This important and timely book delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in today's world.
Sam Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favour of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify harmful behaviour and sometimes heinous crimes.
He asserts that in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer tolerate views that pit one true god against another.
Most controversially, he argues that we cannot afford moderate lip service to religion -- an accommodation that only blinds us to the real perils of fundamentalism.
While warning against the encroachment of organised religion into world politics, Harris also draws on new evidence from neuroscience and insights from philosophy to explore spirituality as a biological, brain-based need.
He calls on us to invoke that need in taking a secular humanistic approach to solving the problems of this world.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 336 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publication Date: 06/02/2006
- Category: Philosophy of religion
- ISBN: 9780743268097
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- Paperback from £6.75
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by bduguid
To call this book provocative is something of an understatement - it's an attack on ideals held very dear by many, from the sanctity of religious faith through to the desirability of religious tolerance. It's also highly persuasive, and a timely wake-up call to anyone who dislikes religion but believes that private beliefs should go unchallenged.Harris's key concern is pragmatic: there are religious fundamentalists happy to kill both themselves and others on the basis of their faith in particular holy books, and we must find the best way of stopping them. Harris's view is that the way to do so is to undermine all religion, not just that of the fundamentalists.He notes that "religious tolerance", the liberal consensus which minimises conflict between believers and non-believers, and between moderates and radicals, allows fundamentalism to flourish because it creates a climate where only actions can be challenged, not the beliefs that cause them. Harris (with some tendency to exaggeration) downplays the political causes of terrorism which other writers focus on, and concentrates on the central absurdity that makes acts like suicide bombing possible - belief in reward in the afterlife.Harris rarely minces words. The book is filled with quotable invective, which depending on your perspective you'll either find inspiring or apalling. As a rant, it's highly articulate and very well-argued.Harris pours scorn particularly on Islam and Christianity, enumerating the false beliefs to be found in their holy books and devoting a chapter each to their flaws. Judaism gets off more lightly, and he clearly has more sympathy for Israel than its neighbours. Eastern mysticism such as Buddhism gets off most lightly of all, on the grounds that it is to some extent a tradition of empirical investigation, not just a compendium of antiquated superstitions.There are very interesting chapters that discuss the philosophical arguments against faith - one on the nature of belief and another on ethics. Many of his arguments (e.g. in favour of torture under certain circumstances) are initially repellent, and some of his ideas are unfairly contradictory (particularly a support for Western bombing of civilians while criticising Islamic support for the same - although his grounds are reasonable, if you accept his argument that the West would avoid "collateral damage" if it could, while Islamic terrorists actively seek it out, he remains far from even-handed).The flaws are hardly relevant, as there's no need to agree with everything here to get the main point - that only by challenging all irrational religious views can we hope to create a future free from murderous extremists.
Review by fieldri1
Sam Harris is one of the select band who are often collectivelydescribed as the 'New Atheists'. Along with Richard Dawkins, DanielDennet and PZ Myers he has put his head above the pulpit and asked that he be counted.This book starts off as a powerful essay against religion. Importantlyhe isn't reserving his ire for any particular religion. But he isaiming his criticism at all religions.The reason is simple. By their very nature religions don't countenancethe fact that any one other religion can be right. In one Ann Coultervideo for instance, she parroted one party line where Jews are 'just'unperfected Christians. The problem is that this attitude, whencombined with teachings which instruct the believer to kill those ofother religions and with weapons that make instantaneous genocide apossibility is a very dangerous attitude. In fact the dangers dwarf allprevious dangers from warfare. Simply put, in the Cold War erastability was maintained by the tasteless acronym 'MAD' (mutuallyassured destruction), but in the modern era MAD no longer holds sway.After all, if your people are wiped out on mass following a strikeagainst the infidels then everyone in your country would be a matyr!After this powerful start Sam Harris moves on to the subject ofSpirituality. This might sound like a bit of an odd direction for sucha book to go in, but the thesis is that humans are spiritual and can beso quite separately from any given religion. There follows a longtreatise upon the nature of reality, and how much of what we experienceis filtered by our conciousness. This was of less interest to me,though the conclusions drawn are incisive and interesting.Unfortunately this part of the book for me dragged horribly, especiallysome of the notes which included long asides on the dual nature ofexperience and philisophical attempts to prove which is more 'real' -pragmatism or realism. By the end of the end note, I had to admit Ididn't really care...So over all the book was interesting and an enjoyable read. However,the first half of the book is much more to my liking than the second.One point that I did disagree with strongly seemed to me (as anon-American) to be written with a very distorted view. At one point,when discussing the immorality of terrorist acts Harris takes exceptionto what he describes as the Chomsky school of apologists. His argumentis that when engaged in wars like the Gulf Wars (I and II) and theirequivalents the US is trying not to cause 'collateral damage', and thatthis intent to minimise non-combatant casualities marks the Americansout from terrorists as being on the 'moral high ground'.This is, of course utter poppycock. The US military machine may havetechnological weapons which lower the collateral damage, but bothAmerican foreign policy and the use of military technology repeatedlycauses massive civilian deaths. From the use of cluster bombs (the UScurrently refuses to ratify any treaty to stop deployment) to support todirty proxy wars, to claim a moral high ground is laughable, ifunderstandable given the blinkered American view of the world... But this is, in the context of the book a small point (it just irked me at the time!)
Review by soylentgreen23
Books about, or rather, arguing against, religion have become very popular in the last couple of years; Dawkins led the charge, followed closely by Hitchens's more erudite analysis. It would be easy to lose Sam Harris in the mix, assuming that he retreads the same ground, makes the same arguments, and generally carries the same tone. None of that is true - Harris's book is worth reading for the very simple reason that it is original. In short, it is a fine addition to the atheist's bookshelf - or the spiritualist's, if you're looking for another approach.
Review by ecw0647
updated 4/12. It has always been clear to me that faith-based belief systems eliminate the possibility of conversation and the alternative to conversation is violence. For example, if you want to discuss a policy issue that relates to a faith-based belief, the dialogue ceases when one says "I don't believe that." There can be no response.<br/><br/>Sam Harris, but much more articulately. He argues that current world conflicts relate to incompatible religious doctrines; that even thought the Israeli-Palestinian debate is framed in terms of land, the theological claims on the real estate are incompatible. Moderates remain blind to the impact of religious dogma on behavior. Harris argues in his book that we need to take religious dogmatists at their word; if they say that blowing themselves up in the service of their belief will gain them a place in heaven, we should believe them.<br/><br/>Is there an alternative to religious faith? Either God exists or he doesn't. What's the alternative to believing in Santa Claus. No one wants to be the last kid in class to believe in Santa. There doesn't have to be an alternative to faith. We can relinquish our religious beliefs. There are no consequences. Only 10% of Swedes are believers unlike 80% of Americans. Change the word God to Zeus. How many people would insist that we hang on to Zeus. When the tsunami killed thousands, wouldn't it have made more sense to suggest we pray to Poseidon, just to cover all the bases?<br/><br/>Harris argues that whatever is true ultimately transcends cultures. We don't talk about Christian physics or Moslem algebra. An experiment in physics done in Baghdad will be just as legitimate in Los Angeles. The challenge for us is to find ways for us to find terms that don't require belief in anything that has insufficient evidence. "A fundamental willingness to be open to evidence is essential for the conversation."<br/><br/>"Blasphemy is a victimless crime."
Review by pathogenik
One of the few books that I gave away because it is filled with hatred, intolerance, and fallacies. He exploits 9/11 blaming it on Islam, disregarding the fact that al-qaeda who did the terrorist attacks were trained and funded by the CIA. He picks lines out of context from holy books and explains them as he wishes to. And of course, he says nothing about how religious people were massacred by atheists because it doesn't serve his idea of how religions are dangerous, he is just pointing out how religious people kill other people. He is nonetheless open to mysticism, I wonder if that is because there's one hell of an industry franchise behind it... I don't remember communism being a religious political system, I took Philosophy 200 and Sociology 200, and they implied otherwise. but maybe we're all wrong, and Harris knows better...<br/>these are the things I vaguely remember now about the book, some 5 years after I've initially read it but failed to finish it, naturally.<br/>There was a time when I read Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennet, looking for something of substance, with some philosophical/factual/objective/scientific/mind-enlightening truths, but instead I found some fiction with an element of subjective pop-science with a twist of intolerance. I distinctively remember how Dawkins used in his 'the God delusion' some unreliable sources (blogs and websites) filled with fallacies and lies attributing them to monotheistic religions, and how he claimed that there are no historical evidence for Jesus's existence, then in an interview he admitted that all historical material prove that Jesus DID exist, but that he needed to dramatize the story line. All these trendy prominent militant atheism books that I have read have proved to be fiction books, and thus I stopped reading them. Well, I'm just glad I got rid of them, they have no place on my shelves.<br/>