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Sam Harris: The Truthdig Interview

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

By Blair Golson

(Page 4)

One of the most persistent criticisms of your theory is that the two largest genocides of the 20th century, the Holocaust and the Stalinist purges, were explicitly irreligious. How do you respond to that?

The problem that I am confronting is the problem of dogma. What you have just done is to point to political dogmatism, instead of religious dogmatism. The argument against religious dogma is not an argument for atheist dogma. We should be fundamentally hostile to claims to certainty that are not backed up by evidence and argument. And what we find with Nazism is a kind of political religion. We find this with Stalinism as well—where claims about racial purity and the march of history and the dangers of intellectualism, are made in a fanatical and rigid and indefensible way. The people at the top of these hierarchies—Hitler, Stalin, and Kim Il Sung in North Korea—these were not the kings of reason. These were highly peculiar individuals who had all kinds of strange convictions. The upper echelons of the Third Reich were filled with people who believed crazy things, like that the Aryans had been preserved in ice since the beginning of the world. Heinrich Himmler created a meteorological division of the Reich to test this ice theory. This is not what people do when they reason too carefully, or become too unwilling to accept mythology as fact. It’s another kind of mythology, and one that is no less dangerous than religious mythology.

How do you define the differences between an atheist and an agnostic?

“Agnosticism” is a word that was brought into use by T.H. Huxley. I don’t think it’s a particularly useful word. It tends to be defined as the belief that one can’t know whether or not there is a god. An agnostic is someone who thinks we don’t know and can’t know the truth of a position. So it’s a non-committal attitude.


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But it’s not an intellectually honest position, because everyone is walking around presuming to know that there isn’t a Zeus, there isn’t a Poseidon, and there isn’t a Thor. Can you prove that Thor with his hammer isn’t sending down lightning bolts? No, you can’t prove it. But that’s not the right question. The right question is, “Is there any reason whatsoever to think there’s a god named Thor?” And of course there isn’t. There are many good reasons to think that he was a fictional character. The Batman of Scandinavia.

The problem for religious people is that the god of the Bible is on no firmer footing, epistemologically, than these dead gods. Which is to say that nobody ever discovered that Thor doesn’t exist, but that the biblical god really does. So we have learned to talk and use the word ‘god’ in a way so as not to notice that we’re using a very strange word and evoking a very vacuous concept, like the concept of Thor.

And therefore the definition of an atheist is?

And atheist is not someone who can prove that there is no Thor. An atheist is simply someone who says, “show me the evidence,” and who is unconvinced by evidence like:

“Here’s a book that was dictated by the creator of the universe, and in it, it describes all kinds of miracles that people claim they witnessed, but these people have been dead for 2,000 years, and in fact none of the authors of the book are the people who claim to have witnessed these events, and they wrote the book a hundred years after the events in question.”

This is not a story that anyone would find plausible except for the fact that it was drummed into them by previous generations of people who were taught not to think critically about it.

The thing to reiterate is that every Christian knows exactly what it’s like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims, for instance. Muslims have the same reasons for being Muslim as Christians have for being Christian. They have a book they’re sure was written or dictated by the creator of the universe-because the book says that it was written or dictated by the creator of the universe. Christians look at Muslim discourse and find it fundamentally unpersuasive. Christians aren’t lying awake at night worrying about whether they should convert to Islam. Why not? Because Muslims can’t really back up their claims. They are clearly engaged in a style of discourse that is just not intellectually honest. It’s not purposed to genuine inquiry into the nature of the world. It is a reiteration of dogma, and they are clearly committed to a massive program of self-deception. Every Christian recognizes this about every religion other than Christianity. So every Christian knows exactly what it is like to be atheist. They just don’t turn the same candor and intellectual honesty on to their own faith.

Liberals started calling themselves progressives when the term ‘liberal’ accumulated too much baggage and negative connotations. Is there an analog for the term atheist?

I’m not a big fan of the term atheist. In my Atheist Manifesto, the first thing I argue is that we really don’t need the word and probably shouldn’t use it. It has the stigma of a term like “child molester” in the culture, for reasons that are not good, but nevertheless worth taking into consideration.  The term simply has a massive P.R. problem.

But the word is also 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. It is sufficient to talk about reason and commonsense in these circumstances.

You write passionately in your book about the spirituality of Buddhism. How do you describe yourself in terms of your spirituality?

I don’t call myself a Buddhist. I recently wrote an article in the Shambhala Sun, which is one of the more widely read Buddhist magazines, entitled “Killing the Buddha.” I essentially argued that that the wisdom of the Buddha is trapped in the religion of Buddhism. The teachings of the Buddha, taken as a whole, probably represent the richest source of contemplative wisdom that we have, but anyone who values these teachings should get out of the religion business. It’s the wrong message. And, in any case, 99 percent of Buddhists practice Buddhism as a religion, and therefore are part of the same egregious discourse.

I think there really is something worth extracting from our contemplative traditions in general, and from Buddhism in particular. It’s a phenomenology of meditative experience—what people do and realize when they go into a cave for a year or 10 years and practice meditation. There really is a landscape there that has been brilliantly articulated in Buddhism, and not so brilliantly articulated in some of our other contemplative traditions. And so I think all of this is worth talking about and studying.

But I don’t call myself a Buddhist.  and yet, if you asked me how you should learn to meditate, what books you should read, etc., I’d point you in the direction of Buddhist techniques of meditation, and to the Buddhist literature on the subject.

So you don’t need any recourse to the supernatural in Buddhism?

The core truths of Buddhism, the truth of selflessness, for instance.  It’s simply a fact that it is possible to realize that the ego, as you presently feel it and conceive of it, is an illusion. You can experience the continuum of consciousness without the sense of self.  This experience can be had without believing anything on insufficient evidence. You can simply be taught to look closely enough at your experience, to de-construct the sense of self, and then discover what the consequences are of that happening. And the consequences turn out to be very positive. There’s a whole discourse in Buddhism about the relief of psychological suffering, the transcendence of self, and the nature of positive human emotions like compassion and loving kindness. These phenomena have been mapped out with incredible rigor in Buddhism, and one doesn’t need to swallow any mumbo jumbo to find this discourse useful.

And yet, much that people believe under the guise of Buddhism is dubious: certainties about re-birth, the idea that one’s teacher in the Tibetan tradition is absolutely the reincarnation of some previous historical personality—all of this stuff is held rather dogmatically by most Buddhists, and I think we should be skeptical of it. If people present evidence of it,—and there’s certainly been some interesting studies on the subject of rebirth—we should look at the evidence.  As someone once said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Next Page: “I don’t understand why we’re living in a society where 83 percent of people believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead, while the Swedes are living in a society where basically that same percentage of people are atheists.”

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?”



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.
Let’s not prefer sensitivity to truth.
Trust truth.
Kids can handle truth better than deception and we’re still kids.

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


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

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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.

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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.

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

More unassailable wisdom from Sam.

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

I’m reminded of Terence McKenna ( 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.

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By Anon Y. Mous, April 4, 2006 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment
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i heart sam harris.  keep up the good work sir, there are still a few rational minds out there.

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By Pat Huntington, April 4, 2006 at 9:47 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By Doug Stewart, April 4, 2006 at 9:45 pm Link to this comment
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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 . . .


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By Joseph Finn, April 4, 2006 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By demar, April 4, 2006 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By Ernst Lurker, April 4, 2006 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By Joe DeAmicis, April 4, 2006 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By Ted Radamaker, April 4, 2006 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By David Hickman, April 4, 2006 at 8:45 pm Link to this comment
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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.


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By Ted Swart, April 4, 2006 at 8:43 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By Albert Shears, April 4, 2006 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By James, April 4, 2006 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment
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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!

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By, April 4, 2006 at 8:17 pm Link to this comment
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Voltaire, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell and now we have Sam Harris.

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By Herb Stein, April 4, 2006 at 8:01 pm Link to this comment
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Keep up the good work!

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By lightiris, April 4, 2006 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment
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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.

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By Bill, April 4, 2006 at 7:15 pm Link to this comment
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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?

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By Pat Barton, April 4, 2006 at 7:01 pm Link to this comment
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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.


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By Kathleen Abrams, April 4, 2006 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment
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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%.

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By Gilbert Labiaga, April 4, 2006 at 6:47 pm Link to this comment
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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?

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