The Blog


Announcements | Book News | Politics | Religion | Christianity | War | September 28, 2015

Rethinking ‘Hitler’s Pope’

A Q&A With Mark Riebling


Mark Riebling has been an architect of post-9/11 “intelligence-driven policing,” co-founding and serving as research director for the Center for Policing Terrorism. He received his degree in philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley and is the author of Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and CIA. His latest book is Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler.

*  *  *

Harris: Previously, you’ve written about problems of intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism. What inspired you to write about the papacy in the Second World War?

Riebling: Well, I was raised Catholic, and one of the things I learned before I left the faith was that nuns could nail me if I said something heterodox, because they had an awesome system of informants! So I didn’t find it implausible, or uninteresting, when I later heard from one retired spy that the Vatican ran the world’s oldest and perhaps best intelligence service. Or when another retired spy told me that the Church was so skilled in clandestine operations that the NSA couldn’t crack the pope’s codes. And I like the challenge of writing secret histories of powerful institutions—maybe because my academic training is in philosophy, and I’m interested in how our background theories come to bear when the data are severely limited but the stakes are high. I’d like to think I write about these things as exercises in mindfulness, not unlike what philosophers from Epictetus to Foucault have recommended—a self-check of my own intellectual hygiene. Less abstractly, I just thought that much of what had been written about the wartime Church was crap!

Harris: There’s a large literature implicating the Catholic Church generally, and Pope Pius XII specifically, in Nazi atrocities. You argue that this literature needs adjustment, because the wartime pope actually conspired, you say, to remove Hitler and the Nazis. On what evidence do you rest your case, and how did you uncover it?

This panel discussion was held at Harvard’s Kennedy Forum on September 14, 2015.

Sam Harris
Neuroscientist; Co-founder and Chief Executive, Project Reason; Author, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, among others

Maajid Nawaz
Author, Radical; Founding Chairman, Quilliam

Juliette Kayyem (moderator)
Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, US Department of Homeland Security


The Daily Beast

By Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris

It’s time to confront Islamism head on—without cries of Islamophobia. Holding Islam up to scrutiny, rationally and ethically, must not be confused with anti-Muslim bigotry.

Ours was an inauspicious first meeting. Nawaz a former Muslim extremist turned liberal reformer, had just participated in a public debate about the nature of Islam. Though he had spent five years in an Egyptian prison for attempting to restore a medieval “caliphate,” Nawaz argued in favor of the motion that night, affirming that Islam is, indeed, “a religion of peace.” Harris, a well-known atheist and strident critic of Islam, had been in the audience. At a dinner later that evening, Harris was asked to comment on the event. He addressed his remarks directly to Nawaz:

Harris: Maajid, it seems to me that you have a problem. You need to convince the world—especially the Muslim world—that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by extremists. But the problem is that Islam isn’t a religion of peace, and the so-called extremists are seeking to implement what is arguably the most honest reading of the faith’s actual doctrine. So the path of reform appears to be one of pretense: You seem obliged to pretend that the doctrine is something other than it is—for instance, you must pretend that jihad is just an inner spiritual struggle, whereas it’s primarily a doctrine of holy war. Here, in this room, can’t you just be honest with us? Is the path forward for Islam a matter of pretending certain things are true long enough and hard enough so as to make them true?

Nawaz: Are you calling me a liar?

Harris: What?

Nawaz: Are you calling me a liar?

Read the rest at The Daily Beast…

Announcements | Ethics | Podcast | Politics | Violence | July 20, 2015

The Moral Gaze

A Conversation with Joshua Oppenheimer


In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer about his remarkable documentaries, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

Islam and the Future of Tolerance Book Cover

Announcements | Book News | Economics | Ethics | Publishing | February 27, 2015

The Art and Science of the Possible

An Interview with Mick Ebeling

Mick Ebeling is a film/television/commercial producer, philanthropist, technology trailblazer, author, entrepreneur, and public speaker. He was one of Advertising Age’s “Top 50 Most Creative People of 2014” and winner of the 2014 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award. Ebeling is CEO of Not Impossible Labs, an organization that develops creative solutions to real-world problems.

Ebeling’s first book is Not Impossible: The Art and Joy of Doing What Couldn’t Be Done.

Announcements | Book News | Ethics | Philosophy | Publishing | January 26, 2015

On Being Right about Right and Wrong

An Interview with Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. His latest book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom.

Michael was kind enough to answer a few questions by email:

Announcements | Ethics | Publishing | October 20, 2014

Just the Facts

A Response to a Charge of Plagiarism

1. C.J. Werleman, a writer for Salon and Alternet, has made a habit of publicly misrepresenting my views.

2. When I first noticed this behavior, I contacted him, initiating a brief and unpleasant email exchange.

3. After that exchange, Werleman went on to misrepresent my views with even greater fervor.

4. Werleman was subsequently discovered to be a serial plagiarist.

5. His response to this public humiliation was to accuse me of being a plagiarist too. Specifically, I am alleged to have plagiarized the work of Mark Steyn.

Announcements | Publishing | War | October 8, 2014

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

A Very Strong Recommendation


From time to time one discovers a person so good at his job that it is almost impossible to imagine him doing anything else. I recently had this experience listening to Dan Carlin’s podcast Hardcore History. Carlin’s way of speaking is so in tune with his subject, and his enthusiasm so contagious, that one can’t help feeling he was born to do this work (think Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone).

Carlin is not a professional historian—just a “history geek” with an undergraduate degree in the subject—but he could well be the most engaging history professor on earth. His series on WWI is simply a masterpiece—made all the more impressive by the informal, meandering way he leads the listener from poignancy to horror and back again. Carlin is doing something truly extraordinary in this medium. He deserves a wide audience. And you deserve the pleasure of listening to him.

I once participated in a twenty-three-day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado. If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and half the world’s mosquitoes, it was fulfilled on the first day. What was in essence a forced march through hundreds of miles of backcountry culminated in a ritual known as “the solo,” where we were finally permitted to rest—alone, on the outskirts of a gorgeous alpine lake—for three days of fasting and contemplation.

I had just turned sixteen, and this was my first taste of true solitude since exiting my mother’s womb. It proved a sufficient provocation. After a long nap and a glance at the icy waters of the lake, the promising young man I imagined myself to be was quickly cut down by loneliness and boredom. I filled the pages of my journal not with the insights of a budding naturalist, philosopher, or mystic but with a list of the foods on which I intended to gorge myself the instant I returned to civilization. Judging from the state of my consciousness at the time, millions of years of hominid evolution had produced nothing more transcendent than a craving for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake.

I found the experience of sitting undisturbed for three days amid pristine breezes and starlight, with nothing to do but contemplate the mystery of my existence, to be a source of perfect misery—for which I could see not so much as a glimmer of my own contribution. My letters home, in their plaintiveness and self-pity, rivaled any written at Shiloh or Gallipoli.

Announcements | Ethics | Philosophy | Publishing | May 31, 2014

The Moral Landscape Challenge

The Winning Essay

(Photo via Steven Kersting)

Last August, I issued the following challenge:

It has been nearly three years since The Moral Landscape was first published in English, and in that time it has been attacked by readers and nonreaders alike. Many seem to have judged from the resulting cacophony that the book’s central thesis was easily refuted. However, I have yet to encounter a substantial criticism that I feel was not adequately answered in the book itself (and in subsequent talks).

So I would like to issue a public challenge. Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in under 1,000 words. (You must address the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.) The best response will be published on this website, and its author will receive $2,000. If any essay actually persuades me, however, its author will receive $20,000, and I will publicly recant my view.

Several hundred of you entered this contest—which was an extremely gratifying turnout. The philosopher Russell Blackford judged the essays and picked a winner. Here begins my exchange with its author, Ryan Born.—SH

(Photo via Bala Sivakumar)

I am often asked what will replace organized religion. The answer, I believe, is nothing and everything. Nothing need replace its ludicrous and divisive doctrines—such as the idea that Jesus will return to earth and hurl unbelievers into a lake of fire, or that death in defense of Islam is the highest good. These are terrifying and debasing fictions. But what about love, compassion, moral goodness, and self-transcendence? Many people still imagine that religion is the true repository of these virtues. To change this, we must begin to think about the full range of human experience in a way that is as free of dogma, cultural prejudice, and wishful thinking as the best science already is. That is the subject of my next book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

Announcements | Atheism | Book News | Publishing | March 10, 2014

The Significance of Our Insignificance

An Interview with Peter Watson

Peter Watson is an intellectual historian, journalist, and the author of thirteen books, including The German Genius, The Medici Conspiracy, and The Great Divide. He has written for The Sunday Times, The New York Times, the Observer, and the Spectator. He lives in London.

He was kind enough to answer a few question about his new book The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God.

Waking Up Sam Harris

My next book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, will be published by Simon & Schuster in September. This is the third cover that David Drummond has created for me (along with those for Lying and Free Will). Great job, David!

Announcements | Ethics | Philosophy | Publishing | November 12, 2013

The Roots of Good and Evil

An Interview with Paul Bloom

Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. He is a past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and a co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the major journals in the field. Dr. Bloom has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science and for popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is the author or editor of six books, including Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil.

Paul was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new book.

Page 1 of 3 pages  1 2 3 > 

See all Posts