479 of 529 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2006
Author Sam Harris has a problem with the world's major organized religions. His thesis, in particular, is that while the foibles of religious fundamentalism (of various brands, though always essentially bespeaking the same mentality) may appear to be more or less harmless, they are in fact a gravely dangerous phenomenon that threatens humankind itself with extinction.
The problem is that with the more rabid varieties of religious fundamentalism we are no longer looking just at the ravings of those halfwit television evangelists who run the credit card icons across the bottom of the screen for the ensnaring of the gullible. Now, on the contrary, we have entered an age- nothing similar to which has been seen since the Spanish Inquisition- in which whole hordes of religious zealots view themselves as being commanded by the "will of God" (whatever in the world that means) to torture, multilate, and brutally kill the rest of us. It is this unreasoning willingness to commit acts of atrocity for "God" (under whatever name), based upon belief systems that are not only of undemonstrated validity but of absolutely undemonstrable validity, that bothers Sam Harris, and he does a truly eloquent job of explaining why, in terms of radical Islam, Christianity, and other belief systems.
While Mr. Harris takes on Islam with considerable fervor, he certainly does not neglect the sordid side of religion in the West. He argues, with regard to both the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, that it is only by selectively ignoring parts of the so-called sacred texts that many people, eschewing the more radical views of these belief systems, can function even as religious "moderates." He points out, for example, that in the Bible's book of Deuteronomy, one is compelled to murder anyone who "serves other gods"-specifically, "You must stone him to death" (Deut. 13:7-11). (In what circumstances, one may ask, is one "serving other gods"? There was a time when Protestants and Catholics turned this principle upon each other, as in fact they still sometimes do in Northern Ireland.) Likewise Harris points out places in scripture where the death penalty, in no uncertain terms, is prescribed for such offenses as "taking the Lord's name in vain" (Leviticus 24:16), working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15), cursing one's father or mother (Exodus 21:17), and adultery (Leviticus 20:10). It is not that most people subscribing to this belief system would actually kill anyone for, say, working the Sunday shift at Burger King- but in order to refrain from doing so, such "believers" must selectively tune out the textual command to do so.
In the West, we have largely (thank God, one is tempted to say) separated religion out of public life. The Founding Fathers were careful, in the Constitution, to disallow establishment of a national religion, even though certain modern Presidents have trampled upon this founding wisdom to the extent of using such lunatics as Pat Robertson as advisors on matters of international relations and nuclear proliferation. (How's that for scary?) But in Islamic countries, no such separation of church and state has ever taken place. One can make a fairly long list of countries in which the clergy and the police are the same people. And here again, the willingness to kill whole populations of people failing to share one's own religious beliefs is founded upon systems of "thought"(the desire to fulfil the will of Allah) for which there is no proof of validity. Sam Harris devotes several pages to quotations from the Koran that demand that the believer murder the unbeliever. And of course the terrible thing nowadays is that this phenomenon is the mindset of whole cultures, bent upon subjugating or destroying the rest of the world "on account," as Harris puts it, "of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher's stone, and unicorns." Harris minces no words: "We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so." He points out that the purveyors of this world-view are so narrow as to have no reasoning ability left to them. Like the Nazis (Hitler, after all, having been a devout Christian who saw himself as obeying "God's will," as Mein Kampt makes abundantly clear), the radical Islamists have no basis for rational comparison or judgment. Harris points out: "Spain translates as many books into Spanish every year as the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the ninth century." Needless to say, this situation is appalling- and dangerous, in a world in which those deranged enough to think that some "god" is whispering murderous instructions to them can command nuclear arsenals capable of ending all life on the planet. We can't afford this any more.
"As long as it is acceptable," Harris says, "for a person to believe that he knows how God wants everyone on earth to live, we will continue to murder one another on account of our myths." In the past sixty seconds, someone has no doubt died this way.
Harris makes it clear that he is by no means opposed to the individual human urge toward spirituality- toward a sense of wanting to relate oneself to the universe- and makes it equally clear that he accepts the reality of the essential difference between right and wrong, in a primal sense not dependent upon undemonstrable religious belief systems. Morality and ethics, he says, can be developed as a science. And must be. "No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realize, one fine day, that we do in fact love our neighbors, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere be given the opportunity to flourish." In short, we must learn to be good to each other because we want to, not because of religious dogma. For this reviewer's money, he is absolutely right. Humankind must outgrow the barbarisms of an ignorant and stultifying past and move on toward a vision of harmony inspired not by meanness of spirit but by clear and courageous thinking. Bravo, Mr. Harris!
1,659 of 1,882 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2004
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This is an important book. It delves into the rightness of religious belief, supernaturalism in particular. It shows an ugly scene - religious extremism is widespread and much of our world's hurt can be traced directly to it. The author shows that religion is not a benign force - so often it is detrimental to world peace and happiness. The author's observations do not just apply to Osama Bin Laden and his ilk, but also to President Bush and like-minded evangelical Christians.
What took me aback is the position that Harris is advocating - that it is okay to subject religion to careful scrutiny, in fact, it is desirable as religion is having such a negative impact on us all. He's talking about a change in social norms, attitudes, what is considered mannerly... he's saying that we can no longer afford to be respectful and tolerant of others' religious beliefs when those beliefs could do us all in. He suggests that we ask: What is the evidence for your God?
I learnt that a person's religious beliefs are his own private business - every person has to work out his own salvation - and it was not for me to question these beliefs. I learned that it is behavior that counts - how we treat others and the world we live in. But in America this has flipped. Now many people talk about their beliefs, the one-on-one they have with Christ, while they indulge in the most hateful and unchristian behavior. Worse, they think their beliefs call for such behavior. Harris suggests that it is time for us to grab this nettle and challenge religion's hold on so many people.
I have been researching a book on Middle East peace. I was startled to learn the role that Bible prophecy is playing in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The US's policy, under President Bush, has more to do with laying the groundwork for Christ's Second Coming than a careful search for justice and peace.
It is amazing to me that in this day and age that Biblical writings are playing such a role in our lives. One of the factors that brought on the Dark Ages was the rise of the Christian church, the aggressive way it persecuted those who disagreed with even its most ridiculous notions. I ask if we are on the verge of a new Dark Age? Prophecy, creationism, the Bible taken literally, fear of hell fire, 2,000 year old notions on how we should live... This book helps us address this urgent question.
This is also a courageous book. It is courageous as an important component of the identity, sense of self, of so many millions of people is tied to such religion. The author will no doubt endure a lot of anger from many of these people. I am thankful that he is taking this stand.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2006
This is an outstanding book that calls for a new spirituality. He attacks the monotheist religions as they represent beliefs inconsistent with known scientific facts. Also, our civilization may not survive the deadly combination of chronic conflicts ignited by religious fervor with current weapons technology. Thus, per Harris either faith will end or we will.
He states that the US is a Theocracy. Based on PEW's research 72% of us believe in angels, 44% believe Jesus will physically come back to Earth, 65% believe in Satan. Not surprisingly, only 28% get the theory of Evolution. And, 70% want presidential candidates who are "strongly religious." Our religiousness has a profound influence on our ethics, and domestic and foreign policies.
Harris expands on the painful history of Christianity. This includes the Crusades, witch hunting (Salem trial), the Spanish Inquisition, and even the Holocaust who may have not occurred if not for a documented hatred of the Jewish community among Christian Germans a full century before the onset of the Third Reich. Hitler had a waiting audience.
Harris indicates that with the passage of time, Christianity has moderated its zeal. We look back with horror at the cruel excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. We have learned to interpret the Bible so as to not immediately threaten our survival. Unlike liberals such as Noam Chomsky, he makes a distinction between collateral damage and terrorism. In a conflict, we invariably cause collateral damage. But, the accidental killing of civilians is something we abhor. Instead, terrorists main intention is to kill civilian innocents. For Chomsky, there is no difference. For Harris, the intent makes all the difference.
Harris addresses "The Problem with Islam" in a specific chapter. He studied the Koran in exhaustive detail; and he notes that the Koran preaches violence against non-Muslim. He quotes from the Koran tens of such damning passages. Analyzing current events, he considers that the West attempt at Democratic and Economic reform of the Middle East is futile. Terrorists are often the best educated and capable members of the Islamic community. Thus, terrorism is not inversely correlated to education, income or job opportunities. Osama bin Laden does not do what he does out of economic frustration. He does it by revering the scriptures of the Koran. He finds it a sublime insult that Islam was finally ousted out of Spain and the entire remainder of Western Europe in the 12th century. That's his frame of reference. He also strongly believes in the Islamic division of the world between the "House of Islam" and the "House of War." He and his followers show no sign of resting (in their terrorists efforts) until the House of Islam has entirely overtaken the House of War. He defends his position in inspiring speeches with frequent quotes from the Koran. Within the Muslim community, it is not the extremists or terrorists that are on the defensive it is the few moderates because the Koran scriptures is not on their side. Per a PEW survey, a majority of Muslims support suicide bombings. Per a CNN poll, 61% of Muslims believe that 9/11 was not conducted by Muslims. The other 39% believe it was and give them credit for a job well done. Harris also adds that the Koran is the equivalent of a death cult manifesto as it promises such reward in the after life for whoever defends Islam. Given that, Harris states that mutual nuclear deterrence with a Muslim country will not work. He adds that Islam has also many other problems as he refers to Sharya Law that demands "honor killings" from fathers (or brothers) of daughters who have been raped. Yet, some of us deem such behavior as acceptable from a politically correct and cultural diversity framework. Harris considers Islam a culture and religion in a state of arrested development in the 14th century. Spain translates more book in a year than the entire Arab Islamic world has translated in Arabic since 900 AD. Mixing a 14th century religion with 21st century weapons is a deadly combination for our civilization.
He does not offer ready foreign policy solutions for the above dilemma. He just clearly explains why externally imposed reform policies are failing. He believes that ultimately Islam may have to reform itself from within. But, if it has not reformed itself since 600 AD when can we expect it to do so? In the meantime, we will have to manage chronic conflicts. He also indicates that nuclear armament of a Muslim country should be prevented at all cost for the mentioned reason.
In his last chapter, he advocates a substitute to religion. It consists in a spirituality and experimental study of consciousness. This consists in meditation, self-awareness, mindfulness, and similar means of reaching a state of consciousness where the duality of the self and the whole is eliminated. On this topic, his book concludes by stating: "Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of faith."
If you enjoy this book, I also strongly recommend "Under the Banner of Heaven" by John Krakauer and "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins.
121 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2005
This is a brilliant book and the author had to have a lot of courage to write it. This is the author's first book. Sam Harris, the author, is now working on his doctorate in neuroscience. He has studied Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of spiritual disciplines for twenty years. Harris calls for the end of religious faith in the modern world and identifies religious beliefs as the core of many of the human atrocities throughout history. He argues that our willingness to ignore reason and scientific facts as we maintain our beliefs, not based on sound science and reason, will lead the world into more peril because these beliefs not only legitimize intolerance, but they have also invaded most aspects of political and secular life and threaten to become apocalyptic in a world with weapons of mass destruction.
The author believes that all religions are harmful, not just extremist & terrorist religions, which are obviously harmful. He sees those who practice moderate religion as a bigger part of the problem than some people think because they provide a foundation of unreason that radicals, fundamentalists and religious terrorists build upon.
What is a belief? A belief is a powerful force that once it is internalized moves almost everything else in a person's life. Beliefs define one's vision of the world, one's behavior and one's emotional responses. Beliefs are principles of action. It is through beliefs that we predict events and consider the likely consequences of our actions and therefore guide our behavior. The power beliefs have over our emotional lives is total because for every emotion we are capable of feeling, there is a belief that evokes it.
What is faith? The Bible defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It seems to say that faith is entirely self-justifying. Religious faith is unjustified belief in the most important matters that we have been convinced we don't need to justify.
The terrorists who committed the atrocities on September 11 have been described as men of profound (extremist) religious faith. There were serious reports that they expected to receive the very best rewards in heaven for their efforts. This is just one example of the dangers that we all face when persons do not base their actions on reason. Another example is the Inquisition which began in the year 1184 and continued in parts of the world until 1834. In the name of God, countless innocents were tortured and murdered for heresy. All the perpetrators of these atrocities were men of God including popes, bishops, friars and priests.
Seeking more knowledge in our world is in a way the opposite of faith. Faith relies on unquestioned, closed mindedness. Wanting to know more about our world leaves us vulnerable to new evidence. The thing that will permit human beings to work together with open minds in making a better world is our willingness to have our beliefs modified by reasoned facts.
What does religion offer? There is a clear difference between religious moderates and religious extremists. However, both pose a danger to reason. This is because moderates underestimate the effect that faith has had on man's inhumanity to man, and they wrongly advocate the belief that faith is an essential component of human life. There is a myth that moderation is far superior to more extremist religious faith. It is not moderate to believe in the Bible and the God of organized religion because these beliefs are not in line with reason and there is no evidence to support these beliefs.
It is interesting to note that moderates have had to make the decision to ignore or loosely interpret the bible in order to live coherently in the modern world. Living in a world where a single world leader can annihilate millions based on faith, it must be argued that we no longer have a right to our myths.
Spirituality, of course, is not a myth. There are degrees of human experiences of meaningfulness, selflessness, awareness and heightened emotions that go beyond our current understanding of the mind. Spirituality is the range of experiences that exceed our ordinary-everyday limits of subjectivity and include exploring new and changed emotions as well as cognitive and conceptual new awarenesses. Spirituality respects the fact healthy skepticism is important, and that skepticism does not in any way diminish spirituality.
55 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2005
What is a fundamentalist, evangelical, pentecostal preacher doing reading this book? Rethinking his faith, that's what. I have been (secretly) reading books on faith & reason for several years now, this book by Sam Harris has been the best I've read to date. Questions and concerns of mine were better articulated and better answered by Mr. Harris than other books on the subject. A word of warning from a member (soon to be former member) of the religious right: Don't read this book if you're not ready to question your faith and "faith" in general. After reading Sam's book, I now realize that suspending reason in favor of religion is not a benign practice, it propagates a belief system that hurts everyone. We would all be better off if religion could be suspended, not reason!
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2007
Whatever your religious beliefs or lack thereof, if you value open discourse and reason, this book is a must read. For too long our culture has kept ANY honest inquiry into religion out of the public discourse. Atheists and doubters are vilified well beyond any rational reason for doing so, and intolerant zealots are given free reign because one's religious beliefs are off limits for critical discussion.
"The End of Faith" pulls no punches, nor should it. Sam Harris' thesis, and I find it a compelling one, is the future of civilized society on this planet is being threatened by religion. Most Americans would agree that Islam in its most radical form has become such a threat and that it is growing. Harris explores certain disturbing aspects of Islam at length. He goes on to argue that Christianity and Judaism also hold the seeds of social destruction. Indeed, he explains how these seeds bore horrific fruit throughout history, up until very recent times. The efforts of fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. to turn the country into a theocratic "Christian Nation" is the most recent threat posed by Christianity to a civilized, free society.
If all this sounds like Satanic Liberal nonsense, then you still owe it to yourself to read this book, if only to challenge your beliefs with some excellent counter-arguments. A warning however: this is not a dumbed-down book, and those of you with a standard high-school level vocabulary may find yourself reaching for a dictionary on occasion. It's definitely worth the bit of extra effort, and it's not a dry read for all of that. It will definitely get you thinking, and could very well change the way you see the world. I wish it had been available twenty years ago, when I was looking for validation for my own doubts. Bertrand Russell is great, but Sam Harris has given us a gift of reason and enlightenment that is truly of the 21st Century. May it help us to reach the 22nd Century a civilized and more rational species.
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2005
Sam Harris is a brave man.
It's not that he's taking on big oil, government corruption or even "the church." No, he's taking on religious faith across the board and the problems it brings to our ever-shrinking global world, problems of the sort we witnessed as we watched the World Trade Center towers burn and fall. And since most people belong to one religion or another and believe in God - though they fail to agree on what the word means - Sam Harris is in the unique position of annoying most of the human race. You have to admire his bravery - and his book.
I think it's safe to say that, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason," is bound to be as great an abomination to believers as it will be an inspiration to freethinkers. I hope it will provoke wide debate on the topic of faith and belief. Indeed, someone should place a copy of Harris' book in a time capsule in the foundation of the building under construction at Ground Zero, which is to say that the book should be the basis for something that keeps the Freedom Tower upright, a tall order for he world's tallest building.
Since it's the reviewer's duty to point out problems, allow me to share a flaw, a minor weakness eclipsed by the strengths of Harris' daring book.
Harris uses the word "evidence" a lot. He seems to think that much of the problem of faith will be solved when people learn to follow the evidence, with science having a lot and religion having none. However, we must remember that Newton's physics was overshadowed by Einstein's ideas and that Einstein's theories were overshadowed by quantum physics. And when we deride the faithful over their strange, unproved beliefs, we must remember some scientists propose spooky things like "action at a distance," a phrase that should always be accompanied by the other-wordly tones of a Theremin. In short, scientific evidence is fallible and tentative, and too much faith in the scientific method causes problems.
Philosopher David Hume pointed out in the 18th Century that even something as glaringly "obvious" as cause and effect - the bread and butter of the scientific method - is not necessarily demonstrable or logical; he concluded, of all things, that it was primarily psychological! And "Hume's Problem" - the assertion that we can't help but psychologize the empirical method - is still unsolved and puts limits on all our claims of objectivity. I agree on the importance of evidence, but the battle over belief won't be won that way.
It will be won when we understand how, as fallible human beings, we invest certain beliefs with monumental power, when we understand the mental and emotional mechanisms that turn human ideas into sacred "truths." Or to put it more simply: The battle over belief will be won when we understand - on a deeper level than hitherto imagined - the difference between fact and opinion. And not before.
The answer to the problem of faith is not in the evidence but in ourselves. And in spite of his faith in evidence, Sam Harris helps us understand that. Read this book.
Read more about Sam Harris at [...]
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2005
Finally, a clear and unbiased overview of the present dangers of faith-based belief in a world where religious ideologies are clashing in a large scale arena strewn with weapons of catastrophic proportions. As Sam Harris points out, all instances of local conflicts, massacres and genocide are the results of the adherents of two or more religious doctrines attempting to destroy each other. People who rely on blind faith to ground their beliefs are incapable of true rational thought and the results of these belief systems are recorded in our brutal and vicious recent history. In a world becoming smaller by the year we are witnessing that same clash in a global sense as the adherents of Islam attempt to destroy the "infidels" (the Christians and the Jews in this case).
Harris makes a powerful case for the complete irradication of faith based belief from our intellectual and cultural discourse. He first shows convincingly that the human actions taken on behalf of these types of belief systems are overwhelmingly atrocious and continue to be so (suicide bombers). Harris also gives us alternatives with a glimpse into a possible source of ethics that would serve us better and has no cultural biases.
I particularly agreed with how Harris leaves no room for moderate Christian or Islamic believers, because ultimately his critique rests on the shortcomings of faith based irrationality, which even the moderates espouse. Harris dismisses Pacifism as a way to deal with religious fundamentalism and even goes so far as to suggest that some forms of torture are (unfortunately) the only way to realistically deal with irrational people. I found this position a bit too extreme, but I also agree with Harris in that there is no other possible way to have a logical and reasonable discussion with people who believe in an afterlife. People who are convinced that they are going to Heaven/Paradise are not able to comprehend reasonable arguments of any kind.
All in all "The End of Faith" is a book that marks our present- day dilemmas with an unequivocal insight that is more revealing than Baron d'Holbach's "Ecce Homo!" (an Eighteenth Century rational examination of the life of Jesus). Harris joins the select group of clear thinkers from our past such as Galileo, Swift, The French Philosophes, Whitman and other atheists who have contributed greatly to rational human discourse. What makes this book all the more relevant is that it speaks to today's issues in the clear and heartfelt light of reason.
Highly recommended to skeptics and to believers alike.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2004
I was struck today by a classic case of cognitive (and temporal) dissonance the author would surely appreciate: The barbarity of beheadings posted by the barbarians themselves on the Internet.
Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, speaks of how we almost have a time portal to the Dark Ages in this kind of barbarism in the modern day. Sam is, if nothing else, an iconoclast who left political correctness far behind, with no apologies. He is also a lucid and fearless thinker. I'm sure, given the sacred cows he slays in this book, that reviews run the gamut from effusive praise to bitter invective. Exactly what one might expect.
I found the book to be almost two books intermingled. On the one hand he analyzes and mercilessly exposes organized religion and its manifold effects on our society, particularly in regard to our politics. The chapters and chapter sections dealing with these issues stand on their own as models of frankness and insight. Other sections of the book get much more esoteric, exploring the nature of belief, consciousness, and brain/soul concepts. Some will find the revelation at the end of the book that the author is (or has been) a practitioner of meditation modeled on what sounds like Zen or the like to be a convenient excuse to dismiss earlier material which may have made them decidedly uncomfortable. He does, after all, rake religious moderates somewhat mercilessly over the coals.
I suppose I may have found this book more perspicacious than many other readers might because I not only deeply investigated Christianity subsequent to my Catholic upbringing, but also read extensively on mysticism (including Christian mysticism) and Buddhism. And like Sam, I also practiced Zen meditation for a considerable length of time. One thing he fails to mention in arguing that this is not a religion per se but simply a technique is that Zen monks have been giving lessons in meditation for many years now to Christian monastic communities, ever since Thomas Merton broke the ice and revealed the value of such techniques to would-be mystics of all stripes. While admitting that many of the world's Buddhists are no more mystics than your run-of-the-mill Christian, he correctly points out that the readily accessible portions of Buddhism which focus on meditation are in a completely different category than the organized religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (and Hinduism, which he mentions more or less in passing).
There is a great critique of the War on Drugs about halfway through the book, which one hopes will be reprinted for a much wider audience. He makes the point that our nation's collection of victimless crimes are, in fact, political manifestations of the urge to stamp out sin, despite the fact that many of them cannot by any sane person be construed to contribute to the detriment of society. And by those which our society accepts and condones we uncharacteristically admit his thesis, slapping what are commonly called "sin taxes" on them (cigarettes, alcohol, etc.)
Harris takes moralists to task with well-deserved condemnation of the self-righteous notion that ethical behavior can spring only from religious fervor. Indeed, he has two chapters on the history of Islam and Christianity which clearly show that unbelievable amounts of wildly unethical behavior have sprung from just such fervor, and continue to do so today. His urgent contention is that religious extremism is incredibly dangerous in the world of modern weaponry, and that the very concept of irrational faith must be replaced by rationalism if we are to survive as a species.
The touchy-feely notion that religion should be off limits to pointed criticism, and that all religions are, at their core, inspirational and tolerant, is brought crashing to the ground by Harris' sublime reasoning and mountains of evidence. I kept wanting to underline passages to share with friends and family, such as when he's discussing the idea of beliefs based on nothing more solid than other people's beliefs, with no concrete evidence whatsoever. He points out that if such beliefs were held by a small number of people they would certainly be considered delusional, but since they are held by millions they're instead respected as sacred. "There is sanity in numbers," he writes.
Indeed, it's been a pet peeve of mine for ages that people justify unfounded belief based on nothing but the number of other deluded souls who believe the same thing they do. Is it not glaringly obvious that such appeals to a belief's validity based on the number of believers can be used by a vast body of other believers who believe something at odds with that? "Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility." Tell it like it is, Sam.
One cannot, alas, come away from this book with an optimistic glow. Hopefully the reader will be bold enough to confront his or her own beliefs in the light of reason, and admit of irrational belief and behavior in their own past and/or present. There is certainly ample material here to promote self-examination. The very idea that billions of people will question their faith to this point, however, is beyond the realm of possibility. Sam Harris is dropping a much-needed pebble of reason into the pool of irrational certitude, and one can only hope that the ripples might be noticed and propagated by countless others.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2005
Can we face up to the existential fact that we don't know everything? That we may never know? Accept uncertainty? Yet not give up and work with what we do know and can prove? Not seek refuge in some codified dogmas of the past on someone's say so? Teach our children to face up to life as is, without filling them with comforting and/or murderous fantasies? Not delude us into some kind of escapism on the name of religion or otherwise? As far as we can tell, this one life is all we have. Face it. And it is up to each of us to make it worthwhile for ourselves and others. It takes lot of courage, but so be it. May be now is the time start the dialogue.
About the book. The author has been accused of atheistic fundamentalism, and being the very thing he tries to criticize. A dogmatic approach to life's unknown questions, a level of certainty that borders on intolerance towards people with differing opinions, a blind faith in reason and dialogue to rectify all the cotemporary ills of the society. As the author himself accepts, he is too radical for an average person to be comfortable with. May be so. I for one, think the message is on the mark though the delivery may leave some reeling.
What is his message?
1. Faith is nothing but beliefs about the world we live in not supported by evidence but accepted as dogma. As beliefs, faith brings forward actions (including that of a religious suicide bomber, or actions of totalitarian regimes inspired by secular dogmas such as Nazism, fascism). In the present day, religious literalism of outdated dogmas encourages such ill-conceived actions and hence need to be addressed instead of only looking for causes such as socio, economic, political reasons. Anybody who knows history would not doubt there is an element of truth in this.
2. Also faith is a conversation stopper since it closes ones mind to any form of evidence or persuasion. In modern society where dialogue is the tool that is increasingly relied up on to resolve differences in opinion, faith is a monkey wrench. This aspect of faith is pushing societies toward brink of destruction (especially in this day and age where the "power of one", a single fanatic with right weapon can effectively shut the conversation of many.) Even the most faithful can not fail to see the logic in this.
This book is NOT ABOUT ONE RELIGION OR THE OTHER. It is about blind faith on dogmas and it consequent lack of open mindedness. There is no reason to get all worked up about it but mull over the implications for an increasingly integrated yet sectarian global society.
As others have said before,
The foundation of all morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying; to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.
-- Thomas Henry Huxley
This book is highly moral.
Because they know not the forces of nature, and in order that they may have comrades in their ignorance, they suffer not that others should search out anything, and would have us believe like rustics and ask no reason...But we ask in all things a reason must be sought.
-- William of Conches
This book begs for little more reason and lot less God.
Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
-- Charles Mackay
In my opinion, a hopeless cause. But this book is a good beginning.
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
-- Francis Bacon
This book deserves to be read with diligence and attention.