November 01, 2006
The End of Faith
This is the title of a very controversial and provocative book by a philosopher-turned-neuroscientist, Sam Harris. The subtitle is: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. It is not an easy book to read, not because it is hard to understand but because the style is very readable and it is a logical, closely reasoned work.
No, the difficulty arises in the challenges it presents to people of faith at a time in the history of humankind when we are in the throes of a war of cultures, literally a war between radical true believers and an assorted loose alliance of people of different levels of commitment and attachment to faith, or of little or no faith at all.
The thesis of the book is straightforward: whatever purposes religion might have served in the past to bolster and give hope to evolving human beings, that time has passed. Now, from the author's point of view, religion is either a mild but significant impediment or a tragic and uncompromising enemy of reason and a threat to the survival of human beings. Harris doesn't mince words and his historical overviews will require a very mature, evenhanded ability to grant the truth where it cannot be denied while still keeping a balanced perspective, all depending upon where you, the reader, are coming from, of course.
Why am I referencing this book in this column? Because I have promised to bring works of value to the formation, growth and health of the human psyche to your attention from time to time, and in my judgment this book presents an opportunity for people of all points of view to shake off their lethargy and unexamined assumptions and either jettison beliefs that no longer serve them well, or find deeper, more rational and intelligent ways of continuing to believe what they believe. Harris takes no prisoners, as it were, in laying out his argument so you are in for a bumpy ride.
However sharp his critique is of Judaism and Christianity, he reserves his full wrath for contemporary Islam. Both Jews and Christians have softened their once sharp and unyielding doctrines and have blended them into a workable—if rather unwieldy—set of mutually tolerant relationships. How do we know? Well, beyond the violence in Northern Ireland in the last century, there is little in the way of violent Christian extremism extant in the world at present.
Harris asks, where are the Jewish and Christian suicide bombers? There are none because the larger body of those faiths would not tolerate such actions and would demonstrate in large numbers against such a program if it were ever to come to pass. Where were the large demonstrations against the suicide bombers and bombings in Muslim countries? There were none. Responsible moderate Muslims did comment negatively, but their voices are few and muted, especially in Muslim countries where the expression of such views would merit a possible violent death.
This for Harris bodes very negatively indeed in terms of how we might be able to come to grips with such entrenched and homicidally-inclined organizations and movements in the Muslim world. How he deals with this will come in my next column. Let me know what you think.
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a licensed counselor, life and marital coach with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. His views can be accessed at puttingmindsinmotion.com.