Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.45.2: THE END OF FAITH, by Sam Harris (2005) BR

V045-02_endoffaithFThe God Biz is a marvelous enterprise. All other economic enterprises employ some earthly resources—raw materials, finished goods, knowledge and service—but religion turns nothing(that which cannot be known) into something through the catalyst of fear. Amazing when you ponder it.  But it explains why some used car salesman from rural Georgia can steal a Gideon Bible, affect a blow-dried pompadour, buy a cheap glossy suit and get a lot of dumb, fearful, sick, credulous dolts to give him their money in hopes that they will be ascended into heaven at the Rapture.   It helps explain why clerics dress up in silly suits and parade around grand churches like royalty, why Muslims will bounce their heads off the ground five times a day, Jews will stand like bobble-heads in front of the Western Wall and, Buddhists will chant “OM” and spin prayer wheels, and why Christians will form prayer chains against same-sex marriage . . . one could go one for days.


That’s why Sam Harris’s book may be announcing, but is not likely to produce an end to faith. The title is provocative; it has to be to get any attention with all this religious proclaiming, preening and praying going on. But faith isn’t going away, and Harris knows that as well as anybody. He is a philosopher-neuroscientist, he works right at that intersection of the brain and the mind, the same intersection perhaps where the spirit seems to hang out like some entity that haunts reason.


In the final analysis Harris’s brief is about the age-old contest between faith and reason, the battle that Aquinas though he brought to an armistice.   But actually it is faith that has carried the day—that cheap, quick and easy express to life’s answers to why we are here. They were all written down in King James English, Hebrew and Arabic in simple, edible chunks for those who did not want to do the intellectual heavy lifting for themselves.   It re-took the field with the hegemony of churches over states and with the assistance of vast hordes of ignorant, frightened peasants. By the time of the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and the modern era, faith and religion had a free pass in most every society because it had become associated with what was good and proper behavior. The atmospherics of most societies were such that not only were the myths and tenets of the pervading and presiding faith almost axiomatically ingested by the time a child asked its first innocent question. [1]


Harris not only makes compelling points that goodness does not require faith, but demonstrates that along with a faith’s commandments to be good are ingested a healthy dose of which infidels one is supposed to hate. [2]


We must wonder just how much the spate of books that have come out in the last few years challenging religion have been inspired by the events of 911. Harris is strident in his condemnation of religious belief for its justification of and responsibility for so many wars, so much persecution, and other evils, always in the name of the respective deities. However, Christian fundamentalists will be pleased that he seems to reserve special enmity for Muslims. He states that:  “We are at war with Islam.   It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is un ambiguously so.   It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has bee ‘hijacked’ by extremists.   We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran, and further elaborated in the literatures of the hadith . . . .” He further writes that:   “In Islam . . .   the thrust of the doctrine is undeniable: convert, subjugate, or kill unbelievers; kill apostates; and conquer the world.” [3]    This fits well with Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, the justifications of global warriors on terror, and the themes of Republican Congressional prayer breakfasts. [4]


Further back in memory are, of course, the antics of Christianity, which quickly turned from being persecuted under the Romans to becoming the Romanized world’s favorite reason for persecution. Those Pilgrims to America that are always portrayed having turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes with the natives, escaped their persecution in England so that they could find a nice new place to burn and hang witches and set about giving the natives a good and fatal does of one of the venereal diseases.   And let’s not even get into the holy Spanish, busy with the Inquisition at home, and practicing genocide for gold on the natives of the new world—with the aid and complicity of their Church and its prelates.


Another section of this book deals with what the author calls “the science of good and evil,” here to make a case for goodness without the need of religion or eternal reward.   Unfortunately it is a weak and meandering chapter, betraying perhaps, as does the cognitive science section of the book, that some of this material has bee dropped in from his graduate studies.   When he does get to Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ and Jesus’ ‘golden rule’ of loving our neighbor he does not develop it.   Elsewhere he makes the point that there is not reason for goodness not to exist in the absence or even renunciation of faith, but he seems weaker—maybe it is the nature of the beast—being a proponent than a critic. [5]


Harris ends with a look at the differences between Eastern and Western spirituality.   But Eastern spirituality, particularly that which involves mysticism, is actually, according to Harris a rational enterprise .   It involves an engagement with the mind that seeks enlightenment, a form of knowledge.   It is not blind acceptance. [6]


Harris’s bestseller might put a dent or two in the great Leviathan of credulity that influences or rules much of human experience, but it will not end it.   Just this day it was announced that American Christian creationists are working with schools in Turkey to develop their science curriculum in “creationism.”   Apparently the Muslim Turks are also ready to believe that Cain ad Able had a pet velocirpator.   Good Lord!   Maybe the road to peace and tolerance is paved with blind faith and stupidity!

©2007, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 9.6.2007)

[1] “Why is the sky blue, mama?   Because blue is the Blessed Virgin’s favorite color, my child.”

[2] “You shouldn’t be playing with Joshua Steinberg, Tommy.   Remember, his kind of people killed Jesus, and his mommy cooks with chicken fat.”

[3] Pp. 109-110, and 113

[4] To be fair, Harris cites theses that the Arab/Islamic world is not a couture at the same state of moral development as the West, and also the historical fact that the central lands of Islam have been humiliated by foreign control for nearly a century.

[5] Elsewhere, in DCJournal , we have also dealt with this subject, particularly in Nos. 15. 8 and 20.7.

[6] Cf. DCJournal Archives No. 43.7:   Hey, I Just Realized Something!