Friday, May 12, 2006

Sam Harris Interview


An interview with Sam Harris was posted on Beliefnet a few days ago. I know that I am in the minority in being irritated by his inability to see the big picture of human development. Many people enjoy his continual denigration of organized religion. He constantly urges his followers to disabuse those who believe in one of the traditional religions of their presumed ignorance.

As I have suggested here, here, here, here, and here, Harris's hatred of organized religion reveals his own lack of understanding of human development. The Blue meme cannot be removed from the planet; it cannot be convinced that it is wrong; and it is crucial to controlling the egoic power drives of the Red meme. Harris needs to read a whole lot of integral theory, especially Wilber, Kegan, Beck, and Gebser.

Here is the beginning of the interview:

Sam Harris is not your grandfather's atheist. The award-winning writer practices Zen meditation and believes in the value of mystical experiences. But he's adamant in his belief that religion does more harm than good in the world, and has sparked controversy by suggesting that when it comes to faith-based violence, religious moderates are part of the problem, not the solution. Beliefnet editor Laura Sheahen spoke with him about his provocative book "The End of Faith" and his comments at the World Congress of Secular Humanism, where this interview was conducted.

You've said that nonbelievers must try to convince religious people "of the illegitimacy of their core beliefs." Why are these beliefs dangerous?

On the subject of religious belief, we relax standards of reasonableness and evidence that we rely on in every other area of our lives. We relax so totally that people believe the most ludicrous propositions, and are willing to organize their lives around them. Propositions like "Jesus is going to come back in the next fifty years and rectify every problem that human beings create"--or, in the Muslim world, "death in the right circumstances leads directly to Paradise." These beliefs are not very contaminated with good evidence.

You're saying we should be part of the human race, not part of any particular religious or national group?

Yeah. It is still fashionable to believe that how you organize yourself religiously in this life may matter for eternity. Unless we can erode the prestige of that kind of thinking, we're not going to be able to undermine these divisions in our world.

To speak specifically of our problem with the Muslim world, we are meandering into a genuine clash of civilizations, and we're deluding ourselves with euphemisms. We're talking about Islam being a religion of peace that's been hijacked by extremists. If ever there were a religion that's not a religion of peace, it is Islam.

Read the whole interview here.

There really is a lot to like in Harris's views, it's simply his tunnel vision and lack of a larger, integral context that makes him dangerous and ineffectual.

Taking on his major point: we cannot convince those who are firmly entrenched in the Blue meme to give up their worldview. Take Christianity, for example, it has the most potent virus protection there is: eternal suffering in hell. Most other major religions have something equally as dreadful (unending reincarnations in samsara, for example).

Harris implicitly assumes that his rationality can defeat what he sees as the irrationality of religious belief. I wonder how that's working for him. There are many fervent believers who are fully capable of rational thought, and yet they still believe.

Anyway, it's a good interview, so go have a look.


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