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The End of Faith
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A reader sent me a link to this interview with Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, which apparently advocates doing away with religious faith as humanity moves forward.

Sounds good to me. Though I doubt Mr. Harris' book is going to bring about such a change, every little bit helps.

Anyway, the interview is interesting. Lots of good stuff there, and some stuff that I don't really agree with.

When asked about the human propensity for religious faith, he says:

The prevalence of animism among our primitive ancestors--as well as its persistence in certain tribes--demonstrates that we readily ascribe human qualities to processes in nature. It is only by gaining a deeper understanding of causal processes in the world (through science) that we come to realize that storm clouds are not angry gods and that diseases are not the result of demonic possession. It is difficult to say where we should draw the line between genetic endowment and cultural inheritance, and both are surely operative in the case of religious belief. But the basic fact is that, yes, we are deeply disposed to broadcast our own subjectivity onto the world.

And don't think the human desire is the only reason that compels people to adhere to religions, though it is definitely part of it.

I think he goes off the rails, though, when he compares Western and Eastern belief systems:

While Eastern medicine may be applicable to certain health problems, and may even surpass Western medicine in a few areas, there is simply no comparison between these two disciplines. No one with an appendicitis, an aneurysm, or breast cancer would be wise to rush off to her acupuncturist before going to the hospital. This is true in New York, and it is just as true in Hong Kong.

With respect to spiritual practice, however, the disparity clearly runs the other way. While Eastern mysticism has its fair share of unjustified belief, it undoubtedly represents humankind's best attempt at fashioning a spiritual science. The methods of introspection one finds in Buddhism, for instance, have no genuine equivalents in the West. And the suggestion that they do is born of a desperate attempt on the part of Westerners to make all religious traditions seem equally wise. They simply aren't. When a Tibetan lama talks about "nondual awareness" (Tib. rigpa) and the Pope talks about God or the Holy Spirit (or anything else), they are not talking about the same thing; nor are they operating on the same intellectual footing.

Well, I won't claim to be an expert on nondual awareness, or rigpa, but I'm not sure I'd ascribe the intellectual rigor to Eastern religion that Harris does. As I've blogged here before, I find Buddhism very anti-intellectual.

If people derive inner peace or whatnot from it, great (people can gain such things from a number of other relgious systems as well). But if Eastern religion is so much more intellectually rigorous than Western ones, can someone please let me know what insights into the world or the human condition such systems have brought about?

He then says:

Mysticism, shorn of religious dogmatism, is an empirical and highly rational enterprise.

Ah, the old "spiritual, but not religious" line. Hooey, I say. Mysticism, shorn of religious dogmatism, is, drum roll...mysticism! Which, interestingly enough, my dictionary defines as a belief in knowledge attained through subjective experience or vague speculation and belief without a strong foundation. Sounds right to me.

Then he says:

The only thing that guarantees a truly open-ended collaboration among human beings is their willingness to have their views (and resulting behavior) modified by conversation--by new evidence and new arguments. Otherwise, when the stakes are high, there is nothing to appeal to but force.

Okay, now he's making sense again.

Anyway, lots of interesting stuff...go have a look.

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