Sam Harris pronounces to the crowd – “I’m very concerned in our belief in faith. We have Christians against Muslims against Jews……I know I’m going to offend many of you in the room. But I’m worried, so I need to be worried out loud for the next 40 minutes…”
Sam is author of: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason.
The End of Faith provides a harrowing glimpse of mankind’s willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities. He argues that in the presence of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely. Most controversially, he maintains that “moderation” in religion poses considerable dangers of its own: as the accommodation we have made to religious faith in our society now blinds us to the role that faith plays in perpetuating human conflict.
He provides us with some stats:
| 90% of people in the world believe in a ‘God.’|
83% of us believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
40% of Scientists believe in a personal God.
22% believe that Jesus will return to civilization like Superman and save the day.
Another 22% believe that this will likely happen in the next fifty years.
53% of us are creationists.
He reminds us that these beliefs have geopolitical consequences.
What does it mean to believe? Beliefs are the representation of the world….they are what we perceive to be true. When you believe something to be true, you believe that your thoughts map onto reality at large. It’s why beliefs organize our expectations of the future.
Says Sam, “Imagine if someone came into this room and said ‘This building is about to collapse.’ Believing the statement alone through ‘hearing these words’ change our physiology and our decisions. This in turn can completely change our lives.”
He continues: “Roughly half of us believe that there are no genetic precursors in the natural world. We were created from mud (Eve plucked from Adam’s rib) and of course remember the talking snake. This should be a genuine concern of all of us.”
We have all grown up to respect our neighbor’s and friend’s beliefs. We are raised to respect these beliefs merely because ‘this person’ believes them. Where else in our discourse do we play by these rules? Does this apply to physics or geography for example? With geography or physics, we evaluate their reasons, then we believe in what they believe — if their argument is convincing enough for us.
He uses the example of condoms in Africa. For some, including the Vatican, condom use is morally unacceptable. Map this belief onto sub-Saharan Africa, where ministers are preaching the evils of using condoms. Yet the taboos of criticizing faith often prohibit us from taking action on something important.
“What I’m advocating here,” says Sam, “is a kind of intolerance. Senators can oppose stem cell research and their reference points are referencing their beliefs in God.”
We have this idea that the only way to accommodate religion is to accommodate it. Scientists are terrified of the tax paying mob. They have to say “There is no conflict between religion and science…” On the teaching of evolution, Sam tells us that the National Academy of Science has said on public record that religion and science represent different ways of knowing. And yet, every religion has particular reasons about the way things are.
He continues, “If Jesus comes back out of the clouds, Christianity will be revealed as a Science. Every Christian will say, ‘we were right.’ There is no reason whatsoever to think that this will happen. We have people who believe things strongly without evidence and reasonable discourse.”
Many of us consider ourselves to be religious moderates. Because we cannot criticize religion itself, religious moderates tend to not admit that general acts of violence come from religious ideology. Religious fundamentalists admit that religions are different. “The problem with religious moderation is that it prevents us from coming up with modern alternatives,” says Sam.
He ends by challenging the audience: “We now have an opportunity for conversation – we can have a conversation or we can have violence. The end game for civilization is not tolerance, it’s reason.”