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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?

Sam Harris talks to Dave Rubin about free speech, religion, foreign policy, and other topics.

Atheism | Cults | Podcast | Religion | Christianity | July 3, 2015

Leaving the Church

A Conversation with Megan Phelps-Roper


In this episode, Sam Harris speaks with Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.


In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris discusses the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult and argues that we all have something important to learn from them about the power of belief.

The following videos are discussed:

I recently sat down with Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks to discuss my most controversial views about Islam, the war on terror, and related topics. It was, of necessity, a defensive performance on my part—more like a deposition than an ordinary conversation. Although it was a friendly exchange, there were times when Cenk appeared to be trying very hard to miss my point. Rather than rebut my actual views (or accept them), he often focused on how a misunderstanding of what I was saying could lead to bad outcomes—as though this were an argument against my views themselves. However, he did provide a forum in which we could have an unusually full discussion about difficult issues. I hope viewers find it useful.

Having now watched the full exchange, I feel the need to expand on a couple of points:

Announcements | Atheism | Ethics | Podcast | Religion | Christianity | November 6, 2013

Morality and the Christian God

An Invitation to Animators and Filmmakers


I’ve noticed a happy trend in online video: People have begun to produce animations and mashups of public lectures that add considerable value to the spoken words. If you are unfamiliar with these visual essays, watch any of the RSA Animate videos, like the one below:


(Photo by kevin dooley)

Version 2.4 (June 21, 2014)

A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions.

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.


Once upon a time, a neurosurgeon named Eben Alexander contracted a bad case of bacterial meningitis and fell into a coma. While immobile in his hospital bed, he experienced visions of such intense beauty that they changed everything—not just for him, but for all of us, and for science as a whole. According to Newsweek, Alexander’s experience proves that consciousness is independent of the brain, that death is an illusion, and that an eternity of perfect splendor awaits us beyond the grave—complete with the usual angels, clouds, and departed relatives, but also butterflies and beautiful girls in peasant dress. Our current understanding of the mind “now lies broken at our feet”—for, as the doctor writes, “What happened to me destroyed it, and I intend to spend the rest of my life investigating the true nature of consciousness and making the fact that we are more, much more, than our physical brains as clear as I can, both to my fellow scientists and to people at large.”

Atheism | Religion | Christianity | February 16, 2012

Life Without God

An Interview with Tim Prowse


(Photo by H.koppdelaney)

Tim Prowse was a United Methodist pastor for almost 20 years, serving churches in Missouri and Indiana. Tim earned a B.A. from East Texas Baptist University, a Master of Divinity (M.Div) from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, and a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) from Chicago Theological Seminary. Acknowledging his unbelief, Tim left his faith and career in 2011. He currently lives in Indiana. He was kind enough to discuss his experience of leaving the ministry with me by email.

Politics | Religion | Christianity | January 15, 2012

Your God is My God

What Mitt Romney Could Say to Win the Republican Nomination


Governor Mitt Romney has yet to persuade the religious conservatives in his party that he is fit to be President of the United States. However, he could probably appease the Republican base and secure his party’s nomination if he made the following remarks prior to the South Carolina Primary:

Finally, a government official speaks the truth about the Vatican. This is a wonderfully honest speech by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

For those who missed my previous essay on the crimes of the Catholic Church:

Bringing the Vatican to Justice



At certain points near the extremity of human evil it becomes difficult, and perhaps pointless, to make ethical distinctions. However, I cannot shake the feeling that detonating a large bomb in the center of a peaceful city with the intent of killing vast numbers of innocent people was the lesser of Anders Behring Breivik’s transgressions last week. It seems to me that it required greater malice, and even less humanity, to have intended this atrocity to be a mere diversion, so that he could then commit nearly one hundred separate murders on the tiny Island of Utoya later in the day.

And just when one thought the human mind could grow no more depraved, one learns details like the following:

After killing several people on one part of the island, he went to the other, and, dressed in his police uniform, calmly convinced the children huddled there that he meant to save them. When they emerged into the open, he fired again and again. (“For Young Campers, Island Turned Into Fatal Trap.” The New York Times, July 23, 2011)

Other unsettling facts will surely surface in the coming weeks. Some might even be vaguely exculpatory. Is Breivik mentally ill? Judging from his behavior, it is difficult to imagine a definition of “sanity” that could contain him.



Atheism | Debates | Philosophy | Religion | Christianity | Science | Spirituality | March 4, 2011

Is There an Afterlife?

Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris vs. Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Bradley Artson

[Note: My recent op-ed in the New York Times, in which I questioned the appointment of Francis Collins as head of the NIH, inspired a fair amount of discussion in the media and on the Internet. As many of Collins’ defenders do not seem to be fully acquainted with his beliefs, or take it for granted that others won’t be, I have written a longer essay on the subject. While most of this material is new, a few passages were previously published.]

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