for one don’t deny religion, I just don’t care. I see don’t atheism as saying that religion is right or wrong, but besides the point; irrelevant.<<<

Saying religion is irrelevant sounds like something straight out of the Zen, ignore the reality around you. Religion is highly relevant whether you believe in God or not. Religion exists in such a prevalence around the world and effects your life in so many ways, even though you don’t believe in God. From politics, to social policy to music, sports, literature, TV, name it, religion permeates it.

Relgion is about as irrelevant as the other cars on the freeway are irrelevant to your driving.

The only way religion would be irrelevant would be if it disappeared from our planet or at least was reduced to near complete disbelief. Ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, if ever.

Now, I’m not talking about whether God exists or doesn’t, but the fact that huge masses of people do believe that God exists using an institution called religion.

Choosing to believe that religion is irrelevant is practically a religious belief in itself. I could site numerous God religions that have this type of denial of reality as part of their faith. Faith could be defined as belief in something that isn’t supported by reality, or denial of reality, or both at the same time.

There’s no absolute proof as to what George Bush was thinking when he decided to war against Iraq, but from some of his statements I highly suspect that he based at least part of his decision on his religious beliefs. If true, then religion was not irrelevant to the wagging of that war. Iraq War costs estimates are now debating a trillion dollar figure after all is said and done. A trillion dollars based on religious beliefs is hardly irrelevant to our lives. Not to mention the lives losts, American, Iraqi and others.

One trillion dollars is a little over $3,000 per human living in the United States. Whether you are a 2 year old, a person living in a retirement home, an immigrant, an average worker, a homeless person, a CEO, a person on disabilty, any human counted in our population, your stake in Iraq is essentially three grand if shared equally (which we know won’t be the case).

Even if I didn’t believe Bush used his religious beliefs as a basis for his decision, certainly religious belief is behind the resistance to American intrusion into Iraq. Islamic faith is behind the idealism of the resistance and causes the cost of war to escalate. Islamic faith is preventing Bush from having the instant victory that was predicted.

You can claim religion is irrelevant to you, but it’s not. Just consider what that trillion dollars represents to yourself, your friends, your family, your community, your state, and all of the people in your country.

If you are an atheist, I’m assuming that you desire to live a long and healthy life (unless you are a suicidal nihilist) consider what one trillion dollars might do for medical research. Plunk one trillion into New Orleans and I think it could get fixed. The difference one trillion could make on any number of problems could be tremendous.

Religion is highly relevant. I certainly believe Bush’s religious war proves religion is relevant. I’m not making a value judgement on the war here (although I do have a strong personal opinion about it). Good or bad isn’t my debate, religious relevance is my point.

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By Ed, April 27, 2006 at 8:52 am Link to this comment
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“is atheism the opposite of religion?”

atheism, as sam puts it, shouldnt even be a term used.  to we have a term for people who dont believe that pluto is the center of the universe?  “a-plutocentrists” ... nah..

really atheism is the defualt position!  its quite simple.  we are all born atheists… its not as if we are born beleiving in some mythical being who smites us if we do wrong.  no we are told that is the case. 

atheism IS the default position… look at it this way: if i told you i have a trillion dollar bill in my pocket, you would be inclined to see it, for proof.  now, either i show it to you or i dont.  if i dont show you, would you choose to beleive that i still have one?  probably not..

atheism is the same idea.  if someone tells me that there is an invisibel, omnipotent, omniscient being, i feel like i deserve proof, or at the very least some sort of evidence… but this is never goign to come, as there is no such being…

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By Howard Mandel, April 24, 2006 at 11:10 am Link to this comment
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Is atheism the opposite of religion?

Many of the comments seem to pit one against the other as being mutually exclusive. I for one don’t deny religion, I just don’t care. I see don’t atheism as saying that religion is right or wrong, but besides the point; irrelevant.

The world I was born into had a sufficient number of answers that I was left with no questions. I’m certainly not looking to the heavens to explain weather, plague or pestilance. Science has that covered. I don’t ask what happens after I die because seems no one seems to know, so why care? If curtesy to my fellow humans isn’t good enough reason to act responsibly (read that as “morally”), why would some book be more persuasive.

Let’s say a child is born to a scietifically advanced culture, without religion. Would that child seek to create a mythology to explain the remaining mysteries, or would he instead try to expand his scientific knowledge. I’m not saying science explains everything. But we know what we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know.

If we started a new religion tomorrow, pledging to base it soley on answering the questions that science hasn’t already dismystified, what would it look like? I don’t know, but I imagine it would have little in common with the 2,000 year old fables that enjoy popoularity today.

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By Howard Mandel, April 24, 2006 at 10:32 am Link to this comment
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Guitarsandmore,

You are quite correct that the United States has not done much to be proud of in the midde east. And, certainly appeasing Iran would ratchet down the rhetoric. You are also correct to say that energy independence on our part would greatly reduce the political power of Muslim countries like Iran, and undermine the extremists

So why don’t we? Is it because we don’t have “a moral code of law”. Many would argue that we do, of course. However all the horrible crimes that you suggest would flourish in the absense of such a code are ills that plague us today.

It is dogmatic faith, whether in god or state, that allows us to ignor the good common sense of law and to commit whatever crime we want as long as it is in the service of that dogma. The truth of this is so plain today as to defy any logical argument against it. Which is why, I suspect, we are not allowed to even discuss the value of faith. Our own politicians might as well be thumping on their bible, chanting “death to the infidel” in their public discourse.

If I might be so bold as to speak for Sam when I say his point was that we as a country must get abandon our beliefs so we might have the moral authority to stand in judgement of those ideologies that would destroy us.

Religion is not the scapegoat. It is the battlefield. We must discuss the beliefs of christians and muslims; debate the values they bring to the table and whether or not they play a positive role in our future. And if not, abandon them.

As an atheist and unwaveringly moral man I defy you to tell me how my moral code of law, evolved from education and experience of sharing the world with others, would be improved by adhering to some faith.

BTW: Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (aka Caligula) most probably had encephalitis (“brain fever”) not immorality. But this point among others suggest you have not researched your position. Do some homework before you reflexively call into question the astonishingly well researched work of someone like Mr. Harris.

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By Guitarsandmore, April 21, 2006 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment
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Sam Harris,

Why all of this now Sam?  Could it be the crisis in the Middle East?  Ah yes, but of course. 

Middle East politics

Let’s see now, the United States bullies Middle Eastern countries around demanding higher and higher oil production while placing trade embargoes all around so that even finding food is difficult.  I’d say the United States is a great big bully to the Middle Eastern countries wouldn’t you?  Is it any wonder they hate us?

Let us leave Iran alone with their oil and make no embargo on their country which seems to be Iran’s biggest complaint.  If the United States is the main cause for all of Iran’s problems than let us stop purchasing oil from Iran.  Let Iran sell oil to China and let us not interfere.  It is the interference by the West in Iran’s business dealings that generates their hatred of us. 

By pushing other countries around to satisfy our needs we become the bully instead of the inventors that can engineer our own way out of the problems we have created for ourselves.

Brazil has implemented alternative energy programs and some of the Scandinavian countries that you are so fond of are also boasting energy independence in the near future.

We can begin production of corn based ethanol today and sell the cars that run on it today.  So let’s do that and leave Iran alone.

Let us take the thorn of Western Civilization out of the foot of the Middle East and then see what the complaint is. I think you will find Iranians would be most happy if we just let them run their own show over there.

Or perhaps you would rather have Iran come over here and demand to see our nuclear weapons and demand that we disarm because we are a threat to Iran?

 
Religion and atheists

Mankind needs both a moral code and a code of law to follow in order to hold the fabric of society together.  In the absence of a strong structure to follow people will do whatever they believe they can get away with and marriages crumble, children are abused, people are murdered, and unspeakable horrors are committed in the name of fun, thrill seeking, and adventure?  Atheists have no code.  Please review Caligula and the fall of Rome.  History bears my statements out.

Hundreds of different religions exist peacefully together today in the United States because our constitution allows for religious freedom.  That people fled Europe and moved to America to escape religious persecution is an historical fact.  Creating tolerance of all religions through the constitution is perhaps the single most effective reason why religion continues to flourish in these United States.

Of course no one is assimilated during the first generation they immigrate to the United States.  This fact is obvious to anyone living in Southern California who can observe Vietnamese creating Vietnamese neighborhoods, Hispanics living in Hispanic neighborhoods, blacks living in black neighborhoods.  None of this has anything whatsoever to do with religion.  You are also wrong about that fact, too.

The last time I was in France, after several days I was so tired of trying to speak French I had a headache.  I chased down some Americans and insisted that we talk for awhile just so that I could get back into my comfort zone for awhile.  And so I believe it is with immigrants into America and other countries.  They build a comfort zone of the familiar to shield away the hostile and the strange.  It has nothing to do with Religion.

Finally your biggest concern seems to be my oh my what will I say at the dinner party?  My question to you is how are you going to raise your children?  How will you teach them right from wrong?  How will you explain broader and deeper issues like empathy, compassion, love, forgiveness, brotherhood, peace?  Where is your community?

Religion is the scapegoat hijacked by both sides to carry out politics of greed, fear, and hatred.

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By candide, April 21, 2006 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment
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We have had almost 400 years of scientific biblical scholarship, yet people still think God gave us the bible and its teachings are true.  I fear that we cannot ever bring up the 50%+ who are idiots to think any differently.  Atheists should simply shrug and let the masses believe in the Blue Fairy.  Not that I would not from time to time volley a ball of explosive at them, but I would not expect any change.

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By PamAlonia McCrary, April 19, 2006 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment
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For those of you who have read through all the comments as I have and have found me here, go to

http://www.godisajoke.com

to read essays that ridicule the Judeo-Christian god with his own source texts.  My position is that the Bible is primarily satire written to undermine the god of destruction that the majority of ancient Jews refused to worship.  None at all would exalt him, Hosea 11:7 is the tagline on my blog.

I intend to take my material and do stand-up.  Will you come and hear me if you’re in Seattle?

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By brodix, April 18, 2006 at 6:11 pm Link to this comment
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The problem with monotheism is that the absolute is zero, not one, so the spiritual absolute would be the essence out of which we rise, not an apex from which we fell.

Intelligence and consciousness are not synonymous. Theologists and rationalists both make the assumption that they are. Theologists assume an all-knowing absolute, but knowledge is a process of distinction and judgement, while the absolute is a unitary state.
Rationalists assume the process of thinking is the source of being, but by that logic, a computer is more sentient than a dog.
Order does not explain consciousness. In fact, order is self limting. Systems regenerate through periodic infusions of chaos.
Whatever the source of consciousness is, it is inherently a bottom up process and top down structural units are a creation of that process, not its source.

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By Jon B, April 14, 2006 at 9:25 am Link to this comment
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The problem with Atheism is the same problem with religion…Humans. The fact is that both lines of belief are created out of the minds of humans who are flawed, make mistakes, misinterpret, falsly declare things, etc., etc. ad nauseum.

I simply can’t totally dismiss either side of the argument, that would mean I implicitly agree with all the human theories from one side or the other. That would make me a fool to have some type of absolute faith in flawed humans. Thus I’m agonostic, or more accurately a skeptic.

My own particular reasoning comes out of what I call “percentage belief.” To a belief system, an idea, a claim, whatever, I try to educate myself on the subject and then assign a percent of belief I’m willing to credit my mind with. This percent changes when I become aware of new information or new disinformation, new arguments or counterarguments.

For instance, is drinking alcohol good for my health? Well, my belief percentage has changed as this debate keeps changing it’s conclusions via studies. Before any study was done, I was at a low percent based on assumptions from personal use. A study was released claiming 2 drinks was good for the heart, my percent went up. Recently that study has been called into question, my belief percent has wavered down again. Now I believe the original question as about a 50% chance to be true. But whether alcohol is good for one’s health is much more complicated than my simple question.

I don’t believe in anything at a pure 100%. Why should I? The information is provided to me by flawed humans or by my own experiences out of a flawed human brain that we all have.

Do I believe in God? I have a percentage of belief, not 100%. Do I disbelieve in God? The opposite percentage of belief. It’s that simple. But that percentage is certainly not stable.

I’m awed by the information provided out of astrophysics, yet can be awed at the possibility of a God or Gods. Neither is an absolute coming from flawed humans.

I know from current science about string theory, 4th dimensional theory (which a religious person might consider to be heaven) and multiple universe theory (again heavens?). It seems no matter what science discovers or theorizes, a non-dogmatic religious belief can eventually incorporate it into God theory.

So, I just accept that almost anything is possible or improbable at the same time, there is just a percentage of both, and my mind reevaluates it from time to time.

As long as physics has the uncertainly principle, reality is always going to be elusive. And that is what the atheists vs religious debate is really about. What is the ultimate reality coming from the minds of flawed human brains?

And then there is always comedy, check out my blog, The Church of No Preference. http://nopref.blogspot.com/

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By Tim McDonnell, April 13, 2006 at 9:30 am Link to this comment
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I tell nearly everyone about The End Of Faith; sadly, some people are still wrapped too tight to hear of such a notion.

A current music project I’m mixing includes all the troubling Koran references (pages 117-123). My goal is that they all be heard clearly to create the proper effect.

Mixing 70-80 tracks (so far) is a big challenge but my belief in offering such a piece is strong and feels true to myself.

Thanks to Scott for his time, dedication and bravery in releasing The End Of Faith.

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By Syniel, April 12, 2006 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment
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It’s not just Atheists. It’s also spiritual people who do not belive in organized religion. Agnostics, etc. In fact, one might argue that claiming that there is not God is as groundless as saying there is one. Besides, God does exist as an idea if in no other form.

I’m an agnostic.. not an athiest. But i share the atheist’s contempt for people who claim to have all of life’s answers (and forces everyone else to fall in step)

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By Niece, April 11, 2006 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment
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Alfredo, I’ll bet the pharmaceutical industry would love to have you as a spokesperson!

This is a form of extreme intolerance I’ve seen in recent months: atheists claiming anyone who doesn’t think exactly the way they do must be “mentally ill.”  Next they’ll be advocating putting all us religiously-minded types into asylums or something.  Then they wonder why I don’t find atheism to be very appealing….if you want me to give up my belief in God, then show me how it will improve my life!  So far all you’ve shown me is becoming an atheist will turn me into a bigot with a smug superiority complex!

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By Alfredo, April 11, 2006 at 11:27 am Link to this comment
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I enjoy Sam’s argument, but sadly, I don’t think his efforts will bring any results. It is not a matter of convincing people about their mistaken view of the world. Religion is an affliction of the mind a disease and you cannot reason out of it. It should be approached not unlike schizophrenia - with pharmaceuticals.

I think Sam should refocus his energy back to his neuroscience studies, though recognition and results are less certain.

good luck!

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By Robert Burns, April 11, 2006 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
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I wonder about the word “atheist” and why someone who does not believe in the Christian god would want to apply it to themselves. Assuming that the articles of Christian faith are not wholly based on historical fact, then we have people positing something to believe in and then defining others as being ‘non-believers’. So why should someone who doesn’t share the faith define themselves according to the inventions of this particular faith? “Atheist” is one of the many ways Christians have of saying “other”. By using the term we have perhaps accepted that there must be an answer to the question: OK, you’re not a Christian, what are you? But if you say you’re an atheist all you’ve done is to repeat the premise of the question, you’ve just said what you’re not. ‘Not-being-that’ is different from what we are. When someone asks me that question I just shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know… I’m normal.”

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By DUB, April 11, 2006 at 1:52 am Link to this comment
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“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. BUT ANYONE WHO SAYS, ‘YOU FOOL!’ WILL BE IN DANGER OF THE FIRE OF HELL.” MAT. 5:22

Of course, Jesus himself didn’t listen to his own warning here, so I don’t think you will either.

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By Glenn, April 10, 2006 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment
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Since what may be known about God is plain to men, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

from Romans 1

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By EventHorizon, April 10, 2006 at 12:53 am Link to this comment
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I am proud of you!  Keep up the good work!  Never forget that THE PRICE OF RATIONALITY IS ETERNAL VIGILANCE!  But please remind all your readers that before there can be truth or falshood, there must be MEANING to what one says.  Some of the commentators, especially those critical of you, quite often in their effusive but befuddled and aimless language - nontheless pleasing to themselves - have lost menaing and purpose.

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By Sarah C., April 9, 2006 at 11:04 pm Link to this comment
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I’m comforted that Sam and many commenters here identify dogmatism—or idolatry, faith, etc.—as the problem. I am not versed in philosophy, but it seems to me that the fundamental conflict is epistemological: Why do people have such different requirements for belief (i.e., truth)?

+ Why do some people trust information from authority?
+ Why do many of us hold certain beliefs to different standards of verification?
+ Why do some people more strongly seek parsimonious explanations?
+ Why can some of us “feel” truths by other routes than standard sensory perception & reasoning? (Why can some people feel God’s presence with as much certainty as I see a blue sky?)

I was an evangelical Christian from ages 9 to 12. Now I’m an atheist, 25-year-old doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology. I witnessed but don’t understand how the intellectual/spiritual transformation took place. I wish I did.

I think understanding the variation in the basis of belief—and how genes, culture, and who knows what else control it—is a crucial conceptual bridge for many of us, atheist and religious alike. In the meantime, I think many atheists’ logical arguments might fall on preoccupied ears.

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By Dr. O, April 9, 2006 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment
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But nowhere, Sam, do I see mention of the footsteps in which you walk or the shoulders on which you stand of Robert Ingersoll (read his eulogy to his brother) or of Andrew Dickson White, Cornell’s co-founder and President in 1867.  White authored the powerful book Seven Great Statesmen in the Warfare of Humanity with Unreason and his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom is in the spirit assumed in much of your writings…nor has anyone alluded to the harrassment and persecution these men suffered.  They assiduously paved this road challenging mankind’s belief and unreason long ago.

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By Stan Kossen, April 9, 2006 at 5:01 am Link to this comment
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As a person who lived (past tense) most of my life in the US, I was not surprised to read the following

“A recent national study by University of Minnesota researchers found that atheists are America’s least trusted minority group—trusted less than Muslims, recent immigrants and homosexuals. Americans are also least willing to approve of their children marrying atheists, according to the study.”
——————————————-

I find those words rather interesting since, as many of my close European and American friends know, I am an atheist.


Strange Reactions to an Atheist

While living in the the US I found it more convenient not to admit that I was an atheist, especially if I wanted to have friends. During the Cold War, many American acquaintances, upon learning that I was a believer—a believer that man and woman created the gods—not the contrary—would immediately ask me if I was a Communist.

To them, it appeared, atheism and Communism were bedfellows—one and the same, cohabiters.

After the cold war and the grand demise of Communism, people changed their reaction to my “faithless faith.” I was usually told, “Oh, I feel sorry for you.” Or, “I will pray for you.”

It is a relative certainty that such true believers would not have wanted me to marry their daughters. Perhaps the feeling would have been mutual.


A Completely Different Reaction in Europe

I have lived in Europe (France, Spain, and The Netherlands) for about twenty years. I can state without exaggeration that not once has a European shown a reaction of any sort upon learning that I believe there is not enough evidence to substantiate the exist of a god or gods.

Actually, that is not completely true. A not uncommon reaction that I often have received was, “Moi aussi.” Yo tambien.” “So am I.”


Sam Harris—a Brave American, or a Fool?

In my opinon, Sam Harris is a courageous person to speak out as he does in the United States, where true freedom of speech exists only in theory.


Decartes and Russell as Official Gods

If I needed a god or gods to guide me, I would nominate the Frenchman, René Descartes, who used skepticism as a method for achieving certainty; and Bertrand Russell, who was an influential British logician, philosopher, and mathematician, who did everything he could to improve the world for humankind until he died at the age of 98.

God Bless God

Stan Kossen

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By a., April 8, 2006 at 8:25 pm Link to this comment
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At last! Someone with sense. Thank you.

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By Shalar, April 8, 2006 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment
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I think I am in need of a therapist. I am most likely a schitzophrenic atheist because of my thoughts on this subject.
  I believe that there are as many “truths” as there are religions and just as many gods. I believe in each one of them as “true”. How can one dispute the belief in the existence of any of these gods for someone who’s intellect or lack of willingness to reach beyond faith or fact is limited? As long as we have the capacity to imagine, each human is capable of using their own mental measuring stick to seek the truth and create their own god(or gods) whether it be Ra, Jupitor, Jesus, Mohammed or AMOERST (the Abstract Mathematical Equation from the Outer Reaches of Space and Time). Why do we do it? I still haven’t figured that out yet. You have to consider after all that it was just yesterday that we climbed down from the trees. I am sure that has something to do with it. In good time we may uncover the ultimate “BIG TRUTH” whereupon we’ll see that just maybe all the little truths will merge with it. Meanwhile be patient and give us a little more time if we don’t annihilate ourselves first. And if there really is a God then we will see you in the hereafter. . . maybe.
  Keep up the good work.
  “Knowledge will unshackle the bonds of ignorance and make us free.”. . . Someone said something like that.

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By gus, April 8, 2006 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment
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Thor…“the Batman of Scandanavia”?  Thor was Marvel Comics and Batman was DC Comics!

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By Rick Knight, April 8, 2006 at 10:54 am Link to this comment
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As the comments on this interview accumulate, there seems to be a drift towards the specific POV Sam Harris has about the justification for torture. While one might regard his argument in favor of torture in certain circumstances, the issue as he laid it out and as it continues to be discussed here, is purely academic. At 14, I was badly beaten up by two neighborhood kids, unhappy boys who were looking for something/someone on which to vent their frustrations. I was happy (and small) enough where I was an excellent choice for them. After the beating, I arrived home, bloodied, bruised and burned (cigarette marks). After quickly doctoring me up and assessing it wasn’t a rush to the emergency room, she took me in the car in search of these boys, taking a baseball bat with her. For years after that, any time the subject came up, she would comment that if she’d encountered those boys that night, she’d have cracked a few skulls (and would’ve likely gone to prison for it). A mother’s love and protectiveness unbridled to its most limbic state.

I think of the mothers who have lost their children senselessly on both sides of this miserably crafted equation. Killed or broken or traumatized. No recompense. Not from any government.

The time will soon arrive where torture will not be necessary. But boy, for now, are we seeing it enacted by the “good guys” in our TV shows and movies. Used to be even the most enraged protagonist wouldn’t kill his enemy in the final frames of a movie. Now, we sit there hoping he does, fulfilling fantasies many of us have.

I wonder what the national reaction will be when “Flight 93” appears on screens next month? It will be the first major re-enactment of one of the 9/11 traumas with a story cobbled together from the cell phone calls made in those last fateful moments. Were it my son or daughter who died at the hands of an extremist, sacrificed because of THEIR dogma and THEIR misguidedness, something one might expect in a more barbaric age but certainly not in the 21st century, I’d have a difficult if not impossible time finding my moral high ground.

I wouldn’t want to kill the person responsible for a loved one’s death (and someone I cared about was killed right before me in an act of terrorism so I think I have an idea!). I would want that person to give over any other possible useful information to protect any other innocent person from suffering and then I would want that person to get the rest of their natural life in contemplation of their actions.

Sam Harris approaches his topics with a logic that may bristle like a cold blast to some of us but it is logical nonetheless.

The bigger problem is not Sam’s (self-admittedly) awkward stance on torture. After all, it’s unlikely we’ll have to worry about Sam, himself, acting on such rationale. Rather, it’s likely more the theoretical application we view with great discomfort when we consider it in the hands of malevolent governments where the boundaries are much less absolute and the agendas far more broad. Ideology, magnified to a state where discourse and diversity are not considered, is what really scares us.

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By David Bryson, MD (Yale ' 63), April 8, 2006 at 10:46 am Link to this comment
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Sam - google Classic Papers in Sleep and Learning
(published in 1969 by University of Chicago Press)
and then email me for invitation to help or
kibbitz on new curriculum/Scientific Creation Story as an exponential time series
Best Wishes, David Bryson, MD (Yale ‘63)

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By David, April 7, 2006 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment
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The problem Sam Harris rails against is idolatry, not “religion in general”. Karen Armstrong, the great chronicler of religion who wrote the definitive book on fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, has now written “The Great Transformation” which is about the beginnings of our religious traditions traced back to the axial age 1600-900 BCE. I haven’t read it yet, but the point is that religious beliefs and religion has been part of the human condition for a long time.  I suspect Sam’s “god” is reason/rationality/empirical evidence. They do seem “supreme” as the guide to what makes for the best kind of humanness. I happen to be a Christian who believes that God gave us brains to think with and expects us to think. I happen to think that fundamentalists are among the more irrational of religious zealots and a danger to humanity, but I don’t want my serious faith to be tossed in the same box with the nut cases. And religious belief is not necessarily about dogma. I am not a dogmatist, but I take seriously importance of the sacred and the part of humanness and life that can’t be reduced to rationality and empirical evidence. The only “evidence” for God is experiential and can’t be reduced to a matter of fact. I do not even recognize myself in Sam’s category of “moderate Christians” who are dangerous enablers of fundamentalists. He has a point that the fundys have marginalized millions of Christians who don’t fit that mold. Again, what god do they worship? I think you can say they have made a god out of the Bible and that goes against the first commandment. Sam, of course, is speaking much “truth”, but “religion” is pretty much a straw man he has erected in his own image of what constitutes religious faith. Atheists need to be listened to and taken seriously, but “atheism” has nothing to offer to “religious” people like myself. My religious faith does not interfere with my reason, but, if anything, amplifies how reason contributes to my life. I could make a case that blaming “religion” and a “belief in god” for all that is wrong with humanity in the 21st century contains a large dose of irrationality.

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By Becca, April 7, 2006 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment
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While Harris has very good incentive behind his reasoning, I must say that I believe it is all essentially pointless. My mother, who is extremely religious and Christian, believes that religion is the root of most of the socio-political problems that plague human society today. I must entirely agree with that. Although it may therefore make plenty of sense to simply say, “well, we (we, of course, being the human race as a whole), should try to get rid of all religion, at least out of an interest for the preservation and welfare of humanity” such a movement would be entirely pointless.
I say this because, well, look at Bush Jr. for example. This psycho endorses fanatical Christians across the United States, essentially incorporating their demands and desires into his governmental policy etc. He had the nerve (not such a shock since it was he who said it) to tell the world that it was “God himself” who spoke to him and told him to rise up and go out against Saddam Hussein (and essentially the entire Muslim world). Uhmmm, is it just me or does that sound remarkably similar to good ol’ Pope Urban who fired up the Roman Catholic masses back in the 11th century to rise up against the Muslims, saying “God wills it!” All I have to say is that what Bush Jr. is trying (and succeeding at) has been tried before. It’s very obvious that most of these “religious” political leaders, kings, and rulers only use religion and “God” as a means of brainwashing the less enlightened masses and attaining more and more power. Saddam Hussein did it, Bin Laden, Hitler, most of the popes, Bush Jr., and many of the European kings and queens.

Let’s say that we succeeded in getting rid of all religion as it is today, and no one necessarily cared about God or whether or not he existed, etc. Well, people, like our lovely, obdurate Mr. Bush and his apparent role model, Pope Urban, will find something else to manipulate in order to provoke the masses of their subjects and to attain more power. I’d say about 10% of the suicide bombers out there today and the soldiers out there fighting Bush’s “holy war” are actually motivated by a belief and faith in God. Rather, most suicide bombers come from war-torn nations and horribly broken homes, live in poverty or complete confusion and have nothing to do with themselves. They’re given the choice of dying as an anonymous cretin or as a political hero. They choose the latter and their families recieve blessings, praise, and plenty of gifts, politically and religiously powerful officials praise them nationally for their act, and they get their faces plastered up on walls all across their nation with the label “hero” or “heroine” above it. What 72 virgins?
This whole religion thing is quite nonsensical and very dangerous and it can (and will) spawn an epic apocalypse some day, maybe soon. Wiping out the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish - or whatever - gods will do nothing since human beings will simply create another one, perhaps not a “religious” one but they will manipulate something in order to gain the power they so desire.  It’s inevitable.
Mankind can not live philosophically without some doctrine, ism, or creed to call their own - that includes atheism, which, as was pointed out in comment #6716, does “wear itself out” trying to prove the absence of any god. The fact people like Sam Harris, an apparently fundamental atheist, are arguing such ideas places them in as much of the position of the catalyst for such an apocalypse as any fundamentalist Muslim or Christian. Perhaps only lovely existentialists who just don’t give a damn and have nothing to essentially prove are the only ones keeping their hands clean…. Perhaps not.

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By Niece, April 7, 2006 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment
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Mark, what’s your take on Sam Harris’s article in the Huffington Post called, “In Defense of Torture” http://huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/in-defense-of-torture_b_8993.html ?

By the way, torture can’t be compared to collateral damage in war.  If a bomb goes astray and kills innocent people, that is an accident.  If you torture someone, either an innocent or guilty person, that’s not an accident.  You intentionally tortured that person.

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By Adnan, April 7, 2006 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment
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Based on a number of statements by Mr. Harris I am wondering if he had a chance to read any history book during those 20 years of studying religion. I would like to challenge couple of his statements.

First one would be Western values, or should we say white Christian values. I am wondering if he knows how many people have been killed, in 20th century only, by promoters of those values. If I am not mistaken W.W.I, W.W.II, Holocaust, Algerian war, genocide on Palestinians are all products of followers of Western values. Do I need to point to him “white’s man burden”, colonial oppression by those people full of Western values, first uses of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons… Did he have a chance to read Zinn’s People’s history of the United States, and learn how his country has been created by those people full of Western values. Or, he might just read this recant article by Juan Santos :Immigration: A Nation of Colonists and Race Laws (http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Apr06/Santos07.htm).

Second statesmen I would like to challenge is the one on a Jews as “most beleaguered population historically”. If he just bothered to read article and discussion on Truthdig on who is controlling and influencing US foreign policy, or if he just checked who is/was in control of present White House : The Architects of War: Where are They Now? (http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/printer_040606P.shtml) he would not be making these uniformed statements.

I am wondering if Mr. Harris is just ignorant of history, or is he trying to, trough the critique of all religions, signal out Islam as the one World should be afraid of. Is he just another Zionist who is doing his part in a war on Islam.  (passionate review of his book by ultra Zionist Alan Dershowitz points in that direction)

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By Steve, April 7, 2006 at 10:40 am Link to this comment
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Mark (comment #6703),

Though I would like to believe I misunderstood Harris’s comments about torture, I still do not think that I did.

I recall the quote you are refering to, “...this equivalence has not made the practice of torture seem any more acceptable to me…” But if you read on he brushes off this objection by saying essentially that this kind of morality is like a mental optical illusion (I don’t have the book in front of me, so I am sorry I can’t quote directly). From my reading of that chapter I believe Harris is saying that we shouldn’t let our own moral repugnance interfere if we think some good can come from torture. At one point he says that torturing a known terrorist is acceptable even if there is only a million to one chance that good information could come from it (again, I’m sorry I don’t have the exact quote).

Harris could have concluded from his logic about
collateral damage being equivalent to torture that in any circumstance in which we reject torture we should also reject collateral damage. But he never makes that statement, only the reverse, that in any case in which we would be willing to inflict collateral damage, we should be willing to torture.

I’d be happy to have my interpretation proven wrong.

Thanks for the debate.

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By Howard Mandel, April 7, 2006 at 10:06 am Link to this comment
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Mr Harris,

I have had sit downs with two christian believers I work with since reading your interview and “An Aetheist Manifesto”. After years of getting nowhere with these guys (one a mason, the other a pastor) the “everyone has experience being an aethiest” argument dropped them. They were floored. They couldn’t respond. I know at that moment I shook their faith. The power of your simple straightforward arguments has inspired me to work personally to help bring an end to “faith”.

I have a graphic design agency. How can I help you with the foundation you were talking about. Let me know. (http://www.newmediadesign.com).

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By Hilding Lindquist, April 7, 2006 at 6:35 am Link to this comment
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I think of myself as a transcendtal existentialist. Jean Paul Sartre wrote, “Existentialism isn’t so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn’t exist. Rather, it declares that even if God did exist, that would change nothing. There you’ve got our point of view. Not that we believe that God exists, but we think that the problem of His existence is not the issue.”

I believe existence precedes awareness, and whether human awareness—with its inherent possibility of imagining—is real or not is moot for me because I perceive it as real, and my existence (and the awareness thereof) unfolds along with my imagining “what ought to be”, becoming the choosing of whether or not to take action in making that oughtness what is.

By the way, the act of choice is not pondering what choice to make, or knowing what choice to make. It is the doing of it. As Jesus taught, “By their fruit ye shall know them.” And as James taught, “Faith without works is dead.”

Which brings me to the question, Am I a Christian transcendental existentialist because, though an atheist, I am steeped in the philosophy of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, having been raised a Fundamentalist Christian as a child?

Let’s see, did Camus say anything about this?

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By Mark, April 6, 2006 at 11:48 pm Link to this comment
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Steve, I think you completely mis-read and misunderstood what he was talking about in terms of torture in The End of Faith.  He doesn’t endorse it at all.  He was pointing out the incongruity most people have about war.  Collateral damage vs. one-on-one torture.  In fact, at the end of that section, he says:
“...this equivalence has not made the practice of torture seem any more acceptable to me…” (p. 198)

I’m not sure what you were reading into his thoughts on torture, but it seems there was a misunderstanding.

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By yoyo, April 6, 2006 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
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Great interview Sam.Its always a treat to hear the voice of sanity in this wacky world we’re living in.
Watching CNN the other night there was Paula Zahn reporting on the recent 2.5 million dollar study of the effectiveness of prayer.The result was that prayer doesn’t work. Though the person praying may feel better for having prayed.
Paula handed it over to Dr Sanjay Gupta who produced a lady who had cancer,had prayed,and was now in remission.So see? It really works.
Ill never feel quite the same way about Paula after that.Or Dr Gupta.
They are determined to keep America dumbed down.
It’s disgusting.
Its what you’re up against Sam.
Good luck.

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By Chris O'Connor, April 6, 2006 at 6:45 pm Link to this comment
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On BookTalk.org we’re reading and discussing “The End of Faith,” by Sam Harris. Often we invite the authors for live chat sessions, but I’m not promising anything with Sam Harris. If the chat is dynamic and vibrant enough I’ll give Harris a call.

Past Guests include:

Past Author Chats ~ this is not every one!

Richard Dawkins
  “Unweaving the Rainbow”
Stephen Pinker
  “The Blank Slate”
Michael Shermer
  “How We Believe”
Ann Druyan
  “Pale Blue Dot”
Matt Ridley
  “The Red Queen”
Massimo Pigliucci
  “Rationally Speaking”
Howard Bloom
  “The Lucifer Principle”

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By Dick Franklin, April 6, 2006 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment
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Sam:

I wish you would direct some attention to the rise of self-esteem psychology, a movement which has permeated our school classrooms and teaching materials across the nation. Although it is not immediately obvious, this is an offshoot of religion that is extremely harmful to education, rational thinking, and academic performance. It is a massive movement that has been metaphysically conceived and ideologically driven — a deadly combination if ever there was one.

I commend to your attention a recent book published in Oxford, England, entitled ‘The Mythology of Self-Worth’ and available at Amazon. It is a self-counseling manual for atheists. The book has been praised by Carl Sagan, the philosopher Antony Flew, and Albert Ellis, just to name a few of the illustrious thinkers who have admired the book.

I believe the contents help you add an important facet to your message. Religion does cognitive and emotional damage to both children and adults. How this occurs seems to be only partially touched on by your work. Said book goes into this problem in depth and provides a system for countering it.

Please free to contact me for more information if interested.

D.F.

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By Steve, April 6, 2006 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment
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I would find Sam Harris more persuasive if he didn’t include an appaling justification for torture in his book. Torture is ethically bankrupt and Harris’s endorsement of it does nothing to support his overall thesis about religion (which I completely agree with). I still don’t understand the motivation. Perhaps he is winking at right-wing Christians and saying, “Hey, you don’t need your Bible to justify torturing Arabs.”

Someone who supports torture is not someone who I will look to for moral guidance.

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By Chalin, April 6, 2006 at 11:23 am Link to this comment
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I have to disagree on one point Sam. There are other approaches to secular spirituality which aren’t based in Buddhist contemplative practices. You make it sound like ‘rational mysticism’ is the only kind which atheists can engage in - both here and in your book. What on Earth were the romantic poets doing? What is eudaimonia about? What about Carl Jung’s ideas on Individuation?

There are equally approaches to spirituality which involve some kind of faith or trust in the self uniting with something higher, and I think you dismiss them (unfairly) as all inferior.

I pretty much agree with everything else, though.

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By Peter Ouellet, April 6, 2006 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
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Sam,
Great piece. I think your idea for a foundation is also great and I would certainly like to get involved. The part about how the KKK was undermined was especially good, but that worked because of their secret nature. In the case of religion, most, if not all, of the aggregiously absurd beliefs are already known, so it won’t be that easy. I would like to see more analysis of the dangers of dominionism and utopianism, which extremists use as the unspoken justification for their actions.

Peter

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By Sylvia Barksdale Morovitz, April 6, 2006 at 8:33 am Link to this comment
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What does the comment by Joseph Flynn say?  Absolutely and completely NOTHING.

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By Sylvia Barksdale Morovitz, April 6, 2006 at 8:25 am Link to this comment
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Mr. Harris had done us all a great service with his book and this interview.
I cannot say that I completely agree with his views on Iraq.  I know Muslims from Africa who believe that such a diversified and fundamentalists society cannot survive without a dictatorship.  Hussein and his late sons were/ are monsters of the most dispicable sort. However, it was the duty of the Iraqis to depose them.  The very idea that Bush thought he could attack the country and force democracy on a people who, for millennia, have lived under dictatorship, shows that his brains are out to sea.  Of course, we all know this was his ploy for attacking the country in the first place, when, in reality, his aim was to steal the country’s oil resources.

Sam Harrises’ views on religion are indeed, interesting and intriguing.  His remarks on the irrational superstitions of the bible writers hit the nail smack on the head.  I am ever amazed that here, in the twenty first century; with all the proof we have to the contrary, that over 95% of people in this supposedly enlightened country still cling to the old biblical dogmas.  Indeed, they are the breeding ground for the senseless fundamentalists who’ve assisted Bush, Inc. in every illegallity they’ve perpetuated upon our country and the world at large.  We who dare criticize the sheer insanity of their defense of his actions are defamed and ostracized.  Our cries fall on long deafened ears.

If, in November 2006, democrats should take the House and Senate and do the right thing in delivering Bush to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes, I fear that the hew and cry of the Christian fundamentalists will be so loud and vicious that it will not be allowed to proceed.  Why?  Because of the stifling, somthering ignorance of the masses!

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By DT Strain, April 6, 2006 at 8:12 am Link to this comment
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I think Sam’s new group can do some good!

But some of you here don’t seem to be aware of global and national organizations such as…

The Council for Secular Humanism

The American Humanist Association

The International Humanist and Ethical Union

The Skeptics Society

Universism

The Church of Freethought

The American Atheists

You can find any of their websites by doing a search. Not to say that all these groups overlap perfectly with the aims of Harris group, but they largely do in many ways.  Please consider supporting one or more of them too.

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By Susan Block, April 6, 2006 at 1:40 am Link to this comment
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Sam is right, of course.  However, being a sex therapist, I can’t help but notice he doesn’t talk enough about religion and sex.

One of the most damaging sex-negative messages of any religion is the concept of “Original Sin,” the idea that because we are born sexual beings, we are sinners who deserve to burn in hell, and if we want to go to heaven, we must only have sex for procreation—and even then, God forbid we should enjoy it.

This ideology was, in part, developed by Saint Paul, who seems to have been fighting unwanted homosexual urges, and was cultivated by Saint Augustine who sought refuge in celibacy after a love affair gone sour (his wealthy mother disapproved of his low-class lover and made him miserable for it; no wonder he abhorred lust!).

Belief in Original Sin feeds the most violent alienated parts of ourselves. It tells us that because we are sexual, we are bad, and God, Allah, Saint Paul or Alberto Gonzales will punish us horribly unless we repress our natural sexual desires.

In the name of God, this belief that sex is dirty has perpetrated rampant cruelty, bigotry, timidity and stupidity, creating religious sexual abuse in homes, in temples and in churches, generating intense shame about our bodies and desires, fueling the belief that parts of our bodies are dirty, fostering hatred and confusion about pleasure.

For more on sex and different religions, please visit:

http://www.drsusanblock.com/blog/article105.html

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By Bill Orr, April 6, 2006 at 12:41 am Link to this comment
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Dear Sam,  (Samwise)
      I look forward to reading the addition to your first work. Don’t carry the minimalism too far.
                            Bilbo

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By daigu, April 5, 2006 at 11:08 pm Link to this comment
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This interview and Daniel Dennett’s recent contributions make it clear that the conundrum can be put in very few words: _ANY absolutism is dangerous_.  Perhaps we could call ourselves “no-absolutes.”  Mystery, as Joe Campbell used to say, is the baseline. We stray from it at our peril, as is evident near everywhere.

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By fatty, April 5, 2006 at 9:37 pm Link to this comment
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thank god for sam harris.
jk

mr harris, i loved your book..and i couldnt help but hope that everyone reads it, really. you truly are just a breathe of fresh air.

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By A Church even Sam could love, April 5, 2006 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment
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The Church of Reality is a religion based on believing in everything that’s real. It gives a religios identity to atheists. The difference between a Realist and an Atheist is that for a Realist - “If it’s real, we believe in it!” For an Atheist, “If it’s not real, then we don’t believe in it!”

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By Grover, April 5, 2006 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment
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In response to 6530 about moving to Sweden, if I could afford to do so, I would.

Having to put up with the religious (often extremist) is becoming a real pain.

As to Sam’s plan for an organization to expose and ridicule the ridiculousness of religion, it sounds like a real winner.

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By Kristin Boice, April 5, 2006 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment
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Thank you, Sam Harris! Not only do you do you make effective and insightful arguments against dogmatic irrationality; you also offer alternatives for developing ethics, community and spirituality. So many people equate atheism with hedonism and/or nihilism, and religiosity with morality. That’s just wrong, and you prove it!

The foundation you’re setting up sounds brilliant. Have you heard Julia Sweeney’s “Godless America?” It’s what you’re talking about…

You can hear it at:
http://www.npr.org/programs/specials/driveway/archive/2005/jul/050705.html

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By Douglas C. Ray, April 5, 2006 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks Sam, for this great piece. It is especially heartening to hear that you are going to form an organization to oppose the ignorance that so threatens us all.
“Sanity”, it would seem is the key word hear. I am reminded of a parable of the Buddha. It was about a man who lived in a village where everyone was sick, but because everyone was sick, people did not believe anyone was, thats just the way things were. But to this man, something did not seem right, so he went off on a journey to find the cure for this sickness. Finally he does, it is a sweet herb that when taken cures those who are afflicted.But when he returns to the village, no one even believes they are sick, so the man can not convince them to take the herb!
With sadness, he watched the whole afflicted village fighting & quarreling with one another because of their illness.
The affliction is ignorance, the cure is wisdom.
Will the majority of people on this planet ever take this “herb” and wake up to the reality of no God or Gods running the universe? Or will they continue in their insanity?
I don’t know myself, I do know however that we must try something!

Douglas C. Ray

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By Anthony, April 5, 2006 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
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Sam, you writing is ceretainly fascinating for me. When approach by WatchTower I simply said “the supernatural is a myth” and they walked away. Another time some guys came to talk Bible at the front door.  When I made the above comment, they said “what do you think we are doing here”, I simply said “wasting a beautiful Saturday afternoon!”

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By WesternWorld, April 5, 2006 at 4:20 pm Link to this comment
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Sam is correct in that we need to mount offensives on a hundred fronts. For the last two years, in my spare time, I have been building a website that exposes the anti-liberty, anti-thinking fruits of the Christian religion. This site chronicles the laws against religious and ideoliogical liberty that the church and state alliances have forced upon people by church canon and state decrees/laws. I start with the Council of Elvira in 306 and work through the imperial decrees of Constantine through Justinian that are in fact the reason why Christianity succeeded. My latest editing is a chronicling of the events surrounding the 451 Council of Chalcedon. This period is where our sea of ignorance dates from. Without the forceful Nicene totalitarianism there would have never been a Nicene Christian theocracy in Europe that stretched for 15 centuries. There would never have been a Reformation if all ideas but Nicene ones were not banned between Constantine and Justinian.

I also touch in other essays, the religious opposition to ending slavery, giving women the vote and allowing mixed race couples to marry. All of my essays quote actual law and court holdings. We must expose the anti-reason and anti-liberty sentiments inherent in religion.

One essay regards the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion created by Himmler in 1936. Much of his statements are the same kind of statements we hear from the religious right. It should be noted that Stalin instituted a mandatory 9 year prison sentence for gays and made family planning almost impossible. IN castro’s Cuba, homosexuals aren’t moral enough to join the Communist party. Pinochet made gays and politicqal dissidents disappear. Mussolini’s facism was wedded to the Church. In this essay, I show a picture of cardinal Frick and his lot performing a Hitler high-five with Herman Georing. (One of Goering’s Nine Comandments for the Worker was for women to grab a broom, a frying pan, find a man and get married. Sounds fundy.

SO, GO SAM!

I hope that I can be one of those hundred fronts.

MY HOME PAGE and TOC:

http://www.stopthereligiousright.org

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By Kya, April 5, 2006 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment
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Comment #6529 by kenneth Hodges on 4/05 at 9:30 am

“Sam is a good philosopher and writer and speaker.  He has gathered together the case against religion as it now stands.  What he refuses to do is suggest what we can replace it with.  [snip]”

I agree with your first and second sentences. I personally don’t need to replace religion with any dogma. Logic and reason will suffice for me. I don’t need to know what happens upon death of the physical body to be happy (i.e. to, choose happiness), though I do contemplate death as subject matter sometimes.

I have drawn from various religions, plus my own personal experiences, and those of others, to formulate a set of ethical behavioral standards for myself which you can view here:
http://www.freedom-universe.org/values.htm and here:
http://www.freedom-universe.org/consent.htm

Whether people want to be involved socially with others should be their right and choice. I prefer social interaction with people based on the intellectual values I am embracing: The 13 Basic Behavioral standards. What other people choose to do is okay with me as long as their choices are inside the realm of “consenting adults”.

I am in the process of building an egalitarian intentional community, which is perhaps what you are referring to with your phrase “insightful social groups”, but some members of organized religion would seek to dominate and destroy such groups, which is why I support Sam in his endeavors to encourage more dialog using logic and reason. Ultimately, that will further my personal choice in building an egalitarian intentional community based on the 13 Behavioral Standards, and it will facilitate my own personal growth and change, as well as.

Thinking positive thoughts for your own personal choices.

Warm regards,

kya

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By Edward Winters, April 5, 2006 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment
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Atta boy, Sam.  Keep up the outstanding and reasonable dialogue.  Reasoning is the key, and hopefully we can all learn to reason together.  Your writings have reiterated and justified wonderfully what I’ve been thinking for sometime now.  Hopefully, many more people can start to see their way through the fear and ignorance of the unjustifications.

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By felicity smith, April 5, 2006 at 1:46 pm Link to this comment
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I am a practicing Catholic who is extremely uncomfortable listening to the protestations of fundamentalist Christians and I don’t really know why. Sometimes it comes up that if God isn’t telling me about God, then why do you assume that you should. However, I do believe that, like in the physical world, the harder you push something the bigger it gets and/or the greater is the resistance. Am I advocating the soft-sell?  Maybe, and it would help to have a lot of comedians on your board, Sam.

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By Zantar, April 5, 2006 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment
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Some old saying goes: If you can’t get science, get art and religion!  If you can get science, it has so much more beauty and relevance -Universal Knowledge -than religion that it makes you weep for the unknowing and go into teaching.  Civilization is a race between Education and Destruction. Never more apparent than now.  People that believe God wrote a book, or his pals, and an uplifting rapture or reward in heaven for suicide bombing?
Idiots only.
Only religion is allowed such stupidity.
Sam’s theory of the moderate enabler is crucial.  Think global, act local.  Blast your best friend’s hollow religious foundations.  I do.  Many say “You’re right but I’ve gotta make a living.”  Thank God I’m an atheist!
Islam is bloody at the borders and within.  Doesn’t look good - wonderful Americans and Iranians - as our twin idiots fulfill their book.

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By Joan Mortenson, April 5, 2006 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
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I would like to see Truth.dig set up a conversation between Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Karen Armstrong.  That would be extremely interesting.

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By Jim Sorrells, April 5, 2006 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment
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Werner Erhard’s est training taught, “The truth experienced is the truth. The truth believed is a lie.” As Sam points out, Muslims are ready to die because of their belief in martyrdom, but in fact, every day people give up part of their aliveness in defense of their belief systems, including the belief that wealth is the source of happiness. I just hope some religious nut doesn’t stake his claim on immortality by taking Sam out.

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By Gina Medeiros, April 5, 2006 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
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It’s great to hear that Sam is developing on organization to cut through the fog of faith we seem to be lost in. I look forward to supporting this effort any way I can. Hopefully, future generations will be able to look back on folks like Sam and realize the difference their intellect and bravery have made.

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By JohnthePropagandist, April 5, 2006 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
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Sam,
Brilliant interview as usual.  I hope reason can get the upper hand in our society within my lifetime.  In the meantime, tell your Christian friends they’ve missed the rapture and that the mark of the beast has already been developed and is just waiting for a pre-Christmas product roll-out.  See it here: http://iplant.cf.huffingtonpost.com

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By Hadley Batchelder, April 5, 2006 at 10:47 am Link to this comment
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Please keep up the good work.  To freethinkers you are a blessing.

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