"There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us-them thinking achieves a transcendent significance. If a person really believes that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly. It may even be reasonable to kill them. If a person thinks there is something that another person can say to his children that could put their souls in jeopardy for all eternity, then the heretic next door is actually far more dangerous than the child molester. The stakes of our religious differences are immeasurably higher than those born of mere tribalism, racism or politics.
"Religious faith is a conversation-stopper. Religion is only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and--all too often--what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. Only a fundamental willingness to be reasonable--to have our beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments--can guarantee that we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing. While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.
"It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The endgame for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality. While all parties to liberal religious discourse have agreed to tread lightly over those points where their worldviews would otherwise collide, these very points remain perpetual sources of conflict for their coreligionists. Political correctness, therefore, does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.
"When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One 's convictions should be proportional to one 's evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn 't--indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable--is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own."
I'm inclined to think Harris is right in all of the above. But I think he glosses too quickly over the matter of interfaith dialogue. There are those who believe that their own religion is best but that all the others should be respected or that, at least, violence is never acceptable. There are even those who believe that all religions are "really" the same. None of this makes any sense, but many human beliefs, including any individual religion, make no sense. That doesn't mean people cannot to a great extent hold such contradictory beliefs in their heads and, in some way, act on them.
In the 2000 presidential election, Jews shone, voting 81 percent for Gore. Those stating that they had no religion went 61 percent for Gore. But those stating that they held some "other faith" (other than all the main ones listed) were close behind at 54 percent. In 2004, 74 percent of Jews went for Kerry, as did 67 percent of "no religioners," while those belonging to some "other faith" matched the Jews, voting 74 percent for Kerry.
Those who claim to believe in all religions probably place themselves in the "other" category. Of course, at some point it has to become hard to believe in all religions, since they conflict with each other even more than each individual one conflicts with itself. While I have no data to prove it, I suspect that "religions are all the same" is often a temporary stopping point along a path from a particular religion to atheism. The same is certainly true of the position that holds that "my religion is best but all the other ones are equally good and I should learn more about them." Because the more you learn about them, the more you see that you cannot respect them all. You can respect the people who believe them, but not the beliefs. And the more you look at other religions, the more you see your own from the viewpoint of others that is, as a myth created by your culture, and a fairly embarrassing one at that, full of nonsense that requires an intensive course of training to get children to accept it.
So, while Harris seems most strongly opposed to "moderate" religions, because they lack the internal consistency of the fundamentalist versions, I see moderate religion and interfaith dialogues and universal newage-ism as movements in the direction of where we need to go: atheism. We have a long way to go to get there, and most good in the world will be done, in the meantime, like most evil, by religious people.
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