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Archive for the ‘Richard Dawkins’ Category

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.

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God is Not Great: Excellent Excerpt at Slate

Posted by honestpoet on April 27, 2007

Here’s one of three excerpts from Christopher Hitchens’s book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I haven’t read the other two yet, but this was so good I had to post it here.

A little bit to whet your appetite:

While some religious apology is magnificent in its limited way—one might cite Pascal—and some of it is dreary and absurd—here one cannot avoid naming C. S. Lewis—both styles have something in common, namely the appalling load of strain that they have to bear. How much effort it takes to affirm the incredible! The Aztecs had to tear open a human chest cavity every day just to make sure that the sun would rise. Monotheists are supposed to pester their deity more times than that, perhaps, lest he be deaf. How much vanity must be concealed—not too effectively at that—in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan? How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one’s own sin? How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to “fit” with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities? How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required in order first to be able to establish a dogma and then—after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty—to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas? God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.

Posted in anti-establishment clause, atheism, Christianity, Christianofascism, fundamentalism, Islam, Jesus, Jews, misogyny, Muslims, politics, prayer, religion, Richard Dawkins, ridiculous beliefs, secular humanism, separation of church and state, skepticism, terrorism, witchcraft | 18 Comments »

The Toxicity of Religion

Posted by honestpoet on December 12, 2006

I’ve decided to start using this blog. This’ll be the first of many posts, maybe not daily, but frequent. I had been blogging elsewhere, at a new-agey forum that had purported to be a site for cultural activists but which turned out to be yet another place for irrational people to get together and air their imbecilic beliefs and insist that you can’t disagree because everything is a matter of perspective. And while I’m all for acknowledging the perspective of the Other (which I think is the basis of ethics and morality), that doesn’t mean that there isn’t such a thing as right and wrong, or good and evil. Reality and wishful thinking.

I agree with Richard Dawkins when he says, well, just about anything, because we’re on the same reality-based wave-length. But what I started to say with that sentence was that I agree that it’s time for atheists, or, to cast us in a less negative light, skeptics, to come out of the closet and voice our doubts, ask our questions, and risk offending.

As Irshad Manji says in her excellent book, The Trouble with Islam, people need to be willing to risk “ruining the moment.” (Though she’s referring to Westerners desiring to engage Muslims in discussing the problems they’re having with violent extremists.) It’s okay to hurt people’s feelings if it’s necessary to arrive at a rational solution to the problems facing humanity. Feelings pass. No blood’s lost when your beliefs are challenged.

And let’s face it. Humanity is royally f*&ck%d. And religion is the primary cause of our sorry state. It’s toxic to mental health. How could it be otherwise, when “faith” requires such mental gymnastics? A psychiatrist in my close acquaintance tells me there’s a clear demographic difference between the general population and the occupants of the ward. Pentecostals are the largest number. Southern Baptists next. Sometimes a Catholic or Jew. Once a Wiccan, though I’m sure in cities where they’re more common, they’re filling a few beds. But never, not once in his decade of practice, an atheist. Now, the incidence of purely biological pathologies like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are more or less the same across the religious/non-religious spectrum, but the kind of things that stem from drug abuse, abuse or other trauma — post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder — overwhelmingly afflict the religious. The more fundamental, literalist, extreme the strain, the more toxic. Now, some of these folks are in fact the victims of an incestuous or violent (or both) relative (most often the father). But others have simply had an irrational mindset forced upon them, and can’t free themselves without pathological guilt, which manifests in one or more of the above. For this reason I also agree with Richard Dawkins when he says that raising a child with religion is tantamount to child abuse.

How much more positive, how much more sane, to raise a child to experience the world without the distorting filter of religion. To teach science, not only what is known, but how it’s known, so that s/he may grow up with an inherent understanding that s/he can add to that knowledge, can explore the world and her/his place in it, unfettered by guilt or a disdain for the beauty that abounds here, which is unavoidable when raised to believe that the world is an illusion, a temptation.

And just as importantly, if not more so, with an awareness that every other human on the planet is in a very real way kin. Though experiencing the travesty that is modern culture in America sometimes leads me to cynicism, I try to hang on to hope that humanity will do better than this. That one day (in the not-too-distant future, if I have my way), we’ll have learned the lesson that we’re dying for: that we now have a Creation Story that we can all share. It’s called Evolution, and it’s ongoing. Not a one-time creation, but cosmogenesis. How incredible, to be a part of a living, constantly created universe. As humans, we have a chance to have a hand in that creation. We’ve spent enough time destroying it already.

Posted in atheism, evolution, psychiatry, Richard Dawkins, science, secular humanism, skepticism | 2 Comments »