Wow, that was scary for a moment. I open up Newsweek and find an article with the headline, "Sam Harris Believes in God."
My churchless brain started to scream, Noooooooo! Sam, how could you become a believer?!
After all, Harris wrote a couple of great anti-religious books, "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation." It would have been disappointing for me to find that he had gone over to the dark side of blind belief.
Fortunately, the very first paragraph of the story started to relieve my anxiety.
Sam Harris, a member of the tribe known as “the new atheists,” wishes the headline to this story said something else. How about “Sam Harris Believes in Spirituality,” he suggests over lunch. Or “Sam Harris Believes in ‘God,’ ” with scare quotes?
It turns out that Harris doesn't believe in God as that word is commonly understood. Namely, as a supernatural power or a personal deity who takes an interest in how people live. Rather...
What Sam Harris believes in—rationality, morality, transcendence, humility, awe, community, selflessness, and love—meets a fairly common definition of God.
I don't think that definition is fairly common. Sure, people often say "God is love." But this is different from saying that love (or any other quality of the human brain) is God.
Sure, we can speak of anything as our "God." I often refer to the Great God Google, because it is all-knowing, responds to my requests, and makes my life more fulfilling. I don't take Google's divinity seriously, though.
Along with Harris, I do embrace transcendence as a serious (though also light-hearted) possibility.
Harris’s true obsession, then, is not God but consciousness, the idea that the human mind can be taught—trained, rationally—to be more loving, more generous, less egocentric than it is in its natural state.
This doesn't mean transcending the world and floating into some sort of ethereal immaterial "heaven." Rather, Harris (who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience) considers that selflessness likely is our true nature, since there is no scientific evidence of a enduring self or soul.
He talked about this in a concluding chapter (Experiments in Consciousness) of his first book, "The End of Faith," showing that it is eminently possible to be spiritual -- in a non-supernatural sense -- without crossing over into dogmatic faith-based religiosity.
Investigating the nature of consciousness directly, through sustained introspection, is simply another name for spiritual practice.
It should be clear that whatever transformations of your experience are possible -- after forty days and forty nights in the desert, after twenty years in a cave, or after some new serotonin agonist has been delivered to your synapses -- there will be a matter of changes occurring in the contents of your consciousness.
...It is not so much what they are but what they do that makes neurons see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, and feel. Like any other function that emerges from the activity of the brain, the feeling of self is best thought of a process.
...In subjective terms, the search for the self seems to entail a paradox: we are, after all, looking for the very thing that is doing the looking. Thousands of years of human experience suggests, however, that the paradox here is only apparent: it is not merely that the component of our experience that we call "I" cannot be found; it is that it actually disappears when looked for in a rigorous way.
..."Meditation," in the sense that I use it here, refers to any means whereby our sense of "self" -- of subject/object dualism in perception and cognition -- can be made to vanish, while consciousness remains vividly aware of the continuum of experience.
Inevitably, the primary obstacle to meditation is thinking. This leads many people to assume that the goal of meditation is to produce a thought-free state.
It is true that some experiences entail the temporary cessation of thought, but meditation is less a matter of suppressing thoughts than of breaking our identification with them, so that we can recognize the condition in which thoughts themselves arise.
...It is on this front that the practice of meditation reveals itself to be both intellectually serious and indispensable. There is something to realize about the nature of consciousness, and its realization does not entail thinking new thoughts.