"The End of Faith" Judaism and its 2 derivatives: Christianity and Islam
The 3 barbaric, Abrahamic, Adam and Eve based, misogynist, man-made, patriarchal religions: Judaism and its 2 derivatives: Christianity and Islam are, and have always been the agents and promoters of ignorance, hate, violence, rape, murder, plunder, mediocrity and stupidity.
Sam Harris brief speech of the ideas expressed in his book, "The End of Faith":
Introduction by Moses Znaimer:
In a progressively more secularized world it sometimes seems that the only religious people out there are fanatics, and frankly I’m fed up with them. You look into any over-the-top, cruel and wanton atrocity in the world today, and chances are you’ll find some scripture-spouting nut bar; judging and condemning, and punishing and happily killing the innocent while cloaked in the garb of faith. They preach love but they practice exclusion, and they display a toxic intolerance to different views. I don’t know about you, but for me, the very definition of arrogance is someone who presumes to know God’s will and to speak in her name. So, our next speaker, Sam Harris, thinks it is time to address the role that religion plays in perpetuating human conflict. Sam?
Sam Harris brief speech of the ideas expressed in his book, "The End of Faith":
Thank you. So am I on, you can hear me? I’m going to talk about belief, specifically the problem of religious belief, because I happen to think that how we deal with belief, how we criticize, or fail to criticize the beliefs of other human beings at this moment has more to do with the maintenance of civilization than anything else that is in our power to influence. Our world has been Balkanized, as Moses just said, by incompatible religious dogmas; we have Christians against Muslims against Jews. The books themselves make incompatible claims. We have this founding notion that God wrote one of our texts; unfortunately we have many such books on hand.
Now, before I launch into my heresy, I want to say upfront that I am going to offend a few people in this room. I know you are very likely a secular bunch; I come from a country to your south that is fast growing as blinkered by religious lunacy as the wilds of Afghanistan, but still I think some people in this room will be offended by what I say. I want to say upfront that my intention really is not to offend anyone, I’m not being deliberately provocative, and I am simply worried. I am going to worry out loud for the next 20 minutes, because I see no reason for us to expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely.
It seems to me transparently obvious that the marriage of 21st century technology, forget about nuclear weapons and biological weapons; even the computational technology we heard about this morning, the fact that a few short years from now, you’ll be able to sit in a cave in Afghanistan, and with your $1000 laptop you’ll essentially have a supercomputer that can kick off its genetic algorithms, its malicious code, to the rest of society. This alone makes this balkanization of our world, the separate moral identities, the fact that we are not identified just merely as being human beings, but we are Muslims and Jews – it makes it untenable.
So, briefly, what is a belief? What does it mean to believe something to be true? Well, clearly, beliefs are representations of the world, but they are more than that. The difference between a belief and a hope, say… I can hope that I have won the lottery, that is a representation of the world, it is a representation of a possible state of the world, but believing I have won the lottery is the only thing that actually opens the floodgates of emotion and behavior, to… to behavior and emotion that is appropriate to actually having won the lottery, then you go an that lunatic shopping-spree and offend all of your friends. What makes the difference is believing that your thought, certain propositions held in your mind actually map on to reality.
Now, if you think this is an abstraction, just imagine the transformation on your physiology at this moment, in your neurology and in your psychology, if you came to believe that your child had been taken hostage. First you have to have a child, that child has to be in some appropriately war-torn place, but given the requisite conditions, you get a phone call, mere language, a mere sentence spoken into your ear; should you grant it credence, would completely transform your life, all the panic that would precipitate out of that experience, would be born of believing a certain representation of the world. So, this is why beliefs really are machinery for guiding our behavior and emotion through time.
We don’t yet understand this at the level of the brain, I’m trying to understand this through functio-neural imaging, but at the level of our conversation with ourselves, at the level of thought, it is pretty clear we are talking about linguistic representations of the world.
So what do people believe? Well, where I come from, the US, 22% of the population claims to be certain, literally certain, that Jesus is going to come down out of the clouds and save the day sometime in the next 50 years. Certain. Another 22% think he probably will come back in the next 50 years. This is 44% of the electorate. These people not only elect our congressmen and presidents, they get elected as congressmen and presidents.
This should be terrifying to all of us. This belief obviously does not exist in isolation; it is not an accident that 44% of Americans also want Creationism taught in the schools, and evolution no longer taught. Actually 62% of Americans want Creationism taught in the schools, but 44% want it taught exclusively. We are building a civilization of ignorance. 44% of Americans also believe that the creator of the universe literally promised the land of Israel to the Jews, in his role as an omniscient real-estate broker.
It is clear that this belief has geo-political consequences, this is not… these beliefs don’t exist merely on Sundays, when we get together to talk about God and the Bible. Take another belief that seemingly would have very minor consequences. Consider the Catholic belief that condom use is sinful. Ok, now this is obviously, from my point of view, obviously, a total falsification of morality, I mean one thing that religious dogma does is it separates questions of morality from questions of real suffering: human suffering, animal suffering. Here we have no discernable suffering at all, and yet we are told it’s a moral proposition that condom use is ethically problematic. What are the possible consequences here? Well, we have millions of people, every year, dying of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and you have quite literally Catholic ministers preaching the sinfulness of condom use, in villages where the only information about condom use is the representation of the ministry.
It seems to me that the time for respecting religious beliefs of this sort is long past. You take another effect of religious dogmatism in my own country: we have college-educated politicians resisting stem-cell research, certainly impeding its progress, not funding it, putting up one road-block after another, probably one of the most promising lines of research in biology to generate medical therapies, is being impeded by this mediaeval notion that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception and therefore blastocysts in a petri dish – literally undifferentiated clumps of cells – have to be given the same kind of moral concern, have the same interests, have the same – no-one even talks about suffering, but presumably we are worried about their experience at some level – and that the interests of these cells trump the interests of eight-year-old girls with diabetes or 40-year-old men with parkinson’s. Ok, the conversation never gets had; the moral arguments never even have to be made at a political level, because it is fundamentally taboo to criticize someone’s religious beliefs. Faith is really a conversation-stopper.
Now, in response to these sorts of problems, many of us, many well-intentioned people, have come to think that the appropriate accommodation with modernity is to develop what’s called “religious moderation”, generally. You can have your God, you can talk about him in some – or her – in some unspecified way, it’s considered unseemly to be too sure about what happens after death and about the moral structure to this universe, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, religious moderation is the way to go, and really the soul of religious moderation is this political correctness where everyone should be free to believe whatever he wants about God, there is just no harm, no foul, beliefs are private.
Let me tell you, for a moment, why I think this is a dead end. First of all, religious moderation gives cover to religious fundamentalism, because we cannot criticize religious extremism, religious literalism, because it is politically taboo, it’s considered uncivil, and this is really enforced by religious moderates. Religious fundamentalists, they’ll criticize every faith but their own; you know, the religious fundamentalism in my country will say Islam is an evil religion. Religious moderates balk at that. And so now we can’t … George Bush can call a press conference and announce to the world that he is going to appoint common-sense judges – this is a quote: “I’m going to appoint common-sense judges who realize that our rights are derived from God.” Now, just imagine… it seems to me the next sensible question by any journalist in the room would be “Mr. President, how is that any different from appointing common-sense judges that realize that our rights are derived from Poseidon?” It’s not like someone in the third century actually figured out that the biblical God exists, but Poseidon doesn’t. You know, this is not data that we have. Ok, this obviously would be the last question that journalist would ever ask! Ok, we can’t call a spade a spade, because it is …because of this taboo around criticizing religion, and I would argue that religious moderates are really the greatest offenders here, the greatest force propping up this taboo.
Another problem with religious moderation is it’s actually intellectually bankrupt. When you… just consider for a moment this notion that you should respect other people’s beliefs. Where else in our discourse do we encounter this? I mean, when was the last time anyone in this room was admonished to respect another person’s beliefs about history, or biology, or physics? We do not respect people’s beliefs; we evaluate their reasons. If my reasons are good enough for believing what I believe, you will helplessly believe what I believe. I will give you my reasons and reasons are contagious. That is what it is to be a rational human being. Respecting another person’s beliefs never enters into it, and … just appreciate for a moment how easy this is to see when we change the subject from “God” to some mundane, grandiose claim… this is actually an example from my book; if I told you that I believe there was a diamond buried in my back yard, that’s the size of a refrigerator, it might occur to you to ask me why. If, in response, I gave the kind of answers you hear from religious moderates, answers that describe the good effects of this …of believing as I do, so I say things like “Well, this belief actually gives my life a lot of meaning”, or “I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there wasn’t a diamond buried in my back yard, that’s the size of a refrigerator!” It’s pretty clear that responses of this sort are deeply inadequate. They are worse than that; they are the responses of a lunatic or an idiot. By responding in that way, I would have disqualified myself for any position of responsibility in a first-world society. Except you change the subject to religion, to the moral demands of an invisible super intelligence, to what happens after death, and all bets are off, then you can say anything you want!
Another problem with the religious moderation is that it’s not only intellectually bankrupt; it is theologically bankrupt, because the fundamentalists have actually read the books, and they are right about them. These books are every bit as intolerant, every bit as divisive as the Osama bin Ladens of the world, or the Jerry Fallwells of the world suggest, and I am not necessarily equating the two of them in moral terms, but there is …once we dignify the claim that the Bible or the Koran, conspicuously, is a book… is a communication that is fundamentally different from any other book, be it the plays of Shakespeare or the Iliad, [that] these books are not literature, [that] they are the best books we have in moral terms, once we dignify those claims we are really hostage to their contents. I mean… the creator of the universe *does* hate homosexuals; if you read the Bible, at the very least homosexual men, gay sex, is an abomination, it is spelled out in Leviticus, it is … this edict is ramified in Romans, it’s not … many Christians imagine that the New Testament fundamentally repudiates all the barbarism that’s found in the Old Testament, in books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and second Samuel and Exodus; that’s not true. You can take Jesus in half his moods and get some really beautiful, ethical precepts like the golden rule, but Jesus also said things like, in Luke 19, ‘anyone who doesn’t want me to reign over him: bring him before me and slay him before me!’ OK, I guarantee you that the inquisitors of the middle ages who were burning heretics alive for five solid centuries, they had read the whole New Testament, they had read the sermon on the mount, they found some way to square their behavior with the ministry of Jesus.
It’s not an accident that the great lights of the church, people like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, people who are still taught to every freshman in every Great Book seminar in, certainly in my country; in Aquinas’ case, he thought heretics should be killed outright; in Augustine’s case, he thought they should be tortured. Augustine’s argument for the use of torture actually laid the foundations for the inquisition.
Ok, we look back on these events and we think – oh, people being burnt alive, scholars being tortured to the point of madness for speculating about the nature of the stars – we look back from our perch in the 21st century and we think, ok these societies were just unhinged, I mean, these were lunatics! It’s not true; this was totally reasonable behavior, given what was believed. Heresy … just think about it, if there is something you neighbor can say to your child that is so spiritually wayward that it could put your child’s future in jeopardy for eternity, ok, that is much worse than the child molester living next door, we’re talking about an eternity of suffering because your child has learned to call God by the right name, or think there is no God. The stakes really are enormously high.
Another problem with moderation, incidentally, is moderates, and certainly secularists tend to be blinded by their own moderation, it’s very difficult for moderates to actually believe that people believe this stuff. It’s difficult for a moderate, when you see them on the news broadcasts, you see the jihadist, looking into the video camera, saying things like “We love death more than the infidel loves life”, and then he blows himself up; religious moderates, not fundamentalists, religious moderates tend to think “No, well, that really wasn’t why he blew himself up, it doesn’t have anything to do with religion, this is economics, it’s lack of educational opportunities.” I don’t know how many more engineers and architects have to hit the wall at 400 miles an hour for us to realize this is not simply a matter of education. The truth of our circumstance is quite a bit more sinister than that, it is actually possible to be so well educated that you can build a nuclear bomb and still believe that you are going to get the 72 virgins. That’s how balkanized our discourse is, and that’s how easily partitioned the human mind is. I can tell you, there is no place in the curriculum of becoming a scientist where they tell you, you know, this is bullshit, do you stop believing it.
So to wrap up, I see my time has dwindled mercilessly, um, I just want to say that whatever is true, spiritually and ethically about our circumstances, there are… no doubt there are spiritual truths, there are spiritual experiences human beings can have, and there are ethical truths; whatever is true about that has to transcend culture, it has to transcend our cultural differences, there is a reason why we don’t talk about Christian physics and Muslim mathematics, because these truths actually… an experiment run here and in Baghdad actually works both places if it is teasing out something fundamental about the nature of the universe. That is true ethically, that is true spiritually, and the only thing that guarantees that our human conversation is open-ended is a willingness for us to have our beliefs about reality updated and revised by conversation. Because when the stakes are high we have the choice between conversation and violence, both at the level of individuals and at the level of societies, so my pitch to you is, really, that the end game for civilization is not political correctness and tolerating all manner of absurdity, it is reason and reasonableness and an openness to evidence.