422 Sam Harris, The End of Faith … religious moderation and the abyss

To begin with, let me say unambiguously: I am critical of religion; so (while this is my third criticism of the book) I like The End of Faith by Sam Harris, with all his startling inferences, his blistering denouncements, his take-no-prisoners approach and his outrageous brimstone-and-fire (pun intended) style ... what's not to like there? 

But I am re-reading The End of Faith because of this third aspect of the book that shocks me (after Harris’ take on pacifism [blog 417] and the problem Harris sees with Islam [blog 418]). His concept of religious moderation being one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss has me reeling (he has a way with words and concepts, good ol' Sam Harris … never one to mince turns of phrase or hypotheses), probably because I'm a religious moderate. 

Picasso, The Peace Dove

Says Harris:


“… religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: They imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance - born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God - is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.”


You may want to read that paragraph again! This is pure Dawkinism (remember The God Delusion?) peppered with some Hitchinism (did you read God is Not Great?) … the previous most shocking books on the subject of Religion is Bad for Us, basta! (basta - Italian - ‘that’s enough’, ‘stop’, ‘end of discussion’).


Harris, Dawkins and (the late) Christopher Hitchins are (were) in no two minds: Religion is the cause of most evil in our world; I tend not to argue too much with that … more so since reading The End of Faith (in view of especially Islam, but just as much Christianity and Judaism).


But to denounce those who defend moderate religious ideas, where they pick and promote whatever good is found in religious beliefs (like Christ’s preaching of forgiveness, humility and mercy) is probably not productive, for one simple reason ... I think (for now) religions are here to stay, we may have to live with them and thus probably should support moderate religiosity (and - as ever - most importantly ... religiosity that does not go out to harm others). 

I have essays on  RELIGION 1RELIGION 2  in my book with no name but instead three definitions for the term  en.light.en.ment  (alright, there's also  RELIGION 3)

Anyway, Harris disagrees; says he:


“A few minutes wandering the graveyard of bad ideas suggests that … conceptual revolutions are possible. Consider the case of alchemy: It fascinated human beings for over a thousand years, and yet anyone who seriously claims to be a practicing alchemist today will have disqualified himself for most positions of responsibility in our society. Faith based religion must suffer the same slide into obsolescence.”


This is strong stuff, if one follows it through to Harris’ conclusion: We must not tolerate religion on any level. One must read the above quote in view of his contention that a politician who is not religious has no chance of ever getting elected to higher office in the USA; that - I assume - Harris wants to see reversed: Politicians with a religious bent should have no chance of ever getting elected .. that indeed would be The End of Faith!

I look forward to the next book of his I’ll be reading, Letter To A Christian Nation ... (“A breath of fresh fire”, the Wall Street Journal) it is said to be his response to criticism of The End of Faith. Indeed, room for thought, if ever there was some

(this is what I like doing: reading, thinking, writing ... in that order.)

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