THE END OF FAITH:
THE FUTURE OF REASON
Geoffrey W. Sutton
The 9/11 Islamic terrorists emblazoned the psychological truism of the path from belief to
behavior on the minds of millions. The world saw the lethiferous power of religious belief. We witnessed the purpose driven death. Sam Harris pummels readers with invidious images of destruction associated with religious belief. We may well dispute many of his conclusions but the ineluctable truth is that beliefs matter. At times acerbic, Harris has prepared a puissant polemic focused primarily upon the terror of Islam with ample scathing visited upon Christianity and Judaism.
His thesis is that the beliefs of religious people have become unhinged from reason to the point that meaningful conversations cannot take place.
In chapters two and three, Harris examines the notion of belief and the manner in which
numerous contradictory beliefs are accumulated from early authority figures. He notes important findings that people are conservative—they do not easily give up beliefs. As beliefs develop into a worldview, a subset deals with matters of religious faith. By way of example, Harris shows the importance of re-examining beliefs that can have powerful consequences on health and well-being. Harris provides two historical examples of the inquisition and the holocaust to demonstrate the incredible power of malevolent belief systems to wreak havoc in the lives of hapless victims.
Harris wages war on Islam in chapter four. His major point is that there is a reason we are facing Islamic terrorists rather than people of another faith—the principle of jihad. He acknowledges that apologists for Islam interpret the jihad as a personal struggle but warns of those warriors who believe in a holy war against all non-Muslims, who are by definition infidels or apostate. To further his point, he quotes several several hadithic lines that encourage war on earth and promise eternal rewards for martyrs. He follows this litany with a list of massacres and pogroms against Jews and quotations from Pew Research that support an alarmingly high percentage of people in various countries that affirm the justification of suicide bombing in the name of Islam (e.g., Lebanon 73%, Ivory Coast 56%).
In West of Eden (chapter 5), the author challenges the extant American Theocracy, which is
primarily an attack on the two-term presidency of George W. Bush and the values of Christian fundamentalists that he believes were foisted on the general public. This analysis appears a bit dated given the 2008 Presidential election, but might apply to the 2016 election. However, there are clearly laws and political positions related to such issues as abortion, stem cell research, certain substances (e.g., alcohol, marijuana), and same-sex marriage that are likely to persist into the future and which are trigger points for particular clusters of American Christians (e.g., see A House Divided).
Harris wishes to take us beyond religion toward a science of good and evil (chapter 6).
His position appears to turn on defining that which is moral as that which affects happiness
or suffering in others in the present era (rather than an era in which leading religious texts were written). He rejects moral relativism and pragmatism and appeals to moral facts that can inform regarding happiness and pain. He buttresses his moral position with numerous exemplars of immoral behavior wrought by religious leaders. He also exposes the ethical limitations of pacifists who would not use lethal force to protect the innocent when faced with an unscrupulous enemy. Though Harris makes powerful sparring points, which would undoubtedly ring cheers from many audiences, he has not established a groundwork for his metaphysics of morality. In the language of psychology, he has failed to operationally define happiness and suffering in such a way that the concepts have clear criterial attributes. Instead, he has left us with a few strident examples of evil, which do not begin to
limn the contours of the perennial debate.
spirituality. Harris explores the notion of the self and the experience of self and otherness found in various mystic traditions. On the whole, Harris does not accomplish much here. His argument lacks a substantive basis that would support his endeavor to bring mystical experience within the realm of neuroscience. Readers familiar with neurotheology and neurophilosophy will note a more nuanced approach to apprehending the emergent phenomenon of mind. He appears aware of this weakness in the Epilogue, which is worth reading to glimpse his manner of responding to challenges.
The God Delusion
The Case for God
Caught in the Pulpit