- Sam Harris discusses his controversial book in depth in our exclusive interview.
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The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason Paperback – September 17, 2005
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Sam Harris cranks out blunt, hard-hitting chapters to make his case for why faith itself is the most dangerous element of modern life. And if the devil's in the details, then you'll find Satan waiting at the back of the book in the very substantial notes section where Harris saves his more esoteric discussions to avoid sidetracking the urgency of his message.
Interestingly, Harris is not just focused on debunking religious faith, though he makes his compelling arguments with verve and intellectual clarity. The End of Faith is also a bit of a philosophical Swiss Army knife. Once he has presented his arguments on why, in an age of Weapons of Mass Destruction, belief is now a hazard of great proportions, he focuses on proposing alternate approaches to the mysteries of life. Harris recognizes the truth of the human condition, that we fear death, and we often crave "something more" we cannot easily define, and which is not met by accumulating more material possessions. But by attempting to provide the cure for the ills it defines, the book bites off a bit more than it can comfortably chew in its modest page count (however the rich Bibliography provides more than enough background for an intrigued reader to follow up for months on any particular strand of the author' musings.)
Harris' heart is not as much in the latter chapters, though, but in presenting his main premise. Simply stated, any belief system that speaks with assurance about the hereafter has the potential to place far less value on the here and now. And thus the corollary -- when death is simply a door translating us from one existence to another, it loses its sting and finality. Harris pointedly asks us to consider that those who do not fear death for themselves, and who also revere ancient scriptures instructing them to mete it out generously to others, may soon have these weapons in their own hands. If thoughts along the same line haunt you, this is your book.--Ed Dobeas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In this sometimes simplistic and misguided book, Harris calls for the end of religious faith in the modern world. Not only does such faith lack a rational base, he argues, but even the urge for religious toleration allows a too-easy acceptance of the motives of religious fundamentalists. Religious faith, according to Harris, requires its adherents to cling irrationally to mythic stories of ideal paradisiacal worlds (heaven and hell) that provide alternatives to their own everyday worlds. Moreover, innumerable acts of violence, he argues, can be attributed to a religious faith that clings uncritically to one set of dogmas or another. Very simply, religion is a form of terrorism for Harris. Predictably, he argues that a rational and scientific view—one that relies on the power of empirical evidence to support knowledge and understanding—should replace religious faith. We no longer need gods to make laws for us when we can sensibly make them for ourselves. But Harris overstates his case by misunderstanding religious faith, as when he makes the audaciously naïve statement that "mysticism is a rational enterprise; religion is not." As William James ably demonstrated, mysticism is far from a rational enterprise, while religion might often require rationality in order to function properly. On balance, Harris's book generalizes so much about both religion and reason that it is ineffectual.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Harris has a resounding ideal that becomes apparent very quickly in his book. "There is no reason that our ability to sustain ourselves emotionally and spiritually cannot evolve with technology, politics, and the rest of culture. Indeed, it must evolve if we are to have any future." It is evident that Harris' mission is not to disrupt the beliefs of the religious sector, but to instill in the public an inquisitive nature about events that at the very least opens the issue of religion up for discussion among all other topics.
The foundation of Harris' view stems from his belief that people generally assess situations in all realms of life based on logic and rationality, excluding religion. "Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him...and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever." The result of this stance ends up producing a defense and justification for an avoidance of a meticulous examination essential for truly understanding fundamental motivations. If we are unwilling to even ponder such a line of reasoning, how can we expect to successfully find fault among common terrorists actively hiding behind the same line of logical reasoning? Assertions like these will resonate with some, and will strengthen the religious views of others; but all intelligent people will agree that there is merit in considering such thoughts because if our beliefs cannot withstand simple logical questioning, than what does this reveal of our beliefs?
Where Harris might emit some weakness is in his view that the entire impetus behind Islamic terrorism is the loose quality of Koran. This clearly overlooks the far greater population of Muslims that do not share terrorist ambitions despite devoutly following the same text. Thus Harris may have been better served looking at all influencing factors (such as poverty, social influence, group identity, etc) instead of assuming religion must represent the only incentive.
The End of Faith is not to be taken lightly, as even detractors of Harris' work will require significant time to sincerely analyze the vast scope of reasoning offered. If you are seeking a thought provoking outlook on world events and religious attitudes and have the strength of conviction to handle an undeviating line of reasoning, you will find this book invigorating.
All published in 2006, we have Harris's own Letter to a Christian Nation, which cleverly skewers the most extreme faith-based positions of too many of our neighbors; UK scientist and author Richard Dawkins gave us The God Delusion, a more academic dance around the escape hatches from reality; and on the lighter side we got The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) by the one and only Bobby Henderson.
Right, Bobby Henderson, who built a letter he wrote to the Kansas School Board (advocating equal time for the FSM vs. teaching of Intelligent Design) into a modern satirical dynasty--complete with t-shirts and coffee cups.
These other works are fine, yet they lack the passion, urgency of mission, scope, and the pure moral and intellectual courage behind Sam Harris's magnum opus... to date. When I first saw his following marvelous, incisive quotes in a Playboy magazine article in January of '05, I rushed out to Borders to buy the book:
"Religious violence is still with us because our religions are intrinsically hostile to one another. Where they appear otherwise, it is because secular interests have restrained the most lethal improprieties of faith. It is time that religious moderates recognize that reason, not faith, is the glue that holds our civilization together."
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