Mysticism is a rational enterprise, religion is not...The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil.
~ Sam Harris

End of Faith by Sam Harris ignites a firestorm of debate. Here are some choice reviews and comments:

[A]ny belief system that speaks with assurance about the hereafter has the potential to place far less value on the here and now. And thus the corollary -- when death is simply a door translating us from one existence to another, it loses its sting and finality. Harris pointedly asks us to consider that those who do not fear death for themselves, and who also revere ancient scriptures instructing them to mete it out generously to others, may soon have these weapons in their own hands. If thoughts along the same line haunt you, this is your book.
~ Ed Dobeas, Amazon Review

In this sometimes simplistic and misguided book, Harris calls for the end of religious faith in the modern world. Not only does such faith lack a rational base, he argues, but even the urge for religious toleration allows a too-easy acceptance of the motives of religious fundamentalists. Religious faith, according to Harris, requires its adherents to cling irrationally to mythic stories of ideal paradisiacal worlds (heaven and hell) that provide alternatives to their own everyday worlds. Moreover, innumerable acts of violence, he argues, can be attributed to a religious faith that clings uncritically to one set of dogmas or another. Very simply, religion is a form of terrorism for Harris. Predictably, he argues that a rational and scientific view—one that relies on the power of empirical evidence to support knowledge and understanding—should replace religious faith. We no longer need gods to make laws for us when we can sensibly make them for ourselves. But Harris overstates his case by misunderstanding religious faith, as when he makes the audaciously naïve statement that "mysticism is a rational enterprise; religion is not." As William James ably demonstrated, mysticism is far from a rational enterprise, while religion might often require rationality in order to function properly. On balance, Harris's book generalizes so much about both religion and reason that it is ineffectual.
~ Publishers Weekly Review
It is both odd and a mistake to refer to this book as "ineffectual". Mr. Harris points out something which, one hopes, we all already know. And that is, despite it's ability to blind us emotionally, despite the fact that in most cases people come to embrace religion through some form of indoctrination, or in the case of President Bush, come to it as a substitute for other forms of intoxication, religion as an artifact of human thought has long outlived its usefulness. We are no longer tribes squatting in huts teaching our children that the world is flat and if the weather turns it's because some god is angry about the clothes we wear. We now have big, powerful and easily portable weapons.
~ Kerry Leimer

WTF! I'm gonna have to look at this one....and I have.

It is indeed a scathing critique of religion and it's impact on human history and behavior. The real culprit is the human proclivity (need?) to believe--specifically, our belief in religious dogma. Beliefs direct our behavior, and religious beliefs can lead us to perform some violent hateful, self- and other-destructive behavior like nothing else. Indeed, Harris believes this is our most deadly, evolutionary flaw.

Sam Harris offers a somewhat contrarian view of religious moderates. By his definition, religious moderates partition their (few) religious beliefs outside their everyday rational or critical faculties. Their everyday beliefs (best car, best investment, etc.) require evidence--often rigorous evidence. Their religious beliefs do not. For some reason, their religious beliefs bypass any need for evidence.

I liked his thought experiment: Imagine you are from another world with no religious tradition or beliefs. You are stranded on earth years after humans have gone extinct with nothing. Your priorities are to learn how to survive on this new world. What value would the bible be to you then? Very little. Your needs are pragmatic. You seek out wisdom on how to find food, build a shelter, avoid predators. Even as you learned all those necessary, survival things, would you ever see the bible or Torah as anything more than a historical document?

After his long critique of Western religion, Harris turns East for answers: "Mysticism is a rational enterprise, religion is not. The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil."

I think Harris respects the value and validity of the subjective experience. What he is very critical about is personal beliefs that are irrational, or beliefs that are not supported by any evidence.

But "evidence" is tricky. If we value the subjective, then by definition the part of the evidence is that person's experience. But Harris maintains that subjective experience must be tempered by objective evidence and logic. But there's something more to Harris' rebuttal of faith that I'm missing here.

Harris asserts that we should not be striving for religious "tolerance." Because tolerance is treated like the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military regarding sexual orientation. We tolerate what we don't truly acknowledge.

Do we strive for "tolerance" when it comes to the diversity of religions?

Harris argues that we should not always tolerate other's religious beliefs because beliefs lead to behavior, and ridiculous belief leads to ridiculous behavior. But since challenging a person's religious beliefs is taboo and seen as disrespectful, we don't do it...thus we propagate ridiculous beliefs and behavior.

We don't let ridiculous beliefs go unchallenged in other areas of our lives. In biology, medicine, physics, engineering. If an engineer's engineering beliefs were ridiculous, we would challenge them before they had terrible conequences. We don't follow that approach with religious beliefs...And to what result?

Sam Harris
Articulate argument that the bible or other religious books are NOT good models for moral behavior. That the most moral countries are atheistic countries, e.g., Sweden, who did not support the Iraq war, yet welcomes more Iraqi war refugees than the U.S. (Is this true?)

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason - by Sam Harris

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