I hesitate to promote this interview, because it shows me at the end of my patience (and I stay there for 2 hours). However, I did manage to express almost everything I think about the “regressive Left” in general and about my least-honest critics in particular. I stand by everything I said here, but I’d like to apologize to the interviewer, Kyle Kulinski, for all the interruptions.—SH
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.
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:
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.”
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.
Supporting the Blog and Podcast
SamHarris.org is supported by the generosity of its readers. If you find my essays, interviews, or podcasts useful, please consider becoming a sponsor of the website. —SH
You can also become a contributor by making a one-time donation in any amount.
Get Sam's Newsletter
Joining our email list is the best way to hear about Sam's upcoming books, articles, podcasts, and public talks.