I read The End of Faith, a book by a militant atheist named Sam Harris. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, is a meandering polemic against faith and people of faith. It pretends to be “scientific” but ends up being even more unreasonable than most of the people he criticizes. For example, he is against the idea of a divine creator of the universe, but he himself believes in psychic phenomena, reincarnation and other meaningless, improvable New Age bells and whistles, Eastern voodoo and “denying self consciousness” poppycock. He brings up a few isolated incidents of extreme intolerance such as the Spanish Inquisition, where a few thousand people died in horrible and sickening murders, and then unscientifically generalizes those isolated incidents to “prove” that faith is the cause of all harm in the world.
If we look at it by the numbers, more people that DID NOT believe in God have murdered others than the number of believers who have taken up the sword. Take, for example, the Nazi regime as well as the millions killed by the atheistic cult of Communism. Stalin killed way more people than any believer in history. Although fellow militant atheist Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett fail to realize this as well.
How does Harris try to deflect this inconvenient truth? He says that Communism was a “religion” too. There are more recent examples as well. It was two unbelievers–the Columbine killers–who denied God, or at least hated Him and murdered a Christian martyr for her belief. Of course most Christians are smart enough to realize that this doesn’t make all atheists murderers, unlike Harris’ fallacy of association.
The positive aspects of this text deal with his points against political correctness when it comes to criticizing Islam.
He also points out how moral relativism is a self-contradictory stance, which is refreshing from someone who is secular.
But his intolerance goes very far:
“Given the link between belief and action, it is clear that we can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene.” (46)
Harris notes that the Bush White House has small prayer groups and says that this should “trouble us as much as it troubles the fanatics of the Muslim world.” (47).
He compares believing in a higher power to believing in a Greek myth such as Zeus (47)
Crisis queen Harris also says we must stop believing in God or the we will not survive the next few centuries or even decades. (47)
“We must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it. Given the present state of our world, there appears to be no other future worth wanting.” (48)
He also complains that kids are “killing themselves over their books.” He does not point out that only Islamist suicide bombers are the only ones killing themselves for their book.
He points out that violent offenders are sometimes paroled to make room for drug offenders. This is the either-or fallacy. Why can’t we just make bigger jails? What about crack cocaine, which ruins people’s lives?
Harris, after complaing about a few religious people in history who killed people for not believing (although non-believers have killed many more believers by far), he advocated killing people just for believing!: “Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.” (53) So is Harris really advocating killing people because of something they believe, even if they are not threatening the non-believer? This is evil.
Unlike most of his liberal kin, Harris advocates more war: “We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.” (53)
On the positive note, Harris does point out how many liberals are unwary or unwilling to recognize the terror threat: “He [writer Paul Berman] also points out that liberal thinkers are often unable to recognize these terrors for what they are. There is indeed a great tradition, in Berman’s phrase, of “liberalism as denial.” The French Socialists in the
1930s seem to have had a peculiar genius for this style of self-deception, for despite the billowing clouds of unreason wafting over from the East, they could not bring themselves to believe that the Nazis posed a problem worth taking seriously. In the face of the German menace, they simply blamed their own government and defense industry for warmongering.
Harris says, “What constitutes a civil society? At minimum, it is a place where ideas,
of all kinds, can be criticized without the risk of physical violence.” (150) But wait a second, Harris just advocated killing people because of their ideas!
Harris goes beyond Glover’s (Humanity, 140) pining for a UN international force and world court and calls for one world government: “We can say it even more simply: we need a world government.” (151)
Complains that “we are the “last civilized nation to put ‘evildoers’ to death”
(157) and is against capital punishment but later justifies war deaths.
Harris then strangely tries to separate religion and mysticism: “Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognized something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion.” (221)
Speaking of consciousness, Harris also states, “we know enough at this moment to say that the God of Abraham is not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.” (226)
Harris equates faith with “ignorance, hatred, greed” and even calls it “the devil’s masterpiece.” (226)
Harris then tries to blame all societies woes on the scapegoat of faith, even though non-faith has led to more death and misery. “Western leaders who insist that our conflict is not with Islam are mistaken; but, as I argue throughout this book, we have a problem with Christianity and Judaism as well. It is time we recognized that all reasonable men and women have a common enemy. It is an enemy so near to us, and so deceptive, that we keep its counsel even as it threatens to destroy the very possibility of human happiness. Our enemy is nothing other than faith itself.” (131)
While admitting that the Nazi and Soviet communist regimes were anti-Christian, he points out that some church leaders throughout history have been anti-Semitic and that the Nazis merely “inherited” this hatred from Christians. Harris also blames the Holocaust on none other than the Jews themselves: “The gravity of Jewish suffering over the ages, culminating in the Holocaust, makes it almost impossible to entertain any suggestion that Jews might have brought their troubles on themselves. This is, however, in a rather narrow sense, the truth. Prior to the rise of the church, Jews became the objects of suspicion and occasional persecution for their refusal to assimilate, for the insularity and professed superiority of their religious culture-that is, for the content of their own unreasonable, sectarian beliefs. The dogma of a ‘chosen people,’ while at least implicit in most faiths, achieved a stridence in Judaism that was unknown in the ancient world. Among cultures that worshiped a plurality of Gods, the later monotheism of the Jews proved indigestible. And while their explicit demonization as a people required the mad work of the Christian church, the ideology of Judaism remains a lightning rod for intolerance to this day.” (93)
He also says, “It seems little wonder, therefore, that it has drawn so much sectarian fire.” (94)
Harris pretends the existence of children born with no limbs, species that no longer exist, and the emergence of Hitler and the H Bomb are proof that God does not exist, calling the consideration of free will bad philosophy and bad ethics. (173)
He also compares unborn children (human fetuses, blastocysts in his words) to non-human animals, saying we have to understand the relationship between mind and matter to know how we should treat them. (174) and he says to “not think.”
Harris calls the God of Abraham a “ridiculous fellow” and “capricious, petulant and cruel” (173)
Harris does finally admit there are many examples of good people with faith: “It is true that there are millions of people whose faith moves them to perform extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. The help rendered to the poor by Christian missionaries in the developing world demonstrates that religious ideas can lead to actions that are both beautiful and necessary. But there are far better reasons for self-sacrifice than those that religion provides.” (78) Harris never lists these reasons.
He calls people that have faith “mad.” (71-72)
Not surpisingly, Harris supports the killing of human embryos to learn more about the body. He errantly says that the cells only have the potential to become a human being, but they are already a human being, scientifically.
He also misleadingly states that Christians would then believe that cells from a nose a humans as well, since we can take any cell and insert it into an egg using nuclear transfer to clone a person. He mockingly asserts, “whenever the president scratches his nose he is now engaged in a diabolical culling of souls.” (166-167) No, Harris, a living embryo is a human being, a single nose cell is not.
He then lied and stated that the U.S. House of Representatives “voted effectively to ban embryonic stem-cell research on February 27, 2003.” Did he lie? Yes. They may have curtailed federal funding for the killing of embryos, but it was not outlawed.
Wacko Harris then insanely says that a fly is worth more than a human embryo! “No rational approach to ethics would have led us to such an impasse. Our present policy on human stem cells has been shaped by beliefs that are divorced from every reasonable intuition we might form about the possible experience of living systems. In neurological terms, we surely visit more suffering upon this earth by killing a fly than killing a human blastocyst, to say nothing of a human zygote (flies, after all, have 100,000 cells in
their brains alone).”
He states that “the point at which we fully acquire our humanity, and our
capacity to suffer” remains an open question. Really? So a newborn is not a person? Peter Singer would agree.
He states that those which acknowledge life begins at conception have nothing but “ignorance” to bring to the debate and equates them with flat-earthers. (167) Give me a break. Science is on the pro-life side: human life, scientifically, begins at conception. Those that deny this are the flat-earthers.
He also complains about Bush’s opposition to abortion and calls it “unreason.” (167) Do you really believe that? That saying it’s wrong to kill an innocent human being is unreasonable?
Overall, I did get some good points from Harris, but he fails to convince a reasonable person that religion has done more harm than good. To combat unreasonable intolerance, we should not preach more intolerance, as Harris does. There’s also a helpful review of three of these books on National Review.