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The Age Of Unreason

Nicholas Allanach Apr 30, 2006

The End Of Faith
Sam Harris
W.W. Norton; Reprint Edition

An onslaught of apocalyptic violence, fueled by jingoism, right-wing evangelical ideologues, and Islamofascists, has motivated writers like Sam Harris to brazenly “close the door [on] a certain style of irrationality,” namely religious fanaticism. In his book, The End of Faith, Harris argues, “Intolerance is intrinsic to every creed.” Accordingly, “perfect faith” (like that espoused by a suicide bomber) is inhospitable to any rational society. Good point, especially when Harris acknowledges that “the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error.”

Thus, if humanity neglects to recognize (or at least assess) the inherent lunacy of such fundamentalists’ tenets, then intoxicating myths will continue to violently “unmake our world.” The End of Faith is principally concerned with revealing how our over reliance on faith crucifies reason and that “our most cherished beliefs” lead “us to kill one another.”

What troubles Harris the most is not the religious fundamentalists hell-bent on achieving Armageddon, but that society often takes such fanatics seriously. He notes, “Religion is sheltered from criticism in every corner of our culture.” But why are we so hesitant to question religious beliefs when we can so easily question those regarding political and even personal values? As The End of Faith illustrates, it is time for society to recognize that religiously inspired convictions often create disastrous results when taken too far, such as when stem cell research is banned.

The most troubling portion of Harris’s argument is his discussions of torture. Thankfully, Harris doesn’t justify torture; he argues that it is hypocritical for society to disparage torture in one breath and tolerate “collateral damage” the next. After all, Harris asks, “What is ‘collateral damage’ but the inadvertent torture of innocent men, women, and children?”

Harris does not seek to persecute religious people. He is, however, critical of the hate-filled violence and utter absurdity of organized religion, which prevents humanity from achieving greater personal awareness. This argument is especially significant when considering the unfortunate number of Americans who are still unable to recognize the importance of the separation of church and state. Harris claims, “We are allowing unreason and otherworldliness to govern our affairs.” His hope is for this to change and for humanity to finally be rid of the outdated myths that continue to hurt us all.

Amen to that.