- 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 alternate Paperback edition.
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 alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
It cannot be overstated the liberating effect of Harris' constant calling out of the incredulousness of the magical and completely unverifiable claims of millennia old religions. Also refreshing is to bring in some history about how those claims have been used to justify some of humanity's most problematic traits like racism, mob violence, misogyny and the like. He makes the important observation that in no other spheres of life do we rely on millennia old knowledge. To truly live as Jesus would have, try using 2000 year old medicine, or dress in the same cloth, or grow your food the same way, or travel the same way, (we could go on).
Once, in a family discussion (argument) about the merits of allowing the teaching of 'intelligent design' in public schools on the basis of being 'fair and balanced', I allowed that would be acceptable when Sunday schools, in the spirit of reciprocity, would be mandated to also teach evolution. I now have another book I'd like to bring to both classes - The End of Faith!! May I live so long to see the day (sigh).
In a different direction, an eye opener for me was Harris' pointed confrontation of the Islamic faith. On that score, he almost becomes an ally of my, mostly right-wing - gun friendly - soldiers for the Christian faith - friends and family. I wouldn't be surprised if some would complain by claiming that he is in some way possibly racially or tribally prejudiced, but it seems to me that this is simply going after the 'low hanging fruit' that is in our headlines almost daily. He makes a telling point that we don't see many Christian suicide bombers. And so, rather than relying on dusty history to make the point of how religious faith might have been abused in the, possibly irrelevant past, he brings it into the present day where it can't be as easily denied. (I wish he would have turned his sharp mind against the modern day faith healers like Benny Hinn and his ilk.)
Highly stimulating and highly recommended!
Buy it. Read it. Buy another copy and pass it on to your best friend [or your worst enemy]. The book is among my favorites to have and to read. Thanks, Sam Harris, for this treasure!
doesn't fit) in modern society.
Organized religion is, in my opinion, simply frightening. This book is a wakeup call.
I doubt it has been well received in, say, the "Bible belt" which is unfortunate since that's where it needs to be read.