I just finished The End of Faith. I enthusiastically agree with the idea that faith, particularly religious faith, has resulted in horrendous misery. Reason must prevail over dogma. Secular moral values grounded in honesty, compassion and love are always superior to any religious values one can conjure up. But unfortunately Sam Harris has failed to make a case for it.
From the bibliography and end-notes presented in the book it seems very likely that Sam Harris is a well read person. But from the conclusions he presents it seems his understanding is quite superficial. Some examples of this include (i) Hindu/Muslim carnage in the wake of Indian & Pakistani independence—the reasons are much more complex than just religion, (ii) Tamil Tiger/Sri Lankan problem—this conflict is entirely secular to the extent that one of the cultural heroes of Tamil Tigers is an avid and virulent atheist (E.V.Ramasamy), (iii) Israel/Palestinian conflict—Harris simply ignores the asymmetry between the two sides, one side uses helicopters and tanks and the other side is left to respond with stones and their own bodies strapped with bombs, etc. There are many more examples of superficiality that can be found in the book.
One particularly shocking conclusion Harris presents is the justification for collateral damage caused by aerial bombing and torture of presumed terrorists, as if the alternatives are clear cut. Why is bombing with the best weapon “available” to one side (say, cruise missiles) with the full knowledge of tremendous collateral damage morally acceptable and the same justification, namely, using the best weapon at their disposal (say, car bomb) morally indefensible. Sam Harris lost me when he advocated, in effect and not with the same words, “bomb the barbarians to civilization” approach (words in quote are mine, not his).
I agree the tenets of Islam (and the other two monotheistic religions) include so much of violence, the world will be a better place without them and while we are at it get rid of other religions as well and in their place have secular moral values such as rationality, humanity, compassion and love to guide our lives. In this respect, in spite of religious dogma, most people are moral. Most people subscribe to these values just stated, Muslims included. Just look at the news item reported by NYT. The suffering of two young (very young) Yemeni girls has done more to improving the lives of all girls in Arab societies than Sam Harris’ treatise on Islam. The fight is just beginning in Yemen. The fundamentalists will not give up without a fight. But let us not strengthen their hands with our vitriolic rhetoric. Let us help the Yemenese human rights lawyer by staying out.
Yes, it would have been much better if Child Marriages do not take place at all. The reasons they do, even in “advanced” countries like the US are very complex. Religious dogma is a part of it. Poverty and illiteracy are two more. Past US support to despotic regimes for a promise of uninterrupted supply of oil is another. So, let us be a little humble here. It is easy to dish out advice. But insulting the vast majority of well meaning Muslims in Arab countries will only empower the radicals. The misguided US foreign policy over many decades motivated by greed for oil has resulted in the suffering of generations of these people. So, enough with blaming them. A better approach is to let them be and engage them with honest compassion. That would be beneficial not just for them, but for us as well.