It’s always a delight to read Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. He’s got a knack for speaking honestly about subjects that often are taboo topics in polite conversation.
Like, “Why do you cling to such weird religious beliefs?” In a November 13, 2006 Newsweek essay, “The Case Against Faith,” Harris socks it to the faithful in six paragraphs that had me cheering from my seat in the churchless bleachers.
After lamenting that more than half of Americans believe the entire cosmos was created 6,000 years ago, he says:
This is embarrassing. But add to this comedy of false certainties the fact that 44 percent of Americans are certain that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years, and you will glimpse the terrible liability of this sort of thinking.
Given the most common interpretation of Biblical prophecy, it is not an exaggeration to say that nearly half the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. It should be clear that this faith-based nihilism provides its adherents with absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization — economically, environmentally or geopolitically.
Newsweek calls the essay “an atheist’s lament.” Well, I don’t know how Harris describes himself, but I’ve read just about everything he’s written and he doesn’t strike me as an atheist. He seems to have the same attitude toward religion that I do: blind faith is a dead end while empirical experience leads somewhere.
From the last two paragraphs of The End of Faith:
Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognized something about consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion.
…A kernel of truth lurks at the heart of religion, because spiritual experience, ethical behavior, and strong communities are essential for human happiness. And yet our religious traditions are intellectually defunct and politically ruinous. While spiritual experience is clearly a natural propensity of the human mind, we need not believe anything on insufficient evidence to actualize it.
Clearly, it must be possible to bring, reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of faith.