Sunday, March 02, 2008

The End Of Faith – Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

It’s interesting that Amanda and I are reading books that sound anti-religious (American Fascist, The End Of Faith). The study is not anti religious, it is a drive for greater understanding in the face of existing ignorance. That same quest is behind Mr. Harris taking on the faith part of religion. Faith is belief in things that can not be proven. Through most of history, faith drove almost everything we knew about the world, including medicine, physics, chemistry, genetics, etc. Only when we were able to separate the blind acceptance of what we thought we knew about those fields from what can be proven could we understand that the Earth is not the center of the universe, our bodies were not ruled by the four humors, and there were more than four elements.

Mr. Harris suggests there is at least a chance that a similar breakthrough in understanding is possible if we stop accepting items on faith and start applying the same intellectual rigor to the questions of God and an existence different from the one most apparent to use in our daily lives.

He also points out the dark side to not breaking away from faith. That dark side has been apparent in all the monotheistic religions, starting with Judaism, spanning centuries in Christianity and now being demonstrated with Islam. In each religion’s sacred book there are portions that require you to kill anyone, no matter how beloved, who does not believe exactly everything written in that text. In the case of Christianity, it resulted in centuries of the most terrible torture and murder imaginable in the name of God. There is now a certain live-and-let-live aspect to the vast majority of Christian believers who just don’t believe those passages that call for mass death as well as some or all miracles. That approach appears to be changing with the rise of fundamentalist churches and is troubling to our unity as a religious and secular community and nation.
Mr. Harris points out that the live-and-let-live crowd enable the more radical practitioners by not overtly renouncing those parts of the Bible they do not believe and having the discussion about what that means for their various religions. If a person does not believe in magical events subject to more than two millenium of editing by controlling powers that be, can they still call themselves a Jew, Christian, Muslim, etc.

Mr. Harris makes the point that Islam appears to be at the same point as Christianity prior to the live-and-let-live phase. This makes Islam dangerous as long as the silent majority of believers who say they are tolerant do nothing in the face of Islamic believers who act on pure faith and fundamentalism.

I strongly recommend this book for those who care about religion and its place in the world. It’s an easy read and he makes his case. Even if you think that an organized church is still part of the solution after reading this book, coming to grips with the questions he raises will make your beliefs stronger and more relevant to your spiritual life.

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