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July 7, 2006 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Sam Harris on why religious moderates are worse than fundamentalists. (Salon click-through ad) "Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed."
posted by The Jesse Helms (112 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think his take on religous moderates is right-on, but I think he really kills his argument by coming out as a huge advocate of Buddhism.
posted by bshort at 1:38 PM on July 7, 2006


I'm not an atheist, but I find the idea of organized religion increasingly silly and dangerous. Are there many others out there like me? Is there a name for THIS belief?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:39 PM on July 7, 2006


(that is, believing in God but not believing in religion)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2006


So, because Group 2 makes it difficult to counter the awful things Group 1 does, they should be viewed as responsible for Group 1?
posted by JHarris at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2006


See. That's what I was say'n. Only not as smarty pantsy.
posted by tkchrist at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2006


ZenMasterThis writes "Is there a name for THIS belief?"

Yeah it's bigotedbeliefbasedonbaloneyisbullshit-anity or BBBBB-anity
posted by elpapacito at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2006


Wow. I knew there was some reason I canceled my order for his book.
posted by selfnoise at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2006


Jharris - I think it's more that because Group 1 and 2 use the same (or substantially similar) books to worship from, and because their beliefs have an awful lot in common, it makes it hard to criticize Group 2, because so many people are in Group 1. Even if Group 2 has a small subset of really crazy / offensive / dangerous / harmful ideas.
posted by bshort at 1:47 PM on July 7, 2006


kills his argument by coming out as a huge advocate of Buddhism.

What? Did you read the article? Harris is perfectly consistent—and merely stating facts. That all faiths are NOT created equally like the so-called moderate theists want you to believe.

And he clearly is not advocating Buddhism he say's it's a slightly better alternative to theism is all... but he's still maintaining that he is an atheist.
posted by tkchrist at 1:49 PM on July 7, 2006


I think he really kills his argument by coming out as a huge advocate of Buddhism.

That depend on what he means by Buddhsim. The practice of Buddhism isn't necessarily religious or theistic in the western sense of the words; it can be more like what we would normally consider philosophy-psychology-self-help.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:49 PM on July 7, 2006


Depends.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:49 PM on July 7, 2006


What? Did you read the article? Harris is perfectly consistent—and merely stating facts.

Actually, I'll do you one better - I've read his book.

FYI - He refers to himself as a Buddhist scholar.
posted by bshort at 1:50 PM on July 7, 2006


I knew there was some reason I canceled my order for his book.

God told you too.
posted by tkchrist at 1:50 PM on July 7, 2006


FYI - He refers to himself as a Buddhist scholar.

Uh. I could be a Latin Scholar. Doesn't make me frigg'n latin does it? And I read his book, too.
posted by tkchrist at 1:52 PM on July 7, 2006


Moderation should definitely apply in some areas and not others. As far as religion, I think it's right out. Claiming worship and devotion to an unseen deity is something that should never be taken lightly. It's not like selecting a calling plan...you either do or you don't. Dabbling in the spiritual can be pointless, dangerous or both.
posted by deusdiabolus at 1:52 PM on July 7, 2006


And he clearly is not advocating Buddhism he say's it's a slightly better alternative to theism is all... but he's still maintaining that he is an atheist.

No inconsistency there. Buddhism is atheistic.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:52 PM on July 7, 2006


I read Harris's book a while back and while it contains some invigorating, hard-headed, unapologetic atheistic assaults on the barking madness of religion he does let us down at the end by trying to propose his own version of "mysticism", which is so ill-defined it might as well be any other type of shapeshifter religion. You know: the gutless type of "religion" which basically knows it cannot make clear statements of irrational belief without having them shredded by hard logic, so retreats into vague, wooly, ill-defined concepts.

While I wouldn't say that "moderate" religious believers are worse than fundamentalists, they're definitely a bigger problem because - as Harris says - they make the innate savage idiocy of religion respectable and respected, and by doing so create a society in which the wilder extremes can thrive. It is the "moderate" believer we most often hear saying that "people's beliefs should be respected", and similar self-serving fatuities, and unfortunately, because of their numbers (and, I like to think, a sort of embarrassed indulgence on the part of less retarded people), they get their way far too often. And so we end up "respecting" irrationality, with all the danger that carries.
posted by Decani at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Quote

Salon.
So you don't see Buddhism as being limiting in the same way as the monotheistic religions you've been criticizing?"

Harris
Well, I certainly see it as limiting insofar as it's a religion. You can make the argument that Buddhism, specifically, is not best thought of as a religion. And certainly many Western Buddhists say that Buddhism is not a religion. But that doesn't change the fact that something like 99 percent of the Buddhists in this world practice Buddhism as a religion in the same superstitious way that most religions are practiced. Now, it doesn't have the same liabilities of Islam or Christianity. You can't get the same kind of death cult brewing in Buddhism, or at least not as readily. And that's why we don't see Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers.
posted by tkchrist at 1:55 PM on July 7, 2006


at least, in the sense that there is no single unchanging god or pantheon of gods. the various dieties sometimes used for devotional practices in the mahayana schools of buddhism are supposed to be understood as aspects of the devotees own psychology. (not that it's always understood in this way among lay-practioners, but that's the underlying teaching even of the forms of buddhism that abound with dieties.)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:56 PM on July 7, 2006


Are there many others out there like me? Is there a name for THIS belief?

Yeah there's at least a few of us out here, I think of myself as a non-joiner. It's interesting to note that virtually all of the people that modern religions are based, started by turning away from their traditional faiths. So if one wants to be like Buddha or Jesus, following blindly in the footsteps of others isn't on the menu.

Oh yeah, elpapacito can bite my shiny, metal ass.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:59 PM on July 7, 2006


Not believing = bigot
Niiiiiiice, elpapacito. Nice.
posted by tkchrist at 2:03 PM on July 7, 2006


I wouldn't call Buddhism theistic or atheistic, but it's pretty clear from what I've read that to call yourself Buddhist and agnostic isn't a contradiction. It's much more inner-directed than anything else.

I appreciated this article, and agree with most of it, but can't help but feel a bit "meh" about it as well. Strategically, religious moderates aren't going to disappear any time soon, and to start attacking them doesn't strike me as a good idea. But frequent reminders and attempts at shaming them--that there are wackos killing and maiming in the name of their Jesus and/or Allah--seems like fair play. If you want to remind me and my family and friends that we're going to burn in hell, ok. And so are you, because from what I've read of Jesus' and Mohammed's teachings, hypocrites and those who cast stones and judgement in the name of said sky god/prophet are going to be dealt with much more harshly than simple non-believers like myself.

That said, this reminded me of the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were mostly from middle- and upper-middle class families that would fall into the "religious moderate" definition. Which is just to say that Harris' division of people into fundies and Sunday- (or Saturday) only believers is a lot more porous than he seems to think. The hardcore murderers who kill in the name of their mythology often come from a desperate search for validation through theology. They're usually not born that way.
posted by bardic at 2:03 PM on July 7, 2006


(Great post title btw.)
posted by bardic at 2:06 PM on July 7, 2006


I had a whole post typed up on exactly why Harris's own Buddhist beliefs are hypocritical, but Decani said it better than I.

I will say that he's a moderate Buddhist and he's willfully tossing away the problem of "extremist" Buddhists whose beliefs are entirely irrational with respect to our understanding of the world. He's right about Buddhism being a religion of non-violence, it's not an evidence-based belief system at all, and he ends up doing himself a disservice by glossing over that.
posted by bshort at 2:07 PM on July 7, 2006


It is the "moderate" believer we most often hear saying that "people's beliefs should be respected", and similar self-serving fatuities, and unfortunately, because of their numbers (and, I like to think, a sort of embarrassed indulgence on the part of less retarded people), they get their way far too often. And so we end up "respecting" irrationality, with all the danger that carries.

Clearly, the only way to have a civil society, then is to mercilessly persecute those with beliefs that aren't falsifiable.

Including this one. Pile on.
posted by weston at 2:09 PM on July 7, 2006


Buddhism can be a philosophy, and it can be a religion, depending on whether you're talking about Therevada or Mahayana.

tkchrist : "And that's why we don't see Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers."

Actually, the Tibetan Buddhists bug me, as they came up with the idea of "poa" (sp). That is, rougly speaking, "killing is bad, but, if someone is a bad person, then they're making bad karma for themselves, so it's ok to kill them, because you're doing them a favor by stopping them from continuing to accrue bad karma".
posted by Bugbread at 2:13 PM on July 7, 2006


Buddhism can be a philosophy, and it can be a religion, depending on whether you're talking about Therevada or Mahayana.

You know, it's possible to say that about some Christian sects as well.
posted by bshort at 2:16 PM on July 7, 2006


I wouldn't call Buddhism theistic or atheistic, but it's pretty clear from what I've read that to call yourself Buddhist and agnostic isn't a contradiction.

Bardic--good clarification. The main reason I say Buddhism is atheistic is because the earliest teachings of Gotama buddha explicitly reject the idea of a creator deity--in fact, one of the central ideas in the buddhist cosmology is the principle of "conditional arisal" (basically the idea that the world is always in the process of being dynamically created by the interplay of the laws of cause and effect or karma); and so, by this reasoning, because the conditional world has no single moment of creation, there's likewise no need for a creator). but still, the more general points about practioners not necessarily taking the same view holds. to the extent buddhism has become as much a ritualized religion as any other, of course there's potential for abuse.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:16 PM on July 7, 2006


I think Harris could do a better job of presenting the idea that moderate religious folks should no longer deserve the "out" of saying, well, "Mohammed Atta / Jim Jones / anti-abortion doctor murderers / Fred Phelps / etc. don't represent the true understanding of Islam / Christianity that I practice every Sunday or Friday." At what point do the tokens add up and start to represent the type? If people are murdering or mutilating or spewing hate in the name of your god or prophet, at what point do you decide to get off the pot yourself and align your theological views with people that aren't homicidal or bigotted? Or at the very least come out and say, vocally, that you won't allow hate to co-opt your belief system?

Harris seems to border on a sort of "neener-neener" approach that just won't work, practically. It starts a discussion, perhaps, and I agree that it's high time moderately religious people start to take some responsibility for acts committed in the name of their demiurge. But this just doesn't seem like enough, or maybe it's too much. Not sure.
posted by bardic at 2:17 PM on July 7, 2006


bshort : "You know, it's possible to say that about some Christian sects as well."

Are there any Christian sects that don't hold Jesus to be divine, or believe in JHVH? (Note: this is not a facetious fake question, but a real question)
posted by Bugbread at 2:17 PM on July 7, 2006


division of people into fundies and Sunday- (or Saturday) only believers is a lot more porous than he seems to think

Bardic, I don't think that is his point at all. I think the point is their core beliefs are essentially the same in that there is a god up in heaven handing out E-ticket rides to an eternal afterlife.

With THAT as your core belief everything else is naturally secondary (and should be if you believe because eternal life is the greatest payoff imaginable). You may layer progressive crap on top, but essentially getting to heaven is the goal.

When everything else, in human mortal terms, is secondary to getting in to heaven then regardless of which arbitrary tenants you think should be followed strictly or not your philosophy is going to inevitably bring you into conflict with others who believe differently. How could it not? Your way get's you eternal life. Their way get's you eternal death. It's always worth fighting over for moderates or extremists.
posted by tkchrist at 2:18 PM on July 7, 2006


bardic : "If people are murdering or mutilating or spewing hate in the name of your god or prophet, at what point do you decide to get off the pot yourself and align your theological views with people that aren't homicidal or bigotted?"

Yeah, but where can you turn? Christians kill folks, Buddhists kill folks, atheists kill folks, agnostics kill folks...
posted by Bugbread at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2006


bugbread has a point.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:23 PM on July 7, 2006


God doesn't seem to be a huge fan of moderates Himself:
"These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

(Revelation 3:14–16, NIV)
posted by Zozo at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2006


Who's killing in the name of "I admit I do not know whether or not God exists?"
posted by salvia at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2006


then is to mercilessly persecute those with beliefs that aren't falsifiable.

Yeah. That's what people are saying. [Rolls eyes]

Harris points out that if we had a guy running for president that said he had been repeatedly abducted by a UFOs, anally raped by a bug-eyed grey alien, implanted with an invisible chip, and believed UFO bases were in Atlantis hidden under Antarctica—and supplied no proof for these claims—we would likely not elect him. In fact we would ridicule him. And rightly so.

But we DID elect a guy who believes in an invisible omni present all powerful being that purports to beam thoughts into peoples heads, destroy cities, make floods, and is bent on destroying the world. And that's hunky dory. Because a bunch of other people believe it too.

That is fucked up.
posted by tkchrist at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2006


Christians kill folks, Buddhists kill folks, atheists kill folks, agnostics kill folks...

Maybe the Amish? ...... Doh!
posted by boaz at 2:30 PM on July 7, 2006


it's not an evidence-based belief system at all

Buddhism can be a philosophy, and it can be a religion, depending on whether you're talking about Therevada or Mahayana.

I'd disagree with both these statements. But it's easy to find examples where they are correct, so it's kind of like pushing ping pong balls up a hill with a pencil to argue the call.

I'd maintain that core buddhist beliefs are entirely compatible with materialistic, evidence based naturalism, and those that aren't, aren't really relevant to its practice but are merely inherited trappings from the india of the time or the place of origin of the subsect in question - or are irrelevant philosphical wank from pre-rationalist societies. But lots of buddhists hate 'western interpretation' people like me, so take that as you will.
posted by Sparx at 2:33 PM on July 7, 2006


Oh yeah, elpapacito can bite my shiny, metal ass.

Not believing = bigot
Niiiiiiice, elpapacito. Nice.


Wiat a sec, doctor_negative and tkchrist...it took a while to parse, but I think elpapcito's intentions were good. What he said was...

bigotedbeliefbasedonbaloneyisbullshit-anity or BBBBB-anity
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:33 PM on July 7, 2006


salvia : "Who's killing in the name of 'I admit I do not know whether or not God exists?'"

Nobody, but no-one has said that they were. Bardic said (paraphrased) "people should align their theological views with people that aren't homicidal or bigoted", not "people should align their theological views with people that aren't homicidal or bigoted in the name of their theological views".
posted by Bugbread at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2006


But the requirement to decide whether or not to "get off the pot" is only triggered "of people are murdering or mutilating or spewing hate in the name of your god or prophet."
posted by salvia at 2:36 PM on July 7, 2006


That should be "IF" people are murdering.... (Why did I screw up the most important word?)

But yeah, his original sentence is a bit vague... Actually, it's only "if people are murdering..." that you even have to begin to consider "at what point" you would "get off the pot." It's a real multi-stage thing here.
posted by salvia at 2:38 PM on July 7, 2006


Yeah, but where can you turn? Christians kill folks, Buddhists kill folks, atheists kill folks, agnostics kill folks...

No. That is no point. It's a question of scale and potential.

A BB gun CAN kill one person maybe. A .22 maybe a few people.

But a RPG can kill tens. An atomic bomb millions.

So which ones do we EMPHASIZE controlled access to?

Theists, atheists and agnostics are people. People are flawed. Flawed people with access to ideas that make it much EASIER to kill are the most dangerous.

So tell me. Who is more dangerous?

The guys with a grudge who think they're justified and will live forever?

Or the guy who believes this one life is all he has?

C'mon. An afterlife is a dangerous concept to have control over.
posted by tkchrist at 2:39 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


bugbread: Are there any Christian sects that don't hold Jesus to be divine, or believe in JHVH?

Depends on what you mean by 'Jesus was divine' and 'believe in JHVH'. Seriously.

Some of the Gnostics were Christ-followers, but conceived of YHVH as a mentally ill or deficient monster, whose flawed creation required the intervention of the Christ.

The Rhineland mystics conceived of Christ in another unique way, as did Teilhard de Chardin, or Rudold Steiner, or Tillich. Frater Achad considered himself "Christian", probably 95% of American Christians would disagree with him.

What do Quakers believe about Christ and God? What did Boehme? Christian Scientists? Swedenborgians?

The more history I read, the harder it is to pin down one set of beliefs that characterize any particular religion. Nearly all of what comes to mind when a modern American thinks "Christianity" is actually pretty new and localized. Themes from one religion will fade, and then crop up in another, symbols recur and are recast in light of other symbols, continually.

I love religions.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:40 PM on July 7, 2006


Sparx : "I'd maintain that core buddhist beliefs are entirely compatible with materialistic, evidence based naturalism, and those that aren't, aren't really relevant to its practice but are merely inherited trappings from the india of the time or the place of origin of the subsect in question - or are irrelevant philosphical wank from pre-rationalist societies."

Living in an ostensibly Buddhist country (Japan - where the Buddhist monks fuck, go to brothels, get drunk, and eat meat), I would strongly have to disagree, at the least, that the religious beliefs aren't really relevant to the practice of Buddhism. If anything, the religious beliefs, which came largely from China, are far more relevant practice than the core beliefs, which I doubt most of the Buddhists here are even remotely familiar.

Of course, one could then make the argument that they aren't really Buddhists, but that's more an issue of whether the speaker is a prescriptivist or a descriptivist when it comes to language in general.

And, yes, I puke a little inside my mouth whenever I see a monk here. Hypocrite bastards of the highest order. Nice architecture, though.
posted by Bugbread at 2:40 PM on July 7, 2006


It might be slightly more complex to remember to not throw out the baby when dumping the bathwater, but we wouldn't accept that as a reason for drowning in used bathwater. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:41 PM on July 7, 2006


tkchrist : "So tell me. Who is more dangerous?

The guys with a grudge who think they're justified and will live forever?

Or the guy who believes this one life is all he has?"


It's kind of a tossup. I need more data.

On the one hand, you have the "I will go to heaven!!", which is counterbalanced by (in most religions) "If I kill people, I don't get to go to heaven". Then people decide to ignore what is inconvenient to them.

On the other hand, you have "Life is just replicating DNA machines. The only penalty for killing is if I get caught."

Both have excellent potential for killing people. Without more statistics, I just don't have enough information to decide which is more dangerous (sure, total number of deaths due to deists is greater than total number of deaths due to atheists/agnostics, but then again total number deists is itself greater than total number of atheists/agnostics, so what I really need is the adjusted ratio, and I don't have any numbers to work with regarding that).

Sonofsiam:

Good points. I'm not positing this as my definition of god/divinity, but I'm curious: are there any sects/branches of Christianity who don't posit that YHVH is some sort of non-human entity with more power than humans?
posted by Bugbread at 2:48 PM on July 7, 2006


On the other hand, you have "Life is just replicating DNA machines. The only penalty for killing is if I get caught."

I realize you're saying that to prove a point, but really, you can twist pretty much any belief about the world into an excuse to off your neighbor.

It just so happens that most religious beliefs are far easier to twist than most scientific beliefs. And, in fact, a lot of religious beliefs require no twisting at all.
posted by bshort at 2:52 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's kind of a tossup. I need more data.

Oh PAH-leeeze. Total cop out. Let's say we are not dealing with a sociopathic personality in either case. There is ample evidence that the more religious a person is the more they tend to violence when conflict arises.

HINT: There is a reason we indoctrinate soldiers with religion or religious motif.
posted by tkchrist at 2:56 PM on July 7, 2006


he's weird, but you can see it here with Christians--consent to whatever the extremists of any religion do is provided when the mass of moderates don't forcefully speak up to stop it. Religions are defined in the public mind by the loudest and most extreme members.
posted by amberglow at 3:00 PM on July 7, 2006


That said, this reminded me of the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were mostly from middle- and upper-middle class families that would fall into the "religious moderate" definition.

I'm not sure about that... the mainstream of religion in Saudi Arabia is pretty extreme and fundamentalist by the standards of most other countries (including most other Islamic countries). It's actually not easy to be a religious moderate in Saudi Arabia these days.

Even if it were true that the hijackers were from religiously moderate families, it's absurd to say that their moderate backgrounds were responsible for their becoming violent extremists.

I find Harris' argument highly problematic. Just because two different people interpret and use the same religious tradition in two ways does not make one person automatically responsible for the actions of the other.

Atheists consistently propagate the idea that most killing throughout history has been done in the name of religion. This doesn't really hold much water. The twentieth century certainly proved that killing in the name of non-religious causes can be at least as horrific as, if not more horrific than, killing in the name of religious causes.

Most wars have been fought in the name of some form of tribalism, be it national, cultural, ideological, or religious. The content of the tribal cultural identity, it seems to me, is often tangential to the conflict. Yes, some religious scriptures, including the Hebrew Bible and the Quran, mention violence toward those who are not part of one's own religious group. But these books are widely and commonly interpreted in a selective and mostly innocuous, nonviolent manner. So they can be interpreted otherwise. Violent video games can be interpreted as incitement to go on a killing spree. That doesn't mean they should be.

Ultimately, Harris' argument doesn't really go anywhere. The only course of action that could really follow from it would be to ban the scriptures and religions he doesn't approve of, and the act of doing so would be exactly the kind of thing he says he disapproves of.

People will be people. Most of them will believe in non-material realities; many of them will do so within existing cultural/religious contexts. It is utopian, and potentially totalitarian, to insist that such belief is categorically dangerous. To brand entire religions as thoughtcrime is... well, it's exactly what's wrong with fundamentalism, of any stripe, including the atheist variety.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:00 PM on July 7, 2006


Of the moderate religious people that I have met I'm pretty convinced that virtually none of them actually believe anything that they wouldn't if they weren't religious. Is the bible the word of god? Sure. Well should you stone adulterers to death? No. It says you should. Really. So you believe that you will go to hell if you don't do what the book says? You know that you don't do what the book says? You don't know what the book says? You're just playing dress up.
posted by I Foody at 3:01 PM on July 7, 2006


We have a society in which 44 percent of the people claim to be either certain or confident that Jesus is going to come back out of the clouds and judge the living and the dead sometime in the next 50 years. It just seems to me transparently obvious that this is a belief that will do nothing to create a durable civilization.

except that it already did, didn't it? ... the majority of people in western civilization have always held beliefs similar to this ... when he argues that civilization is impossible because of this, he's ignoring hundreds of years of history

there is considerable evidence that really terrible acts of violence are being done only because of what people believe about God.

did joseph stalin commit his violence because of what he believed about god? ... did pol pot? ...

But when you look at why he preached nonviolence to the degree that he did, he didn't get that from Christianity. He got it from Gandhi. And Gandhi got it from the Jains.

and tolstoy ... and, when you combine the idea of civil disobedience, from thoreau

To argue that that's the true face of Christianity is really misleading. Christianity also gives you the Jesus of the "Left Behind" novels who's going to come back and just hurl sinners into the pit. And the God who's going to punish homosexuals for eternity.

to argue that ANYTHING is the true face of christianity is misleading ... part of the problem being that man imperfectly undertstands god ... which pretty much takes care of his comments about people who "cherrypick" through the bible being on weaker ground than fundamentalists ... the fundies assume that man is capable of fully understanding god and writing down whatever he says ... they assume that language itself is a perfect medium for understanding ... the moderates know better than this

I believe there's a transcendent reality out there, but that belief doesn't give me the slightest inclination to pay lip service to the God of the Bible or to deny the immoral message that comes through in many books of the Bible. I just think it's a myth we finally have to put to rest that our morality is necessarily linked to these scriptural traditions. The Bible is just not a good lens through which to view our present circumstance, given all that we've learned in the last 2,000 years.

i actually agree with the spirit of this statement, but i have to point out that many mainstream denominations actually do refer to more modern books when discussing morality

The person who's sure that Elvis is still alive and expresses this belief candidly does not wind up in the Oval Office or in our nation's boardrooms. And that's a very good thing. But when the conversation changes to Jesus being born of a virgin ...

ahem ... how candid is george w bush about the details of his beliefs? ... he tends to speak "code words" in public, and reserves his more blatant words to private conversation

as far as boardrooms go, i'd have to see a survey of the people in them before i agreed

jimmy carter thought he saw a ufo once ... it didn't keep him from being president ... ronald reagan consulted an astrologer ... that didn't keep him from being president either

truth is, his book is just a fairly well-written, lengthy version of the strawman arguments i read here

and


A BB gun CAN kill one person maybe. A .22 maybe a few people.

But a RPG can kill tens. An atomic bomb millions.


and they were all invented by churches? ... it's crazy to blame religious people for the potential of mass destruction in this world, when it's the scientists who are giving us the means to do it with
posted by pyramid termite at 3:08 PM on July 7, 2006


Are there any Christian sects that don't hold Jesus to be divine, or believe in JHVH?

I don't know about sects per se, but what's generally called "liberal theology" sometimes treads closer to that sort of thing than the Council of Nicea would be posthumously comfortable with. For instance, there's a retired bishop name of John Shelby Spong who wrote a bunch of controversial (and therefore popular) books on "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" and the like. While he professes to believe in God, he's after a non-theistic (which is different from atheistic, a point misunderstood by atheists and theists alike, it seems) understanding of the big guy; he also believed that Jesus fully expressed God's presence, but was not bodily resurrected, etc.

Any mistakes in the characterization there are fully my own, it's been a few years since I read any of his stuff--at the time, it really seemed to me that he was tying himself in severe contortions that would be simplified by just converting to one of the lighter strains of Buddhism and having done with it.
posted by Drastic at 3:09 PM on July 7, 2006


tkchrist:

So tell me. Who is more dangerous?

The guys with a grudge who think they're justified and will live forever?

Or the guy who believes this one life is all he has?


If we judge by the last 100 years -- i.e., since the advent of industrial-scale war and genocide -- (B). Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, and Hitler did a lot more damage than your conventional theists.

Of course, the next 100 years are an open question.

Right now, the two most scary nuclear-armed countries are North Korea and Pakistan. One is controlled by a lunatic paranoid atheist, the other in danger of being taken over by lunatic bloodthirsty Islamists.

But I guess we know who's really to blame -- those sinister religious moderates!
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:09 PM on July 7, 2006


It just so happens that most religious beliefs are far easier to twist than most scientific beliefs. And, in fact, a lot of religious beliefs require no twisting at all.

Well, to be fair there really is no 'scientific' reason not to kill people. Science does not give us any ethics, it can only help us plug in true data into an existing ethical framework. For example, Science can say Terri Schiavo is brain dead, so we can "kill" her.

But the problem is the ethical framework. If you have an ethical framework that says it's OK to kill people under circumstance X, and circumstance X is true, then science won't convince anyone not to kill that person. For example, suppose someone raped and murdered a school bus full of 4th graders. In many states, that person would be executed. What scientific argument could you bring up to keep him from being killed (assuming all the DNA evidence points to him doing it, and in this example let's assume he did do it.)?

Anyway, under a religious framework the ethics and the metaphysics are collapsed into the same thing, so the reasoning is different, but you can still be convinced to do something that someone else might think is wrong.

Personally, my feeling is that people just do whatever the hell they want and justify it post-facto. Most people don't kill each other due to their deference to authority. When authority says that they should kill they pretty much just do it, regardless of religious convictions.

Certainly atheists would be less likely to do a suicide bombing in an otherwise hopeful situation, but if you put one in a hopeless situation then I think you might find them more willing to do it.
posted by delmoi at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2006


man is capable of fully understanding god and writing down whatever he says ... they assume that language itself is a perfect medium for understanding

You got it backwards: Literalists assume that God, being omnipotent, is capable of making himself understood, and that he used the Bible to do that. Moderates believe that God, despite trying valiantly, just wasn't up to the task of writing a book. I would fault the moderates, but reading the Bible sure proves their point.
posted by boaz at 3:20 PM on July 7, 2006


Atheists consistently propagate the idea that most killing throughout history has been done in the name of religion. This doesn't really hold much water. The twentieth century certainly proved that killing in the name of non-religious causes can be at least as horrific as, if not more horrific than, killing in the name of religious causes.

Well it does point out that it can be as bad, but I think if the Spanish had had access to the kind of technology during the inquisition that the nazis had during the holocaust it would have been just as bad. The 20th century saw the industrialization of death, and it's not fair to compare bespoke murder with the mass produced slaughter of the early 20th century.
posted by delmoi at 3:22 PM on July 7, 2006


when it's the scientists who are giving us the means to do it with

actually, i'd blame the weapons manufacturers and traders before i'd blame the scientists, since they're the ones responsible for getting the weapons to market. but yeah--imo, religions are like rorschach ink blots: people see what they want to see in them. and usually what they see is themselves, only infinitely powerful.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:28 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm forgetting some of the parts of Harris's book that I read. But I think some of his argument still stands even if non-religious killing happens more than religious killing. As long as religious moderates provide political cover for murder (or bad policy decisions) done in the name of God, they prevent good atheists from stopping the bad fundamentalists. Bad atheists aren't in that equation.
posted by salvia at 3:29 PM on July 7, 2006


bshort : "It just so happens that most religious beliefs are far easier to twist than most scientific beliefs. And, in fact, a lot of religious beliefs require no twisting at all."

Actually, I'd figure it's the other way around. Generally religions have a prohibition against murder, but often have other sections that say "Go kill person A". Humans have a tremendous gift at twisting rules, and hence in pretty much every religion, people twist to elude the first part and go with the second. (or, if you want to be value neutral regarding those, they don't twist the rules so much as ignore one side of a contradiction, and in most cases that's the "stone the adulterers" part, but in many other cases it's the "thou shalt not kill" part (or their equivalents)). In atheism, there is no rule against killing, so there's nothing to twist. (Note: I am an atheist, and a strong moral relativist, so I'm not saying this as an attack from the outside).

tkchrist : "There is ample evidence that the more religious a person is the more they tend to violence when conflict arises. "

Er, ok, what is that evidence? (Not a challenge, but a straightforward question)

And since when is not having an opinion "a total copout"? I'm often amazed at just how strongly everyone is convinced that they are correct and thoroughly versed about everything here on MeFi, and that anyone who disagrees is an idiot. Since MeFites disagree so much, it seems like being absolutely convinced of a position means you're going to be wrong maybe 50% of the time. Isn't it a safer bet to occasionally not have made up your mind absolutely about an issue? Why is admitting ignorance a cop-out?
posted by Bugbread at 3:38 PM on July 7, 2006


Didn't take long to pull out the "well, atheists kill people too" fallacy.

Of course they do. But they don't justify their actions with an appeal to infallibility via religion.

Yes, Stalin and Hitler were arguably atheists (I don't think Stalin was, although he held much of organized religion in contempt, perhaps from studying to be a priest as a kid). But the motivation behind their murder was, to simplify, Communism and Nazism, respetively, not atheism in and of itself.

Yes, people of all stripes kill other people. But it takes a massively infallible ideology like Nazism or Christianity to really get the hate/murder/mutilation machine going.

I'd go further and say that this is the reason why theists are so desperate to paint atheists as "people who believe there is no god, and hence have a belief system like any other." And they're wrong on this as well. Atheism is the refusal to play the game at all, so to speak (agnosticism admits the game might be worth playing, but isn't sure who would win in the end).

More simply, if you kill in the name of your sky-god, you can probably find both justification and validation from existing texts. And maybe this is a misinterpretation of said texts, but that's how you and your fellow worshippers operate. It's high time your fellow worshippers made more of a noise and a stink about how their religion(s) have been co-opted, IMO. I've never heard of someone killing in the name of atheism, because it's not a positive "belief" in the theological or sociological sense (adherence to a core set of beliefs, appeal to certain texts that are considered to be divinely inspired, a community based on various rules extracted from said texts). And I'm really, really tired of the sloppy logic that goes into a lot of the rhetoric aimed at atheism.
posted by bardic at 3:40 PM on July 7, 2006


Yes, Stalin and Hitler were arguably atheists (I don't think Stalin was, although he held much of organized religion in contempt, perhaps from studying to be a priest as a kid).

I don't know about Hitler himself, but the Nazis actually considered their beliefs a form of Christianity.

I guess the general point Harris is making is that, to the extent that moderates act as enablers of more extremist actors by not fervently denouncing them, they should stop. but then, that's kind of a tautology, because we should probably all denounce them.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:51 PM on July 7, 2006


But it takes a massively infallible ideology like Nazism or Christianity to really get the hate/murder/mutilation machine going.

what was genghis khan's ideology? ... aside from "he who dies with the most land/toys/people wins"?

btw, delmoi, he killed millions of people ... one doesn't need modern technology to commit great massacres

would it be too much for people to believe that things like this happen because some people are utter jerks, not because of their religion or lack of it?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:51 PM on July 7, 2006


bardic : "Didn't take long to pull out the 'well, atheists kill people too' fallacy.

Of course they do. But they don't justify their actions with an appeal to infallibility via religion."


Well, your comment never mentioned appeals to infallibility. If it had, I wouldn't have brought it up. Let's consider it a slip of the tongue on your part, a slip of the comprehension on mine, and bury the issue, because once you include justification for your actions as part of your initial statement, I've got no disagreement.
posted by Bugbread at 3:53 PM on July 7, 2006


Sorry, when I say "I've got no disagreement", I mean "I don't see any logical inconsistency". The long version of the discussion has gotten complex enough that I don't all of the arguments you've made, and hence don't know if I agree or disagree, but the whole atheists kill tangent was in relation to your (paraphrase) "if people with your belief system kill, switch belief systems" comment, and in the ammended form, it seems logically consistent.

pyramid termite : "what was genghis khan's ideology?"

I believe it was: "What is good in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."
posted by Bugbread at 3:58 PM on July 7, 2006


I believe it was: "What is good in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."

Eh, what a pussy. So scared of death he had to show the whole world he was its master. Well, guess how that worked out for him?
posted by saulgoodman at 4:11 PM on July 7, 2006


Some even say he was killed by (gasp!) a woman...

"During his last campaign with the Tangut Empire during which Genghis Khan was fighting with the Khwarezmid Empire, Genghis Khan died on August 18, 1227. The reason for his death is uncertain. Many assume he fell off his horse, due to old age and physical fatigue; some contemporary observers cited prophecies from his opponents. The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle alleges he was killed by the Tanguts. There are persistent folktales that a Tangut princess, to avenge her people and prevent her rape, castrated him with a knife hidden inside her and that he never recovered."

posted by saulgoodman at 4:13 PM on July 7, 2006


yeah, bugbread, something like that ... not sure i'd say that was a religious ideology, though

nice guy

meanwhile, here's a page describing the 20 worst things people have done to one another

the an shi or an lushan rebellion is 4th on that list at 36 million, and i'm not seeing any religious motive there ... let's see, i think we can probably put down the extermination of the american indians, and the two slave trades listed there as being mostly sheer greed ... thuggee ... yeah, that's religious in motive ... the fall of rome ... more greed, i think ...

i think this list pretty much refutes the charge that most wars are caused by religious fanatics ... some, sure ... but there's plenty of other reasons

a Tangut princess, to avenge her people and prevent her rape, castrated him with a knife hidden inside her and that he never recovered.

well, at least he died in the saddle
posted by pyramid termite at 4:25 PM on July 7, 2006


well, at least he died in the saddle

(not to extend my derail any further, but i'd have respected him more if he died plowing a field.)
posted by saulgoodman at 4:34 PM on July 7, 2006


Ultimately, Harris' argument doesn't really go anywhere. The only course of action that could really follow from it would be to ban the scriptures and religions he doesn't approve of

I think Harris would argue that the best course of action is for moderates -- and others -- to speak up and label the idiocy for what it is.

Sort of like the "bad speech is best combatted with more speech" idea. He seeks to change the discourse, but not by ruling others out. More by making fun of them.

Normally, I think of this tactic as being low and unfair, but in this case it may very well be appropriate ...
posted by nickp at 4:36 PM on July 7, 2006


OK, so many acts of mass violence aren't directly inspired by relgion.

This does nothing to mitigate the fact that many acts of violence are.
posted by bardic at 4:38 PM on July 7, 2006


*and I apologize for not being able to spell today.
posted by bardic at 4:38 PM on July 7, 2006


I think Harris would argue that the best course of action is for moderates -- and others -- to speak up and label the idiocy for what it is.

Sort of like the "bad speech is best combatted with more speech" idea. He seeks to change the discourse, but not by ruling others out. More by making fun of them.

Exactly.
posted by amberglow at 5:03 PM on July 7, 2006


Related post on Harris and meditation.
posted by homunculus at 5:24 PM on July 7, 2006


This sounds a little like: some Americans are halfwitted imperialistic bigots who are destroying the earth. Therefore, those Americans who aren't that way are really to blame.

There are lots of "moderates" who are speaking out. But it doesn't make good media copy.
posted by jmcnally at 5:35 PM on July 7, 2006


Honestly, I haven't heard that many personally.

What I do hear a lot of (and this is anecdotal at best, so take it or leave it) are notions along the lines of "Well, the war in Iraq is a disaster, and the economy isn't doing all that well, and it's a shame what happened to all those people in New Orleans, but the important thing is that we've got a president who goes to church on Sunday."

Clinton did too, of course, but in terms of the meme battle, a Democratic president can never be as wholly holy as a Republican one, because they don't talk about God enough and go around reminding the world that God loves America more than any other nation. Evar.

When it comes to moderate Christians and Muslims wanting to take their religion back from their respective fundies, color me unimpressed.
posted by bardic at 5:48 PM on July 7, 2006


Is there a name for THIS belief?

It's called deism.
Lord Shaftesbury* often remarked that all wise men are of but one religion. "And which is that?" he was asked one day. "Wise men," he replied, "never tell."

* also atributed to numerous others
posted by missbossy at 5:49 PM on July 7, 2006


Wiat a sec, doctor_negative and tkchrist...it took a while to parse, but I think elpapcito's intentions were good. What he said was...

bigotedbeliefbasedonbaloneyisbullshit-anity or BBBBB-anity


Oops, my apologies to elpapacito.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:17 PM on July 7, 2006


Now, it [Buddhism] doesn't have the same liabilities of Islam or Christianity. You can't get the same kind of death cult brewing in Buddhism, or at least not as readily. And that's why we don't see Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers.

Perhaps not a "death cult", but Brian Victoria's Zen At War provides surprising and comprehensive evidence of Japanese Buddhists susceptibility to, and active embrace of, militarism throughout World War II.
posted by extrabox at 6:55 PM on July 7, 2006


Pyramid termite has it, in my opinion: the underlying flaw of the argument is how grossly it misrepresents history. Everywhere in the world for essentially all time has been pervasively religious and sectarian, and perforce every single thing we label "civilized" is inextricably the product of, among other things, religion and the religious state of mind. (State atheism and anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment radicals, and their 20th century Marxist successors, simply acknowledges the religiosity of the masses being oppressed.)

In the past few decades -- a sliver of time, and entirely possibly an inconsequential sliver of time -- we have seen an experiment with voluntary secularization take hold in a Western Europe and a a few other places. There's no evidence that it will take hold in the long run; indeed, given the correllation of securalism and low birthrates, the evidence is rather to the contrary. In any event, I suspect that on a net basis there is more monotheistic orthodoxy in the world, on a percentage basis, now than ever before, with converts to Christianity and Islam in Africa and Asia more than outpacing Europeans and the European-descended elsewhere abandoning their ancestral Christian churches.
posted by MattD at 7:22 PM on July 7, 2006


Moderates are dangerous because they don't really care if society becomes more or less fundamentally religious.

'Moderate' muslims might not particulaly favor the violence of the Islamists but most WILL acknowledge that they believe the world would be better if it was all islamic.

Go ahead push one and see.

Christians likely feel the same, BUT christian majority nations have already proven that they can exist with modern progressive liberalist societies.
posted by HTuttle at 7:45 PM on July 7, 2006


I follow a West Walking Walbo, and will persecute any heretic who does not believe as I do.
posted by nlindstrom at 7:56 PM on July 7, 2006


Mr. Zen kicked Buddah's ass.
posted by Balisong at 8:09 PM on July 7, 2006


Boaz: It's not that God is omnipotent and yet incapable of writing a book properly - the numerous (and viciously contradictory) interpretations of the Bible have shown that is is, if not incomplete, than at least lacking in coherent message. This is because it was written by people, who may or may not have been writing on behalf of God, and then it's contents decided by a political council.

Bardic: I still remember the night when my much older brother and I went out for dinner and he explained his (and my father's) beliefs to me. While my brother is an athiest, my father is not, and yet they both believe that Christ was simply a great teacher, and that Heaven and Hell are earth-bound concepts determined by the choices and priorities one makes in life. So yes, sect or not, there are Christians who believe in JHVH and yet don't take stock in Christ's divinity.

As for me, viva Bokonoism. At least it's most extreme followers understand that it is all foma.

Or to do one better, religion is, essentially, an archaic way for the powerful to control their people. This, on it's own, does not discount some of it's purposes however. Society must function. Moreover, this understanding certainly doesn't discount faith in any deity. But my own belief system - highly personal - is sorty of the stripped down version of all of these. Here it is, for your approval:

God may or may not exist, but if He does, He may be seen in the way in which a society can be greater than the sum of it's parts.

And with that in mind, who gives a shit how people worship, as long as people respect one another enough to respect their lives and livelihoods? Moderates can do this and be no less sincere about their beliefs than the zealots and bogots who would murder or subjugate for their own ends.

Harris makes a compelling point, but like many before him, he makes his point to make himself appear clever rather than to change or affect anything outside of Harris.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:25 PM on July 7, 2006


Christ was probably a real man, who walked the earth, who lived his highest ideals, and tought others to do so, also.

Beyond that, most if it is hogwash. Any stories beyond that could be copied by the relatives of any "martyr" to point "followers" in any number of directions.

Sometimes the message becomes more important than the person.
I'm sure that this has happened in the story of Jesus.

Am I a Christian?
posted by Balisong at 8:33 PM on July 7, 2006


ocean rain
posted by snofoam at 8:34 PM on July 7, 2006


Religious belief, on the deepest level, is inevitably also a principle of freedom. To defend one's faith is to defend one's own freedom, and at least implicitly the freedom of everyone else. Freedom from what, and for what? Freedom from control that is not in some way immanent and personal, a power of love. Religious belief in this higher sense is then always a liberation from control by what is less than man, or entirely exterior to man. He who receives the grace of this kind of religious illumination is given a freedom and an experience which leave him no longer fully and completely subject to the forces of nature, to his own bodily and emotional needs, to the merely external and human dictates of society, the tyranny of dictatorships. This is to say that that his attitude to life is independent of the power inevitably exercised over him, exteriorly, by natural forces, by the trials and accidents of life, by the pressures of a not always rational collectivity.
--Thomas Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander.
posted by eegphalanges at 8:57 PM on July 7, 2006


But my own belief system - highly personal - is sorty of the stripped down version of all of these. Here it is, for your approval:

God may or may not exist, but if He does, He may be seen in the way in which a society can be greater than the sum of it's parts.


my own personal belief system is sort of a cross between orthodox christianity, gnosticism and buddhism--and i have my own peculiar interpretations of these concepts--but i would never consider letting my beliefs get in the way of my ability to appreciate scientific observation and to accept as a matter of course the existence of an independent, objective reality, in which i am (at least in some sense) physically situated. in fact, my beliefs require me to accept those realities. being situated in physical reality (whether i'll always be situated here or not) obliges me to observe certain minimal ethical standards and to assume responsibility for my intentional behaviors. but how do i know which ethical standards to apply or which intentional behaviors really matter? well, that's where philosophy takes over and things gets really complicated.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 PM on July 7, 2006


I know this is my first post to MeFi. I have been checking out the site for about 6 months, and I really like it because of the (generally) informed and intelligent discourse that takes place. So here are my 2 cents...

Everything that is professed from religion smacks of hypocrisy. The Bible is laced with it. "Thou shalt not kill". There is no exception to the commandment, yet how many instances are recorded in the Bible in which death to an individual or a group of individuals is the penalty? Both by God and through God's direction?

Nobody has "the" answer. All we have are opinions formed by whatever we have chosen to read, been indoctrinated with, and experienced through life.

Assuming for the sake of argument that we WERE created in God's image, as one or two books suggest, then isn't critical thinking part of that image? Should we not decide for ourselves what is right for us to think and believe? Should we be told by someone or something how and what to do and think?

Why would a God that is portrayed to be loving and caring for his creations require, no, DEMAND our love and adoration? For such an omniscient, omnipotent being, would this really be necessary? Why would we need to be subjected to constant testing and boundaries to determine our value when God already KNOWS what is in our hearts and minds?

Why is abortion wrong, but war fought under the flag of a nation, ANY nation, ok? Or is is just ok if it's OUR nation? Why are there prayers for us to be victorious in battle? Are our enemies also praying? Who is God siding with? Does God side with anyone? Are we just working to exterminate ourselves? WTF? Does anyone else posting here ask these same questions?

Does anyone have the answers? NO. We have our opinions, but unfortunately we feel the need to impose our opinions and views of reality on others. Everyone does it, even those of us (me) who hate the idea of it. Everyone knows more than everyone else.

Thanks for reading, and please be gentle...it's my first time.
posted by disgustipated at 9:33 PM on July 7, 2006


NOOB! :)
posted by Balisong at 9:57 PM on July 7, 2006


It's just that you atheists are such shitty proselytizers.
posted by nanojath at 10:19 PM on July 7, 2006


"By spiritual and mystical -- I use them interchangeably -- I mean any effort to understand and explore happiness and well-being itself through deliberate uses of attention. Specifically, to break the spell of discursive thought.... Meditation is one technique by which to do that."

Reminds me of Fight Club. A guy does a thing which breaks the spell of discursive thought. Others join. It becomes a community. Faces challenges. And eventually succumbs to a charismatic leader. Then it becomes something else, beyond the initial technique. It is not that the technique no longer works, it is that discursive thought is far trickier than we think. It is capable of operation on the metalevel. And if we're not careful can co-opt and incorporate any attempt to remove ourselves from it. It will even drive itself outward, become a monster, destroy others internal monologue to instill itself in them to survive. Become more real than reality. All this in order to obfuscate the initial threat to it.
*tap tap* anyone paying attention?

Meh. I like his ideas on cosciousness. Makes me think of that bit where particles become entangled. I wonder what the impact of consciousness is on the fabric of the universe. Probably his best comment to put it in perspective. To paraphrase A.C. Clark - either consciousness and it's effects continue into infinity after our deaths, or it does not - either way the implications are staggering.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:49 PM on July 7, 2006


disgustipated:

You can't deny, the other side
Don't want to die anymore than we do
What I'm trying to say is don't they pray
To the same God that we do?
And tell me, how does God choose?
Who's prayers does he refuse?
Who turns the wheel, who throws the dice
On the day after tomorrow

-Tom Waits

So Mr. Waits agrees with you, as do I. So did Christ, evidently, as could be seen in his, "Let he who is without sin cast eh first stone," and, "I have sheep who are not of this flock," and the oft forgotten, "Love your neighbor as yourself." None of this makes Jesus divine, of course, but it does point to the idea that if he were posting on MeFi, we'd probably all like him and agree with him for the most part.

So why are people not able to follow the lessons of a great teacher and not deify him? No one (as far as I know) believes Confucious was divine, so why Christ? Does it simply come down to theology being a good outlet for a warlike nature?
posted by Navelgazer at 12:29 AM on July 8, 2006


Yeah, but where can you turn? Christians kill folks, Buddhists kill folks, atheists kill folks, agnostics kill folks...

Quakers.
posted by beth at 1:11 AM on July 8, 2006


Richard Nixon was a Quaker. Seriously.
posted by raysmj at 7:40 AM on July 8, 2006



would it be too much for people to believe that things like this happen because some people are utter jerks, not because of their religion or lack of it?


Religion allows the utter jerks to do evil and call it good, which is what makes them worse than the run-of-the-mill utter jerk.
posted by darukaru at 10:14 AM on July 8, 2006


True. He's sort of the Quaker OJ. Having gone to a Quaker high school, if you ever want to piss off your teacher, just mention that tidbit. They'll tell you that he wasn't a "real" Quaker. Which is kind of true. His anti-semitism alone kind of makes that obvious.
posted by bardic at 10:21 AM on July 8, 2006


eegphalanges, I disagree:

1) Religion is not freedom from social control but often the mechanism of that external social control (eg, the laws saying a business can't sell me liquour on a Sunday, abortion laws).

2) Rather than freeing one from "control that is not in some way immanent and personal, a power of love," religion actually makes those external social controls internally-enforced (eg, the guilt some people feel about having sex before marriage). It makes my attitude to life less independent.

To me, religion is false freedom -- it acts like it's opposed to the "worldly," but actually it's a mechanism of social control that is supposed to permeate much more deeply into my own emotions than any sort of secular live-and-let-live approach.
posted by ruff at 11:00 AM on July 8, 2006


This thread turned out well. I am pleased.
posted by tkchrist at 2:17 PM on July 8, 2006


Well, I'm late to this particular party, but fine points from many. I liked Harris' book, and I'm glad someone is forcefully and cogently arguing his point of view--even if you disagree completely, it sure is nice to have a (tiny, tiny bit of) bigger perspective in public discourse about religion.

However, IMO he misses the mark by focusing exclusively on religion. His meta-critique (if you will) seems to me to be about people's ability to be blinded by dogma or other metaphorical frames of reference. By attacking religion head on (which is definitely the socially relevant context), he actually--to me--obfuscates a larger, much more powerful point that needs to be made about how people lock themselves into narrow worldviews unnecessarily, a situation that often presents false dichotomies and such. And false dichotomies, when making decisions that affect large numbers of people, are very dangerous things.

To know truly is to know by causes, and a strict religious worldview is only one of many perceptual and conceptual filters people place upon themselves.


(I'm sure it's been recommended here often, but I encourage all interested in such things to give Eric Hoffer's The True Believer a read.)
posted by LooseFilter at 7:31 PM on July 8, 2006


"but the important thing is that we've got a president who goes to church on Sunday."

Ah, but he doesn't.

The rise of aggro Christer fundies in US politics, punctuated by the BushCo coup, has turned this one-time live-and-let-live atheist into a militant anti-theist. But I've read Harris' book, and the notion that he's for "ban[ning] the scriptures and religions he doesn't approve of" is bull. He's merely suggesting, albeit forcefully, that religion no longer should get a free pass in public discouse.

And now this:

[Chorus]
All religions make me wanna throw up
All religions make me sick
All religions make me wanna throw up
All religions suck
They all claim that they have the truth
That'll set you free
Just give 'em all your money and they'll set you free
Free for a fee

They all claim that they have 'the Answer'
When they don't even know the Question
They're just a bunch of liars
They just want your money
They just want your consciousness

[Chorus]
All religions suck
All religions make me wanna throw up
All religions suck
All religions make me wanna BLEAH

They really make me sick
They really make me sick
They really make me sick
They really make me sick
They really make me sick
They really make me ILL

posted by oncogenesis at 1:22 AM on July 9, 2006


Ruff: Okay, I'll state a more easily understood theologian who's saying the same sort of thing:

"Free your mind, and your ass will follow/ the kingdom of heaven is within/ freedom is the free of the need to be free."

--George Clinton

Both the Merton and Clinton statements are preaching to the choir more than I can help. Best of luck in your search for true freedom and more independence in thought and deed. It's one hell of a road to go down. God bless.
posted by eegphalanges at 2:25 PM on July 9, 2006


eephalanges, I certainly agree with your second quote, and that "only yourself can free your mind" (Bob Marley).

So when we're talking about the inside of people's heads, I probably agree with you. Once we enter the sphere of politics, I don't think that "[t]o defend one's faith is to defend one's own freedom, and at least implicitly the freedom of everyone else."

Quoting bardic from the top: "If people are murdering or mutilating or spewing hate in the name of your god or prophet, at what point do you decide to get off the pot yourself and align your theological views with people that aren't homicidal or bigotted?"

So if I'm saying, "yeah, Christianity is the one correct faith" while missionaries are flaying people to turn them Christian, that act of defending "my" faith helps oppress others.

And I put the "my" in quotation marks because often it's not really my own faith, but some belief system I went ahead and bought into, one that contributes to the strength of some political order. I'm letting myself be chained by that system of beliefs (oh no, I'd never have sex before marriage, that's such a sin) while helping to chain others (let's not put a vaccine for HPV on the market -- then people won't feel so afraid to have sex before marriage), meanwhile those shaping the public interpretation of that faith stay in power.
posted by ruff at 3:02 PM on July 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


I am currently reading Harris' book and find it very well written with many very valid points. Those who find fault please allow me to challenge you to do better. After all, there's a big market for such writing!
posted by nofundy at 4:02 PM on July 9, 2006


nofundy - Yes, it's very good, and it would have been even better had he left off the last few chapters.
posted by bshort at 10:08 AM on July 10, 2006


ruff: So if I'm saying, "yeah, Christianity is the one correct faith" while missionaries are flaying people to turn them Christian, that act of defending "my" faith helps oppress others.

As a Christian, I feel no need to be an apologist due to the atrocities committed in "my" God's name, no more than a Muslim should feel compelled to defend their faith in the face of Jihadist militants, nor a Jew when confronted with backwards-thinking accusations of savior slaying. Any sensitive student of comparitive religion can recognize the similarity of religious feeling. Anyone thinking we'll somehow elevate human nature by throwing out religion hasn't really studied the pogroms of the 20th century very well. It's akin to thinking that banning guns will make it unlikely that someone will bludgeon you to death.

But I'm sure if we join hands in a materialist/idealist/ communist enforced dream of well-fed equality, surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of I'm Okay/You're Okay forever.
posted by eegphalanges at 12:30 PM on July 10, 2006


As a Christian, I feel no need to be an apologist due to the atrocities committed in "my" God's name, no more than a Muslim should feel compelled to defend their faith in the face of Jihadist militants, nor a Jew when confronted with backwards-thinking accusations of savior slaying.

You self-identify as a Christian. Do you believe that the Bible is written / inspired by God?
posted by bshort at 2:39 PM on July 10, 2006


Clearly, the only way to have a civil society, then is to mercilessly persecute those with beliefs that aren't falsifiable.

And this sort of fatheaded, hysterical, fallacious defensiveness is a fine example of one reason it is impossible to truly respect religious people. Grow up, you silly fool.
posted by Decani at 4:19 PM on July 10, 2006


It's akin to thinking that banning guns will make it unlikely that someone will bludgeon you to death.

Err... no, it isn't. But I'd certainly find it entertaining to see the logical analysis that makes you feel it is.
posted by Decani at 4:24 PM on July 10, 2006


I knew if I just sat back and waited my point would be made for me without any special effort on my part.
posted by nanojath at 10:33 PM on July 17, 2006


We're all written and inspired by God; death, by gun or bludgeoning or socially-engineered happy old age, is a given. Read the book of Job, read Ecclesiastes: know what it is you're attacking, which ultimately is yourself. Curse God and die. Lordy. You decide if that's tragic, comic, or even fair. I will not deny that Christian Grace exists. I don't judge anyone for their inability to see their part in it. I've seen the Flaming Sword, maybe you have not. I don't think I'm any higher or lower than anyone. I don't have anything to defend.

I've been to Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and even Satanist gatherings. There's always a coffee klatch with kids running around afterward, and people break bread together. Religious feeling is as old as mankind. You may have transposed it to your altar of action figures and role-playing games, but it will outlast you. Hatred and intolerance will, too. Perhaps your post-apocalyptic granchildren will take your Stars Wars figurines too literally and base the same old sun god blues onto Luke Skyywalker.

Idiotic literalists forever and ever, amen.
posted by eegphalanges at 6:30 AM on July 29, 2006


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