"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The End of Faith; Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.

I wrote on 31 July about Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith; Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. I have now finished it and find its conclusions unsatisfactory. Another time I will write a more detailed review but for today it is late and I am tired so I will just make one or two points!

I mentioned before how I disliked and questioned his assumption about the link between wars and religion. I also have to take issue with his basic assumption, made very early in the book, and perpetuated throughout, that the sacred texts are nothing but myth and should be dismissed as such in the same way as the Greek myths. "...most of the people in this world," he writes, believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book." ... "Whatever their imagined source," he goes on to say, "the doctrines of modern religions are no more tenable than ...those cast upon the scrap heap of mythology millennia ago; for there is no more evidence to justify a belief in the literal existence of Yahweh and Satan than there was to keep Zeus perched upon his mountain throne or Poseidon churning the seas."
Continually trashing the Holy Bible as fairy tale does little to enhance his credibility, as he thereby ignores the vast theological and archeological knowledge underpinning its writings and its historical truths. I would recommend that he reads some of the many good books available on the subject. He could start with John Bartlett's The Bible; Faith and Evidence, A Critical Enquiry into the Nature of Biblical History.

Interestingly, Harris does understand the need for and existence of, a human spirituality, but he is adamant that this can and indeed must be developed without faith. He senses, he says, that the problem is hopeless, but that if parents and teachers in a single generation simply answered their children's questions honestly, there could be an utter revolution in our thinking, faith and religion would disappear in that generation and the world would be saved.

If that is the only way to save our world, as Harris seems to think, then I really believe the situation is hopeless. I really cannot believe that our faiths and our religions can be abolished so easily. They have a great deal more substance than Harris would like to think. And one cannot abolish deeply held beliefs so easily.

Instead I think we need to do all we can to foster true religious pluralism. The Dalai Lama in his book, Ancient Wisdom, Modern World (Ethics for the New Millennium), finds the idea of a world parliament of religions very appealing.

Harris suggests a world government - how else, he asks, "will a war between the USA and China become as unlikely as a war between Texas and Vermont?" But his vision is devoid of religion and it just will never work.

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