The Problem with Sam
Posted: 05 April 2008 02:23 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Indeed, is there a problem with Sam?

His most fervent critics have concluded there is.  Their hostility towards him is difficult to ignore. He has been accused of mission creep in stating people ought to be killed for their beliefs, of condoning torture, supporting preemptive war and necessitating a first nuclear strike on muslims.  These attacks are not for the faint of heart.

One of his most scathing critics is Theodore Dalrymple who wrote a review of the “New Athiests” in the City Journal at http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_4_oh_to_be.html


TD is a self-proclaimed atheist who takes on similar undertones and nuances of Sam’s numerous religious critics. If you missed his words, here are a few choice ones aimed directly at Sam:

Harris reaches an apogee of “sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruples with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance ” in the End of Faith.

I suppose TD would propel warm fuzzies towards Sam if he toned down his explicitness, if he simply played along with the ritual drone of atheists and religious moderates who embrace metaphysics—or cow tow to those who do—-as eagerly as children gobble up ice cream on a hot day.  Moderates who explain and justify religion as the end-all-and-be-all of goodness and greatness bestowed upon humanity and civilization, as TD willingly does.


TD quotes some of Sam’s most heated and controversial statements in the End of Faith about nuclear first strikes, collateral damage and torture and preemptive war.  One similarity I have noticed in all of Sam’s critics is their tendency to ignore the context in which the words were written.

I am taking a personal stand here in defense of Sam’s arguments.  But I am also willing to state that while I have read both of his books several times, I may not understand completely what he means. How can a reader ever claim to fully understand what a writer has written?  As much as I would like, I don’t have the opportunity to interview Sam, to have a conversation with Sam or to question Sam about his thoughts, intentions and meanings.  So, I am left, albeit a tad unsatisfied, with simply my own thoughts and those of others to help fill in the blanks.

While I can make no claims about knowing Sam’s mind,  I can make my own claims as to how I have interpreted his words as a reader—- that his comments about the above-mentioned topics came from a person who envisioned the worse-case-scenario-end-of-the-world thought games stemming out of the events and his own witness to the   9-11 catastrophe.  I can only imagine (not having lived in NY) what sights, sounds and emotional trauma were experienced on that day and the never-to-forget-memories that are now stored indefinitely in (his) their minds.

What is intolerant about   a man who wants a world that disgraces errant beliefs without evidence? Or beliefs inclined towards violence, oppression, racism and sexism?  What is ignorant about “enunciating ordinary facts about the world” (Sam’s words) that result in atrocities against women and children?  And what is adolescent and shrill about having conversations criticizing those atrocities instead of blowing each other to smithereens?

My favorite critic of Sam is Chris Hedges.  A man known for his own “intolerance” against the Christian Right.  A man who calls them fascists and destroyers of democracy. Yet he throws negatives at Sam as diligently as the ant prepares for winter. He admittedly has not read all of the EOF because of Sam’s “facile attack on a form of religious belief I detest, his childish simplicity and ignorance of world affairs, as well as his demonization of Muslims, made the book tedious at its best and often idiotic and racist..”

Hedges also claims we are not “morally advancing as a species or that we will overcome the flaws of human nature” and calls Sam onto the carpet for suggesting that we are and that science is the reason for it.

You can read Mr. Hedge’s scathing report of Sam at http://www.alternet.org/rights/80449/ and I will not spend any more time on it, only to question the credibility of a man who criticizes another man’s writings whom he hasn’t read.


Again, what is the problem with Sam?


Comments, questions or counter thoughts are welcome.  Lindajean

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Posted: 06 April 2008 02:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Great Post lindajean.

It’s amazing how violent the moderates are to Sam’s views.

You can find his response to TD here http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-theodore-dalrymple/

Hedges is freaked out at even the thought of Sam’s views. I think maybe that he’s hung out in to many war zones. He seems to be hallucinating, seeing ghosts. All he knows to do with Sam’s views is to demonize him. He’s bringing along liberal idiots like Thom Hartman who just did that exact thing to Sam on the radio.

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Posted: 06 April 2008 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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This Dalrymple chap came up a while back. Here was MY response to TD, which, in my opinion, was far funnier than Sam’s and I didn’t even get paid:

I’m not sure what point Dr Dalrymple is trying to make and why he’s trying to make it.
He lets us know he’s an atheist then goes on to denounce every famous atheist in modern history. He is dismissive of the work of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, characterising it as an embarrassing assortment of hysteria, sloppiness, intellectual unscrupulousness and, in the case of Harris, insanity. Bertrand Russell was a high-pitched pedant, Sartre a petulant child.
Yet his own ‘argument’ for atheism, presumably to be viewed as superior to the works of the aforementioned writers, is that his headmaster kept one eye open during prayers.

Dalrymple-the-atheist, having thus disposed of the best-regarded works on atheism and their various authors, proceeds to assure us that he is ‘far from decrying reason’ before contradicting himself within the very same sentence by blandly stating that the absolute best that reason can possibly offer is a world of lifeless, humourless, oppressive dogmatism a la Mr Gradgrind.

He then goes on to make reference to Spanish pictures of cabbages (and religious still-lifes in general) and some apparently ‘sonorous’ prose by a former Bishop of Exeter & Norwich. These, we are told, are ample evidence of the moral and/or intellectual superiority of the ecclesiastical persuasion. Clearly this superiority is apparent to Dr Dalrymple (though one wonders how he might imagine it could possibly be apparent to his readers on the evidence given) and equally clearly he finds no problem in asserting so whilst simultaneously professing to be an atheist.

One can only hope that his medical diagnoses are arrived at with less confusion.

[ Edited: 06 April 2008 03:04 PM by Occam's Razor]
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Posted: 07 April 2008 03:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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My favorite part of Sam’s logic is where he says: Either you are a Christian or you are not.  Either the bible is true or it is not.  One of us is wrong.  This logic presumes nothing but the absolutism of dogmatic faith. TD is just not comfortable with this assumption.

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Posted: 07 April 2008 04:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Occam’s Razor - 06 April 2008 06:56 PM

Dalrymple… (states)... the absolute best that reason can possibly offer is a world of lifeless, humourless, oppressive dogmatism a la Mr Gradgrind.

What a truly stunning lack of imagination on the part of Dalrymple and so many others who pursue this line of argument.

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Posted: 07 April 2008 04:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Occam’s Razor - 06 April 2008 06:56 PM

This Dalrymple chap came up a while back. Here was MY response to TD, which, in my opinion, was far funnier than Sam’s and I didn’t even get paid:

I’m not sure what point Dr Dalrymple is trying to make and why he’s trying to make it.
He lets us know he’s an atheist then goes on to denounce every famous atheist in modern history. He is dismissive of the work of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, characterising it as an embarrassing assortment of hysteria, sloppiness, intellectual unscrupulousness and, in the case of Harris, insanity. Bertrand Russell was a high-pitched pedant, Sartre a petulant child.
Yet his own ‘argument’ for atheism, presumably to be viewed as superior to the works of the aforementioned writers, is that his headmaster kept one eye open during prayers.

Dalrymple-the-atheist, having thus disposed of the best-regarded works on atheism and their various authors, proceeds to assure us that he is ‘far from decrying reason’ before contradicting himself within the very same sentence by blandly stating that the absolute best that reason can possibly offer is a world of lifeless, humourless, oppressive dogmatism a la Mr Gradgrind.

He then goes on to make reference to Spanish pictures of cabbages (and religious still-lifes in general) and some apparently ‘sonorous’ prose by a former Bishop of Exeter & Norwich. These, we are told, are ample evidence of the moral and/or intellectual superiority of the ecclesiastical persuasion. Clearly this superiority is apparent to Dr Dalrymple (though one wonders how he might imagine it could possibly be apparent to his readers on the evidence given) and equally clearly he finds no problem in asserting so whilst simultaneously professing to be an atheist.

One can only hope that his medical diagnoses are arrived at with less confusion.


Well written, Razor.
Here is a letter to the editor at City Journal Magazine I sent in November, 2007.  Of course it was nver published:

Dear City Journal Editor:

It was a lesson in brutishness reading Theodore Dalrymple’s critique of Sam Harris.  A lesson so void of relevance and so bloated with obtuseness, it left me doubting any good intention was considered in its making…....... was it simply a sounding board for a 2000 word essay with a short deadline to meet?

His analysis seemed ingenuous throughout the essay and his analogies perplexing.  What am I missing in his comparison between 19th century Sir Richard Burton’s odyssey to Mecca and the “New Atheists”?

When does articulate become “shrill”; defining become “sloppy”; profound become “adolescent”; and ethical become “sinister.”  He doesn’t adequately explain this. After reading countless articles penned by Sam Harris, both of his books (more than once) and hearing several of his debates, Dr. Dalrymple is describing a different Sam Harris than the Sam Harris whose ideas I have come to know.  The doctor’s arguments, based on out-of-context quotes from The End of Faith, neither inform nor convince.

Incomprehensibly, Dr. Dalrymple is sold on believing gratitude is non-existent without religion.  And hell-bent that the New Atheists’ condemnation of the scourges of religion strip gratitude of its very value and meaning. He indicates any absence of religion   will reduce human experience to emptiness and ungratefulness. And without it humans will plainly mimic a robotic lifestyle reflecting an “existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.”

Ironically, the doctor himself is a professed Atheist.  Does his own denial of God’s existence manifest an unappreciative mindset?  If not, then I suppose he is tastefully above the fray.

Apparently unbeknownst to the doctor, our nation’s population numbers more than 80% believers in a God and consumes more goods than any time or place in the history of the world.  That we are only 5% of the world’s population and consume over 25% of the world’s resources, is a justifiable and contradictory statement to Dalrymple’s belief that atheism begets ingratitude. Perhaps he can explain the collective shopping spree hundreds of millions of Christians participate in and juxtapose it with his concerns about Atheist-aroused heedlessness.  Perhaps he can explain how Christian tenets,  which extol the virtues of poverty and demand the giving up of worldly wealth to enter heaven, is genuinely ignored and under appreciated by its followers.

As Sam Harris states in a recent response to Dr. Dalrymple’s critique, “...the man appears simply lost.”

Well stated, Mr. Harris.  The nail has been hit on its head.

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Posted: 07 April 2008 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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LogicAndReason - 07 April 2008 07:29 AM

My favorite part of Sam’s logic is where he says: Either you are a Christian or you are not.  Either the bible is true or it is not.  One of us is wrong.  This logic presumes nothing but the absolutism of dogmatic faith. TD is just not comfortable with this assumption.

Sam has clearly acknowledged the different gradations of Christianity numerous times.  Anyone who has read any of his books will know this.  When he suggested that one of us is wrong and one of us is right, he was establishing common ground with the fundamentalists he was about to criticize to ensure that the reader knew which type of Christian Sam was addressing.

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