Saturday, July 01, 2006

The End of Faith?

I've just begun reading a book by Sam Harris boldly titled The End of Faith. I'm quite impressed and plan to review the book after I finish it.

Here is one especially provocative quote from the first chapter:

"By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally...Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities. Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience." (p. 21)

Despite my sometimes pointed arguments against traditional religious beliefs, I've tried to be tolerant and even respectful of people who embrace these beliefs even when I consider the beliefs themselves to be absurd. But it isn't always easy to respect those who embrace beliefs that seem absurd or to honor and follow political leaders who embrace those beliefs and cite them as the basis of their policies. Also, how readily can and should one respect or "tolerate" anyone who spouts what one considers to be religious nonsense? If someone came to you and went on and on about how you should believe in Santa Claus or Zeus, or someone running for political office championed these beliefs, how much would and should you tolerate and respect either, and how inclined would and should you be to vote for this person?

Is traditional Judaism, Christianity, or Islam REALLY any different than belief in Santa Claus or Zeus? I honestly don't think so. And thus I find myself in a real quandary about how to regard and respond to religious people. I'm hoping that Sam Harris can help me to figure it out.


dr.alistair said...

i don`t think that sam harris, or anyone else will be able to sort out the simple human frailty that enables us to swallow the dogma of religious bureaucrats while hoping for leadership.
will live in a media-driven society that asks us to sell our family futures for a new car to impress the niegbours.
what hope do we have unless we look inside ourselves?
alan watts tells a story about being in an airport in america somewhere and a guru comes up to him and says "you are seeking answers. come to my ashram for a year and learn" alan replied;" i listen to the voice inside, after all, who taught buddha?"
we all know the truth. we sometimes choose to ignore it.

Nagarjuna said...

Dr.Alistair: Harris may not be able to fully explain WHY people believe in orthodox religious nonsense, but he may have good suggestions for HOW we who don't believe in it should respond to those who do.

I always loved it when Watts said that it's ultimately our own authority that gives others their authority. That is, WE decide that what someone else says is true or that it's worth listening to or doing. But I'm not sure you're right when you say that "we all know the truth" even when we ignore it. We may still need others to tell or show us something before we know that what they've told or shown us is true. And some of us may not recognize the truth even after someone tells or shows it to us. Not because we ignore the truth, but because we, for some reason or other, lack the present capacity to recognize it.


dr.alistair said...

i tend to believe that there`s a quiet voice inside all of us that quite possibly is the accumilated wisdom of generations of those who have done this stuff before......that speaks occsionally and if we can practise having faith in listening to the words and acting upon them they can be guidance.
i have a few experience where this has worked for me.......and also many where i ignored the voice and, well, you know.
and regarding responding to religious people.......why would you feel you need to respond?