Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Shop the Truthdig Gift Guide 2014
December 24, 2014
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Get Truthdig's headlines in your inbox!








Truthdig Bazaar more items

 
Report

Sam Harris: The Truthdig Interview

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

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

By Blair Golson

(Page 3)

In your book, you write that when a suicide bomber blows himself up, the role that faith played in his actions is invariably discounted. His motives must have been “political, economical, or entirely personal.” Why does faith get a free pass?

This is one of the interesting things about our discourse right now. Our own religious demagogues, the fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, will call a spade a spade and observe that there is a link between Islam and the kind of violence we see in the Muslim world. While I don’t agree with these people on anything else, they are actually offering a much more candid and accurate diagnosis of the problem, vis a vis Islam, than anything that’s coming from the Left.

Leftists, secularists, religious moderates, and religious liberals tend to be very poorly placed to recognize that when somebody looks into a video camera and says, “I love death more than the infidel loves life,” and then blows himself up, he’s actually being honest about his state of mind.

This is not propaganda, this is not politics and economic desperation masquerading as religion. People are really being motivated by the content of religious beliefs, and there are people who are really willing and eager to blow themselves up because they think they’re going to get to paradise.

Advertisement

Square, Site wide
Religious moderates and secularists don’t understand that because they don’t really know what it’s like to believe in God. They don’t know what it’s like to be sure God is there to hear their prayers , that He has dictated a book, and that the book is perfect in every syllable, and it’s a roadmap to paradise. And fundamentalists understand what it’s like to believe these preposterous things.

You assert that Islamic suicide bombers aren’t using religion as a pretext for political or economic grievances. But how do you know?

First of all, the 9/11 hijackers showed no evidence whatsoever of being people who were concerned with poverty or the plight of the Palestinians—that’s just not where their heads were at. They were talking about the evils of infidel culture, and the pleasures that await martyrs in paradise.

When you read about what they were doing with their lives, these people did not seem to have a political bone in their bodies. And they were not people who personally suffered oppression under the U.S. , the British, or the Israelis.

Osama Bin Laden is another example of this. He is not somebody who himself had been victimized, and he’s not somebody who, if you read his diatribes, spends a lot of time thinking about the poor. In fact, he only added the Palestinians to his list of woes as an afterthought. Originally, he was really concerned about theological offenses, about the fact that there were infidel boots on the ground near the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

So we have people who are unambiguously well off, unambiguously well educated, willing to hit the wall at 400 miles-per-hour. And they spend a lot of time talking about paradise and virgins.

So it seems like a case of really tortured reasoning that somehow religion is not the motive for their actions—that their motives are economic or political—even though they are saying it is, and doing things that are only rational in light of these religious beliefs, and when they themselves have no economic or political grievances.

You spend a long chapter writing about beliefs as “principles of action”—that, given the right set of beliefs, a person will almost inexorably act in a certain way. Applying this to Islam, you say that given the tenets of a religion that guarantees a place in heaven for martyrs, it’s no wonder we see so many Islamic suicide bombers. However, if the connection between belief and action were this absolute, then how do you explain that all Moslems aren’t suicide bombers?

There’s always the question of whether you really believe what you say you believe. We have gradations of belief and certainty. Clearly if you were certain that paradise existed, and if you were certain that death in defense of the faith got you and everyone you loved into heaven for eternity, it would only be rational to die in those circumstances.

What we are finding is that there are people who really are certain, or at least are functionally certain of these propositions, and are eager to blow themselves up in the process of killing infidels, because they’re quite sure that the creator of the universe wants infidels to burn in fire for eternity. Of course, any Muslims they happen to kill in the process will go to paradise as well, and will be quite grateful to have been sent there.

Once you imagine what it would actually be like to believe these things, this behavior becomes totally reasonable. You find mothers of suicide bombers literally celebrating the deaths of their children, who have blown themselves up in crowds of other children at discotheques. This is the most obscene and inexplicable human behavior—and yet, it is totally reasonable, given what many Muslims say they believe about martyrdom.

What do you mean when you say that intolerance is intrinsic to every creed? And what are the implications of that?

The core claim of every creed is that it, alone, is true. The truth is, if you’re a Christian, Jesus really was the son of God, and was really resurrected, and he’s really coming back to judge the living and the dead. This is a fact. It is metaphysically true, it is physically true, it is historically true; if you’re standing on the right spot at the right time, you’re going to see Jesus come back with a host of angels.

This description of the world is either right or wrong. If it’s right, only the Christians are right, and only the Christians are going to heaven. So this doctrine, by definition, excludes the truth-claims of every other religion . Muslims claim that Jesus, while he was a prophet, was not divine, and that anyone who thinks he is divine is going to go to hell. This is explicitly spelled out in the Koran. These are mutually incompatible claims about the way the world works. They’re worse than that. They’re incompatible claims that are extremely motivating, because their adherents think that the difference between believing the right thing and the wrong thing is the difference between spending eternity in hell, or eternity in paradise. And that’s a very big difference.

What is it about the tenets of Islam that present a greater danger to the survival of our species, than, say, the tenets of Christianty?

The doctrine of martyrdom and Jihad is more explicit and central to the Islamic faith. There have obviously been martyrs and a lot of killing that has been reconciled with the doctrine of Christianity over the years, and it’s certainly possible to read the Bible in a way that will justify the Inquisition and all of the other things we’ve seen in the history of Christianity that seem every bit as bad as what we’re seeing in the Muslim world now, but there are a few unique features of Islam that are problematic.

One is that it is a much more coherent doctrine, which is to say that the Koran is a much shorter, more coherent book, and there is no sermon on the Mount in there that you can fixate on and use as a bulwark against the rest of the dangerous gibberish in the book in the way that you can with the Bible.

The basic message of the Koran really is hatred of the infidels. The infidel is fit only for the fires of hell; the creator of the universe is in the process of mocking and cursing and shaming and destroying and not forgiving and not reprieving the infidel.

Your job is to ignore the infidel, by all means do not befriend the infidel. When you get the power: subjugate, convert, or kill the infidel. And those are really the only three choices.

Devout Muslims take the Koran and the Haddith seriously because there is no other brand of Islam. There is no moderate school of Islam that suggests the Koran was really just written by men and may not be the word of god, or has to be interpreted very, very loosely. Most Muslims are what we would call “fundamentalists” in the Christian world.

But what about the tradition in Islamic societies of consulting with Mullahs or Imams before acting on a directive in the Koran? Don’t those people tend to moderate the harshest edicts of Islamic law?

It’s not that there’s not a wealth of discourse about what the Koran actually says. There is a lot of Muslim scholarship out there. The problem is that there really is no basis for what we would call a moderate and genuinely pluralistic worldview to be pulled out of Islam. You really need to do some seriously acrobatic theology to get an Islam that is compatible with 21st century civil society. This is witnessed virtually every day we open the newspaper now, the latest case being the apostate in Afghanistan who converted to Christianity. The basic message of this episode should be clear: this is a government that we came in and reformulated and propped up, and the fact that it had to have a constitution that was in conformity to Islam, opened the door to the true face of Islam, which is: apostasy is punishable by death. That is a fact that no liberal exegesis of Islam is going to change.  We have to find some way to change it, of course. Islam needs a reformation. But at present, it’s true to say that the real word of God in Islam is that if you change your religion, you should die for it.

Isn’t that also the case in the Bible? Don’t we see similar edicts and punishments for apostasy?

Yes. There’s nothing worse than the first books of the Hebrew bible: Leviticus and Deuteronomy and Exodus, these are the most barbaric, most totalitarian, most Taliban-like documents we can find. But there are a few loopholes, and these loopholes don’t exist in Islam, to my knowledge. One loophole for Christians is that most Christians think that Jesus brought us the doctrine of grace, and therefore you don’t have to follow the law. While it’s true that there are other moments in the New Testament when Jesus can be read as saying that you have to fulfill every “jot and tittle” of the law (this is in Matthew)—and therefore you can get a rationale for killing people for adultery out of the New Testament—most Christians, most of the time, don’t see it that way.

The Bible is a fundamentally self-contradictory document. You can cherry-pick it in a way that you really can’t the Koran, even though there are a few lines in the Koran that say, “Allah does not love aggressors”—if you hew to just those few lines, you can say things like, “Osama Bin Laden is distorting the true teachings of a peaceful religion.” But the basic fact is that Osama Bin Laden is giving a very plausible reading of Islam. You have to split hairs to find a basis for what we would recognize as real moderation in Islam.

Then by that logic, why aren’t we worried that Jews, for instance, who aren’t necessarily following Jesus’ doctrine of grace, why aren’t we worried that they are also directed to kill for apostasy? Why are we only so focused on the Muslims when the edicts are the same in both books?

Again, the details really matter. It really matters what people specifically believe. And with Jews, you don’t have this idea of martyrdom, you don’t have this explicit promise of paradise, the after-death state is not spelled out with any kind of specificity in Judaism, and Judaism is very much a religion of this world. Also, the Jews are massively outnumbered. There are something like 15 million Jews on the planet, and they have tended to be the most beleaguered population historically, so they have not been in a position to demand that people observe their law and to threaten death to infidels.

But is it really your position that were they in the majority, they would follow edicts of killing heretics in the same way that Muslims seem to in higher numbers?

This is an interesting question. If you had an Orthodox Judaism that was truly ascendant, then it would be problematic. 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. If anyone is going to push us to a third world war, it’s going to be Jewish settlers doing something stupid like tearing down the Dome of the Rock, or fighting to the death to assert their claims on the West Bank. This expression of Judaism is problematical, without a doubt. But the eschatology of Judaism is rather specific, and they’re waiting for their messiah to come back, for the temple to be re-built, and for the Sanhedrin to be reconvened. If you asked them what they will do once all this happens, what law will we need to live by when the messiah comes back, I think you’ll find the Orthodox Jews will be open-minded about killing people for adultery or working on the Sabbath. I don’t know what argument they could find against doing these things.

Next Page: ”[The term Atheist is] conceptually unnecessary…We don’t have words for people who are not astrologers or alchemists; we don’t have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive.”


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By Grofaz, April 5, 2006 at 10:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

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

Report this

By kenneth Hodges, April 5, 2006 at 10:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

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.  Brain Science or physics or chemistry are not the only “Sciences”.  Since Religion is about behavior, where will we turn to find an exemplar for behavior - especially the eternal people who find it difficult to read, or reason, or leave their childhood behind (they are worthy and they are legion).  What would you suggest?  Where will they go for an imaginative life?  For relationship to the group?  Music and dance in groups?  For exemplars?  For a weekly encouragement?  For psychological insight?  For teaching by the wise and learned?  For membership in the community?  For catchwords to live by?  For admonishment to develop their positive emotions, like love, hope, beauty, participation?  For knowledge about life’s social constraints?  Manners?  Behavioral management?  Etc., etc.  Science is wonderful and Sam is wonderful but Scientists are narrow and afraid of their emotions.  God (you should excuse the expression) forbid that we become dependent on a University scientist for Community cohesion in imagination and beauty. I think we tried that in the French Revolution and it was a failure.  There is some hope in the soft Sciences, Psychololgy, Anthropology, Primatology, Genetics, concern for the Environment we experience, sexual relationships, the wise management of children, Etc., etc.  But none of these Scientists who are admonishing us to “kill” or “destroy” religion has the faintest idea of what to replace it with.  They are unconsciously heartless.  The kind of people who want children to learn everything through the computer.  Unconscious, competive ruthlessness personified.  Not a clue about the human need to imitate and to succeed at cohesive relationships.  We are a group animal; chemically so, but not just that.  When the Scientists get down to the practical matter of replacing the defunct religions we have now with inspired and insightful social groups, dealing with mystery and beauty and meaning in the style (as an example) of our American philosopher Thoreau, then count me in.  Until then I find the whole argument reminiscent of warriors dressing for battle, utterly unable to cope with difference and supportive change in a still mysterious Universe.

Report this

By Lucy M., April 5, 2006 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Religions are not the issue. How we have used religious beliefs and values to serve our political and economic interests have been most destructive to our world and humanity. I fear that secular so-called “rational” beliefs can also attract the extremists among us and create as much havoc as the other fanatics out there.

Report this

By Fran Schiavo, April 5, 2006 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The better question isn’t whether one believes in God, it’s whether one believes God created man or man created God.

Report this

By Carmelita McQuillan, April 5, 2006 at 9:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“There are societies that are profoundly irreligious by our standards. Australia, Canada, and Japan, along with basically all of Western Europe—these are places that have a very different relationship to religious faith.”

The present Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, ran on a “family values” platform, among other issues. Most Canadians (only 36% or so voted for him and he is the head of a minority government) have had cold chills run down their backs when hearing him trumpet out “God Bless Canada!” at the end of some of his speeches. In recent days we have also heard such stirring phrases as “We will not cut and run”, referring to Canada’s (unpopular) military presence in Afghanistan, although the embedded media is working on that.

Despite repeated requests (we are SO polite!), he never revealed the sources of most of his campaign funding. Fundamentalist groups on both sides of the border are suspected.

It’s starting to get frightening. Sam Harris’s anti-faith foundation can’t get started soon enough.

Report this

By Mike, April 5, 2006 at 8:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Univ. of Minnesota study had the following:

[Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is behind the findings. “Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures with their fellow citizens—they share an understanding of right and wrong,” she said. “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”]

This is the reason I don’t proselitize atheism.  Most people think that you are immoral if you’re an atheist.  And once they have branded you as such, it’s very difficult to change it.  My experience with fellow atheists has been the opposite.  The atheists I meet are almost always more interested in the common good than religious types.  But other people can’t understand why you would “do the right thing” without the fear of hell or hope of heaven behind it.  Why?  They only understand self-interest!  I do the right thing because it’s better for everyone, including me, in the long run.  It’s called enightened self-interest.

Report this

By Willow Boudell, April 5, 2006 at 8:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is why the whole approach of Neopaganism and Wicca is so fascinating.  While there are a few fundamentalists from these groups who believe whatever their leader and/or a dimestore book tells them about their faith, most Wiccans know that Wicca as a faith is a modern invention based on ancient shamanic practices, ceremonial magic, legendary practices handed down traditional lines, wonderful poetry from Doreen Valiente, and a whole lot of work borrowed or invented by Gerald Gardner. 

So why practice something you know is at least part invention?  For phenomenal cosmic power? No, for communion with one’s fellow humans and to celebrate life.  These are people gathering together, bringing their pot lucks to ensure a good feast, and creating the type of spirituality they want to practice.  The idea of magic (with or without a K) doesn’t have to be considered supernatural.  Remember the word IMAGINE?

So why practice if you don’t attain any supernatural reward?  Dion Fortune defines magic as the art of changing consciousness at will.  Magic focuses the attention, changing your mindset, which can result in physical changes as well.  Who knows the limits of the imagination?  At least, there’s no claims of exclusivity or special status over others when one knows one is working with imagination.

Even understanding the bloody history of most religious movements, one can still see that religion can also provide comfort and healing.  Trying to eliminate faith or religion is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.  However corrupt and bloated a religious institution becomes, there are usually gems of truth and wisdom to be found, if one cares to look for them.

Neopagans in general gravitate to whatever God(s) and/or cultures hold meaning for them, gaining inspiration from the world’s treasure of thought and culture and reworking these into a religious expression of their unique spirituality.  If we were to examine creation as if it were God’(s) Garden, would we really only expect to see one type of flower?

Report this

By Gary Llewellyn, April 5, 2006 at 8:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think that the 911 attack on American soil was a “Humanity changing” event, and I predict Sam’s overly ambitious seeming agenda is actually almost certain to succeed!
As a former fundamentalist Christian turned “Reasonist”, I now see how fragile “Dogma systems” actually are, requiring continual “shoring up”, like the levees in New Orleans, and destined for the same fate I predict.
The Internet is fueling a “Storm of Reason” that is
unstoppable!


With Christian Fundamentalists virtually at the peak of their power in America, yet still paranoid and defensive,there is nowhere for them to go but down.

Report this

By Mike, April 5, 2006 at 8:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have been an atheist for about 30 years and agree with almost everything that Sam Harris espouses.  But I think we atheists need to be pragmatic about the likelihood of a majority status or even being a large enough constituency to have major influence on our government.  It isn’t going to happen this century.  And we have many crises approaching or currently upon us that need to be dealt with.  Number one on that list is the destruction of our environment which will end all conversations, forever, if we don’t get our political leaders to take the long view. 

I think it would be more practical to convince the faithful that what they are doing is not in accordance with their holy book.  This can be done - you can justify ANYTHING with these vague and malleable scriptures. 

Most people need their religion and aren’t going to give it up just because of “reason”.  They can always fall back on the faith concept.

Report this

By Nancy Robertson, April 5, 2006 at 8:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for another great interview, Sam. I agree with every word you said and look forward to supporting the new foundation in some way.

Report this

By Barrie Johnson, April 5, 2006 at 7:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I had almost arrived at the conclusion that I was the only sane human left on earth, and then I read Sam Harris. It was like a breath of arctic air in this hot bed of insanity. unfortunately, little can be done to correct it, because religion is a deep abiding emotion in which they have been inundated from birth. brainwashed in fact, they are unable to question their leadership on any subject connected with their religion, such as politics. which is, in part, why DeLay kept being re elected. Where knowledge ends, religion begins. To Kathleen, #6422, is it really almost 12%? how wonderful if it is. that would give some small hope.

Report this

By Louis N. Proyect, April 5, 2006 at 7:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam Harris: “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.”

Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden—
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

Report this

By elfrijole, April 5, 2006 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with most of what Sam says, but I have a couple of points I differ on. First, while I know that Islam is a major motivator for suicide bombers, I think there is another factor at play here; Muslims are not armed competitively to the people they fight. Do we really think that if they had fighter jets, tanks, attack helicopters, and cruise missle that they would strap bombs to themselves? There might always be suicide bombers, but I think they come from poorly equipped and opressed minorities that have no other means of attack. Even the 9/11 hijackers likely would have used other means if they had them. Religion still would be the source of the conflict, but the means of attack would be much different. I think suicide bombers convince themselves of the benefits of martyrdom, at least in some degree, because they have to in order to go through with the only attack they can carry out.

My second disagreement with Sam is that I think he’s far to forgiving of our misadventure in Iraq. Saying that our responsibility for how things have gone is somewhat mitigated is insane. Plenty of people predicted this very outcome in Iraq before we ever went to war. It is clear now, and it was clear before the war that the middle east was not ready for democracy. Let’s not forget that we aren’t there to “spread democracy.” We’re there to find WMD’s (how’s that going?)

Ignoring the politics of oil is also a big mistake in my opinion. If Iraq didn’t have oil, would we care how the Iraqi people were being treated or what kind of government they had? Absolutely not. The best proof of this is the plethora of brutal dictators that rule opressed people around the globe, and our complete lack of care for their plight when oil is not involved.

I’m in complete agreement that WMD’s hould be kept out of religous nut jobs hands. So, let’s start by getting our own religous nut job president out of the white house and out of control of the thousands of nukes he controls. As insane as the idea is that some one like Iran get “the bomb,” isn’t it also alarming that our own president has abandoned nuclear non proliferation, and has also advocated researching and building “useable nukes?”

Peace,

elfrijole

Report this

By David Hickman, April 5, 2006 at 7:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In regards to the question about how atheists should identify themselves, I agree with Sam that “atheist” carries too much baggage. 

Here’s how I respond when someone asks me if I believe in god.  I answer, “I’m not superstitious.  I believe in reality, not religion or astrology or tarot cards or any other silly superstitions.”

I think saying NOT SUPERSTITIOUS is the best way for atheists to identify themselves because it carries no baggage but at the same time puts religious people in the position of having to explain why their religion is any different from any of the other silly superstitions.

Report this

By Michael Oren, April 5, 2006 at 6:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam Harris has articulated my own thoughts very well.  Pascel Boyer (Reigion Explained) too provides an analytical approach to the belief system based on “inference systems” evolved in the course of human evolution as “a need to form cooperative links between individuals within a society.”  Religions appear to provide a survival advantage in this context. 

The survival advantage to individuals outside the religious communities requires an organization like Sam Harris may be working towards.  Perhaps to provide an alternative place to go on Sunday mornings.  A place where people can study the richness of secular thought regarding morality and ethics.  Perhaps even delving into the true Buddist ideals (Fundamental Buddism?)

Keep up the good work!  Know that there are many on your side.  Also know that these ideas may lead to violent reprisals.  Organized religions have strong self interests that will not be yield easily.

Report this

By Madir Mabbott, April 5, 2006 at 5:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The attraction of religious views over athiestic ones come down in essence to the impression that religions convey a positive and hopeful message, but that atheism is nihilistic. Some people who are scientifically educated find the skeptical, evidence-based approach of the Sciences to contain an essentially positive spirit characterised by inquiry, honesty, rigour and continuous learning - but they are usually in a minority. For most people, sadly, Science is equated with materialism and a denial of the human spirit. Apparently this fear extends to many intellectually rigorous forms of inquiry; people sense instinctively that the mind has won out over the heart and feel excluded, or even threatened, rather than welcomed by its world view.

What is required is that we promote an understanding of life which has deep values of compassion, truth, love, and growth at its core, freed from the superstitions and authoritarianism of past thinking. A spirituality which is life affirming, that celebrates those aspects of existence which remain essentially mysterious, yet welcomes the answers that modern Scientific inquiry can offer. A fully mature engagement with life which unites heart and mind, body and soul, left-brain and right.

A philosophy of life needs to be able to say YES as often as it says NO if it is appeal widely.
I think Sam Harris gives some very plausible pointers as to what such an world view might look like.

Report this

By Paul M., April 5, 2006 at 5:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The people who are smart (not necessarily nice or good) use religion to manipulate others.  The people who are “not smart” (some are very nice and very good) allow themselves to be manipulated by religion.

Report this

By allenahansen, April 5, 2006 at 4:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m reading this at 4:30 am in the land of the Jerry Springer People, and for the first time in months I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  I’m going straight from here to Powell’s and putting myself on the pre-publication list for your upcoming works.  I’m particularly intrigued with your research utilizing MRI modalities for charting a neurophysical component to religious belief.  Fascinating stuff. Thank you so much for having the balls to state the obvious about this planet of monkeys.

Report this

By TomChicago, April 5, 2006 at 4:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is not necessary for Mr. Harris to “succeed” in raising the numbers of atheists/agnostics/humanists from 3% to 80 or 100%.  We need only to refuse to deny the obvious, to borrow one of his phrases, and say out loud what we see.

Report this

By Blair Golson, April 5, 2006 at 4:24 am Link to this comment

Editor’s note:

Thanks to Bill (Comment #6425) for the catch!

-blair golson

Report this

By Morris Bocian, April 5, 2006 at 2:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The comments some people make associating the likes of Hitler and Stalin as atheists have little merit.  You might as well say they wore similiar shoes and acted as a result of those similarities.  People make a concerted effort to live in the present or live in the past. Dictators and fascists are the products of a very old school with predictable old school results.  Fire can sometimes be fought with fire. However, I am not sure if religious intolerance can be successfully fought with intellectual intolerance of religion. I do think that pointing out the absurdities of a dogma is helpful.  As mentioned with the Klan, you can humiliate people with common sense and hopefully reason should prevail.

Report this

By Jake Kidde-Hansen, April 5, 2006 at 2:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When the 501c is up and running and you need some “counter” missionaries in East Africa, give me a shout!

Report this

By j., April 5, 2006 at 2:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Complete, articulate writing, amazing talent.
For all irrelevancy, irrationality of religion(s), the factor that most contributes to the reality of religion and religious thoughts worldwide might well be the psychological need of most people to believe and thus for fewer, some brighter, more rational minds to feed on that.
Today, traditional religions as Islam might cause disarray, but the irrational, short term, immediate reward filosofy of consumerism is Islam’s most worthy opponent.

Report this

By James (Zantar) Loomis, April 5, 2006 at 1:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Beliefs of any faith are the problem, Christian and Islam alike. Reason won the battle with faith a long time ago, but it doesn’t seem to have seeped down or raised all boats equally. Awkward time in history, no doubt : We evolved to believe in Alpha apes in the sky, and matured to discover a whole different reality-Darwin and molecular biology. 
      The greatest predictor of wars between countries with a common boundary is Different Religions. And the world has shrunk ‘til all countries touch on many new borders and folks ready to die for their cause resting on the five beliefs below are the problem.
        I recommend the beginning of a spring cleaning on our minds, and discard any attachment to ideas of :
1. Afterlife;
2. Gods;
3.  Prophets that know God;
      4.  Exclusivity;
5.  Infallibility.
     
Knowledge has gotten a bum rap lately for being dangerous. It is! But If you think knowledge is dangerous, check out ignorance. Religions’ superstitious masks for authoritarian Power have outlived their usefulness.  Act local: Challenge your friends beliefs resting on ANY OF the above five mind viruses.
      Insensitive?
Let’s not prefer sensitivity to truth.
Trust truth.
Kids can handle truth better than deception and we’re still kids.

Report this

By Phil C., April 4, 2006 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bravo.

Best of luck with the new organization. I look forward to the opportunity to further the cause.

Report this

By John F. Howes, CPA, April 4, 2006 at 11:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is enlightening to read your material.  Rarely does one find someone who can articulate so forcefully about the irrationality of religion.

If you are looking for someone to assist with the compliance side of setting up and maintaining your non-profit, I’d be honored to help you.

Report this

By R. A. Earl, April 4, 2006 at 10:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Changing an attitude is a most difficult challenge, and changing the collective attitude of millions/billions of “sheep” seems an almost insurmountable obstacle.

And say, as with the KKK, the “religious” become humiliated and their numbers dwindle to insignificance, what then will the billions of superstitious and psychologically needy masses turn to for “spiritual” support?

It seems to me most humans have not evolved sufficiently to accept sole responsibility for their existences and behaviors. Most REQUIRE support to make it through. Removing Christianity and Islam without offering another opiate to take their places just won’t happen, in my opinion. Perhaps the devils we know might prove preferable to the one(s) waiting in the wings!

However, I applaud Sam Harris’ efforts and courage and wish him every success baiting his chosen bears. I do think, though, he’d be more likely to find a cure for the common cold or to reverse global warming.

Report this

By Nick Pavey, April 4, 2006 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

More unassailable wisdom from Sam.

Report this

By tympanachus, April 4, 2006 at 10:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m reminded of Terence McKenna (http://deoxy.org/mckenna.htm) when I read Harris.  Terence was filled with a similar enthusiasm for the prospects of humandkind though he professed a personal Eschatology that featured a near term (2012) singularity.

John Hogue also comes to mind. He has made this prophecy:

  “The Aquarian age supports spiritual loners, not obedient sheep. As misfits, what spiritual rebels have in common is their differences. Anarchy is their unifying bond. They will never be soldiers of any Christ - Hitlerian or holy.

  “The authentic gurus of the paradoxical Aquarian Age will not be Messiahs in the Picean role of savior, they will simply be the way-showers for those who are rebellious enough to seek their own truth. The ‘Messiah’ of tomorrow is not a man, nor even a son of man, but a spiritual force field generated by many human beings who share one thing in common - their individual search for themselves. Every seeker will be buoyed by the presence of the other’s unique urge for spiritual transformation. Aloneness breeds togetherness. With their people, the Aquarian masters will dissolve themselves into a new phenomenon in the evolution of enlightenment, the mass presence of the greater Messiah called the Buddhafield.

  “Unlike ashrams and monasteries of the past, this field is less a place, more like a wellspring of shared consciousness, where energies of many seekers pool together into a matrix of silent communion - a launching ground for a Buddhatomic chain reaction ~ where each seeker is capable of influencing 100 others to each ‘turn on’ 100 more seekers to an alternative, life-affirming state of awareness.”

Harris may be building a foundation for a new high-gain node in the emerging Buddhafield. Or he may be lining up on a windmill. Needing some optimism, I’ll expect the former.

Report this

By Anon Y. Mous, April 4, 2006 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i heart sam harris.  keep up the good work sir, there are still a few rational minds out there.

Report this

By Pat Huntington, April 4, 2006 at 9:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People never really look at their own religion, nor at themselves in that context.  Throughout the ages man has believed in a concept called God.  He or she thinks this is necessary because life is a sorrowful affair, an affair of contstant battles, conflict and misery with an occasional spark of light, beauty and joy.

According to the intellectual capacity of the inventors of these religious formulas, the concept of God, the Savior etc. man has always been trying to reach a state of bliss or truth.  The authors of these ideas and concepts have laid down either a system or a path that must be followed in order to achieve the ultimate reality.  So man has tortured his mind through discipline, through control through self-denial, through abstinence, austerity—inventing different ways to approach that reality. 

All the systems of the East and West imply constant control, constant twisting to conform to a pattern laid down by the priest, by the sacred books, by all those unfortunate things that are of the very essence of violence.  Their violence is not only in the denying of the flesh, but also in the denial of every form of desire, every form of beauty, and in controlling and conforming to a certain pattern laid down.  Then the disciples through cunning propaganda, through cunning ways of capturing the mind of man, establish a church, a dogma and rituals.

If people could just look at this, they would be able to see the absurdity of it all, intellectually, verbally etc.  One can see the absurdity of having any belief at all; one sees the idiocy of any ideology.  One can begin by denying the outward gods, with their priests—of any organized religion—one must completely deny these because they have no value at all.  They have bred wars, have separatged men; whether in the Jewish religion, the Hindu religion, the Christian religion or Islam.  They have destroyed man, separated man and are one of the major causes of war and violence.

So can we see the emptiness of our lives, and the shallowness of our existence?  Americans spend more money on trying to fill this emptiness than any other country in the world.  Is it not time to see through all this and discard all this nonsense.  This does not mean that one becomes an atheist or an agnostic or that he or she becomes cynical or bitter.  On the contrary, you can then see the nature of belief and why people make belief so extraordinarily important.  It is because we are AFRAID.  This is basically the reason.  It is fear of the basic grind of life, the fear of not achieving physically, not having power, prestige and so on. 

So why do we seek at all?  Is it not for one’s own self interest?  Now that you have realized that, you can discard that as well. The fact is, it is necessary to discard all seekings.  It is then that you can come upon the implication of the seeking something that you already know, that you have already lost, and you are trying to get it back.  If you are “seeking” does this not imply that you will recognize it when you find it?  The idea of recognition is the action of memory.  The real fact is that you already have a concept or idea of what you are seeking.  Therefore, what you are seeking has no real bearing in truth. It is just an idea out of your own memory.

Therefore, one must devlop that state of mind that is really free from all search, from all belief—without becoming cynical, without stagnating.  A mind that is not caught in any form of belief, not caught in self-created belief, not seeking anything. . .is tremendously alive.  Perhaps then you can see that truth is only from moment to moment.  Like viture, like beauty, it is something that has no continuity, which is the product of time, and time is thought. 

Keep in mind that all action is the result of ideation.  Can you not see the possibility of having a mind that is very quiet, neither thinking or afraid, and therefore, extraordinarily alive and intense. True passion implies total self-abandonment.  It is this kind of mind that can create a new society in which the activity of self-interest has very little place.  It is only with this kind of religious mind that there can be peace both outwardly and inwardly.  Without this striving, there will be true love in the world.

Report this

By Doug Stewart, April 4, 2006 at 9:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have been following Sam Harris since his first appearance on C-Span He is, of course, right. My friends think I might be nuts, but I have been saying the same things for about 25 years.

But I think he cannot succeed. TruthDig’s own statistics (only 3% rational in this country?) bear that out. Unless aliens land tomorrow and prove that the universe was not created for the exclusive use of humans, y’all ain’t gonna get it!

It is not just the fundy Islamics, it’s not just the fundy Christians, the fundy Buddists, the fundy Mormons,Sieks,Jews,Shintoists,Pagans,Hindus and on and on and on. It is religion that’s the problem. Jesus said, “By their fruits shall you know them.” What are the fruits of religion? Death, death, and more death. Remember that the first mass bombing in the U.S. was in Kansas City and created by Christians—NOT Muslims.

I support Sam and the few other voices “crying in the wilderness,” but I doubt they will ever suceed. It seems we still need to be told and belive the old myths about where the lightning comes from, why there are catastophic storms, and why we ain’t rich, and sombody up there likes us. Bull!

With the possible of WWI—an accident wating to happen and except for the Ottomans—What war hasn’t been fought without a religous root? The American Civil War?—possibly. But the Southern fundys—who were literally correct in saying that the Bible supported slavery—were opposed by Northern anti-slavery Unitarians, Episcopalians, closet atheists, and others. WWII? Yes, but Germany was trying to impose an occult, pagan theology at least on it’s own people. Go back before that and it’s all religion—and to Islam, the Crusades are a current reality, not a footnote to history.

Spitiuality is something that fundys don’t understand, and so they kill it whenever possible.And there is spituality outside of religion. Zen Buddists (NOT their fundys)come very close to the truth, I think, but even they have their own brand of fundys.

I do not thnk that humankind will find it’s self or it’s heart or it’s reality until we release the superstitions of our ancient Neolethic campfires. And, Sam, I don’t think that tme will be soon. If we survive the next 50 years, maybe. Maybe. I hope . . .

Doug

Report this

By Joseph Finn, April 4, 2006 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For all of my adult life I have asked myself why I do not believe in the ideas of the religious community. It is fundamentally reasonable to me that the worlds religions cannot all be correct.

Religion, I have come to understand is believing whatever you were taught to believe. Since I do not believe what I was taught, I searched and struggled to find something of value to believe in. My father said to me many years ago, “You must believe in something.”

So, here is what I believe:

God is existence.
We exist.
Are we god?

God is existence.
Are you god?

God is existence.
I exist.

Report this

By demar, April 4, 2006 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As usual, Sam is clear. I look forward to hearing more about his foundation. Can you find another term? Politically correct is a bull shit way of condeming tolerance. Right wingers like it because it allows them to be racists and flog those who wish to be tolerant of others. Being tolerant of religous mumbo jumbo and other stupidities is something the world can not afford anymore. It’s time for people to take a position. So from that perspective, tolerance is out the window.

Report this

By Ernst Lurker, April 4, 2006 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We cannot coexist with religious fanaticism, so we have no other choice but to bring all these medievalists into the 21st century.  Tanks and guns are counterproductive, they only create more hostility.  But a media blitz combined with humanitarian efforts would sound more promising.  Our war on terror won’t lead anywhere, but we can undermine the underlying fervor.  The printing press took a long time to enlighten the Europeans who fought a 30 year religious war. We have better technology today.

Report this

By Joe DeAmicis, April 4, 2006 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I never could reconcile why people who exercise reason in most facets of their life choose to abandon it completely when it comes to their religious beliefs. I can only conclude that the concept of death without a nirvana afterlife waiting in the wings is so frightening that they willingly engage in massive self delusion. Unfortunately the consequences are leading us to a place where true morality is snuffed out in the name of religious dogma.

Report this

By Ted Radamaker, April 4, 2006 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am proud to support Sam Harris in any way I can.  From my first contact with his views to the present I haven’t found anthing with which I do not agree. I wish him every success in his future ventures to make the world a more rational place. This was an excellent interview.

Report this

By David Hickman, April 4, 2006 at 8:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Awesome!  This is the best thing I’ve read by Sam Harris to date, and he’s written many good articles. 

I think this article puts forth some of the clearest and most irrefutable arguments against the evil of religion that I’ve ever read.

Thanks!

Report this

By Ted Swart, April 4, 2006 at 8:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It seems that by sheer fluke I am going to be the first to comment.  Let me say right away that it was a deluxe interview and I was much encouraged by the news that you have a new book coming out and that you are planning on creating an orgnization that will wage a war to propagate well-founded ideas.
That having been said I feel uncomfortable about your comments on atheism and agnosticism.  You suggest that the word “atheism” may well be redundant yet you dont seem to find the word “agnosticism” attractive and speak disparagingly about it.  I think you rightly say that there is as little justification for accepting the existenc of the Christian God or Allah as there is for accepting the existence of Thor.  But you nevertheless speak of the continuum of consciousness which says to me that you do acknowledge that there are more things twixt heaven and earth than are are dreamt of in (any of) our philosphies. Agnosticism is surely just an admission that we do not know all that there is to know about the meaning and purpose of life.

Report this

By Albert Shears, April 4, 2006 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam: Make your next book” The new Bible for a modern world in which science has clarified many of the ancient questions which led to the formation of religion dogma over the centuries” Glad to hear about the Foundation.  Quite a challenge. It is remarkable how people of faith in this world have the ideas they have when they look so stupid reciting their dead theses. Why hasn’t man adapted as the world has modernized? Why have men kept their ancient ideas. It is very interesting.

Report this

By James, April 4, 2006 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam,

As long as you don’t suddenly take up cartoon drawing, I think you’re in good shape, security-wise.

Looking forward to your upcoming book. Keep up the good work, please.

Thank you!

Report this

By joe-martin@cox.net, April 4, 2006 at 8:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Voltaire, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell and now we have Sam Harris.

Report this

By Herb Stein, April 4, 2006 at 8:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Keep up the good work!

Report this

By lightiris, April 4, 2006 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As usual, you have done a beautiful job articulating what so many of us have difficulty saying.  This is a beautiful distillation of basic truth that deserves to be read and reread.  I so much admire your tenacity in forcing this much-needed dialogue into the open.  Please keep doing what you’re doing; I, and many others, so much appreciate your efforts and leadership.

Report this

By Bill, April 4, 2006 at 7:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fix this paragraph:

Applying this to Islam, you say that given the tenets of a religion guarantee a place in heaven for martyrs, it’s no wonder we see so many Islamic suicide bombers. However, if the connection between belief and action were this absolute, then how do you explain the all Moslems aren’t suicide bombers?

Report this

By Pat Barton, April 4, 2006 at 7:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Faith is about comfort. And power. Comfort for the afraid. Power for those who know how to use the fear to build empires, big and little.

The universe is operating as matter run by physics, expands and retracts, life being created by chemistry. Who knows where, who knows why. Can the germ really understand the body.

The need to be important somehow creates the myths. I groped, you grope. Stop trying so hard. Be occasionally funny. We’re just germs.

Pat

Report this

By Kathleen Abrams, April 4, 2006 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the athiest population is closer to 12%.  It is the fastest growing “faith.”  More high school students are embracing athiesm.  I think more people would become “believers” if they thought we were had a larger following.  Everyone loves a winner! I suggest not marketing athiests as such a minority of 3%.

Report this

By Gilbert Labiaga, April 4, 2006 at 6:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam Harris is a force of reason. he can see the unreason of dogmas or religous fanatics. The world and humanity is in peril on the hands of both the muslim and christian loonies. We must join hands and prevent these crackpots before they detonate the nuke, because their God told them this is the right way to punish the sinners and by so doing earn them the right to heaven or is it hell?

Report this

Page 4 of 4 pages « First  <  2 3 4

 
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
 
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 
 
 

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Zuade Kaufman, Publisher   Robert Scheer, Editor-in-Chief
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.