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Religious Moderates more dangerous?

By on September 30, 2012 in Society & Culture

Sam-Harris-600x315

just watched a one hour talk by Sam Harris on his 2004 book ‘The End Of Faith – Religion, Terror And Future Of Reason‘ given to the New York Society for Ethical Culture at the Center for Inquiry in 2005.

Sam attacks the prevailing premise that Religion is such a great force for good that it should be immune from the rational criticism we apply to other social institutions. He is particularly critical of the religious moderates who are the force that defend and have propagated this premise to the point where it is an accepted norm and criticism of any religion considered a social taboo.

He asserts that religious fanatics have more intellectual integrity than religious moderates. The religious fanatics actually seek and provide more “proof” or “evidence” to support their beliefs while religious moderates refer only to principles.

In the current climate a religious belief, no matter how ludicrous and devoid of any rational foundation, is considered sacred, not to be challenged. Doing so is akin to denial of a person’s basic human rights yet many of these beliefs are increasingly encroaching into world politics where they perpetuate human conflict and result in real human rights abuses.

He also attacks the assertion by religious moderates that all religious beliefs are somehow considered equal and mentioning any differences a social taboo. He talks about the violent and intolerant nature of Islam that advocates subjugating and either converting or enslaving all infidels. His appraisal of Christianity is not that much better. In contrast Buddhism is far less violent and at the end of the spectrum is the Jain religion of India where the most fanatical adherents will place a cloth of their mouth so as not to risk accidentally inhaling an insect such is their belief in non-violence.

One of the scariest aspects of his talk are the statistics he quoted about the percentage of the American population that have a literal belief in the scriptures, such as a belief in the end of time and that Jesus will come down from the clouds within the next 50 years.

Sam has great reverence for Eastern philosophy and its empirical nature. Towards the end of his talk the topic moved to espousing the superiority of Eastern religious beliefs and what western culture can learn from them. I feel this last part of his talk was lost on much of the audience and as I have not read the book I can only speculate that this was due to limited time.

His talk made it clear that it is the religious moderates that are allowing the minority of fanatics more legitimacy and providing a smoke screen for them to operate behind. He calls for more honest dialog and intellectual honesty by religious moderates and those that should and do know better.

The End Of Faith

51q-NruV7lL._SL160_The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

Sam Harris cranks out blunt, hard-hitting chapters to make his case for why faith itself is the most dangerous element of modern life. And if the devil’s in the details, then you’ll find Satan waiting at the back of the book in the very substantial notes section where Harris saves his more esoteric discussions to avoid sidetracking the urgency of his message.

Interestingly, Harris is not just focused on debunking religious faith, though he makes his compelling arguments with verve and intellectual clarity. The End of Faith is also a bit of a philosophical Swiss Army knife. Once he has presented his arguments on why, in an age of Weapons of Mass Destruction, belief is now a hazard of great proportions, he focuses on proposing alternate approaches to the mysteries of life. Harris recognizes the truth of the human condition, that we fear death, and we often crave “something more” we cannot easily define, and which is not met by accumulating more material possessions. But by attempting to provide the cure for the ills it defines, the book bites off a bit more than it can comfortably chew in its modest page count (however the rich Bibliography provides more than enough background for an intrigued reader to follow up for months on any particular strand of the author’ musings.)

 

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