Like all of us, Sam Harris has changed over the years.
Following the publication of his acclaimed The End of Faith in 2004, Harris became well known as an eloquent advocate for atheism against the foolishness of religion, joining other noted atheists -- Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett -- who were known as "The Four Horsemen of the New Atheism."
Since, Harris has written additional books and has fashioned a vibrant online presence through his Waking Up app and Making Sense podcast. He still bashes religion, but appears more concerned with other subjects, such as helping people experience the notions of no-self, emptiness, and lack of free will that are compatible both with Buddhism and neuroscience. (Harris has a Ph.D. in neuroscience.)
I was reminded of the old-time Harris when You Tube kept displaying to me a video called "Sam Harris: Arguments Against Religion - Part 1." This is a compilation of highlights from talks and debates Harris did after The End of Faith came out.
I've been listening to the video while I exercise. It's inspiring stuff. Well, unless you're religious. Then you'll think this is blasphemous disgusting stuff. Harris doesn't pull any punches. He hits hard at the ridiculousness of religion, using facts and logic to make his case.
There's a quote in the Amazon listing for The End of Faith that reflects how I feel when I watch the video.
"The End of Faith articulates the dangers and absurdities of organized religion so fiercely and so fearlessly that I felt relieved as I read it, vindicated....Harris writes what a sizable number of us think, but few are willing to say."―Natalie Angier, New York Times
Truth-telling has tremendous power.
Harris isn't a comedian, though he does make humorous remarks, but this video has something in common with an edgy stand-up comic. We laugh because the comic is fearless about making fun of "sacred cows," forbidden topics, that usually aren't talked about in polite company.
In Harris' case, it isn't so much laughter that he elicits from me (though sometimes that happens), but a sense of "Oh, yeah, that's just how I feel, but for some reason I've been reluctant to say it as directly as Harris does." Well, one reason is that I'm not as knowledgeable as Harris is, or as eloquent.
Can't do anything about that. But I can try to be more honest about how I genuinely feel about certain subjects, following in Harris' truth-telling footsteps. For example...
Harris spoke about the insanity of allowing Iron Age myths found in the Old Testament and Jewish lore to inform 21st century warfare and politics. A large proportion of Israelis believe that God gave the Jews territory in the Middle East, so they're now entitled to it. Lots of Christians in the United States believe the same crazy thing.
As Harris notes, a belief is a statement about reality, truth. It's different from a hope.
It isn't crazy for an Israeli to think, "I hope my country can keep control of the West Bank." I don't share that hope, since I favor a two-state solution where Palestinians have their own country. However, it's a lot more acceptable than a bizarre belief that God, the cosmic real estate agent, bequeathed land to Jews.
There's zero evidence supporting that belief, just as there's zero evidence supporting any other supernatural claim religions make. Yet religious people usually aren't challenged about their fact-free beliefs in the same way someone would be if they claimed the moon landings were faked, or that Donald Trump had the 2020 presidential election stolen from him.
Since Harris was speaking not long after the 2001 9/11 attacks by Muslim terrorists on the United States, he was blunt about the Koran -- which he correctly calls not the word of Allah, but one of the world's most boring and poorly written books. Of course, Muslims believe it was dictated to Muhammad by an angel, so every word in it is true.
That sort of religious dogmatism obviously is highly dangerous. Islamic martyrs believe that they'll head to paradise if they die killing infidels. Clearly they're wrong. But that's no comfort to those who lose their lives in the name of Muslim terrorism.
I'm not as familiar as Harris is with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim history. I do know that he's absolutely correct about how the Bible in no way is divine, but purely human.
The content of the Bible has changed a great deal over the centuries. Some parts of it have been deleted, with other parts added. Editing has altered the meaning of passages to make them conform to how Christians want to spin the story of Jesus, whose supposed miracles aren't unique at all, but were taken from myths floating around the Middle East long before Jesus supposedly existed.
In short, all religions are B.S. (The only exception is non-supernatural Buddhism, which is highly psychological and thus open to confirmation or rejection.) This includes the Eastern religion I was a member of for thirty-five years, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
The hour is late and I don't feel like pointing out all the absurdities taught by RSSB, many of which I never really believed in. So I'll limit myself to one absurdity that comes easily to mind: the belief that Kal, the negative power (think Devil, more or less) who oversees the lower realms of creation, got his position by impressing God with an impressive display of athleticism.
Here's an excerpt from my 2009 post, "A dialogue about Radha Soami Satsang Beas." The dialogue was between me and Shiloh, who wrote to me because she was concerned about her sister being sucked into a cult. Shiloh asked me some questions about RSSB, which I answered, then got comments on those answers from Shiloh.
(5) Are Kal and the mind used to dispel the disciple’s rational assessment of the master and his words and actions?
Brian: Absolutely. Questioning is supposed to happen before initiation. Afterwards, the initiate is warned to beware of Kal, the Universal Mind who stood on one foot for eons and earned the right from God to rule the lower regions of creation. (Shiloh: Great heavens! How spiritually athletic!) Kal's job is to keep souls here, and the mind is his means of doing so.
Shiloh: I rest my case. The above-mentioned attitude nullifies the checks and balances ingrained into our very souls to guard against deception. Willfully giving up the critical mind must indefinitely commit one to labor, with dwarfed mentality, through a spiritual never-never land where the only hope of eventual rescue is through painful disillusionment. Since my sister defensively denied that there was any such requirement, she obviously knows, deep down, how dubious this is.