Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sam Harris's Fundamentalism

Sam Harris has taken up the cause of atheism, or more precisely, scientism, with such a fervor that he has clearly become as insular, narrow-minded, and fanatical as the religious extremists he often castigates.

His latest offering, Science Must Destroy Religion, is nothing more than a manifesto for scientism (science as religion). Normally I wouldn't care, but people listen to this guy. He has a platform to reach millions of people. There are a lot of people in this country who are sick and tired of fundamentalist religions that are waging wars and burning books. We have our own American Taliban in the form of Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and Concerned Women for America. To some, Harris seems to offer a logical alternative.

But his alternative is flatland--all science, no soul. He is Orange Meme to the core, with a little Red Meme rebellion thrown in to fuel his outrage. This isn't the answer.

What Harris really hates is an unhealthy Blue Meme trying to run the world. The solution isn't to eradicate Blue, but rather to help it become healthy. We need to create conditions for Blue to feel safe enough that it can relinquish its hold on Red anger and move toward Orange reason. It need not give up its faith in a higher order, in cause and effect, and in God to make that leap. God is not eliminated by Orange Meme rationality.

Don Beck has convincingly argued that we cannot change people, we can only change the life conditions so that people may change if they are ready. I agree with this approach.

The first step is to set limits on Green Meme efforts to make the world politically correct. The whole "war on Christmas" fiasco was an attempt by Blue to get out from under its perceived dominance by Green Meme relativism. Blue's war on evolution (a war against the Orange Meme Harris represents) is another example of its sense that it is no longer safe to be Blue in this culture. Orange must become more tolerant--the Orange Meme atheists (Harris and Richard Dawkins are the best examples) are rabidly anti-religion. Scientism just makes Blue feel more persecuted.

We should not teach creationism in the classroom, nor should we marginalize those who choose to believe in divine creation. Christianity is still the majority religion in this nation, and it has political power. We are better served by creating space for their beliefs to be honored than we are in ridiculing them. Again, this does not mean that we should burn books that some Christians find offensive or do away with Darwin.

Blue is an essential developmental stage that we must go through as individuals and as a culture. The bottom line is that our culture is slowly shifting its center of gravity from Blue-orange to blue-Orange, with an increasing number of Green folk making things interesting. Blue will not go down without a fight. People like Sam Harris just make them want to fight that much harder.


JMP said...

I took a look at the Harris article and overall I agree with you about the flatland scientism. There were some promising openings, though, such as when he wrote: "... distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and non-ordinary states of consciousness from our conversation about the world; it is a matter of our being rigorous about what is reasonable to conclude on their basis..." That could almost be something Ken Wilber would write. Almost. But then Harris goes on with the scientism and it really is too much.

william harryman said...

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the comments and for mentioning my post on your blog.

Yeah, I agree with you about glimmers of hope in his views. When I first read reviews of The End of Faith, I really wanted to like Harris. But the more I read his writings, especially In Defense of Torture, the more I am disappointed by his limited and dangerous views.

Anonymous said...

Well, folks, if you think Harris's views are dangerous, then what do you think of the views of fundamentalists of whatever ilk, who possess nuclear weapons? Is the sense of urgency that I feel, just (only) a panic attack? Creating space for them is fine, but not if they use the space to destroy everything. Is this just a risk that must be taken? What are the safe ways of creating that space for them?

william harryman said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm assuming you are referencing Islamic fundamentalists in your comments, so that is what I'll address.

ALL forms of fundamentalism scare the hell out of me. Islamic fundamentalism, for a variety of very complex reasons, is much more militant than other fundamentalisms--mostly due to tribal mullahs who misrepresent the teachings of Muhammad.

Nothing personal, but part of the "sense of urgency" you feel has been created by Bush's attempts to brainwash the American public into thinking that we are under threat of an immediate attack--it's the only way he can create enough fear to convince people to give up their civil liberties and to convince Congress to consolidate power in the executive branch of government--but that's another issue.

Having spoken to people from the Middle East who are Islamic, I think that a major part of the problem--like it or not--is that these people feel we are trying to force them to give up their faith and their cultural traditions. In SDi terms, we are asking them to jump from red/Blue to blue/Orange without the necessary social and cultural evolution that a normal growth up the Spiral would entail.

If we would allow them to govern themselves without our continual demands to do things our way, they would not feel so threatened by the U.S. and would likely not feel they need to blow things up over here to get our attention. With this in mind, I do think it's fair for us to ask them not to kill women whenever they feel like it or to prevent them from holding jobs, leaving the house, or even speaking unless spoken to. I also think it's fair to help them build more schools that teach a full spectrum of knolwedge rather than only having access to madrassas (Islamic religious schools).

We can't force people to make large leaps up the Spiral of human development, no matter how many cell phones, cars, and televisions we sell them. Each person and each culture must be allowed to develop at its own pace. In the Middle East, if we stopped trying force our worldview down their throats, they'd stop trying to kill us (no matter what Bush says to the contrary).


Anonymous said...

I also agree with you in re: The Harris article. I disagree in part. Pathological elements like fundamentalism need to be cut out or healed...not tolerated and allowed into the public sphere where they create more sickness. Would we tolerate smallpox virus floating around in our breathing spaces? Garbage in/Garbage out when it comes to the process of evolution. Virulent memes like fundamentalism need to be challenged and eliminated. I agree with Harris on this point.