November 08, 2006
The End of Faith, Part Two
In our last column we reviewed the book The End of Faith by Sam Harris. It is a provocative and challenging read about his views on how religion now ill serves human beings because it rests on assumptions that are not in his opinion subject to rational review or investigation.
The price of this irrationalism, says Harris, is precisely the madness of fanaticism we see coming from extremist adherents of Islam at this time in human history. What to do about it is the question.
Harris has no comforting words to communicate to the reader. Since there is no rational challenge that can be made to the fanatical terrorists, there is no way to effectively influence them away from their awful dedication to our destruction. Effective use of force is the only short-term way to keep them from our door. Long-term resolution awaits a real reformation in the Moslem world that would attenuate those places in Islamic scripture that support violence and destruction against non-believers.
This happened in the other two religions, in Christianity and Judaism. Texts in the Bible that clearly demanded extreme punishments and death, such as sins against one's parents or adultery, clearly are not taken seriously by even fundamentalist Christians or Jews. In other words, the texts are simply ignored and not used as excuses to savage other human beings for their behaviors. A whole range of behaviors are still looked down upon negatively, but there is a willingness to tolerate those behaviors and not engage in violence against those who engage in them.
This is a selective reading of scriptures that allows people to live peacefully with one another. For Harris, while this is a positive thing in terms of maintaining a coherent society, he would argue that even toleration creates a situation in which irrationality of belief is never challenged nor questioned. Here, of course, people of good will may differ with him.
What is true is that Islam has never undergone a reformation or softening of its views. Rather, there have been periods when those views have been muted by the ruling powers in Islam and there have been times when those views have been allowed to explode into terrifying rampages and wars. What kept these powerful forces in check for the last centuries was the nature of the ruling group in the Islamic world and the overpowering conflicts that eventually engulfed the 20th-century.
Only in the last 25 years has that been lifted and now the lid is off the radicalizing movements in Islam. They are free to recruit and build their base in a way not available to them for a long time. The results are what we all experience and read about.
While we keep the worst elements of this jihadist mentality at bay, we have to hope and encourage a change in the mindset of Islamic thinkers and the rank and file believers. This is not an easy task and at the moment the advantage seems to be with the extremists. Harris' book is an overview of what he believes would be best to do and I recommend you acquaint yourself with the book to find the details. You won't be disappointed, but you may not be very pleased. 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. Check out his puttingmindsinmotion.com website for more information.