Harris' book makes good sense in many ways, but creates problems for itself, too. For instance, if Islam is so dangerous, why not call it a threat to the West and attack? If fundamentalism is corrupting the secular institutions we rely upon, why not suspend the first amendment for a while? I don't agree with these attitudes, but Harris' argument might lead to it. I think the point of view that there's danger in religion is fair only if religion motivates people or nations to infringe on secular rights. When it doesn't, it works within a society to organize it and provide an acceptable set of moral principles that can be adopted widely. Who really cares if their neighbor prays before an altar or reads Sartre in their living room? As long as they are not taking potshots at you from their kitchen window it seems religious conviction isn't terribly harmful. Most people have a moderate view of life and are not creatures of ideology. Their ideals are love and peace, whatever their religion. They are a power for good, not passive appeasers of fundamentalists. My own point of view about Islam is that, like Christianity, Confucianism, Marxism and other organized religions, it cannot adapt to the real world of the present, not in its current form. What we will experience in the next decades are the (perhaps difficult) adjustments required for people of that tradition to participate in a global community.
I agree that there are problems with trying to dismiss faith from a culture all together, as historically, faith seems intrinsic to the human condition. That said, I do think that even in a secular society (like the U.S.) religion poses enormous problems. The idea that medical research (e.g., stem cell research) is made more difficult due to religious arguments is reprehensible, or the idea that hard science is compared to religion doctrine (evolution vs. intelligent design/creationism) is frightening.
But as long as we're content to sit in our living rooms and watch 20/20 or Dateline or whoever conduct real, "scientific" searches for Noah's Ark or to attempt to prove that the parting of the Red Sea actually happened, it's hard to imagine that we'll have a national discourse based on reason and logic.
So how do you reconcile the problems of Harris's arguments with the negative impact of religion in the society? Well, I guess it starts with discussions like these. :-]
One addendum -- A friend sent me this story right after I made my initial post in this thread:
I know this is a bit late in response, but I have just found this site and these kinds of discussions are very interesting to me, so I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents. I do agree with you and lenhouse about there being problems with saying that religion has no purposes for society. However, I do agree somewhat with Harris' idea that moderates have as much responsibility for extremist behavior as do fundamentalists. While your neighbor may not be taking potshots at you, many of them do harbor feelings of resentfulness towards you. Well resentfulness may be too strong of a word, but there is some sort of feeling of alienation towards one another that I have felt myself when people had found out that I was an atheist. Granted not everyone is like that (thankfully), but I do know many who are and I'm sure that there are many more out there. When those people congregate at a church or a mosque or in the living room, those ideas are spread and reinforced, and while the moderates aren't the ones doing the extreme behavior, they aren't really doing much to stop it. Many complain about this religion or that country, but those feelings stay inside and usually never see some form of violence. However, it just takes one person to take those feelings and act out on them, which makes the moderates at least partly responsible. I know not everyone feels and acts that way, but this is just my opinion so feel free to comment on it in any way you choose. Anyways, I think I've said too much already and I apologize for that, but just wanted to share my feelings on this very controversial topic.
People are still discussing the bible, so don't feel bad for coming in late to this discussion ant86.
Moderates are culpable because they tacitly allow and lend credence to the fundamentalists. That's fine when the fundamentalists are Amish. They let their kids go nuts for a while and allow them to decide for themselves if they want to be Amish or not. That's rare in religion.
Most followers of any deity think exploration and questioning is a sign of heresy and infidelity.
Any religion that advocates violence against non-believers is fundamentally (pun intended) flawed. Unfortunately, that includes most religions.
The problem with moderates is that they ignore their religion's command to violence and apologize for and tolerate the the views of fundamentalists who believe in violence.
That ant86 is so reluctant to share his feelings is indicative of the unfortunate deference we typically give to matters of religion.
If you want to believe that Smurfs truly exist, that's fine. I have no problem with that.
However, if the Book of Smurf says that those who don't believe in Smurfs should be smurfed, then I'm concerned and I will challenge your beliefs.
Most religions encourage their followers to smurf you up if you don't believe what their book of tales tells you to.
I agree with most of what you said except I think you've misunderstood me when you say that I am reluctant to share my feelings. I wasn't saying that it was me who wasn't sharing his feelings, but rather as an example that I have witnessed before. Although, I won't lie that I used to be like that and kept my feelings inside in the past, but I feel that I have grown from that and have been very open about my feelings. Also, the whole thing with the Amish letting their kids choose for themselves is commendable and I really wish that I was able to have that choice when I was growing up. Straying from my Catholic upbringings has caused many to turn their backs to me, which is unfortunate but I haven't regretted my decision.
I haven't finished reading the book, but it raises some issues that need to be discussed. Personally, I am against all dogma, whether it is religious, political or anything else. I believe that we all have a responsibility to each other to be critical thinkers.
The other day I came across an article in the paper by Gwyn Dyer where he referred to the Journal of Religion and Society and an article entitled "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look" by Gregory Paul.
Paul found that, "In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, (venereal disease), teen pregnancy and abortion," while "none of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction."
I give more credence to data than dogma.
Is faith itself a dangerous element to modern life?
Would be very curious to hear other's opinions on this question. I found many of the arguments in the End of Faith to be compelling but don't know if I necessarily buy the argument that "faith" as Mr. Harris defines it serves no beneficial purposes to society at large. He asserts in his treatise that moderates bear as much responsibility for extremist behavior as do fundamentalists. It's a bold argument and one that has rankled plenty of feathers. What's your take?
I'm 120 pages in at the moment, but I think I agree with Harris' assertions about faith. He defines faith as the unquestioned belief in something, regardless of how likely or unlikely it is. I find it very unsettling that there are teachers (especially in the field of science) can live by the idea of faith. The author demonstrates through modern example how faith has come to be a causal factor in many unreasonable and necessary attrocities. As a side note, I think the title is quite appropriate as "The End of Faith" rather than "The End of Religion" or something similar.
Ask a question, kick off a discussion, or just talk about this book...excellent book,makes you think.
so chewy. Normally I can read when one dog is whining, the kids are frolicking with the barking dog and the DH is watching my Red Wings on TV--but THIS book--not so much.
Must be quiet. Must think after every paragraph. Must read slowly and closely and wait between pages.
I was really interested to hear what he had to say, but he lost me completely with the vivid descriptions of torture and animal abuse in the name of science. Did I really need to know that, Mr. Harris?
This was a good read for me, especially the realism vs. pragmatism section, and I think it's one that everyone should read. Sadly conflicts like the ones talked about in this book are becoming more of a part of our reality, so it needs to become part of our discourse as well.
Balderdash! Harris is a knucklehead. Political ideology and greed are the mainstays of mass murder. Ask Marx and his children Lenin, Stalin & Pol Pot. Ask Nietzsche and his progidy (te-he) Hitler and any other right-on secularist. Harris should be frogmarched to the stocks and flogged with a club made from his congealed books, to teach him if hes not going to speak sense to keep it shut. End of faith? End of reason!