Enough is Enough

When is Humanity Going to Get That We’re All in This Together?

Sam Harris on the Importance of Breaking Religion’s Spell

Posted by honestpoet on November 18, 2008

Here’s an excellent bit from the question and answer period after a debate with Rabbi Wolpe. I’ve been watching a lot of Mr. Harris on YouTube, and I have to say that I like him even more than Richard Dawkins. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dawkins, but, as an American, Harris is more aware of the need to speak with the religious politely and without snarkiness. Dawkins can come off a bit smug, which is a mistake when dealing with the American religious, who already feel beset and belittled, and whose defense mechanisms thereby fly up as soon as the subject is broached with any sort of superior attitude.

Here’s another bit: Sam Harris at the TruthDig conference, talking about how beliefs have consequences, and why the taboo on not examining religious beliefs needs to be lifted.

Here he is talking about the relative morality of various books of the Bible and what would happen if as a society we actually followed it.

And one more, at the Idea Festival in Aspen, where he disputes a lot of common misconceptions about atheism:

If you’d like to hear more of what he has to say, here’s the link to his website, which includes links to a number of articles and videos (including the full debate with Rabbi Wolpe). His thinking is even more in line with my own than Richard Dawkins’s. Dawkins and the rest of the recent crop of atheistic authors turn their backs on mystical experience, whereas Sam Harris, while approaching it as a skeptic, acknowledges that there’s something there to examine that could prove worthwhile, perhaps yielding up that which religions seek but never truly find, tied up as they are in their supernatural superstitions and dogmatism. He’s experienced contemplative states and acknowledges that they can lead to an increase in the ability to experience empathy and compassion, which are clearly in short supply these days.

A neurobiologist, he was motivated to start writing by the events of 9/11, and his focus is on the affect of beliefs on behaviors. Some people have painted him as some sort of warmonger Islamophobe, but that’s hardly the case when you read the suspect passages in context. Does he say that people holding the beliefs indoctrinated by Islam can be led therewith to bad behavior? Absolutely, but that’s hardly the same thing.


4 Responses to “Sam Harris on the Importance of Breaking Religion’s Spell”

  1. Monte said

    Intriguing guy – acknowledging that mystical experience is “something there to examine.” You are right about the more combative set being less effective in the US. The more explicitly anti-religious (different from being anti-taboo) often strike me as secularists arguing as fundamentalists, struggling to enforce views by “as any idiot can see” win-lose argument, rather than inviting careful thought and reasoned skepticism.

  2. Monte said

    “We are complicit in this process by not criticizing them [those who advocate violence as a result of religious belief] publicly, relentlessly, incessantly until we break this spell.”

    How true! And for me, following the speck-or-log-in-the-eye principle, confronting my fellow Christians with this criticism is a significant part of what I think I need to be about. For they would all too readily confront and fear Muslims, all the while unaware that Christians are more likely to see violence against civilians as appropriate than Muslims are (according to Gallup’s worldwide poll of Muslims).

  3. honestpoet said

    I watched everything I could after coming across a few bits on youtube. He’s one of the most thoughtful people I’ve yet to discover. Would that we had more! I agree with you about the anti-religious…the point should be dialog, not being “right.” And I wish you luck with your congregation (in real life and online). I have a feeling, though, that the people who listen to you on a regular basis are already pretty ethically advanced.

  4. Monte said

    A moving compliment – thank you very much!

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