Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Direct Response to Sam Harris

Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins continue to make waves challenging the intellectual moxie of Christians. I've written a couple of responses, but I don't think I've written anything quite as direct as Jason Byassee of the Christian Century. In the most recent issue Byasee takes Harris on and wonders out loud if Harris has ever run into any real live Christians, especially Christians of the moderate to liberal type.


Harris's book would be stronger if it offered evidence that he has ever spoken with any living, breathing Christians. He frequently refers to Gallup polls, to standard storylines from the New York Times and to angry e-mails he receives in response to his work. He knows enough to be aware that self-professed liberal and moderate Christians exist, but he attempts to keep at arm's length such milquetoast believers, who simply lack the courage of conviction of their fundamentalist brethren—who, in fact, enable the destructive tendencies of irrational belief by dressing it in a cloak of respectability. Harris is in this sense comfortable with fundamentalists, for both he and they loathe moderates. "Either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it isn't. Either Christ was divine, or he was not." That Christ might be both divine and
human, that scripture might be both inspired and humanly authored, as Christians both fundamentalist and liberal believe, seems not to have occurred to him.

Byasee also points out some danger signs in Harris's agenda.

At times Harris slips from the grating and smarmy to the chilling. "One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering." Once the alleviation of suffering is the chief moral goal, however, it is a short step to the elimination of sufferers, as Harris's blithe dismissal of prenatal moral concerns and his heartless comparison of lost nasal cells to the Holocaust suggest. America's believers "should be obliged" to present empirical evidence for their belief. Obliged by whom? Harris decries the failure of schools "to announce the death of God in a way that each generation can understand"—an illiberal policy on religion in schools if there ever was one. Harris is blissfully unaware of how close his rationale is at points to those of Stalin and Mao: religion causes suffering; ergo, elimination of religion will eliminate suffering. When Harris asks (in one of his few, always unsuccessful efforts at whimsy), "When was the last atheist riot?" any number of bloody revolutions, from the French to the Russian to the Cultural Revolution in China, come
immediately to mind.

The atheist response has gotten bolder and stronger, but as Byassee also says religion is tenacious. Just look at China, where religion is actually booming after years attempting to stamp it out. So, read the review, especially if you've already read the book.

1 comment:

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: Sam Harris

When Faith Is Dogma
http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/12/when-faith-is-dogma.html