Harris, Sam (1967 - )
Reviewing Sam Harris's The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Richard Dawkins wrote in The Guardian that it is a genuinely frightening book about terrorism, and the central role played by religion in justifying and rewarding it. Others blame “extremists” who “distort” the “true” message of religion. Harris goes to the root of the problem: religion itself. Even moderate religion is a menace, because it leads us to respect and “cherish the idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence”. Why do men like Bin Laden commit their hideous cruelties? The answer is that they “actually believe what they say they believe.” The book won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction.
In The Los Angeles Times (16 August 2004), Harris wrote,
- The bible was written at a time when people thought the Earth was flat, when the wheelbarrow was high tech. Are its teachings applicable to the challenges we now face as a civilization?
An outspoken atheist and author of There Is No God (And You Know It), he has written essays that have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Times of London, Free Inquiry, and Playboy.
- Harris in The God Who Wasn't There
In 2005, he appeared in a documentary film, The God Who Wasn't There. The film was directed by Brian Flemming, who interviews Harris.
In 2006, his Letter to a Christian Nation includes,
- Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you [his imaginary opponent], dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck you you as well - by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.
A philosophy graduate from Stanford University, Harris has made a long study of both Eastern and Western religious traditions and lives in New York City.
Currently pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience, Harris is a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post and Truthdig, known for his opposition to religious fanaticism.
The New Atheists
A cover story in Wired (November 2006), "The Church of the Non-Believers," named what Gary Wolf described as "the new atheists": Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Greg Graffin, Penn and Teller, and Warren Allen Smith.
Wired reporter Gary Wolf described Harris as follows:
- As I test out the New Atheist arguments, I realize that the problem with logic is that it doesn't quicken the blood sufficiently – even my own. But if logic by itself won't do the trick, how about the threat of apocalypse? The apocalyptic argument for atheism is the province of Sam Harris, who released a book two years ago called The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.
- Harris argues that, unless we renounce faith, religious violence will soon bring civilization to an end. Between 2004 and 2006, his book sold more than a quarter million copies.
- This autumn, Harris has a new book out, Letter to a Christian Nation. In it, he demonstrates the behavior he believes atheists should adopt when talking with Christians. "Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you," he writes, addressing his imaginary opponent, "dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well – by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God."
- In midsummer, Harris and I overlap for a few days in Southern California, so we arrange to meet for lunch. I am not looking for more atheist arguments. I am already steeped in them. I have by now read my David Hume, my Bertrand Russell, even my Shelley. I want to talk to Harris about emotion, about politics, about his conviction that the days of civilization are numbered unless we renounce irrational belief. Given the way things are going, I want to know if he is depressed. Is he preparing for the end?
- He is not. "Look at slavery," he says. We are at a beautiful restaurant in Santa Monica, near the public lots from which Americans – nearly 80 percent of whom believe the Bible is the true word of God, if polls are correct – walk happily down to the beach in various states of undress. "People used to think," Harris says, "that slavery was morally acceptable. The most intelligent, sophisticated people used to accept that you could kidnap whole families, force them to work for you, and sell their children. That looks ridiculous to us today. We're going to look back and be amazed that we approached this asymptote of destructive capacity while allowing ourselves to be balkanized by fantasy. What seems quixotic is quixotic – on this side of a radical change. From the other side, you can't believe it didn't happen earlier. At some point, there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God."
- Suddenly I notice in myself a protective feeling toward Harris. Here is a man who believes that a great global change, perhaps the most important cultural change in the history of humanity, will occur out of sheer intellectual embarrassment.
- We discuss what it might look like, this world without God. "There would be a religion of reason," Harris says. "We would have realized the rational means to maximize human happiness. We may all agree that we want to have a Sabbath that we take really seriously – a lot more seriously than most religious people take it. But it would be a rational decision, and it would not be just because it's in the Bible. We would be able to invoke the power of poetry and ritual and silent contemplation and all the variables of happiness so that we could exploit them. Call it prayer, but we would have prayer without bullshit."