Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Response to Sam Harris

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, has posted an excerpt from An Atheist Manifesto (to be published at truthdig in December) on the Huffington Post.

I own Harris' book and agree with much he has to say about the downside of organized religion. However, atheism is a reductionistic worldview that denies the existence of Spirit.

From the article:
Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

Please read the whole article, much of which seems to make sense from a flatland point-of-view. My response attempts to look through an integral lens at the bigger picture of Harris' argument.

Mr. Harris,

Your critique of traditional religion is necessary and accurate. However, your assertion of the moral superiority of atheism is reductionistic and misinformed.

Human beings (and their cultures) develop along a hierarchy, with each new level of development being more complex and more expansive than its predecessor. Consequently, religious expression also develops along a hierarchy. What you rail against is a 2000-year-old worldview that revolves around divine order and conformist rule. You approach that worldview from the next step up on the hierarchy, scientific rationalism -- and of course their view looks silly to you.

What you fail to understand is that all steps along the hierarchy of development are necessary. The monotheistic religions you despise are crucial to controlling the ego drive for power of the previous stage in human development. Remove the religion (from the inner city, for example) and the ego has no framework in which to become socialized (thus, gang culture). Human beings cannot skip a stage in their development, either as individuals or as cultures (witness the rise of Catholicism in Africa, which will eventually tame the tribal warfare ethic that now exists).

While your critique of the downside of religion is valid, your short-sightedness is dangerous. There may not be a God in your worldview, but the Kosmos (used in the Greek sense of the word) is not a random place without meaning.


Anonymous said...

"I own Harris' book and agree with much he has to say about the downside of organized religion. However, atheism is a reductionistic worldview that denies the existence of Spirit."

Right after you write this, you quote Harris as saying that atheism isn't a philosophy - i.e., not a worldview. Yet, you don't address this contradiction. You can't criticize atheism as an "incorrect" worldview without addressing the fact that atheists will keep telling you that it's not a worldview in the first place.

You'll fail, though. Harris is right. Atheism is not a philosophy. There are many philosophies, religions, ideologies, and worldviews which incorporate atheism (just as there are many which incorporate theism). Some are what you criticize. Others are not.

william harryman said...

I don't attempt to refute Harris' assertion that atheism isn't a worldview because it is inherently invalid. The rejection of any divinity is a worldview, whether he says it isn't or not. He can no more prove the non-existence of divinity any more than a Christian can prove the existence of god. What he claims to be so "obvious" is an assertion lacking any ability to be tested -- therefore, it is no more valid than any claim for the existence of god.

Tom Carr said...

Well, you can't prove a negative. You can't prove Thor or Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy don't exist. You can't prove that George Bush doesn't talk to God, but does that mean you shouldn't point out the likelyhood that it is a nutty idea?