Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sam Harris Tells It Like It Is

Sam Harris in a rebuttal to Chris Hedges at Truthdig:

I would like to briefly address the main claims that Hedges makes in his essay:

Real religion has nothing to do with superstition, irrational beliefs, or tribalism. God is not an anthropomorphic deity; He is just “the name we give to our belief that life has meaning.”

It should be immediately clear to all readers that Hedges is simply dodging the fact that millions (probably billions) of people practice religion in the na├»ve, anthropomorphic, and superstitious forms he would rather not defend. By saying that faith is really something other than the irrational belief in magic books, virgin births, the power of prayer, etc., Hedges ignores how pervasive the problem of religious irrationality is. As many readers will recognize, this is one of the sins of religious “moderation” that I discuss in “The End of Faith”—and I really could not have hoped to find a more lumbering, bellicose, and sanctimonious perpetrator of this obscurantism than Chris Hedges. According to recent polls, 53 percent of Americans think that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and 59 percent believe that Jesus will one day return to Earth wielding magic powers—and yet, religious moderates like Hedges invariably accuse me of “caricaturing” Christianity whenever I criticize these beliefs. Hedges appears to be playing a highly disingenuous game of hide-the-ball with the articles of faith, and it is a game that keeps the world safe for religious lunacy; it also prevents a truly rational approach to spirituality from emerging in our discourse.

Monotheism has been historically indispensable in laying the ground for individualism and the modern concept of human rights.

While this point is surely debatable (and probably false), even if true, it would not (even slightly) suggest that the biblical God exists. Nor would the historical usefulness of monotheism suggest that monotheism is a benign force in the 21st century. In my opening remarks in our debate, I addressed the notion that religion is (or has been) useful. Nothing that Hedges said subsequently (or wrote in his essay) indicates he understood what I was talking about.

And there you have it. First change definitions to suit your purposes and then link things together that cannot be linked logically. It's like claiming Zeus exists because the Greeks gave us democracy and then claiming that by Zeus we mean not the lighting bolt throwing bearded dude on Mount Olympus but our faith in a playful, nonsensical universe.

I wonder what Chris Hedges would say about the claims made by the Creation Museum? Is the 6000 year old universe irrational or non-rational?

Of course why even give a platform to a guy who is going to accuse Sam Harris of endorsing torture? I mean goodness knows no Christian (under Hedge's wildly idiosyncratic definition) could possibly support torture!

[Via Andrew Sullivan]