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The End of Faith as Propaganda
Posted: 05 February 2008 08:11 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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One facet of Sam’s book I have not seen mentioned here, and that is propaganda.  When I read this book I couldn’t help but feel that I was reading something from the state department.  It practically screamed “don’t pay attention to political causes, its all religion!”

    The opening sets that up nicely, painting suicide bombers as religious madmen.  A BBC crew went to Iraq where they contacted many who were training to be suicide bombers-NONE were religious fundamentalists, and several weren’t religious at all.  In Sam’s big list of conflagurations, virtually none are religious, despite Sam’s insistence that they are.  Ireland is a good example, you really have to misread that conflict to think that Catholic Irish just really didn’t like British non-deference to the Pope.

  Where it is most clear, however, is the chapter on Islam.  It’s always a treat to see wherever a critic ‘takes on Chomsky’, but this was really hilarious.  Even though Sam acknowledges virtually everything Chomsky says about US foreign policy ‘being the root of all evil’, his argument against that is downright childish.  That Bush would have only killed bad men if he could was surely a joke.  Last year NATO pilots (primarily US ones) were responsible for more deaths in Afghanistan than the Taliban.  This was due to the practise of bombing homes where insurgents fled, even though it was known that in most cases those living in the homes were innocent civilians.  That’s hardly ‘trying really hard to only get bad guys’.

  Sam’s insistence that ‘we’ are actually ‘a giant who sometimes does bad things but with good intentions’ is backed up only with the reassurance that it really is true, ironically putting the same faith in the supposition that he targets religious people for doing in the rest of the book. 

  Outside of the US most people simply take it for granted that 9/11 was a backlash against US use of force and its presence in the middle east.  The US by far outranks any terrorist organization as being the most feared entity on the planet in polls, even those done by americans. 

  That somehow violence against US interests is a RELIGIOUS problem is far more worrying than that lots of people believe in the bible or think the world is only a few thousand years old.  That belief has no political effect on anybody, but the belief that ‘terrorists are evildoers who must be stamped out any way possible’ is the notion of belief that is FAR more problematic in the world.  That belief now has lots of americans being quite willing to start another major war with Iran for its doing something that it has every right to do-or at least doing little to try to stop it.

  But the most telling propaganda wasn’t just in the dismissal of Chomsky’s, and lots of other people’s, view.  It was the name of the chapter section: “Far left unreason and the strange case of Noam Chomsky”.  I can safely state that Chomsky has ten times the brains of Sam Harris, perhaps that is why Sam quickly writes him off with the intentionality argument-which as mentioned on other threads is pretty ethically spurious to begin with.  But that Chomsky simply doesn’t subscribe to the moral intentions theory doesn’t just mean he’s ‘wrong’, it means he is ‘unreasonable’, and ‘strange’.  Again, this is because Chomsky states something that easily the majority of people believe to be the case. 

  The point of this criticism is to state that OTHER beliefs are far more dangerous than religious ones, and those are secular ones, in particular jingoistic patriotism.  Sam puts as much faith in Bush as any fundamentalist puts in Jerry Falwell (at least as far as his ‘intentions’ are concerned). The idea that the US is morally superior (which he attests to in the chapter on Islam-again, with no evidence whatsoever) and only does some bad things on its road to righteousness is, unfortunately, a ‘theory’ that has far more dire consequences in the world.  It is not religious ‘moderates’ who are the problem, it is POLITICAL moderates who are the problem.  Those who look at each political stripping of human rights, each new war, each new trade dispute, each new clamping down on civilian rights and simply say ‘well, thats the government, whaddya gonna do?” who are making the US the ‘rogue nation’ that virtually every country in the world considers it to be.  That’s what the germans did with each new step their government took. 

  That may make some here angry, thats fine, no doubt its the same affrontery that religious people feel when confronted with views like Sam’s.

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Posted: 05 February 2008 09:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Your statement that secular beliefs are more dangerous than religious beliefs is not only absurd, but is not supported in that rather long criticism you shared.  Placing jingoistic patriotism as a category of secular belief is inaccurate.  It seems you have an idealistic view of religion as a system that exists in its own domain in our culture (please correct me if I am mistaken).  The problem I have with religion is that it pervades throughout our lives, and affects those who do not want any part of it.  In fact, religion would be a non-issue if believers were to keep those beliefs to themselves.  If religious people refrained from allowing their beliefs to constrain the freedom of others, I would have less of a problem with it.  However, these beliefs are brought into all levels of policy making, influence our educational system, and even exempt religious organizations from taxes.

It seems you have confused your own point when you speak of moderates as being the problem.  The people you described, jingoistic patriots, would not be considered moderates.  Those people who are indifferent to political process, foreign policy and international affairs, as you described them, are not moderates.  The term you are looking for is apathy, not moderation.  Furthermore, I would not describe religious fundamentalists of any faith as moderates.  Rather, extremism on either side poses a serious threat, which is why I would argue the most pressing issue is to realize that rationalism and progress are interrelated, and religion is naturally irrational.  Your warnings of the dangers of indifference and over-zealousness are significant, but it provides no evidence that we should disregard the impact religion has on our lives.

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Posted: 05 February 2008 09:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Talk about propaganda . . . how did you manage to miss that part of the Muslim creed that instructs infidels to be destroyed and the recent events in the world where those who have turned away from Islam are being mowed down by officially sanctioned killers? 

Your impression of Sam spouting pro-American patriotism and superiority is slightly deranged.  How did you come to the conclusion that he excuses Bush when on many occasions he blames Bush directly because of GW’s religious fundamentalism?

I agree that Sam is definitely too hard on Chomsky, but it’s not Chomsky’s political position that Harris is at odds with but more it’s how Chomsky relies on using information out of context to support his theses and how he sometimes skews facts to make his presentation (of atrocious American behaviour) more potent.

Like many religious moderates, you see atheism (and especially this new and more aggressive stance) as a personal attack upon you.  What fool would believe that the recent strife in Northern Ireland came from Catholics upset with the British for not paying homage to the pope?  Obviously it’s not a battle between two religions, because aside from the pope, the Catholics and the Protestants are practically indistinguishable.  But just as obviously the recent bloodshed is a direct effect of certain religious conditions.  People who believe in the divine moral authority of a god, people who do not question the dogma of their religion, and people who believe that their religious convictions (and/or their nationality) is superior to all others, will find themselves embroiled in warfare with other like-minded sheeple. There is certainly enough scriptural horror in the texts of the various religious faiths to incite their fundamentalist followers into a battle, but again, it’s the mindset of these certain kinds of sheeple that sets them off to commit their crimes against humanity.

Whenever someone is moved to action by their delusions about invisible beings and encouraged by promises of a better life after their death - madness is the obvious result.  So whether you help build a house for a homeless person in Guatemala because god tells you to do it, or whether you strangle your children in the bathtub because god told you to do it, the fact that you are acting out of a delusional state is the problem.  It’s the pathology of this religious madness that puts fear into the hearts of authentic human beings, i.e., those not deluded by religious beliefs.

Finally, your evidence (from the BBC) about the secular motivations of suicide bombers is extremely intriguing.  I will have to see some of that evidence to actually believe your accounting (given the erroneous implications you have already garnered from a reading of The End of Faith).

I do tend to agree with you that the so-called “war on terror” is just an excuse for some people to become terrorists (or worse) themselves (Chomsky’s point).  But for you to give religion a pass on all this gross destruction and homocidal activity just amounts to very sloppy wishful thinking on your part.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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CanZen - 06 February 2008 02:15 AM

Whenever someone is moved to action by their delusions about invisible beings and encouraged by promises of a better life after their death - madness is the obvious result.  So whether you help build a house for a homeless person in Guatemala because god tells you to do it, or whether you strangle your children in the bathtub because god told you to do it, the fact that you are acting out of a delusional state is the problem.  It’s the pathology of this religious madness that puts fear into the hearts of authentic human beings, i.e., those not deluded by religious beliefs.

Well said.

One can argue that much of what appears to be nationalistic jingoism is really religious jingoism. In Northern Ireland, both sides regard being a faithful believer and being a patriotic citizen as the same thing. In America, millions of conservatives do the same for Americanism and Christianity - the Puritan concept of a “city on a hill” has a strong hold on these conservatives.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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mikel357 - 06 February 2008 01:11 AM

That somehow violence against US interests is a RELIGIOUS problem is far more worrying than that lots of people believe in the bible or think the world is only a few thousand years old.  That belief has no political effect on anybody…

It is worrying when creationists and ID supporters try to hijack public schools to push religion on kids.

mikel357 - 06 February 2008 01:11 AM

the belief that ‘terrorists are evildoers who must be stamped out any way possible’ is the notion of belief that is FAR more problematic in the world.  That belief now has lots of americans being quite willing to start another major war with Iran for its doing something that it has every right to do-or at least doing little to try to stop it.

One cannot look at that belief separately from religion, because the belief is driven largely by religion. Most American conservatives seem to view the conflict as Christianity versus Islam. It was surely no accident that early on, Bush referred to the conflict as a “crusade.”

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Posted: 06 February 2008 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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First, the statement WAS backed up (the point about Iran), but there are others.  It was the massive patriotism that had people willing to bomb practically anywhere after 9/11, even though it was known that the Taliban had nothing to do with it.  It had a majority of americans believing that Hussein was connected with 9/11 and thereby allowing a completely illegal war.  It is that jingoistic patriotism that had congress calling them ‘freedom fries’ because France and other countries wouldn’t join the US in an illegal war.

  However, it is not ME who places jingoistic patriotism in the same category as religion, that is just something I believe is accurate, and it is stated by Sam in numerous cases, specifically concerning Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  This is not a misreading of the book, he states it EXPLICITLY.

  The problem for many americans is believing that EVERY nationalistic belief is any different from religious ones.  Again, I didn’t SAY that he agreed with Bush, I said he puts his faith in Bush (the ‘perfect weapon’ argument).  That’s not a ‘misreading’, he SAYS it.  He says that ‘if only we had a way of only killing bad guys we’d do it’.  That is untrue, as the example of Afghanistan shows.  You may not LIKE it, but again, thats because you’ve already put ‘faith’ in the fact that US foreign policy is that well intentioned giant who occasionally does bad things. 

  Religion of course pervades our lives, and I certainly didn’t give it a ‘pass’.  For suicide bombings, however, go to the BBC website and look at their online podcasts on Iraq.  Suicide bombings have been around for as long as military history has records-the japanese used it, and nobody said it was ‘jainism’ that had them doing it.  Ireland used it, Michael Collins even wrote about the strategy, you can go to your library and read it. In fact many muslims have referenced Michael Collins.  Now, to GET people to blow themselves up takes work, and as the above documentary shows,there are various strategies for doing some.  Some are religious, perhaps a simple minded young person can be taught to believe that dozens of virgins await him.  But thats just one strategy among others.  Others include the obvious nationalistic ones, ‘fighting the oppressors’, etc.  Others may simply include financial, taking care of a person’s family.  Others may simply be more violent- like threatening a persons family.  Again, religous fundamentalism is just a tool like any other.

  Unlike most countries, the US is nominally democratic, meaning YOU can have a political impact.  When I say ‘political moderates’ are the problem I mean it in the same way Sam does, and the same way they mean ‘bad things happen because good people don’t stand up’. 

  THere’s no surprise that in foreign policy the government has virtually the opposite opinion than most of the population, so we again see the strange case of Sam saying “we” did this, and “we” do that, when US citizens have virtually NO effect on foreign policy.

  Religious beliefs DO have the affect mentioned above, but whether Georgia school systems teach ‘intelligent design’ doesn’t determine whether somebody lives or dies.  Sam’s point is not that religion is an inconvenience because they get tax breaks or have some policies that maybe you don’t like, his point is that ‘it threatens the world’.  Again, you may not like it, but the US ‘preemptive strike’ policy wherein they (and its ‘they’, not ‘we’) can attack anybody under the most spurious circumstances, is what most of the world fears-not the occasional suicide bomber.

  For proof of that lets look at the above mention of those crazed muslims killing infidels.  How often have we seen that happen? Its not a coincidence that the only place suicide bombing goes on is WAR zones.  There are lots of extremist muslims in North America, why isn’t there massive bloodletting?

  I didn’t say that political moderates are the same as jingoistic patriots, as mentioned above there are many levels of political activity.  A political moderate is not ‘apathetic’, the apathetic people play NO part in politics, they don’t vote, they don’t do ANYTHING, so they are irrelevant.  Moderates are the ones who think that ‘democrats are better than republicans’ and if ‘only we can get rid of bush then everything will be all right’ when both leading democrat contenders have virtually identical foreign policy objectives (they’ve been lately trading off calling one another republicans).

  But in a democracy where people have freedom, there is at least the possibility of change.  YOU are not going to get shot or killed if you become politically active.  The Vietnam war ended in large part because it was getting more expensive to fight the war at home than overseas.

  For the second post, how did YOU miss the part about the US policy that any muslim who opposes us is therefore a muslim fanatic who must either be killed or captured and tortured.  At the highest levels they are now saying that ‘waterboarding isn’t torture’ (I forget the guys name but its now common knowledge that the US government actively engages in torture).  WHen you condone torture (there’s even a thread here on ‘the morality of torturing muslims’)then its pretty hard to say you have the moral high ground.

  And unlike the muslims, who are NOT ‘killing infidels’, the US government actively engages in murdering muslims (even innocent ones, reread the part about bombing in Afghanistan).

  So again people can worry because muslims SHOUT jingoistic statements, or they can worry because the US actually CARRIES out their violence.  You can do like Sam and subscribe to the moral theory that ‘we woudln’t do it if only everybody did what we told them to’, but thats not much of a moral theory. 

  Again, the propaganda is very apparant in what is described above.  If Sam doesn’t like a specific act then he’ll call it ‘Bush’s fundamentalism’.  But the idea that all of this is because of Bush is equally bizarre, how then to explain Somalia, Bosnia, Nicaragua, etc.  And most of the world knows full well that Bush doesn’t have the intelligence to string two straight sentences together.  But that is what the propaganda model WANTS you to think, that its just Bush and once he’s gone everything will be all right.  But the up and comers have virtually the same view of Iran, and neither are religious fundamentalists.

  You misread his attack on Chomsky, he IS, as you say, too hard on Chomsky.  Ironically he agrees with all of Chomsky’s information, just disagrees with the reasoning behind it. And again, this is not ‘we’ because polls routinely show that if anything americans are isolationists and want at the very least to leave everyone else alone. 

  As for me personally, thats besides the point in any criticism, but I do not think of atheism as ‘an attack on me’, thats, sorry to say, kind of crazy.  An ATTACK on me is what I see as an attack on me, a belief system certainly can’t attack me, I am free to ignore it.  Which brings us back to religion, there is no doubt that there is a reason ‘for unbelief’, especially politically.  That’s one of the sad things about this book-there are so many good books about atheism out there.  But don’t confuse muslim suicide bombers with whether your school teaches intelligent design, those are two very different issues. 

  As another poster said, the best tool against fundamentalism would be to aggressively teach ALL of the bible.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to take literally, it contradicts itself too much, much of it is obvious poetry and parable, which obviously cannot be taken literally.  An anti poverty group once counted the ideas in the bible and showed that there are EIGHT sentences where it ‘sort of’ sounds like god doesn’t like homosexuality, yet there were THOUSANDS of lines stating that god doesn’t like social injustice and accumulation of wealth.  Which do you hear more about?

  My point there is that BEHIND every religious idea is a secular one.  In Ireland, the problem wasn’t people’s beliefs. It was that the british colonized Ireland and brought in scottish and welsh protestants who were given land that previously belonged to catholics.  In north america native people don’t get politically active because ‘we’ have a different god, but because we’re on their damn land.  During the colonizing stage many natives actively converted-it didn’t save them from slavery.

  And its not coincidence that Sam picks the holocaust and the inquisition.  The inquisition was hundreds of years ago, but even Sam accedes to the political motivations behind it. Now look at World War One and WOrld War Two.  The british went to war with germany when they invaded poland, not because ‘they believed different ideas about god’.

  I like debate but I fundamentally disagree with the above post about ‘the problem’.  If somebody builds homes in Guatamala ‘because god told them to do it’, then it CERTAINLY, I can’t over-emphasize this enough, CERTAINLY isn’t the same problem as a murderer.  In fact its not a problem AT ALL. Its DESIRABLE.  Thats because actions are evaluated on their own.  If I kill somebody I go to jail because I killed them, not because of WHY I killed them.

  I can see why its important to believe that though, because much good in the world is done on religious grounds, and with one sentence you can change all that goodness into a ‘problem’.  That quakers helped feed starving irish during the famine is a ‘problem’ is also ‘just a belief’.  YOu can’t PROVE that, and of course ‘what is true now should be discoverable now’.  Try having an argument on morality trying to prove why feeding the poor is ‘immoral’ or building homes for the poor is ‘immoral’.  It’s a joke, and for good reason. 

  For an easy, albeit homilific, proof of what I’m saying, just ask how often these two lines are interchangeable: “I would die for my god” and “I would die for my country”. 

  Same thing, but as we see, the latter is a FAR bigger problem.  An easy proof of that is to simply ask how much violence there would be against the US if the US pulled out all its troops from the middle east.  There’s a reason that travellers wear canadian flags on their luggage to set them apart-canadians are also ‘infidels’ but their military (at least right now) doesn’t have the same foreign policy aims.

  As for life and death, religious motivations aren’t nearly as prevalent as secular ones.  You can choose to believe that the US invaded Iraq because, oh wait, no, Iraq WASN"T muslim, it was the only SECULAR country in the region. It’s just getting harder and harder to take Sam seriously.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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mikel357 - 06 February 2008 11:15 AM

Religious beliefs DO have the affect mentioned above, but whether Georgia school systems teach ‘intelligent design’ doesn’t determine whether somebody lives or dies.

Not directly. But such beliefs do cause severe harm in the long term. The believer learns to think of right and wrong as simply obeying authority, instead of as helping or hurting others. So they falsely equate immorality with mindless rebellion. Also, the beliefs promote an ignorance of science, and an understanding of basic science is absolutely essential for everyone.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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For the post three above, I said ‘notion of belief’, not belief.  That bush calls it a crusade is frankly irrelevant, when policy planners found that that ‘didn’t test well’ they quickly changed terminology.  However, what DOESN"T change is the state department which, as Chomsky says, characterizes the middle east as ‘the greatest material prize in history’.

  In other words, what most people know, is that the wars were about POWER, and to a lesser extent oil and who controls it.  Just wait, the focus will shortly change as China looks to Africa for oil.  So religion here is just a cover, the CIA wasn’t active in South America because ‘they’ were catholic, hell, they were working with the people killing nuns and priests, it certainly wasn’t religious based.  Religion is just a very convenient fall guy.

  For the post above, thats ‘sort of’ true, but not quite. Intelligent design is a ‘theory’, nothing more.  It isn’t a mode of instruction.  In school, virtually ALL instruction is designed on the basis of authority.  In history texts they don’t explain archeology, they say ‘this happened in such and such a year’.  I’ve heard a lot of podcasts on intelligent design and by no means do they ignore science.  At the same time, how many can explain WHY E=MC squared?  How many can advance most of the theories of evolution?  Many scientific theories are believed for the same reason as religious ones-without much thought.  People take most scientific theories on ‘faith’-oops, theres that nasty word!  Maybe its not ‘faith’ thats the problem. 

  By the way, before everybody goes off on that tangent I didn’t say I believed IT theories, only that they don’t NECESSARILY mean ignoring science.  I think the best way to teach both theories would be with active debate and research-something unfortunately schools don’t excel at, but the internet does.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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mikel357 - 06 February 2008 12:47 PM

That bush calls it a crusade is frankly irrelevant, when policy planners found that that ‘didn’t test well’ they quickly changed terminology.

I was talking about Bush’s possible motivation. Evangelical Christians like Bush talk about converting others as a “crusade” with a small C. While his use of the word could have been an honest mistake, it could have also betrayed a view of the situation as Christians versus Muslims. That could be the case since he seems to view many issues as simple black and white.

mikel357 - 06 February 2008 12:47 PM

In other words, what most people know, is that the wars were about POWER, and to a lesser extent oil and who controls it.

While that is a very likely explanation, we don’t truly know Bush’s motivation. It may be more complicated than a simple desire for power. My list of likely explanations is below. Note that the truth could include a combination of some or all of these.

1. Bush believed the neocons’ starry-eyed fantasy of a reverse domino theory leading to democracy throughout the Middle East.
2. Bush and Chaney wanted to create chaos in the region to drive up oil prices, thus rewarding their friends and supporters in the oil industry.
3. Bush and Chaney wanted to open up opportunities in Iraq for their friends and supporters among military contractors, including Haliburton and Blackwater.
4. Bush wanted to avenge his father for Saddam’s assassination attempt.
5. Bush may have complicated issues with his father and wanted to prove he could outdo him to prove himself.
6. Bush may be a Premillenial Dispensationalist who believes that turmoil in the Middle East will hasten the events in Revelation.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 09:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Mike, you appear to be arguing that people like Sam Harris (and those who’ve responded to you here) blame all the human-caused turmoil in the world on religion.  Give us a break, of course we realize that there are social, political, economic, and other factors, besides religion, that lead people to attempt to destroy others.  All of the examples you have brought forth are indeed legitimate and implicated in the violence. My main point was that it is people of the religious mindset (the sheeple mentality) that are most vulnerable to being manipulated into war or some other atrocious behaviour. The fact that Americans supported the War in Iraq is a prime example.  People in Canada were opposed to it because there was no connection between 9/11 and Hussein, the French, the Germans, the Swedish, etc. all opposed it for the same reasons (it made no sense).  Even the British people overwhelmingly opposed the war, although the Blair Government had other interests.  In my opinion, it was the sheeple mindset (cultivated by religious belief) that swayed the majority of Americans to support their president in this illegal action against Iraq (and as you mention, Afghanistan - although the link to Al Qeida and the Taliban was well founded).

Of course you will disagree with my position, because you don’t like being referred to as a sheeple, who would?  In fact you prove your point later on in your response when you say,
“” I can see why its important to believe that though, because much good in the world is done on religious grounds, and with one sentence you can change all that goodness into a ‘problem’.  That quakers helped feed starving irish during the famine is a ‘problem’ is also ‘just a belief’.  YOu can’t PROVE that, and of course ‘what is true now should be discoverable now’.  Try having an argument on morality trying to prove why feeding the poor is ‘immoral’ or building homes for the poor is ‘immoral’.  It’s a joke, and for good reason.”“

I never said that feeding the poor or building homes for them is immoral, those are your ideas.  My claim was that building homes for the homeless “because god tells you to do it” has no moral worthiness.  In the same way we don’t excuse the child killer because she claims that “god told me to do it.”  Morality is derived from the way that you treat others out of your own compassion and empathy (and certainly many of those who feed the hungry through their church do have an authentic sense of moral care).  Being moral because “god told me to” or because “god will reward me” is a joke because it is only by accident that something good gets done.  If we all did what we do “because god told us to” there would be no morality at all, except what god had already proclaimed or that some individual claims that god personally prescribed to her.  On this model of sheeple mentality (following a supernatural moral authority) it is just accidental that something compassionate gets done, but by the same accident thousands of people could’ve been killed (as millions already have been).

I don’t know if Sam and I are on the same page here, but I tend to think he would agree with me. You seem to think that he is more fully convinced that it is religious doctrine itself and not the mental state of the adherents that causes all the turmoil in the world.  Until we hear from him, we would only be speculating, but at least I’ve made a case for my position on these matters.

Bob

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Posted: 06 February 2008 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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CanZen - 06 February 2008 02:37 PM

Mike, you appear to be arguing that people like Sam Harris (and those who’ve responded to you here) blame all the human-caused turmoil in the world on religion.  Give us a break, of course we realize that there are social, political, economic, and other factors, besides religion, that lead people to attempt to destroy others.

Absolutely. I’ve heard that charge over and over, leveled at Dawkins and Hitchens as well as at Harris, and from my reading none of them have said that. I wonder if it originated with a commentator like Coulter or O’Reilly. It’s almost become an urban myth.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I don’t mind debate, but it has to be based on what is actually said.  Sam Harris’ book quite emphatically does NOT state that ‘religion is a problem because religous people are more gullible and susceptible to propaganda’.  That may be YOUR view, but it is not Sam’s, he NEVER says that but often states the opposite.  Religious ‘faith’ is the central problem he says, the ‘political other’ or as mentioned above, numbers 1 through 5, are secondary. But again, it was hardly just bush who went to war, congress also plays a role, so what bush thought is largely irrelevant as this is not a dictatorship.

  As for the above, reread your own comments.  You didn’t say that building homes because god said so had no moral worthiness, you equated it with murder and stated it was a problem.  If thats not what you meant thats something else.  However, thats also a very specific moral theory you have if you think doing good has no moral worthiness because it all depends on WHY you are doing it.  That flies in the face of all reason, people get awards for volunteer work all the time, they aren’t based on why they do them, they could be because aliens tell them, but if a person reads to the blind and makes them happy, that is ‘moral’ in just about every ethical theory-except yours. What you claim as ‘being moral’ is just ONE theory of morality, and a pretty fringe one. 

  The follow up to that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  At a young age ALL moral thinking is because ‘somebody told you’.  Thats a hypothetical argument though, to cut to the chase, the main problem to me, and most people-certainly the victims, is the ACT of suicide bombing, in other words the fact that it kills people.  What the person believes is secondary.  As I’ve said, what people ‘believe’ is largely irrelevant except in very specific cases.  In most cases people are quite happy with the distinction between church and state.  For other countries attacked by the US, the problem is the attack-not the motives behind it. 

  So if its ‘accidental’ that christians, jews, muslims, hindus, go out and feed the poor then so be it and ‘god bless’ the sheeple mentality.  So long as god is not telling them to shoot people (and you’ll notice that scripture is given only as a ‘justification’ of an act, not as a REASON for an act) then who cares? 
 
  I’m not going by what Sam believes, I am going by what he writes.  Religious doctrine ‘itself’ does nothing.  A stone tablet with ten commandments in the middle of the forest with no people around means nothing-it wouldn’t upset Sam or I. 

  What Sam SPECIFICALLY says is that the CENTRAL problems in the world today are that people have faith in scripture.  He SAYS that, over and over again. Its not their ‘mental state’, it is their belief in scripture and god.  Again, looking at the world and seeing US hegemony, environmental devastation (which is being blocked by industries, and unless you think the oil industry are all religious fanatics then that is secular), world poverty (primarily due to the vagaries of modern corporate control), then we see that religious beliefs rank WAY down the list.

  That is why I called this thread ‘propaganda’.  It is not religion causing all the turmoil, it is almost NEVER religion causing the turmoil.  Religion enters into it at some point, but Sam’s thesis is not ‘the effects of religion on war zones’, it is the theory that the biggest problem in the world today is religious fundamentalists, primarily muslim ones.  That feeds into a geo political view, one straight out of Orwell.  One day its ‘communists’, the next day its ‘peasant revolutionaries’, then ‘muslim fundamentalists’.  First, of course, were the ‘evil redskins’. 

  That’s why I say the problem is political moderates, those who simply keep moving on to the next ‘enemy’ whenever the white house says so, when the reality is that in polls most of the world sees the united states as the central problem, NOT muslims.  This book just provides fodder for that.  For atheism, at least ‘the god delusion’ is a cogent read.  By the way, none of this is that contentious, I’ve read pretty much most of the ideas I’ve expressed at mainstream publications doing reviews. 

  Finally, this is all VERY important, and why I called it propaganda.  IF you accept Chomsky’s view, and the view that ‘if you want to stop terrorism then stop doing it’, then that necessarily involves US in acting.  We have to ‘do something’. In Sams’ view, it is ‘other people’ who are the problem, and those ‘other people’ need to be stopped-so its ok to torture them and/or kill them, as long as what is happening is that their beliefs are being stopped.  I didn’nt even get into all that because of space, but thats exactly how propaganda works-go listen to some old Reagan speeches about Nicaragua.  At some point when you piss off everybody you have to ask - ‘maybe its me’.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Didn’t want to have to waste time doing this, but people should actually read the book..

“our world is fast succumbing to the activities of men and women who would stake the future of our species on beliefs that should not survive an elementary school education”.  pg. 25


  Sounds pretty dire doesn’t it?  But again, what are the activities- a reliance on oil is a religious problem?  Dumping rice in the ocean to keep prices high while children starve is a religious problem?  Distrusting global change theories is religious? 

  Page. 26
  “Indeed religion is as much a wellspring of violence today as it was at any time in the past…..(lists locations)...In these places religion has been the EXPLICIT (his emphasis) cause of literally millions of deaths”

  I dealt with Ireland, you can add India and Pakistan to the list.  It is absurd to state that is religious violence.  If Australia went to war with New Zealand would he say that was religious?  Those are secular territorial disputes, which even Sam says is about Kashmir-although he says that ‘its not REALLY about Kashmir, thats just a made up reason’.  That sounds like the reasoning of somebody arguing theology.  He has no ‘proof’ of it, just claims that ‘its so’.  Again, you ‘take it on faith’ that he is right. 

  In that instance he goes on to state that he “hopes the forces of secularism and rationality” can win out.  The real danger is apparantly the respective beliefs about the afterlife.  Here, again like a kind of propaganda, he puts secular and rationality together as if they are linked, when the real problem is secular.  He even lightens it by saying that it is only that we shouldn’t IGNORE the religious aspect of the confrontation.  Nobody is saying it should be ignored, but the problems should be recognized for what they are. 

  World War One costs millions of lives, virtually all of them christian.  That cost more lives and atrocities than all the current wars put together. 

  Those are two quick examples from picking up the book, I can list more, but that should be sufficient to show that what some people’s views are here, are NOT what Sam’s are.  The ‘book’ is not a religion, you don’t need to defend it like a religious person does a bible.  Sam makes these claims, and like I said, I wouldn’t bring up propaganda, wouldn’t even be here if Sam wrote what is said above.  But here is the elevation of fundamentalism, particularly muslim fundamentalism.  In fact, according to the moral theory presented by a poster above, IF the central problem were that ‘god said to do it’ then the muslim religion wouldn’t have special consideration.  The ‘act’ by the above theory, is seccondary, so whether its a suicide bomb or working with the poor, both are the same problem (that god told somebody to do it-again, thats not me saying that).

  Clearly thats not the case, Sam goes through special pains to single out the muslim religion, hardly surprising considering current politics.  I mean, the book is called “the end of faith”.  If religion were just a problem among many then he certainly wouldn’t be talking about ending faith.

  So some people here may want to try to, whats the word, apologetics for Sam Harris, but its all right there in black and white.  He’s alive and can defend himself, so don’t speak for him.  As I said, other atheists at least are logically consistent, and there are lots of them out there.  This book reads more like a political manual, for ‘atheism’ its even a bad atheist book, jumping right into asian religions.  If its atheism your looking for, there are tons of great books around and even podcasts now.  Its not like this is a ‘silent’ crowd.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Mike,

I had no intention of dealing at all with your criticism of the book.  My purpose was to point out that after your arguments against Sam’s, it seems in your last original paragraph you made several ‘leaps of faith,’ if you will.  Proving an argument against religion as invalid, does not lend evidence to support the dangers of secularism.

mikel357 - 06 February 2008 01:11 AM

  The point of this criticism is to state that OTHER beliefs are far more dangerous than religious ones, and those are secular ones, in particular jingoistic patriotism.

So here you have placed jingoistic patriotism as a secular belief, and argued that it is far more dangerous than religious beliefs.

mikel357 - 06 February 2008 11:15 AM

  However, it is not ME who places jingoistic patriotism in the same category as religion, that is just something I believe is accurate, and it is stated by Sam in numerous cases, specifically concerning Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  This is not a misreading of the book, he states it EXPLICITLY.

Now, here you argue that it is in the same category as religion.

Surely you can see the contradiction.  Now, if you were to place it in the same category as religious belief, then aren’t you arguing against your own point.  You say there are far more dangerous things than religion, but you state that jingoistic patriotism is in the same category and you warn us against the dangers associated with it.  Although I agree with you with regard to the dangers associated with indifference to civil rights transgressions, please do not argue that jingoistic patriotism is in the same category as religion, tell us how dangerous it is, THEN argue that that we need not worry about the dangers of religion.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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mikel357 - 06 February 2008 11:15 AM

If Sam doesn’t like a specific act then he’ll call it ‘Bush’s fundamentalism’.  But the idea that all of this is because of Bush is equally bizarre, how then to explain Somalia, Bosnia, Nicaragua, etc.

I’m curious about how you managed to get Bosnia into that group.  How does what Clinton did with regard to Bosnia tie in with your point?

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Posted: 06 February 2008 12:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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mikel357 - 06 February 2008 11:15 AM


You may not LIKE it, but again, thats because you’ve already put ‘faith’ in the fact that US foreign policy is that well intentioned giant who occasionally does bad things.

This is a mighty big and erroneous assumption, unless you’re referring to SH only or to Champion.

Its not a coincidence that the only place suicide bombing goes on is WAR zones.  There are lots of extremist muslims in North America, why isn’t there massive bloodletting?

9/11 was the mother of all suicide bombings.

I didn’t say that political moderates are the same as jingoistic patriots, as mentioned above there are many levels of political activity.  A political moderate is not ‘apathetic’, the apathetic people play NO part in politics, they don’t vote, they don’t do ANYTHING, so they are irrelevant.  Moderates are the ones who think that ‘democrats are better than republicans’ and if ‘only we can get rid of bush then everything will be all right’ when both leading democrat contenders have virtually identical foreign policy objectives (they’ve been lately trading off calling one another republicans).

This is non-sensical to me.

But the idea that all of this is because of Bush is equally bizarre, how then to explain Somalia, Bosnia, Nicaragua, etc.  And most of the world knows full well that Bush doesn’t have the intelligence to string two straight sentences together.  But that is what the propaganda model WANTS you to think, that its just Bush and once he’s gone everything will be all right.  But the up and comers have virtually the same view of Iran, and neither are religious fundamentalists.

Bush/Cheney, et. al. Also, more erroneous generalization.

For an easy, albeit homilific, proof of what I’m saying, just ask how often these two lines are interchangeable: “I would die for my god” and “I would die for my country”. 

Same thing, but as we see, the latter is a FAR bigger problem.  An easy proof of that is to simply ask how much violence there would be against the US if the US pulled out all its troops from the middle east.  There’s a reason that travellers wear canadian flags on their luggage to set them apart-canadians are also ‘infidels’ but their military (at least right now) doesn’t have the same foreign policy aims.

We also would have to give up oil, any cultural exchange, withdraw support for Israel, and generally do Bin Laden’s bidding.

As for life and death, religious motivations aren’t nearly as prevalent as secular ones.

The problem is, as you said, that one can be used as a tool for the other, ergo the urgency for maintaining separation of church and state.

You can choose to believe that the US invaded Iraq because, oh wait, no, Iraq WASN"T muslim, it was the only SECULAR country in the region. It’s just getting harder and harder to take Sam seriously.

By now, most people should have a pretty good idea of why.

I haven’t read Sam H’s book so I’m certainly not going to defend his positions. Perhaps your critique would be better directed to him. As I have stated elsewhere, my impression from listening to him and other peoples’ comments such as yours, is that SH is given to generalization and prejudice on this issue probably due to the particular way 9/11 has had an effect on him. I think he stated in a debate that he confirmed his Atheism by that event.

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