The End of Faith
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris delivers a startling analysis of the clash between reason and religion in the modern world. He offers a vivid, historical tour of our willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs—even when these beliefs inspire the worst human atrocities. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism to deliver a call for a truly modern foundation for ethics and spirituality that is both secular and humanistic.Winner of the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction.

The End of Faith Details

TitleThe End of Faith
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 17th, 2005
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393327656
Rating
GenreReligion, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Atheism, Science, Politics

The End of Faith Review

  • Rob
    January 1, 1970
    A greater mystery than human nature and its irrepressible theological imagination is how this book managed to impress so many people. After much consideration, I can only conclude its popularity (along with Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great) is because of the mass hysteria among secularists over religion after the 9/11 tragedy combined with increased politicalization of religion in government and education. This is A greater mystery than human nature and its irrepressible theological imagination is how this book managed to impress so many people. After much consideration, I can only conclude its popularity (along with Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great) is because of the mass hysteria among secularists over religion after the 9/11 tragedy combined with increased politicalization of religion in government and education. This is to say the book's popularity is due to external factors, its timing, and cathartic tone. It isn't for the depth of argumentation, scholarship, or insight. Any reader familiar with the atheistic works of Lucretius through Bertrand Russell or Antony Flew (who recently became a deist) will find Sam Harris' treatment to be scattered, grasping, and shallow. He has been scolded by (atheist) scientists such as Scott Atran for being thoughtless, unscientific, and offering no evidence (see YouTube.com, Scott Atran vs. Sam Harris). Harris strains an evasive response. This is poignant given Harris' trite pontifications on the primacy of science, as if he is a sugared up kid ready to jump into the now-drained pool of Positivism. Too bad the same Positivism he seeks makes his own endless moral accusations empty ([http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mor...]). The book does have the verve and personal engagement that is rare. The End of Faith has a pithy prose style that might distract you from lamenting the end of logical rigor.
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  • Pete
    January 1, 1970
    There are several currents running through The End of Faith, many of which I agree with enthusiastically, some of which I regard with caution, and one or two that I find so strange as to wonder whether Harris wrote the last few chapters while in too.. contemplative a state, as he might say.First, some easy floating down the river. Where does your support for the following graded series fall off? (1) Religious scriptures shouldn't be taken literally. (2) No one knows if there's a god or not. (3) There are several currents running through The End of Faith, many of which I agree with enthusiastically, some of which I regard with caution, and one or two that I find so strange as to wonder whether Harris wrote the last few chapters while in too.. contemplative a state, as he might say.First, some easy floating down the river. Where does your support for the following graded series fall off? (1) Religious scriptures shouldn't be taken literally. (2) No one knows if there's a god or not. (3) No reasonable person could believe in anything supernatural. (4) Religious beliefs should not be accorded "respect".If you are still nodding after (4), you agree with Harris (and incidentally, me) on the main thesis of his book. It has been pointed out for a long time now that religious ideas uniquely get a free pass. Guests on a Sunday morning talk show may strenuously disagree with each other over taxes, who should be president, or which sports team is better, but to say "Bringing up that god of yours again, eh?" is just not done. You can get away with almost any behavior or opinion if you state that it's a matter of faith. Like many others before him, Harris points out the absurdity and arbitrariness of this situation, and argues that it should change. Religious beliefs should be attacked like other irrationalities; religious stories should not be talked about as if they were true by people who know they could not possibly be true; religion should not shield anyone from criticism. What is new in this book are two arguments that would raise the stakes. First, rather than patiently waiting for atheism to gain footing in the world, the ascendancy of Islamist power and the machinations of the Christian right make it an urgent matter. Second, religious moderates should be chastened as enablers of fundamentalism. Harris states "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". So far, so good.We soon approach some rapids -- Harris sets out on some heavy philosophical terrain about free will and ethics in his trumping up of Islamist terrorism as a force that should command our greatest attention. I don't think he lacks the ability to engage with these subjects deeply, but he doesn't go deep enough in this book. In many places there is too much reliance on the readers' imaginations to fill in details (about surveys, what people would do with a "perfect weapon", what Muslims think about the 9/11 attacks) his research couldn't supply, and not enough exercise of the same imaginations to find flaws with his thesis that religious motives, rather than nationalist, ethnic, or political ones, are the most salient feature of modern terrorism.And, at the end of the river, our little raft finds itself in a Shambhala bookstore. Somehow we have gone from demanding the End of Faith to claiming that medieval Tibetan mystics had very useful things to say about the human mind. Perhaps they do, but from what I've seen, it is very low signal to noise. After seeing the word "contemplative" used as a noun for the 10th or 11th time, seeing Padmasambhava trotted out as if he were chairing a neurobiology session, and watching the language melt from the hard-nosed "is" and "is not" to the mealymouthed "seems to" and "suggests that", I began to suspect I was dealing with a manifestation of a Žižekian fetish. The last 2 chapters of the book simply do not belong with the rest. Harris ought to have expanded his spiritual views in another volume and kept The End of Faith focused on arguments for ending faith.Overall, however, the book is a bracing tonic for atheists, and as we have seen, represents a powerful challenge to the status quo. Its main accomplishment is to have revived this discussion in the public intellectuosphere.
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  • Luffy
    January 1, 1970
    I'm going to be brief. The End of Faith by Sam Harris is a landmark book for me. It blew my mind when I first read it. Now, it doesn't feel as good as the short and sharp Letter To A Christian Nation, and has less great moments than the slow starting and uneven The Moral Landscape. The End Of Faith opened my eyes to reviews and reviewing possibilities. It gave me an insight into writing quickly, with as much original thought and fluidity of prose as I am able to muster. It influenced my writing I'm going to be brief. The End of Faith by Sam Harris is a landmark book for me. It blew my mind when I first read it. Now, it doesn't feel as good as the short and sharp Letter To A Christian Nation, and has less great moments than the slow starting and uneven The Moral Landscape. The End Of Faith opened my eyes to reviews and reviewing possibilities. It gave me an insight into writing quickly, with as much original thought and fluidity of prose as I am able to muster. It influenced my writing most of all books and for that I'm glad. I couldn't, however read the parts about meditation and Sam Harris's take on mysticism is too contemporary and he doesn't look at the subject through history. I think whatever the imagined or concrete benefits of meditation are, they take up a lot of time, and should only be attempted by people who really need them. I also didn't get the bits about relativism and pragmatism. Harris's writing was surprisingly muted there and he didn't give any example to clarify his vague texts. Nitpicking apart, this book is still meaningful although now a tad dated by what now, ten years? Seemed that I was reading it for the first time quite recently. Sam Harris should go back to discussing Christianity as that is his forte and he should update his work. I'll gladly read about the recent events and a revised view and vision of what the present means for the future.
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  • R.A. Schneider
    January 1, 1970
    I rate this a five in spite of some legitimate reservations, too well expressed by too many people to bear repeating here. The things I liked: 1. Brilliant writing style. Incisive, funny, powerful. (His followup to this book, a 94 page tract called "Letter to a Christian Nation" displays this skill to even better advantage.)2. Sam's recommended actions for the reader. Religion generally gets a free pass to make unsubstantiated truth claims. Stop allowing that. Start questioning, and pushing back I rate this a five in spite of some legitimate reservations, too well expressed by too many people to bear repeating here. The things I liked: 1. Brilliant writing style. Incisive, funny, powerful. (His followup to this book, a 94 page tract called "Letter to a Christian Nation" displays this skill to even better advantage.)2. Sam's recommended actions for the reader. Religion generally gets a free pass to make unsubstantiated truth claims. Stop allowing that. Start questioning, and pushing back publicly.3. Who SAYS "Faith" is a virtue? Again, an unsubstantiated assertion that deserves some pushback. 4. Analogies: I love that Harris comes up with some new thinking in the atheist arena. Too many authors are trotting out Bertrand Russell gems, and as good as they may be, they're 90-some-odd years old. The best, IMHO, is when Sam asks the reader to distinguish between comforting religious truth claims and his (hypothetical) claim that he believes there is a diamond buried in his back yard, the size of a refrigerator, and that it gives him great comfort to know that at some point in his life he can choose to be very rich. In the current climate, one would get him branded insane, and the other would get him branded a man of strong faith. Bollocks to both, I say. 5. Moderation supports extremism. It's not appealing, and those in the middle are looking for compromise and wiggle room, but it really DOES come down to some black and white, true/false determinations. Choosing to be moderate, as Sam says, betrays both one's faith and reason.This may be the hardest pill for Sam to get readers to swallow, because it requires the most sacrifice of one's own foundations (if one is moderately religious, that is.) This proposition simultaneously asks the moderate believer to abandon thoughts that they have held to be sacrosanct from their youth, and then as a consequence, "disaffiliate" themselves from a tribe with which they have strong identification. (tribe/religion... whatever.)A compelling read that I thoroughly enjoyed, and which I love to imagine moderates reading and squirming through all the uncomfortable passages. Which is precisely Sam's overall goal... to remove the "comfortability" of lolling around in one's unjustifiable faith propositions, at the expense of the rest of humanity.
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  • Nebuchadnezzar
    January 1, 1970
    Harris can pen a clever turn of phrase. Unfortunately, that's most of what he has going for him. The old standby "What's good isn't new and what's new isn't good" very much applies here.It's funny how much Harris and I agree on the fundamental issues -- we are both atheists and we both believe that religion can and has done great harm -- yet I found little of value in this work of atheist apologetics. History, politics, and culture are grossly distorted in service of Harris' arguments. The prime Harris can pen a clever turn of phrase. Unfortunately, that's most of what he has going for him. The old standby "What's good isn't new and what's new isn't good" very much applies here.It's funny how much Harris and I agree on the fundamental issues -- we are both atheists and we both believe that religion can and has done great harm -- yet I found little of value in this work of atheist apologetics. History, politics, and culture are grossly distorted in service of Harris' arguments. The prime offender, of course, being the treatment of Islam. He essentially endorses Samuel P. Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis, which reifies the concepts of "Western culture" and "Islamic culture" as monolithic entities. The use of "Islam" itself lumps Sufism together with Wahhabism, which makes as much sense as grouping Unitarians with fundamentalist Southern Baptists. It reads like he took a Quran from the shelf, flipped through to some choice passages, and then decided that this explained everything about Middle Eastern politics. Much of US foreign policy in the Middle East is conveniently airbrushed out. Harris implores us to take Osama bin Laden at his word, but omits bin Laden's fatwas directed against US military presence in the region, especially Saudi Arabia. Scott Atran in his latest book, Talking to the Enemy, dedicates an entire section to responding to and debunking Harris' claims about suicide bombing. In contrast to Harris' armchair speculation, Atran brings empirical fieldwork and statistics to bear on the issue and demonstrates quite the opposite of what Harris asserts. Religious education is actually a negative predictor in suicide bombing and those that carry out these operations often have high levels of scientific and technical training, very useful when you have resources for little more than a shoestring operation. (Robert Pape is also recommended for a reality-based view of terrorism and suicide bombing.) Certainly fundamentalism of the Islamic stripe is a danger (just ask Theo van Gogh), but foreign policy can't be based on a fundamental misconception of religion and geopolitics.The same type of distortions are found in much of Harris' treatment of history in general. To mark them all would be an exhausting task, so I will use the Holocaust as a shining example. Harris more or less pins the blame for the Holocaust on medieval Christianity and Martin Luther. Here he relies largely on Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. While it did contain worthwhile original research, the overarching thesis of this book (that the Holocaust was driven primarily by "eliminationist anti-Semitism") has been thoroughly discredited. No doubt anti-Semitism played a large role, but to portray it as the main factor requires Harris to erase the millions of non-Jews (Roma, gays, political dissidents, etc.) who were exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps. Not to mention just leaving out the mountains of other political and economic factors -- the Treaty of Versailles, the dismal economy of the Weimar Republic, etc. One would think that it would not be best to rely on a work that was met with massive controversy by academic historians and perhaps look to the best scholarship that has synthesized the big picture debates in the field, say Ian Kershaw. Once again, though, it feels as if Harris just plucked the first book from the shelf he could find that might support his thesis and ripped it entirely out of scholarly context.There are all sorts of other nonsensical arguments peppered throughout. He argues that only secularism has contested literalism and fundamentalism, an ahistorical claim. Explicitly secular challenges to religious power in Europe did not become prominent until the early modern era. In fact, St. Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley rejected literal interpretations of the Bible. Another amusing trick is Harris' redefinition of communism as a "political religion." Sure, if you beg the question and redefine all bad things to be religion, religion certainly does look like the ultimate bogeyman. I believe the word he was looking for is "ideology."When Harris isn't rewriting history, he spends a number of other chapters laying out a philosophy of materialism or philosophical naturalism. On much of this, I am in complete agreement with him, though the ideas aren't particularly new nor does the presentation seem to add much to what much clearer thinkers have said before. However, even on this, he clearly goes off the rails on a number of points. Harris seems to be some kind of crypto-mystic or crypto-Buddhist. There are some mentions of psychic phenomena with references to kings of parapsychology Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake, who are regarded as fringe cranks within the field of psychology. He also whitewashes the history of Buddhism, presenting the Westernized warm-and-fuzzy version of it. No mention is made of, say, the role of Zen in Japanese nationalism. Apparently, religion isn't all that bad, as long as it's the one Harris likes. His claims for meditation are stretched as well. The most recent and largest meta-analysis of meditation studies published by NCCAM found the research to be rife with methodological flaws and found no conclusive evidence that meditation was significantly more effective than placebo. (http://www.ahrq.gov/downloads/pub/evi...) As someone who practices meditation, I actually hope that Harris is right, and he may turn out to be, but more research is needed.Further fallacies are perpetrated in his chapter on a "science" of morality. Here, Harris seems to believe he's found a solution to a problem that has dogged philosophers for hundreds of years. In reality, he just commits the naturalistic fallacy, or a violation of Hume's is-ought problem. His follow-up, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, seems to be an attempt to stretch this fallacy into a book-length work of vulgar scientism.Ultimately, Harris' goal seems to be to resurrect some zombified form of logical positivism sprinkled with a bit of pseudo-spiritualism. He styles himself as a Prometheus bearing the torch of reason, but he is closer to the cocktail party philosopher who jumps headfirst into a debate without the vaguest idea of what it's about. A good portion of the material is simply embarrassing to anyone who's studied the history, anthropology, or psychology of religion, US foreign policy, or philosophy in general. Harris is not an expert in anything besides self-promotion -- his citations and arguments make that much clear. Indeed, he claims to support science, but brushes away research such as that of Atran when it doesn't suit his purposes. That's as anti-scientific as any fundamentalist. Reason? No, this isn't reason, it's mostly stuff and nonsense.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    Another yawner from the "New" atheists. This is another book by a pretentious atheist who just can't believe that there are still theists. "Arrrgh! Don't you know we've beaten you theists fair and square. It is just obvious that theism is false. If you won't give up your theistic beliefs by our obviously superior rational arguments, then I'll shame you in to giving them up."Ho hum.Harris trots out the usual dusty canards of the New Atheists: religion is evil, it's the cause of all the wars, it's Another yawner from the "New" atheists. This is another book by a pretentious atheist who just can't believe that there are still theists. "Arrrgh! Don't you know we've beaten you theists fair and square. It is just obvious that theism is false. If you won't give up your theistic beliefs by our obviously superior rational arguments, then I'll shame you in to giving them up."Ho hum.Harris trots out the usual dusty canards of the New Atheists: religion is evil, it's the cause of all the wars, it's gonna destroy mankind, etc.Of course none of this is ever based on any serious scientific research, odd for the priests of Science. Go read the detailed anthropological, sociological, political, environmental, etc., work by some of the actual scientists who study wars &c. Go read your Pape, Pearse, Waller, Rummel, Livingstone Smith, &c, and then get back to me.Harris serves up the re-heated evidentialist objection to faith throughout the book. He repeatedly claims that "If you don't have evidence in favor of your beliefs, then your belief is unjustified or irrational." Of course, all we need to do is inquire about this belief itself. Is it justified and rational? Then it must have evidence in its favor. So, what is it? Assume Harris can give us something, call it E. Call his evidentialist constraint his anti-theistic security blanket ASB. So, he gives us E for ASB. Now, what about E? Does he believe it? If so, is his belief justified and rational? If so, then he needs evidence for E, call it E1. So, E1 backs up E which backs up ASB. Does he believe E1? Is his belief rational and justified? Then he needs E2, and obviously this can go on ad infinitum. So, his anti-theistic security blanket just writes one bad check to cover another, and another, and another....Harris also sets up a false dichotomy. He claims that there are two kinds of theists, and only two: extremists and moderates. Extremists want to kill everyone if it would solve the problem of heresy and unbelief. Moderates aren't any better. They think that all beliefs, no matter what they are, should be allowed. He then says the moderates are complicit in the world's destruction since they allow the extremists to operate. But here we hit upon some major ambiguity. One can allow people to have whatever belief they want, so long as they don't act on those beliefs in a way that is harmful to others in an unjustified way. See the problem in Harris's reasoning? A further problem is that he claims that we cannot choose our beliefs. This is called doxastic voluntarism. This is fine as far as it goes. It's philosophically viable, and a strong position. The problem, then, is that he claims we shouldn't allow people to have unjustified beliefs. So can people control what they believe voluntarily or not? A third problem is that I am a theist and I don't fit in either category. Though I fit in the moderate camp in an uninteresting way (the belief/act distinction), I don't think people should have unjustified beliefs or false beliefs. But, I don't think the extremist solution is correct. Indeed, it is one of those beliefs others shouldn't have. Harris tries to get as much traction as he can out of making false dichotomies like this.Another problem is that he still holds to justification is necessary or sufficient for knowledge. This has fallen out of favor with contemporary epistemologists. In fact, almost all agree that theistic and atheistic beliefs can be justified (cf. Plantinga's Warrant trilogy). But this doesn't mean much. Edmund Gettier rather put a damper on all this. So, Harris pulls from some outdated concepts in epistemology. This is rather odd considering he's at Stanford. I'm sure his philosophy profs cringed at his book.Here's another example of how Harris makes ridiculous and self-defeating comments:"As long as a person maintains that his beliefs represent an actual state of the world (visible or invisible, spiritual or mundane), he must believe that his beliefs are a consequence of the way the world is. This, by definition, leaves him vulnerable to new evidence. Indeed, if there were no conceivable change in the world that could get a person to question his ... beliefs, this would prove that his beliefs were not predicated upon his taking any state of the world into account" - p.63i) What about a person's belief in the law of non-contradiction? Is he "vulnerable" to new evidence? Could there be a "conceivable" change in the world that could get this person to question his belief? Isn't the LNC part of what allows something to even be conceivable in the first place?ii) What about a person's belief in her existence? Is there a conceivable change that could get a person to question her existence? Who would be questioning it?iii) What about Harris's belief on this matter? Is there a way the world could be that would make it false? Then it would still be true since this new belief a "consequence of the way the world is." A conceivable way the world could be that would make Harris question this belief would affirm his strictures and thus not make him "vulnerable." But a consequence of this view is that your beliefs must be "vulnerable" in this way.This is all to symptomatic, I'm afraid, of the new atheism. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens &c. are rather embarrassing emissaries for a group that prides themselves on how "rational" and "smart" and "erudite" they is [sic], as opposed to us irrational, stupid, and toothless fundies.Yawn, the "New" atheism.Go Sammy, it's your birthday!
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    So near the mark, but just off of center. This book makes many laudable points, not the least of which is the critique that allowing faith/religion into the political sphere on equal footing with science and reason will doom us all. My primary complaint with this work, and the reason I knocked off a couple stars, is due to Mr. Harris's illogical and inconsistent privileging of America and fundamentalist Christianity over the more "violent" Islam.For example, he argues that we can rest assured th So near the mark, but just off of center. This book makes many laudable points, not the least of which is the critique that allowing faith/religion into the political sphere on equal footing with science and reason will doom us all. My primary complaint with this work, and the reason I knocked off a couple stars, is due to Mr. Harris's illogical and inconsistent privileging of America and fundamentalist Christianity over the more "violent" Islam.For example, he argues that we can rest assured that the intent of Bush in bombing Iraq was not, as in the case of Palestinian suicide bombings, an attempt to cause widespread civilian death. Mr. Harris was apparently asleep at the wheel when the initial incursion was labeled "Shock & Awe"... I'm sorry, but bombing suburban neighborhoods to cow an enemy is neither strategic (if you buy the liberation myth) nor morally just. The faith of radical clerics in America is treated as somehow less violent because it is Christian, yet he never supports this; I recommend Mr. Harris check out the new documentary, Jesus Camp. Much more logical to assume that with the most powerful military on the globe, Christian America doesn't need to do suicide bombings?Next, we're assured that these non-Western nations, with their approaches toward death and suicide, could not possess nuclear weapons without annihilating innocent civilians with them. Apparently the possession of these weapons by Pakistan and India means little.... fundamentalist religiosity is extremely violent and politically popular in the governments of both nations, yet they've somehow abstained from blowing themselves, each other, or us up. There seems to be a lot of truth to Arundhati Roy's claim, which he quotes, that there is a racist element underlying some critiques. Mr. Harris appears to fully buy into this trap, while making pot shots at both Roy and Chomsky for presuming that factors aside from religion may also be important.Finally, he makes a claim that Israeli treatment of Palestinians and their neighbors is of the highest ethical caliber. This is almost grotesque following the horrific loss of civilian lives in the recent conflict with Lebanon... as with American Christians, Mr. Harris frequently seems confused over whether or not Jewish fundamentalism is also as bad as the Muslim flavors.This book makes a number of excellent points regarding the errors of living based on "faith," the violence resulting from those views, and the ability of science and reason to explain and support the best of human virtue. The argument that this is more concerning in the Islamic world, or that we need to look outside our own backyard (or White House, or Senate, or House of Representatives, or Supreme Court) to find religious zealots willing to militarily force their faith-based views upon others, regardless of civilian casualties, is where the book falls apart. I'm eager to see if this is remedied in his follow-up book.
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  • Emma Sea
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely reject Harris's key argument that Islam is essentially and inescapably a religion of violence and hate. That's like defining Christianity by the actions of the KKK. Given that, it's hard for me to do anything other than dislike the book, but I was equally disappointed in it for other reasons. e.g. compared to religion, "Mysticism is a rational enterprise" based on "empirical evidence." (p. 221). Um, really?Very disappointed in this read. ETA: As many people have pointed out, this c I absolutely reject Harris's key argument that Islam is essentially and inescapably a religion of violence and hate. That's like defining Christianity by the actions of the KKK.¹ Given that, it's hard for me to do anything other than dislike the book, but I was equally disappointed in it for other reasons. e.g. compared to religion, "Mysticism is a rational enterprise" based on "empirical evidence." (p. 221). Um, really?Very disappointed in this read. ¹ ETA: As many people have pointed out, this comparison was the wrong one to make. Because the KKK was WAY worse
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    What follows is not a review. It's more like some notes and thoughts I had while reading the book... a review will soon be written....This is from DFW's 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech:"Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist s What follows is not a review. It's more like some notes and thoughts I had while reading the book... a review will soon be written....This is from DFW's 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech:"Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."I have no doubt that Sam Harris is much smarter than I am. I have little doubt that any criticisms I make will be duly dealt with by persons probably smarter than myself too, or at least better informed than I am on these topics. I'm curious to read some of the religious critiques of this book, are any of them able to refute what he is saying without resorting to religious babble? I'm not really quite sure where you argue with him on the questions of religion, something about the way he posits a definition of belief I think is the weak link in the argument, but I can't put my finger on what it is. That's only based an unease I felt with his reasoning though. Is he harsh on Islam? No, I don't think so. Everyone who is Islam is not a bad person, as a group that can run out into the street waving AK-47's around cheering and celebrating the deaths of a few thousand innocent people, or who find it proper to behead people, or douse women in gasoline and light them on fire, or excitedly show pictures you took with your camera of dead-people on the ground around the WTC that are now housed on your laptop, and not understand how come everyone else around you doesn't think it's a great thing (ok, this guy might just be a sociopath who happened to be Muslim, but still Greg conspiracy number 3 of 9/11, why did he bring not one but two cameras to school with him that day, when he had never brought cameras to school any other day? Greg conspiracies #1 and 2 may be dealt with later). The way that liberals have defended their right to the diversity of their religion has stunk to me for quite awhile. If they are allowed to actively do anti-social things, then we should allow any religious group in our country to do them too, both books proscribe similar things. I don't think a bunch of women being forced outside of towns freezing their asses off and being shunned all because they are menstruating would be looked upon as a cultural difference worth appreciating some Leviticus inspired church decided to do this out in Wyoming. Lots of words to say I agree. What I had difficulty with was Harris' attempt at explaining a possible ethics. Maybe it was the appeal to a proto-utilitarianism and basing a possible universal moral code on the premise of love and happiness. I'm simplifying here. I actually agree with him, but I don't see it all holding water. Now, because of love we feel for others we want them to have the most happiness and suffer less. This love would radiate outward in our immediate social circle's (this is me talking now not Harris), our family (that we don't hate), significant others, friends, children we'd feel more of a bond with and be more invested in their happiness and suffering. Here is sort of my problem: If me and my very large family, my wife and our 12 children, whom I love very very much, but it pains me to see them go hungry all the time, not have shoes for their 24 little feet, and I can't just seem to provide for them all. I want them to be happy. I don't want them to suffer anymore. Now living next door is an old miser. He never talks to me, I don't like him, nor do I hate him. I know he has 10 million dollars stashed under the floorboards in his house. I know he has no friends, no family and that no one will miss him if he died. I also know that no one knows about the money, I just happen to know someway. Do I kill him? One the happiness and suffering scale the answer could be yes, but we'd still say he has a right to his happiness of life. What if I told you that a letter got accidently delivered to my house yesterday from his doctor, and the doctor told him that he has terminal cancer of the most painful kind, and he only has 6 months to live. Do I kill him now? What if I'm going to do it with a drug that he will never realize he has taken, he will feel nothing from, and he will just pass away in his sleep, with no terror, no violence, no awareness even of his death? Can I kill him now? The answer somewhere in this becomes yes, yes I can kill him. Especially if one doesn't believe in an afterlife, there becomes a point in this far-fetched hypothetical situation; happiness and suffering are at this point vague and unquantifiable, and are a slippery slope. What if I had these 12 kids, they are all on the brink of starvation, and the next door neighbor is a rich miser, no relations blah blah blah, who I know hates life because he walks around his yard all day muttering "I hate my life". Murder here is morally justified, but it shouldn't be--it's that reason why it shouldn't be justified that I think is missing in the framework of a system that Harris is building. Harris isn't really offering up a final word on ethics though, he's just pointing towards ways that a future morality could be built that didn't rely on fairy tales, myths, or some of the problematic pragmatic approaches someone like Rorty might endorse. (On pragmatics, wow, was he a little harsh on Rorty and company. I've never been much of a fan of pragmatism, nor spent much time thinking about it, or reading it, but he really did a number on it. I do think that he missed an interesting point that he could have taken up and been in agreement with Habermas, and which I think is a central problem in any talk about religion and irrationality. Habermas has had many different sides to him in his long career as Adorno's successor who lost his balls, so to speak. Habermas' central idea is roughly that if open discourse could happen then it would easily resolve problems; but it's that communication is not possible, that problems continue without being able to find a solution. This brings me back to the DFW quote at the start, the problem between having a discourse on religion and the irrational aspects, and trying to bring someone who believes some really weird shit into congruence with the actual physical world we live in is that neither person are speaking the same language. This isn't relativism, it's not that both are right, or that you have your truth and I have mine in any kind of epistemological sense, it's that both sides could be wrong, but neither of them is speaking a language that the other one understands. Look at the creationist debate. The reason why scientists can't convince a biblical literalist about the validity of their findings is that the words a scientist uses are not even understood by the creationist. Yes they can give definitions of the words that both would agree on, but there is something in their language, in their way of using the language and expressing themselves both to themselves and to the outside world that is not the same as being used by the other person. The scientist can show figure after figure, show pictures, fossils showing every stage for transition from single-cell molecule to human and it would do nothing to the creationist, they would still hear every word as intelligent design, as biblical this or that. And this would be vice versa too. I'd suggest that one possible way to break down this barrier of communication is through something of a deconstruction (a text with no inherent truth can be broken apart any number of ways that are all legitimate, a text with a concealed truth can be broken open to expose that truth, in the first instance there is a case of relativism, but it's of no importance, their is no truth in the text to begin with, it's only making the inconsistencies more apparent by showing the absurdity of the new readings. The second is the more abused version of deconstruction, because it often falls into a relativistic whirlpool of competing 'truths', but in many cases I think it's the job of the reader to read these 'deconstructions' as added layers to the original, where this is going I'm not quite sure, I'll probably add something in the comment section at some point), and I think it's something that late Derrida was pointing to along with his focus on cosmopolitanism (which in reality is probably the only way to truly overcome the schisms of irrational belief, it's in all likelihood one of the major contributing factors of Ancient Greece putting their pantheon of Gods aside, but this is mentioned by Harris, although I don't think he uses the word cosmopolitan).Now I should probably go finish the book. I still have a chapter left to read.
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  • Jimmy
    January 1, 1970
    While religious belief is an incredibly complex subject with ages of history behind it, the motivation for such belief can be roughly summarized as a preoccupation with, and fear of, what happens to us when we, as mortal human beings, die. Let's face it, it is a frightening and dreary concept; to think that when our time comes, that that's it, nothing more, our bodies decompose, and our minds no longer function. Of course this is the case for people of the scientific, or materialist persuasion. While religious belief is an incredibly complex subject with ages of history behind it, the motivation for such belief can be roughly summarized as a preoccupation with, and fear of, what happens to us when we, as mortal human beings, die. Let's face it, it is a frightening and dreary concept; to think that when our time comes, that that's it, nothing more, our bodies decompose, and our minds no longer function. Of course this is the case for people of the scientific, or materialist persuasion. As Joe Frazier once coarsely stated "Kill the body and the head will die". If our physical form dies and shuts down, along with it, goes our mind, the cognitive machine with which man ironically created the concept of religious belief itself. Of course, many of us have difficulty accepting this, and religious belief seems to toss this whole rationale out of the window. Inherent in most religious belief is the promise of a continuation of life after this mortal one. A celestial after-hours lounge for those of us who have lead a pious enough life, or those of us who have acted as martyrs on behalf of a certain religious doctrine. Surely it's a comforting idea, but also one that, irresponsibly interpreted (or responsibly interpreted as the case may be, depending on one's religious belief, it's dubious to think of martyrdom as a responsible act) can lead people to inflict horrible torments and seemingly unforgivable acts of violence upon each other in this mortal realm. This side-effect of religious belief sort of strips itself of any assumed nobility. For Sam Harris, this is more or less the sort of intolerable behavior and belief structure that has absolutely no business in our current political reality, even in our daily interactions with other human beings for that matter.A significant aspect of this social and ethical hinderance is the way in which religious beliefs tend to deliberately factor out one another. As Harris describes it, religion is "one of the great limiters of moral identity, since most believers differentiate themselves, in moral terms, from those who do not share their faith". This essentially implies that "Once a person accepts the premises upon which most religious identities are built, the withdrawal of his moral concern from those who do not share these premises follows quite naturally". So then "Needless to say, the suffering of those who are destined for hell can never be as problematic as the suffering of the righteous". With all of this in mind, how can we honestly believe that non-violent, moral interaction can possibly exist in a world overrun with such exclusive dogmas? It's upon this sort of reasoning that Harris builds the rest of his book. Mapping out well researched historical examples of violence motivated by religious intolerance, he naturally arrives at the subject of terrorist attacks and Muslim ideology. Many of Harris's slightly more intelligent critics tend to react to this aspect of the book. One difficult aspect of Harris's methodology here is that in calling for complete intolerance of religious faith, he might sound equally intolerant of religion. It seems to be a necessary paradox though because in the wake of extreme acts of terrorism, as well as the suffering of the innocent people living under these extremist, religiously inspired regimes are experiencing, we must realize the malignant role that faith plays in motivating political behavior. And more importantly, that the notion of religious moderation is an absurd compromise. Because the nature of faith does not entail even a semblance of uncertainty about the belief in one omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent deity. What constitutes religious belief is an unwavering dedication and commitment to the ideals inherent in said belief, one that even entails a willingness to commit the pathological act of a suicide bombing just to appease the expectations of a god, one who's existence, no one has any substantial proof of. The alternative solution to this approach to living a fulfilling and meaningful life is certainly a difficult one to establish. Harris proposes a sort of secular spirituality, one inspired to a degree by Eastern religion. He also stresses the importance of strong moral communities. The importance of his book seems to be found in its condemnation of religion and the gap that it creates between believers and non-believers. While an ultimate solution to the ills of faith may not be so easy to find, it's certainly about time that somebody stood up and so confidently suggested that we finally realize just how much damage religious faith has done to the human pursuit of happiness and prosperity in this single and unique, mortal existence that we all must share.
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  • Trevor
    January 1, 1970
    Harris does much to prove that there is nothing one can say about religion that will not get you into trouble. In Letter to a Christian Nation he is criticised for not dealing with moderates, but that is done here. I find the religious tend to want it all ways. If you criticise those who actually believe the word of god as if it was real and meant, then you are being as dogmatic as they are. Here Harris argues that moderate believers are as dangerous as fundamentalists as by stopping debate on f Harris does much to prove that there is nothing one can say about religion that will not get you into trouble. In Letter to a Christian Nation he is criticised for not dealing with moderates, but that is done here. I find the religious tend to want it all ways. If you criticise those who actually believe the word of god as if it was real and meant, then you are being as dogmatic as they are. Here Harris argues that moderate believers are as dangerous as fundamentalists as by stopping debate on faith they leave the field to the fundamentalists to cause havoc. His attacks on Islam as a religion of hatred are a little over the top - literal Christianity is just as full of hatred for the other and just as many quotes can be found to justify any crime against humanity in the name of Christ as in the name of Allah. Nevertheless, it is timely to read about religion as one of the more likely bases of murder, war and hatred of those who don't hold your views. I like his view that our only hope is a conversation and religion ends all conversations always falling back on faith and therefore leaving no room for further debate.The last few chapters about Buddhism were very odd. I've no idea what they were doing in this book - they didn't belong here at all. He mentions somewhere that he is constantly being criticised for these chapters by atheists. Well, yeah - but not because these chapters are not atheistic enough, but because they just don't fit in the book at all.Letter to a Christian Nation is a much better read - but in talking to moderate christians this might well be the more important book.
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  • Lena
    January 1, 1970
    In this book, Harris makes the compelling argument that human beings can no longer afford the luxury of major religious belief systems. In a world in which we now have the capacity to kill millions of humans at one time, belief systems that are intolerant of non-believers and emphasize life in the hereafter over the present are simply too dangerous. Harris claims that even moderate members of a religion are to blame for extreme acts committed in the name of their faith, because the moderates hel In this book, Harris makes the compelling argument that human beings can no longer afford the luxury of major religious belief systems. In a world in which we now have the capacity to kill millions of humans at one time, belief systems that are intolerant of non-believers and emphasize life in the hereafter over the present are simply too dangerous. Harris claims that even moderate members of a religion are to blame for extreme acts committed in the name of their faith, because the moderates help to legitimize the acceptance of beliefs that can be easily used to support violence. His arguments cut to the heart of the concept of faith itself, and will be unpalatable to many. But Harris does not seem to be advocating a switch to an atheist or even agnostic view. He is primarily against subscribing to unexamined beliefs. As an alternative, he offers a discussion of a rational, experience-based spirituality that has some links to Buddhism. This is a highly provocative book that offers many important ideas to the debate about the role of religion in modern life.
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  • C.
    January 1, 1970
    I was excited to read this book after seeing Sam Harris on the Colbert Report. It seemed like the Atheist argument that I had really been waiting for, and that finally I was going to find something that I wholeheartedly could get behind, without reservation.Well, if I could give this book negative five stars I would. Sure, he cites all of the times that the Koran mentions death and destruction, which takes up 4 pages of the book, and also mentions how the Koran drives people to kill us, oh and y I was excited to read this book after seeing Sam Harris on the Colbert Report. It seemed like the Atheist argument that I had really been waiting for, and that finally I was going to find something that I wholeheartedly could get behind, without reservation.Well, if I could give this book negative five stars I would. Sure, he cites all of the times that the Koran mentions death and destruction, which takes up 4 pages of the book, and also mentions how the Koran drives people to kill us, oh and yeah, he also mentions about how angry he was about Muslims, because he used to live in the shadows of the Twin Towers, and 9/11 really fucked him up, when it comes to those Muslim folks, oh no he doesn't actually say that. He also mentions the classic arguments against Judeo/Christian religion, Buddhism to some extent, but for some reason is kind of into mysticism on some sort of meditative level. I don't need the book to require a Philosophy degree in order to understand the allusion and logic of the argument, but I would like the argument to be flushed out, and have a bit less emotional energy.
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  • Steve
    January 1, 1970
    I wouldn't start here if I were beginning to explore atheism. The book is rather ponderous, but it's worth reading as you make your way through the literature of the field. In places, I found it a little hard to follow, in terms of the progression and linkage of his ideas. Many individual sentences are quotable gems of pithy insight, and often humor. Take, for example, the following: "The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among non-fund I wouldn't start here if I were beginning to explore atheism. The book is rather ponderous, but it's worth reading as you make your way through the literature of the field. In places, I found it a little hard to follow, in terms of the progression and linkage of his ideas. Many individual sentences are quotable gems of pithy insight, and often humor. Take, for example, the following: "The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among non-fundamentalists is not some sign that faith, itself, has evolved. It is, rather, the product of many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt. Not the least among these developments has been the emergence of our tendency to value evidence, and to be convinced by a proposition to the degree that there is evidence for it." Or, how about: "Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge, and scriptural ignorance-and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts, themselves, are unequivocal. They are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God's law. By failing to live by the letter of the text, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question (that is, that we know that there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us), religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness." This is wonderful, wonderful writing, at least for this reader. However, sometimes his complex sentence construction and word choice seem needlessly abstruse. In addition, taken as a whole, I thought the book wandered too far and wide, and lacked coherent direction. His exploration into mysticism piqued my interest, contrary to the experience of many of his other atheistic readers, and I don't ordinarily have much patience with mysticism. He gave me some interesting new ways to consider it, particularly when contrasted with what we consider religion in mainstream western thought."Letter to a Christian Nation", also by Harris, is much more focused and fun. "The God Delusion" (by Richard Dawkins) lays out a more logically organized and readable look at a broad range of naturalist (as opposed to supernaturalist) arguments, and would be my recommended starting point for someone just beginning to read modern atheist literature. A more lighthearted, and in fact, deliberately comedic, but wonderfully insightful introduction would be to listen to Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God". She raises just the same issues as the atheist "heavyweights", but does so in such a disarming, funny way that even your moderate Christian friends will be charmed. Look at her talk on TED. Who could help but love her?
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  • Donald
    January 1, 1970
    I found Sam Harris's book interesting and disturbing, but it should be classified as fiction. Nearly every argument he asserts is specious. Apparently, he reads only those who support his own position (philosophical suicide). He conveniently dismisses atheistic regimes as "religious" by assigning an ambiguous religious or mythological type of totalitarianism to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the rest of those who tortured and killed religious believers. He cites Northern Ireland and the Israel/Palesti I found Sam Harris's book interesting and disturbing, but it should be classified as fiction. Nearly every argument he asserts is specious. Apparently, he reads only those who support his own position (philosophical suicide). He conveniently dismisses atheistic regimes as "religious" by assigning an ambiguous religious or mythological type of totalitarianism to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the rest of those who tortured and killed religious believers. He cites Northern Ireland and the Israel/Palestinian conflict as religious at its base; the fact is that these are tribal, geographical, and political. Hitler exterminated Jews from a Racist-Darwinian belief, not a religious conviction. He argues from no philosophic framework that hasn't been cogently discredited in the past fifty years.Essentially, THE END OF FAITH is a diatribe based upon his prejudicial dismissal of belief, not on sound philosophical argumentation or factual presentation. Like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett, each has an a priori commitment to materialism.Harris is obviously intelligent. But, just as he accuses those who place their faith in religion, he is guilty of the same crime. The Christian apologist Paul Little was once asked, "Why do intelligent people reject religion"? He replied, "They don't believe for the same reason unintelligent people do; they simply don't want to believe."It is not that I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone; it's that anyone who reads this book should be aware of other philosophical and theological framework that is obscured from the regular reader. In all fairness, the reader should be knowledgeable of each position he attacks.
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  • Shaun
    January 1, 1970
    I have been a fan of Harris and his ideas for quite some time. In addition to reading his book Free Will and subscribing to his blog, I have watched numerous interviews/talks/debates, and I am very familiar with his ideas/works.That said, I still found this to be a worthwhile investment of my time. I particularly enjoyed the section in the back of my edition, where Harris addresses some of the major criticisms he's received since the book was first published.Though on the surface, one might inte I have been a fan of Harris and his ideas for quite some time. In addition to reading his book Free Will and subscribing to his blog, I have watched numerous interviews/talks/debates, and I am very familiar with his ideas/works.That said, I still found this to be a worthwhile investment of my time. I particularly enjoyed the section in the back of my edition, where Harris addresses some of the major criticisms he's received since the book was first published.Though on the surface, one might interpret this as an attack on organized religion, I think it goes much deeper than that. In the end, I believe that Harris is attacking bad ideas and dogma, and it just so happens many religious institutions have more than their fair share of both. He also makes a point of pointing out that unlike most ideas that are open to criticism and debate, religion has been deemed untouchable--hopelessly sacred and beyond reproach.Those who are familiar with Harris know that he is uncomfortable with being labeled an atheist and feels it is one that was imposed upon him rather than one he willingly adopted. He seems to believe that ideas (religious or otherwise) should be judged on their merit and their usefulness and that no idea is beyond questioning...EVER, and labels like atheist are not only unnecessary but counterproductive. However, it is clear he has limited patience for the vindictive gods of the old testament and their religious texts/teachings.According to Harris, given what is going on around the world today particularly in the Middle East, it's critical we admit to ourselves that bad ideas are bad ideas regardless of their "sacred" origins. He warns that this mix of 14th century mentalities and 20th century technology is a potentially toxic one.He also feels the moderate Christians, Muslims, Jews...whatever, are part of the problem. While he applauds their concessions to reason, he feels their reluctance to criticize the holy texts and their efforts to keep religion free from scrutiny contributes to or, at the very least, facilitates fundamentalism. Harris doesn't appear closed to the possibilities of our universe's origin. To the contrary, like many--myself included, he seems to acknowledge that the possibilities are far greater than people thousands of years ago were capable of imaging, and that's part of the problem.He advocates the use of scientific exploration/scientific method as the best tool we have for truly understanding the universe we live in and uncovering the truth, but doesn't believe that spiritual experience needs to be at odds with scientific possibilities/investigation. He also argues that morality isn't a function of religion. Moderates are proof of this. There is a reason why most modern-day Christians don't regularly stone people, regardless of the fact that it was an accepted form of punishment in biblical times. Our sense of morality has evolved beyond our religious texts. On the flip side, accepting the degradation and abuse of women in other countries because it is culturally acceptable is immoral...and we don't need a religious text to understand that.Interestingly, Harris has received criticism from both theists and atheists/agnostics alike. Theists accuse him of bashing religion and are quick to bring up evil men like Stalin and Hitler to make their point(view spoiler)[Harris' response is even if one agrees there were no religious undertones to what these men did (and one could argue the hatred of the Jews was facilitated by the Christian belief that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ in the case of Hitler), there were pervasive dogmas and a slew of bad ideas involved. He repeatedly clarifies that his problem with a religion goes only as far as its dogma and to the extent that it promotes and protects bad ideas (hide spoiler)]. Some atheists are quick to point out that Harris is only regurgitating earlier, more convincing arguments. They also like to challenge the soundness of his philosophical arguments, though it seems to me they are only arguing over shades of blue. And of course some agnostics like to take the high road and accuse men like Harris of turning atheism into a dogmatic religion, which if you're familiar with his platform couldn't be further from the truth.On the other side, his work has also received praise from both moderate theists and atheists/agnostics.Personally, I tend to agree with much of what Harris says and feel, new or not, his arguments are thought provoking (and most importantly--accessible) and maybe even enlightening. Obviously, every generation is in need of men willing to advocate for reason, and Harris is a wonderful writer and speaker. I also think his intense study of philosophy combined with his extensive knowledge/studies in neuroscience give him a somewhat unique perspective from which to have this discussion.For those interested in in learning more about Harris and his ideas in addition to reading this book you can check out these clips of him speaking, clip 1 (a nice summary of ideas in the book) and clip 2 (a summary of his thoughts on the atheist label). You can also visit his website where he often openly engages his critics. For complementary reading I would offer Free Will, Incognito, Brainwashing-The Science of Thought Control, and a phenomenal read titled The Believing Brain.
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  • Jessaka
    January 1, 1970
    Sam Harris began his book with his rants about Christianity, nothing new, except to say that he is also against the Islamic religion and appears to think that all Muslims desire to kill us. For this, he uses their scripture to condemn them, but the Christian bible says the same things and not every Christian is out there trying to kill non believers. He never brings up this fact. What difference do you see in these two scriptures? I don’t think that there is much:The Bible:“If there be found amo Sam Harris began his book with his rants about Christianity, nothing new, except to say that he is also against the Islamic religion and appears to think that all Muslims desire to kill us. For this, he uses their scripture to condemn them, but the Christian bible says the same things and not every Christian is out there trying to kill non believers. He never brings up this fact. What difference do you see in these two scriptures? I don’t think that there is much:The Bible:“If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant; 17:3 And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; 17:4 And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; 17:5 Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.”The Quran:“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.”Just as a Muslim can explain away their verses on violence towards infidels, so can a Christian, and just as most Christians today don’t kill people who are not in their religion, neither do Muslims. To me, this chapter of his on the Islamic religion is just as dangerous as the Christians rants on the Jews. Both can lead to violence and have. While there has always been a fraction in religions that has desired to kill those who don’t believe as they do, most today do not. But try reading The Left Behind series. It will make you cringe. So while in the past some religions have forced people to join or else, some now are just biding their time, waiting for Armageddon when they will be able to safely take up arms and slay the wicked, but they may have a hard time figuring out who the wicked are since if you are not in their particular church, you are wicked. The other bone I have to pick with Harris was his views on tolerance, well, maybe I don’t really have a real bone to pick with him here, but I have some things to say about it and had my own ideas. He believes that if churches don’t speak out about the wrongs that other churches commit, they are just as well to blame. That is true to some extent. BUT, then he praises Buddhism as a peaceful religion, and yet at the same time he doesn’t realize that Buddhism also causes harm to others. Tibetan Buddhism is the cesspool of Buddhism, according to one ex lama. They, in fact, believe in turning the precepts upside down, so to speak. Break all the rules. Those that have been in Tibetan Buddhism and have spoken out against them have been harmed in various ways. Read June Campbell’s book Traveller’s in Space or Christine Chandler’s book Enthralled. Read the online free book The Shadow of the Dalai Lama, or go to crookedpath.freeforums.net.Yet, other Buddhist sects will not speak out against Tibetan Buddhism due to this policy of tolerance. This is no different than Christianity’s tolerance. I can only assume that Harris doesn’t realize this yet.He doesn’t realize that Tibetan Buddhism has two faces either, one is of peace; the other is of violence towards any member that speaks out against the violence that they and others have experienced within the religion. Buddhism is also a misogynistic religion. To learn this all you have to do is read the Pali Canon or just do a google search. I remember asking a monk why nuns have 311 precepts to follow and monks only had 227. He said, “Because women do more things that are wrong.” Okay. We can also go around and around on whether women can become enlightened or if they have to be reborn a man. Or we can talk about how nuns should not be leaders, but today women are fighting for this privilege and winning in some sects. Of course, there is much more, but this is enough.And now Sam Harris is in praise of mysticism because when you meditate you experience “truth,” according to him. Is this what he means by the end of faith, knowing the truth, and believing the truth is what you experience in meditation? Yet, do you really only experience truth? Maybe, but how can a person really know for sure? One person meditates and experiences God, but a Buddhist will say to that person, “What you experienced is not real, because there is no God. Keep meditating.” Not all meditation experiences have the same outcomes either. But while Harris is busy praising meditation he doesn’t realize that most religions began because of these transcendental experiences which include love towards all mankind. Perhaps it is that meditation experiences just become contaminated by man’s own belief system, his own shortcomings. I don’t know. I do know that meditation does not make one a better person, for that you need to study ethics, and well, maybe ethics has its limits as well, because not everyone thinks the same here either.For example, Sam Harris believes it is ethical to torture others in order to save a group of people. It is claimed that Buddha said that it is okay to kill someone if you know that they are going to kill a group of people, not that we really know what the Buddha taught. Yet, some people claim that it is unethical to torture, and they have their reasons. You can go around and around on this one and get nowhere as far as I am concerned. I know, I have tried googling this subject. I even asked a Buddhist monk once, “What is the right thing to do if you saw a cougar that was going to kill you. Would you kill it first?” He said, “I would run.” I wanted to say, “Good luck. You have now become prey.” I didn’t question any further because questioning always got me into hot water in any religion that I had joined.So give Harris enough time, and he will be slamming Buddhism and maybe Hinduism as well, that is, if he dwells deeply into the teachings that practice meditation. He may learn that meditation doesn’t always bring one peace of mind, because there are those who meditate, who have never had psychological problems and now have them. It also doesn’t make you a better person because even teachers can become greedy and have become sexually immoral, and can be verbally abusive towards their disciples. It can also lead to stoicism. I used to think that the peacefulness I saw in the so-called Buddhist masters was wonderful, but I learned on my own that they have just become stoic, and they will tell me that I am wrong, but I don’t believe I am. Meditation can flatten out ones emotions. They may teach compassion, but they do not practice it by going out and helping the needy. When I asked a teacher how I could help a friend with her problems, he stated, “Bring her here so she can learn to meditate.” That was the extent of his compassion, although I knew that he is a good man. But what if my friend didn’t want to meditate? How could I help her then? Karma is another teaching that shows me how uncompassionate these meditation based religions are. They say to never interfere with a person’s karma because they have to work it out on their own. So we have people dying in the streets of Calcutta, we have people suffering in religions and elsewhere, but we are not to help them in any way. Mother Teresa showed compassion, she picked up those dying in the streets of Calcutta and placed them in a warm place and fed them. There may not have been medicine, I don’t recall, but I do recall reading that they were not given pain medication. Is this true? I don’t know. But she prolonged their suffering as far as I can tell, so was she the better person? I am not sure, but I do believe she really cared. Back to Harris. Perhaps it is that he is a seeker. Christianity failed him, so now he is trying Buddhism. I have been there. I even tried Hinduism. They all failed. I don’t feel that there are any real answers; no real way to end suffering, unless I wish to harden my heart in some way. I believe that all you can really do is not cause more suffering and if you can, help others who are also suffering.
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  • John
    January 1, 1970
    At its heart, the book is arguing against Faith. His starting point is Islamic terrorism, which he argues can only be understood in the context of faith--without the religious beliefs underpinning these people's lives, without the certainty they have in both the righteousness of their cause and the eternal reward they will earn, recruiting for suicide bombing missions would be awfully hard.Part of his argument, though, is that contrary to what we typically say, the problem isn't just a few extre At its heart, the book is arguing against Faith. His starting point is Islamic terrorism, which he argues can only be understood in the context of faith--without the religious beliefs underpinning these people's lives, without the certainty they have in both the righteousness of their cause and the eternal reward they will earn, recruiting for suicide bombing missions would be awfully hard.Part of his argument, though, is that contrary to what we typically say, the problem isn't just a few extremists. This plays out in two ways. In the first place, he looks squarely at Islam. While it may be true that it's not every Muslim who is lining up for suicide bombing missions, it's also true that there are a lot of passages in the Koran which enjoin hatred or at least disdain for the infidel and a lot of other passages that glorify armed conflict against said infidels. To provide weight to this argument, he not only quotes extensively from the Koran, but he also cites a worldwide poll of Muslims that seems to find is an awful lot of tacit support for the suicide bombers. Harris does not only blame Islam, though. He also targets, in the West, the way that we treat religion in public discourse: that is, with kid gloves. If someone speaks of their religious faith in public, then that's it, end of discussion. There is not allowed to be any questioning or criticism of that faith. This kind of "respect" for faith gives cover to the extremists. Also, in a democracy, such "respect" has real, dangerous consequences. Look, for instance, at the results we've gotten with the Bush administration: policies and political appointments based on religion. Harris examines a number of ways that this has played out in the U.S. At its heart, religion is making claims about the world--about how it is and how it should be. These claims should be open to scrutiny and debate the same way that scientific claims are. If "God" may not be as easy to "prove" or "disprove" as many ideas of science, there is still evidence to be marshaled on either side, particularly when a particular faith is on the line. A claim for the existence of God is difficult to disprove, but a claim for a divine, inerrant Bible, for instance, is not. Harris is not, in the end, dismissive of spirituality as such. He is quite respectful of the idea that there is something that is probably best called a "spiritual" side to life, even in the absence of God. Not only is there room for such a thing, Harris finds spiritual experiences and spiritual inquiry quite valuable.Harris's discussion can get quite detailed, and he shunts at least some of the discussion of philosophy, neuroscience, and other deeper discussions into the endnotes. At times, these end notes can be quite lengthy, and this was probably a good choice--go deeper if you want (there's also a bibliography) or stick with the main points of the discussion.There are certainly points that readers will find questionable or even objectionable, but this is an interesting, thought-provoking, well-argued book.
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  • Jeanette
    January 1, 1970
    The original purpose of the book,(as nearly as I can tell), was to show how all religions require belief in things that are basically insane, without providing one shred of evidence for these beliefs. He discusses various faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and shows how all of their scriptures encourage violence and hatred/destruction of those who don't share their faith. Belief in an afterlife (NEVER provable) full of rewards leads people to irrational and dangerous behavior in THIS life---the The original purpose of the book,(as nearly as I can tell), was to show how all religions require belief in things that are basically insane, without providing one shred of evidence for these beliefs. He discusses various faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and shows how all of their scriptures encourage violence and hatred/destruction of those who don't share their faith. Belief in an afterlife (NEVER provable) full of rewards leads people to irrational and dangerous behavior in THIS life---the only one we have.The author's argument/fear is that worldwide religious disagreement will eventually lead to mutual annihilation because all these religions look forward to some sort of apocalyptic end in which they themselves are the victors. The section on Islam is especially frightening. He shows many Koranic references that encourage Muslims to destroy us, with promises of favors in paradise for so doing. Harris argues that religious moderates and secularists are also at fault. Our extreme tolerance of people's religious beliefs encourages radicals of all faiths to flourish and grow without opposition. There are some very good arguments in this book, made in ways I've not seen in other books of this type. Unfortunately, Harris gets so bogged down in philosophical rhetoric and neuroscience in the last few chapters of the book that he dilutes the strength and importance of his message. He has a degree in philosophy and a doctorate in neuroscience. It appears he was merely trying to impress his colleagues in these chapters.I read Letter to a Christian Nation several months ago, and you'd never know it was the same author. It was so beautifully spare and concise, making all the points needed with nothing extraneous. It came after The End of Faith, so maybe he got a good editor between books.
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  • Mike Puma
    January 1, 1970
    While covering much the same ground as Christopher Hitchens in God Is Not Great, Harris does so with a voice less harsh, one sounding less like a diatribe. He scope is wider than Hitchens allowing him to make points that Hitchens doesn’t as well, e.g. that the tolerant religious are so at the expense of their belief in the dogma of their own faith(s). The 2005 paperback edition includes an Afterword in which the author speaks to some of the earlier criticism of this title, whether the criticism While covering much the same ground as Christopher Hitchens in God Is Not Great, Harris does so with a voice less harsh, one sounding less like a diatribe. He scope is wider than Hitchens allowing him to make points that Hitchens doesn’t as well, e.g. that the tolerant religious are so at the expense of their belief in the dogma of their own faith(s). The 2005 paperback edition includes an Afterword in which the author speaks to some of the earlier criticism of this title, whether the criticism was made correctly or incorrectly: the atrocities of irreligious regimes (which he actually does speak to within the work itself), the need for some kinds of faith, the unique challenge of Islam, and his understanding of what does constitute a valuable mysticism/spirituality (to the horror of some atheists). I was surprised by the inclusion of the mysticism/spirituality section, and I’m still mulling it over; I think if Harris is granted all his premises, he may be right. The two issues that he doesn’t speak to in the Afterword—the ones that left me rather cold when reading the work itself—are the issues of torture with its appropriate use and his categorical rejection of pacifism. I’m hoping he speaks to these issues again in his newest book.
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  • Eric_W
    January 1, 1970
    updated 4/12. It has always been clear to me that faith-based belief systems eliminate the possibility of conversation and the alternative to conversation is violence. For example, if you want to discuss a policy issue that relates to a faith-based belief, the dialogue ceases when one says "I don't believe that." There can be no response.Sam Harris discusses the issue also, but much more articulately. He argues that current world conflicts relate to incompatible religious doctrines; that even th updated 4/12. It has always been clear to me that faith-based belief systems eliminate the possibility of conversation and the alternative to conversation is violence. For example, if you want to discuss a policy issue that relates to a faith-based belief, the dialogue ceases when one says "I don't believe that." There can be no response.Sam Harris discusses the issue also, but much more articulately. He argues that current world conflicts relate to incompatible religious doctrines; that even thought the Israeli-Palestinian debate is framed in terms of land, the theological claims on the real estate are incompatible. Moderates remain blind to the impact of religious dogma on behavior. Harris argues in his book that we need to take religious dogmatists at their word; if they say that blowing themselves up in the service of their belief will gain them a place in heaven, we should believe them.Is there an alternative to religious faith? Either God exists or he doesn't. What's the alternative to believing in Santa Claus. No one wants to be the last kid in class to believe in Santa. There doesn't have to be an alternative to faith. We can relinquish our religious beliefs. There are no consequences. Only 10% of Swedes are believers unlike 80% of Americans. Change the word God to Zeus. How many people would insist that we hang on to Zeus. When the tsunami killed thousands, wouldn't it have made more sense to suggest we pray to Poseidon, just to cover all the bases?Harris argues that whatever is true ultimately transcends cultures. We don't talk about Christian physics or Moslem algebra. An experiment in physics done in Baghdad will be just as legitimate in Los Angeles. The challenge for us is to find ways for us to find terms that don't require belief in anything that has insufficient evidence. "A fundamental willingness to be open to evidence is essential for the conversation.""Blasphemy is a victimless crime."
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  • Kristina
    January 1, 1970
    2017 Review:I read Sam Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason probably 10 years ago and remember disagreeing with his views on Islam. I decided to read it again because my views have changed over the years and I wanted to reacquaint myself with this book. I’m not going to summarize all the points Harris makes regarding religion. Overall, his view is that religion is a negative, it’s not helpful to anyone, and in order for society to progress we need to abandon its a 2017 Review:I read Sam Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason probably 10 years ago and remember disagreeing with his views on Islam. I decided to read it again because my views have changed over the years and I wanted to reacquaint myself with this book. I’m not going to summarize all the points Harris makes regarding religion. Overall, his view is that religion is a negative, it’s not helpful to anyone, and in order for society to progress we need to abandon its archaic and outdated dogmas. Although I am not a militant atheist, I agree with that. Even “moderate” religious views still negatively affect how we define and deliver health care, administer our legal system, mete out punishments, educate our children and how we conduct foreign policy. Moderate religious views do nothing to stop religious extremism because, from the point of view of the extremist, “the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist” (20). Harris continues to say that religious moderates “don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human-interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance--and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put in on a par with fundamentalism” (21). What struck me when reading the book this time was the realization that I, as an atheist, do not need to justify my non-belief in the supernatural. It’s often been demanded of me by believers that I justify my atheism. But it should be the other way around. My atheism is a rational, reasonable, logical response to the world and the knowledge we have accumulated about it. Belief in a supernatural omniscient, omnipotent, merciful god, with no proof other than a 1,000+ year old translations of scriptures (which cannot be traced back to their original sources) written by a variety of authors, seems weird. Why worship a Christian god? Why not pick from one of the Egyptian gods? Or Greek gods? If you’re going for old and unsubstantiated, there are thousands to pick from. It makes more sense to me to worship the sun. At least it’s there. It’s reliable. Its heat and light give us life. What I disagreed with from my previous reading was Harris’s view that Islam is the cause of 9/11 and all other acts of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims. My knowledge of America’s destructive Middle East policies was greater than my knowledge of Islam and my view was that terrorism was perpetrated for both political and religious reasons. Many years later, after extensive research, I no longer disagree with Harris. Islam offers very little recourse for believers to fully embrace the idea of peaceful relationships with unbelievers. There is no separation of politics and religion—the two are intertwined. However, I reject the idea that Muslims, as a whole, are a violent people. There are moderate Muslims and I think it’s very important that they are supported as much as possible, particularly when they point out the shortcomings of their own religion. But Harris’s point from above about moderates still holds—moderation comes from disregarding/discarding the more extremist/inconvenient scriptures and allowing secular knowledge to inform your views of the world. Moderation is a secular choice and the Koran does not allow for much in the way of individual choices regarding scriptural interpretation. In his chapter, “A Science of Good and Evil,” Harris raises an interesting point: why are the deaths of innocent civilians in war acceptable, but torturing an enemy soldier unacceptable? Both are immoral and unethical, yet we consider civilian deaths to be part of the costs of war, “collateral damage,” but the torture of one (probable) bad guy for necessary information to be worse: “If we are willing to act in a way that guarantees the misery and death of some considerable number of innocent children, why spare the rod with suspected terrorists?” (194) Neither are acceptable, but Harris does make a convincing (if unappealing) logical argument for torture. He suggests that we accept this disparity because, emotionally, “killing people at a distance is easier” (196). Let me be clear that Harris is not an enthusiastic supporter of torture; he is merely trying to explain that our ethical arguments against torture are an illusion: if we are unwilling to torture, we should also be unwilling to wage war. I disagree with Harris’s stance on pacifism, which he calls “flagrantly immoral.” He lumps all conflicts into one large category and says that violence, or the threat of violence, is an ethical necessity when responding to enemies. He then spends two pages relating a story about how he managed to extract a woman from a possibly violent situation without any harm coming to himself, the woman, or the aggressors. While I thought he acted intelligently, he says what he did was an act of moral failure because he lied to avoid a physical confrontation and did not confront the men regarding their poor ethical choices. Since he did not confront them, they did not learn that their behavior was immoral. I rolled my eyes when I read this. If these guys thought that perhaps kidnapping this woman/threatening her with violence was perfectly okay, did Harris really think they would stand about and intently listen as he lectured them about their ethical choices? And (better yet) agree with him? All he would have accomplished was getting himself beat up and the woman possibly raped. In his view, he was acting as a pacifist and that means acting immorally because no one learned a lesson in ethics. I find this ridiculous. Harris does not differentiate between pacifism and civil disobedience, but does mention Gandhi and that Gandhi’s pacifism worked for his situation, but wouldn’t have been a successful tactic against Nazis. Well, no one says it is. However, there’s a difference between saying “I’m a pacifist and I refuse to take another human life so I’ll just sit this one out” and “I’m a pacifist and I refuse to take a human life but I’ll help our cause by becoming a medic or an ambulance driver or a mechanic.” Harris believes that violence must be met with more violence. It’s possible he means specifically just in case of war, but his own example indicates he does not. This commentary on pacifism was rather brief and not well reasoned. There are many kinds of conflicts and ways of responding to those conflicts. Violence is not always the smartest answer.His least successful chapter is the last one: “Experiments in Consciousness.” It was a lot of discussion of consciousness, what is consciousness, what makes up our sense of self, and how we can expand our consciousness (he advocates for Eastern spirituality/philosophy). While mostly interesting, I can understand why Harris received a lot of complaints from readers (apparently most of the complainers are closed-minded atheists who freaked out at the idea of being spiritual). The chapter is kind of weird and out of place. I personally didn’t care for it either. Not because I’m against the idea of atheist spirituality (it’s very possible to be both), it’s just I don’t think he did a great job of presenting the material, plus it felt more like an excuse to bring up his thing, which is apparently Eastern mysticism. The notes to the chapters are extensive and well worth glancing through. He has some very interesting comments hidden away there, along with other good books to read on the topics he discussed. Harris also apparently now has podcasts to go along with this book. I have not listened to them yet, but if I find they complement my reading of the book, I’ll update this review with that information. In this paperback edition, Harris includes an afterword that responds to some of the comments and questions he received after publishing the original hardcover edition. Earlier in the book, Harris discusses extensively the idea of faith and how believers, before resorting to faith, find reasons (even if these reasons are weak) to support their religious beliefs. He summarizes that discussion in a paragraph that perfectly describes my feelings about religious faith, but says it much better than I can. I’m quoting it here in its entirety:As I do my best to spell out over the course of the book, religious faith is the belief in historical and metaphysical propositions without sufficient evidence. When the evidence for a religious proposition is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, people invoke faith. Otherwise, they simply cite the reasons for their beliefs (e.g., “the New Testament confirms Old Testament prophecy,” “I saw the face of Jesus in a window,” “We prayed, and our daughter’s cancer went into remission”). Such reasons are generally inadequate, but they are better than no reasons at all. People of faith naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning whenever they possibly can. Faith is simply the license they give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail. When rational inquiry supports the creed it is championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided; sometimes in the same sentence. Faith is the mortar that fills the cracks in the evidence and the gaps in the logic, and thus it is faith that keeps the whole terrible edifice of religious certainty still looming dangerously over our world (233).Original Review:Thought-provoking book. I found his arguments against organized religion very persuasive, even if I'm not sure I completely agree with him. When debating what causes terrorism (politics or religion) he comes down hard on the side of religion. I think it is a mixture of the two. I bought this book so I could re-read it because it is certainly a subject deserving of much debate. I didn't like his last chapter on meditation and etc. I thought that was a little fruity and out of place. If you have any interest at all in religion and its impact on the world, read this book.
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  • Ram
    January 1, 1970
    A book about the dangers of religion. In a well-reasoned way, Sam Harris explains why religion and tolerance to religion is harmful to mankind. The book starts with a description of the last day of a suicide bomber. Further in the first chapter he opposes respect and tolerance for all religions as they are all based on no evidence and on the other hand can lead to various harmful results (violence, ignorance, waste of lives for non violent reasons and more)He challenges the issue of religious be A book about the dangers of religion. In a well-reasoned way, Sam Harris explains why religion and tolerance to religion is harmful to mankind. The book starts with a description of the last day of a suicide bomber. Further in the first chapter he opposes respect and tolerance for all religions as they are all based on no evidence and on the other hand can lead to various harmful results (violence, ignorance, waste of lives for non violent reasons and more)He challenges the issue of religious belief. He claims that for a belief to be useful, it should be coherent and representative of the real world. In the case of religious beliefs, they do not represent the real world and are useless in predicting anything. He describes religion as an "accident of history" that allows otherwise normal people to believe that the creator of the world listens to our prayers, while if you believe that the same creator is communicating with you with the tapping of rain using Morse code you would be considered mentally ill.Harris discusses the violent history of the Cristian religion, and claims that even the holocaust was rooted in the Cristian hatred of Jews. In another chapter of the book, he discusses the influence of the Cristian right in the U.S and criticizes it for (among others) in influencing such areas as drug policies, embryonic stem cell research, and AIDS prevention in the developing world and separation of state and religion.His description of the Muslim religion is even harsher, and he describes it as "The cult of death". He backs his notions with many (not sure of the number but at least 50 ) quotes from the Koran. He presents data from various researches made by the Pew Research Center that claim that a significant percentage of the Muslims in the world would justify suicide bombing.He discusses various other issues like ethics and spirituality too.I am aware that this is a controversial issue, and the book presents a radical point of view.I would say that I basically agree with most of the claims in the book. I do believe that the less religious influence in the world would be better. Cases of violent religious practice should be eliminated with no tolerance, but religious practice that is not violent is legitimate behavior and while I do not agree with it, it has a place in a democratic world.As a book, there are some parts that are very interesting, while others, especially the later chapters tend to repeat issues that were discussed in previous chapters.
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  • Eric_W
    January 1, 1970
    Finally, the a-theist (hyphen deliberate) crowd is responding to all the religious claptrap with a vengeance. I've read Dawkins, Dennett and now Harris (I think this book should also be read with Letter to a Christian Nation which was his response to all the hate mail he received.) Harris makes a very good case, perhaps less shrilly than Dawkins, for why religious belief perpetuates evil and hatred. I've seen him interviewed in debates on several occasions and find his responses to be quite well Finally, the a-theist (hyphen deliberate) crowd is responding to all the religious claptrap with a vengeance. I've read Dawkins, Dennett and now Harris (I think this book should also be read with Letter to a Christian Nation which was his response to all the hate mail he received.) Harris makes a very good case, perhaps less shrilly than Dawkins, for why religious belief perpetuates evil and hatred. I've seen him interviewed in debates on several occasions and find his responses to be quite well thought out and delivered calmly.That being said, my only criticism of this book would be his over-emphasis, I think, on Islam. I think that lessens the impact of his general critique of faith in general. Clearly the faith-based foreign policy engaged in by the Bush administration is evidence enough of the moral bankruptcy of religious policy wonks.I have to admit that I was one of those Harris castigates, i.e., those who fail to criticize religious moderates. He makes a strong case for not tolerating religious faiths, regardless of how moderate or fundamental they might be. I have come to adopt his rationale.I think his book could have been stronger had he discussed in more depth that idea that atheists can commit evil acts just as can religious fanatics; that political ideologies can lead to atrocities just as much as can religious true believers. The point that must not be lost is that a rational, reasoned discussion of what constitutes good and evil based on factual evidence will result in a much sharper definition than one that simply relies on faith and a supernatural entity.
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  • Eric
    January 1, 1970
    I've been reading this book forever now. I imagine I'll finish sometime.I'm sympathetic to Harris' arguments: I've been an atheist since I was a teenager. But Harris' book is hypocritical, shallow, and unpleasant. Religion is bad--unless it's his own brand of Buddhism, apparently. And his defense of torture could not have been easy to write with his head shoved so far up his own asshole. And the sad truth is that however much his general case might apply to almost all religion (potentially even I've been reading this book forever now. I imagine I'll finish sometime.I'm sympathetic to Harris' arguments: I've been an atheist since I was a teenager. But Harris' book is hypocritical, shallow, and unpleasant. Religion is bad--unless it's his own brand of Buddhism, apparently. And his defense of torture could not have been easy to write with his head shoved so far up his own asshole. And the sad truth is that however much his general case might apply to almost all religion (potentially even his own), much of the book is merely a thinly-veiled assault on Islam; a reasoned attack on religious superstition in all its forms is one thing--rank bigotry is something else.It's unfortunate: this could have been a great book. There are times that Harris is clever, brilliant and insightful. In fact, I originally purchased this book on the strength of an excerpt that Harris made available online. Had Harris done what he claims to be attempting--illustrating the dangers of medieval superstition in a nuclear age--the book could have been a serviceable defense of capital-R Reason. Instead, we get a bigoted, embarrassing diatribe. Thanks for the help, Sam.
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  • Catalin Negru
    January 1, 1970
    Target audience: The book is addressed mainly to people interested in spirituality.About the author: Sam Harris was born in 1967 in Los Angeles to a Quaker father and a Jewish mother. However, he described his home as a secular one where religion was not discussed. He is an American author, philosopher and a neuroscientist. He completed his bachelor degree in philosophy at Stanford University in 2000 and received his PhD in neuroscience from the University of California in 2009. He also went to Target audience: The book is addressed mainly to people interested in spirituality.About the author: Sam Harris was born in 1967 in Los Angeles to a Quaker father and a Jewish mother. However, he described his home as a secular one where religion was not discussed. He is an American author, philosopher and a neuroscientist. He completed his bachelor degree in philosophy at Stanford University in 2000 and received his PhD in neuroscience from the University of California in 2009. He also went to India to experience meditation. Harris criticizes religion and he has written several books such as Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, Letter to a Christian Nation and The Moral Landscape.Harris discusses his views on his “Waking Up” podcast that he started in 2013.Structure of the book: It has 325 pages and it is divided in seven chapters, each one having a unique title.Overview: This book was written after the 9/11 attacks. Harris harshly criticized Islam, Christianity and Judaism in particular, though he is an atheist who opposes all religions.In the first chapter he criticizes how religion has spread and has been considered to be undisputed. He refers to the reprehensible consequences that took place because of faith such as wars and atrocities. He even points out that matters are worse now that extremist groups have planet-destroying weapons. Thus, faith has to come to an end for the sake of the survival of humanity. Harris blames the fundamentalists as well as the liberals. That is because liberals make that possible by supporting the right to follow religion as a private matter.The second chapter is about what belief is. As a neuroscientist, Harris discusses its biological basis and shows the difference between faith and belief. He defines faith as an unjustified belief and argues that it can be dangerous due to the lack of investigations.The third chapter discusses the Inquisition and the Holocaust as major reprehensible eras/events in history. He goes to discuss in details the techniques of torture that were used and attributed these events to religious belief. He mentions that the Holocaust originated from the Christian anti-Semitism of medieval times where Jews were accused of many crimes – such as kidnapping Christian children and murdering them to use their blood in their religious rituals during their holidays.The fourth chapter discusses Islam and describes it to be “cult of death.” Harris describes Islam to be a violent religion and that Muslims will be more radical and dangerous the more they believe in Islam. He speaks about the war between the West and Islam showing scriptures from Islam that show how it aims to spread and conquer the world as well as seek martyrdom. Harris also uses data from the Pew Research Center to show that a considerable number of Muslims in numerous countries think that the terrorist attacks that target civilians are justifiable. He compares these terrorist actions with the outrages upon people committed by the USA and other Western nations. He claims that the target of these actions was never to harm or kill the innocent civilians.The fifth chapter discusses the influence of Christianity in the modern world. He points out the worldview of the Christian religious right that looks forward to Armageddon or the destruction of the world. He also criticizes some of the laws that were derived from Christianity and severely punish some forms of private behavior since they cause pleasures that are considered to be sinful according to the Christian faith. He also blames how the irrational religious opposition to stem cell research has prolonged the suffering of a considerable fraction of people. Harris describes that we are on our way to become a theocratic society since we cannot separate church from state.The sixth chapter discusses morality. Harris argues that the moral values are either objectively correct or objectively incorrect. We come to discern this by investigation of the world and our relationship with others.The seventh chapter is about experiments in consciousness. Harris, as someone who experienced meditation in India, recommends meditation as a means of developing one’s consciousness. Harris does not include any supernatural claims here, but he describes this as a rational project to improve mindfulness. He also states that a world free from religion can still be spiritual.Quote: Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, 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 what so ever.Strong points: Sam Harris is one of my favorite authors and this is one of my favorite books. This might be biased, but in my opinion the book is insightful and the arguments made need to be carefully considered and assessed. It includes well-researched evidence that make its points valid and eligible for consideration. He supports his argument that religion brings the worst in people and that it has caused many atrocities in a convincing way. The author also provides evidence to his claim that religion opposed the development of stem cell research in the US as well as AIDS prevention and family planning in the developing countries.Weak points: I personally found weird discussing mysticism and meditation from Sam Harris, who is one of the “Four Horsemen of Atheism.” And I did not understand it. What is spirituality after all? Shouldn’t neuroscience explain it rationally? Can’t we achieve the same mental results though scientific approach – if there are any – instead of using spiritual means or plunging into a sort of semi-mysticism? _______________★★★ Follow us on Goodreads★★★ Visit our website www.reasonandreligion.org
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  • Noah Stacy
    January 1, 1970
    I am sympathetic, though perhaps not entirely convinced, of Harris's argument that faith--moderate or extreme--is always dangerous. However, religious beliefs should certainly be opened to criticism. As Harris suggests, religious beliefs should be made as open to criticism as any others, and people must become aware that the argument that "the Bible says so" is a non-argument. Would we accept someone's argument against, say, gay marriage, if they claimed that Zeus had told them so? Harris goes a I am sympathetic, though perhaps not entirely convinced, of Harris's argument that faith--moderate or extreme--is always dangerous. However, religious beliefs should certainly be opened to criticism. As Harris suggests, religious beliefs should be made as open to criticism as any others, and people must become aware that the argument that "the Bible says so" is a non-argument. Would we accept someone's argument against, say, gay marriage, if they claimed that Zeus had told them so? Harris goes astray, however, when discussing rational ethics, by effectively endorsing torture. When evangelicals claim that religion is the only source and foundation of morality, we hardly need Mr. Harris providing them with such ammunition. Of course, many of those same religious leaders are at least as eager to torture as Mr. Harris, so they may well not notice the oopportunity. Further undermining Mr. Harris's argument for most, I suspect, will be his turn in the last chapter to effectively endorse mysticism and, in particular, Buddhism. His arguments here are not invalid, and the core tenets of Buddhism are on significantly sounder empirical ground than those of Christianity and Islam. The average (Christian) reader, however, will see this and seize on it, dismissing the entire argument as yet another example of the perceived persecution aimed at Christians in a country where they are overwhelmingly the majority. Mr. Harris should have stayed his hand and left his discussion of mysticism for another book, if at all. Ultimately a decent, but seriously flawed critique of the dangers presented by faith in the modern world. (A postscript, brought to mind by a few other reviewer's comments. Perhaps 1/4 of the girth of this volume is footnotes. Assertions need cites, and for that, footnotes are the cleanest solution. But if you have something to say, say it in the text. If it's not worth putting in the text, it's not worth saying at all.)
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  • Justin Evans
    January 1, 1970
    Yikes- this may actually be the worst book I've ever finished. It's not totally crap: he's got a perfect argument against people who think torture is somehow a transcendent evil, while backing war in general. But other than that, it's preaching to the choir of the worst kind. To take just two obviously bad arguments: * he rejects the idea that religion can cause good things by saying that since everyone throughout history has been religious, it's a truism to say that religion has caused some goo Yikes- this may actually be the worst book I've ever finished. It's not totally crap: he's got a perfect argument against people who think torture is somehow a transcendent evil, while backing war in general. But other than that, it's preaching to the choir of the worst kind. To take just two obviously bad arguments: * he rejects the idea that religion can cause good things by saying that since everyone throughout history has been religious, it's a truism to say that religion has caused some good things. But that argument is equally applicable to his own claim that religion is the cause of almost everything bad: it's not religion. It's people who claim to be religious that are behind the evil. * he cites a survey which shows that support for suicide bombing varies significantly across a number of Islamic nations. His conclusion is that since none of these countries has *no* support for suicide bombing, the cause of suicide bombing must be Islam. But that's obviously not the message of the survey. Rather, the survey shows that a person's reaction to violence is likely to correlate with her *nationality* and culture more than with her religion. Anyway, this is a great read if you're non-religious and want to find a way to blame all the problems in the world on people other than yourself. Stay turned for my upcoming polemic "The End of Yoghurt: Cultured dairy products, terror and the future of the West." It turns out that the dairy industry is responsible for all the evils perpetrated by Westerners since the 18th century, since Hitler drank milk. A guaranteed best-seller among the intolerant lactose-intolerant.
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  • The Crimson Fucker
    January 1, 1970
    We are at war with Islam. Sam Harris.There are no atheists in foxholes. William J. Clear.Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. Vegetius.Screw you guys I'm going home. Eric Cartman.
  • Books Ring Mah Bell
    January 1, 1970
    BRILLIANT.Simply Brilliant!!!!If you have a choice to read this or God is Not Great by Hitchens, do yourself a favor and read this.
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