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The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the…

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004)

by Sam Harris

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Not as forceful or comprehensive as Richard Dawkins' later The God Delusion, nor as readable as Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Sam Harris' The End of Faith was nevertheless one of the most important (and one of the first) books championing the resurgence of a more assertive and more indignant 'New Atheism' in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Conditioned in my prior reading by the intelligent polemicism of Dawkins and Hitchens, I was consequently dismayed when Harris' book turned out to be more drily academic. In a couple of chapters ('In the Shadow of God' and 'The Problem with Islam' – and, to a lesser extent, 'West of Eden'), he is quite readable and engrossing, but for the most part it is rather overwrought. Particularly earlier on, it reads like a doctoral thesis rather than a best-seller, and the reader may become fatigued by all the academic jargon. Yes, Harris is dealing with rather complex notions of philosophy and science, but so would Dawkins just a couple of years later, and Dawkins would present such concepts far more accessibly. Harris' writing, in contrast, never has this approachability.

Nevertheless, Harris' ideas are usually sound (Dawkins mined his book extensively for The God Delusion). He says some non-politically-correct stuff, and occasionally indulges in some of the blood-and-thunder, zero-sum 'clash of civilisations' stuff that betrays the book's age (Harris acknowledges, on page 323, that he started writing it the day after 9/11). But, for the most part, it is stuff that needs to be said, even if he is often overwrought in how he goes about it. Alongside the usual atheist targets – fundamentalist violence, the illogical and inconsistent nature of the holy books, etc. – he also notes other areas of concern, from the behaviour of politically-correct and hand-wringing multiculturalists (It is time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development… it seems as objectively true as saying that not all societies have equal material resources." (pg. 143)), the similar behaviour from religious moderates ("… the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself. Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed." (pg. 45)), to the privileged position we accord to religion, placing it above scrutiny ("When was the last time that someone was criticized for not 'respecting' another person's unfounded beliefs about physics or history?" (pg. 176)). Above all, Harris is critical of the fact that such cowardly behaviours and ignorant mindsets encourage tolerance of intolerance.

Elsewhere, he seems determined to break a number of other taboos, stating that 'we' (as in the Western democracies) are indeed at war with Islam as a creed (violence being "precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran" (pg. 109)), disposes of the myth that it is a religion of peace (at one point, ending on page 123, he quotes five straight pages of excerpts from the Koran explicitly inciting violence), and claims that, due to the contrasting levels of respect shown to their womenfolk, American and European men love their women more than men from Arabic cultures. After giving examples of a number of depraved atrocities committed against Islamic women by their male relatives, Harris says:

"What can we say about this behaviour? Can we say that Middle Eastern men who are murderously obsessed with female sexual purity actually love their wives, daughters and sisters less than American or European men do? Of course, we can. And what is truly incredible about the state of our discourse is that such a claim is not only controversial but actually unutterable in most contexts. Where's the proof that these men are less capable of love than the rest of us? Well, where would the proof be if a person behaved this way in our own society? Where's the proof that the person who shot JFK didn't really love him? All the proof we need came from the book depository… We know what these honour killers are up to – and it is not a matter of expressing their love for the women in their lives… There is no doubt that certain beliefs are incompatible with love, and this notion of 'honour' is among them." (pg. 189)

I was a bit suspicious of Harris' advocacy of Buddhism towards the end of the book, but his argument in this regard is reasonable (though I am not entirely convinced – the Buddhist framework is just as corruptible as other religious beliefs and can be easily twisted into violence – witness the Japanese atrocities of bushido during the Second World War – or diluted by ignorant people into bland, New Age-y crap that convinces people they're helping when they're actually just satisfying their own ego and piety). I should also point out that, despite the passages I have quoted, Harris does not target Islam unfairly; he only notes that it finds itself expressing "the evil of religious faith at the moment of its political ascendancy". It is not "uniquely susceptible" to this amongst religions, but it is, "at this moment in history, uniquely ascendant" (pp130-1), much as Christianity was at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Overall, The End of Faith is a compelling, considered and constructive account, even if at times it can become convoluted.

What I found most impressive about The End of Faith is that Harris is not just railing against religion, but trying to articulate a rational response and remedy to it. He goes beyond an advocacy of reason and science and free-thinking to actually propose ways of bringing about such shifts in mindset. Whilst he occasionally threatens to bite off more than he can chew, for all his lofty concepts his conclusion is an exceedingly simple one: "… an utter revolution in our thinking could be accomplished in a single generation: if parents and teachers would merely give honest answers to the questions of every child." (pg. 224). Children are born without any notion of the fiction of a Christian or Islamic God, or the arbitrary and unjust rules their advocates impose, and perversely this gives them a greater claim to intellectual maturity than many of the adults who birth them." ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
The End of Faith is the book that put Sam Harris on the map as one of the premiere critics of religion and its bulwark of fallacious thinking. It also earned him an infamous reputation as he is often cited with his equally-contentious contemporaries: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens—along with Harris they're collectively known as the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism."

I highly recommend this book. It's important to understand the points Sam Harris is trying to get across even if you disagree with him, as many vehemently do. As the world becomes more interconnected through technology, the religions and tribal mentalities of old are being tested. Hiding behind a delusory doctrine is becoming less and less of an option. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Feb 29, 2016 |
I'm going to be brief. The End of Faith by Sam Harris is a landmark book for me. It blew my mind when I first read it. Now, it doesn't feel as good as the short and sharp Letter To A Christian Nation, and has less great moments than the slow starting and uneven The Moral Landscape. The End Of Faith opened my eyes to reviews and reviewing possibilities. It gave me an insight into writing quickly, with as much original thought and fluidity of prose as I am able to muster. It influenced my writing most of all books and for that I'm glad. I couldn't, however read the parts about meditation and Sam Harris's take on mysticism is too contemporary and he doesn't look at the subject through history. I think whatever the imagined or concrete benefits of meditation are, they take up a lot of time, and should only be attempted by people who really need them. I also didn't get the bits about relativism and pragmatism. Harris's writing was surprisingly muted there and he didn't give any example to clarify his vague texts. Nitpicking apart, this book is still meaningful although now a tad dated by what now, ten years? Seemed that I was reading it for the first time quite recently. Sam Harris should go back to discussing Christianity as that is his forte and he should update his work. I'd gladly read about the recent events and a revised view and vision of what the present means for the future. ( )
  Jiraiya | Mar 29, 2015 |
How necessary is religious faith in our world? Are there questions only faith can answer? Can someone live happily without the need to believe supernatural claims? How are religions affecting our world today? If you've ever asked any of these questions you should read this book. ( )
  JorgeCarvajal | Feb 13, 2015 |
Wow. This book does not hold back on making its stance blindingly obvious. Its whole premise is that religious faith, even of a moderate nature, is an antiquated and baseless notion that must be challenged to see reason. Until this happens, the author says, the world is headed for not only increased political and social instability, but death by our own making through religious-based war.

Islam is presently seen to be the biggest threat to world peace. This, he says, is because it's book advocates for either contempt towards or conversion of non-Muslims. That it promises a place in heaven for those who die in the act of either is the deal-breaker. Many are willing to die a 'martyr' for their belief that they are enacting the literal word of god. The author stresses that Muslim extremists are extreme in their religious faith in these situations. He refutes the oft-quoted 'Islam is a religion of peace' statement by arguing that there is just too much in the holy books that proves otherwise. Judaism and Christianity are also critiqued for relying heavily on a book of fiction that has no bearing on or relevance to modern life. Each faith's superiority in its claim to know the truth, he says, is as meaningless as a school yard squabble. He states unequivocally that people of faith are delusional and that it is a travesty that so much weight is given to religion in political decision-making that affects all our lives.

What I liked about this book is that the author is unafraid to make bold statements about what is essentially a taboo subject. He challenges the notion that religion or faith is not to be questioned. He looks past religion to ethics, morals and the larger philosophy of human interaction which gives a broader framework within which to assess how we all might just get along. Although I agree wholeheartedly with the Hitchens quote he endorses: "what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence" (p176), this author took me to a place that was too far from my comfort zone in terms of respect for other people and their way of living. And this, I think, was his intention. ( )
4 vote Ireadthereforeiam | Feb 3, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
Sam Harris könyve egészen kis alakú, és mindössze 134 oldal, e szempontból tehát találó az alcíme: levél egy keresztény nemzethez. Más tekintetben az alcím kevésbé találó, hiszen ahogy a szerző maga is bevallja, a könyv valójában nem a keresztényeket, sokkal inkább a szekuláris társadalom híveit kívánja megcélozni, felvértezve őket keresztény ellenfeleikkel szemben. És valóban ez az, amire alkalmasabbnak mutatkozik.

A könyv sok gondolata ismerős lehet a Richard Dawkins Isteni téveszme c. könyve olvasóinak. Sam Harris is felhozza a "minden hívő ateista a többi vallással szemben" érvet, példákkal mutatja be a Biblia erőszakosságát, amellett érvel, hogy az erkölcs nem a vallásból származik, hosszasan sorolja a kereszténység által okozott károkat, és így tovább. Rövid jellegéből adódóan mindezt azonban Dawkinsnál jóval kevésbé részletesen, olykor már-már kinyilatkoztatásszerűen, és nem ritkán arrogánsan is teszi, ami könnyen elijesztheti a vallásos lelkületű olvasókat.

A hasonló gondolatok ellenére az érdeklődő ateistáknak (vagy kevésbé sértődékeny hívőknek) mégis érdemes lehet kézbe venni a könyvet, a szerző ugyanis több aktuális kérdést is feszeget, hatásos érvekkel vértezve fel olvasóit elsősorban a vallásnak az abortuszhoz, az őssejtkutatáshoz, valamint a tudományhoz fűződő viszonyának kérdéséről. Több helyen kikel például az itthon MTA-s körökben is népszerű érvvel szemben, mely szerint a tudomány és a vallás másról szól, és ezért megférnek egymás mellett. A szerző egyes érvelési módszerei is érdekesek lehetnek az olvasók számára. A kereszténység abszurditásának bemutatásához rendszeresen megjelennek például már kihalt vallásokkal kapcsolatos gondolatkísérletek, illetve más vallások abszurd tanításainak ismertetései.

Összességében véve a könyvre sajnos erőteljesen rányomta a bélyegét a rövidsége. A szerző túl sokat akart mondani túl kicsiny helyen, ezért sokszor csak nagyon érintőlegesen említ dolgokat, illetve olykor csak ismereteket közöl, az érveket elhagyva. Bár nem találtam a könyvben olyan gondolatot, amivel ne tudnék egyetérteni, így a téma iránt érdeklődőknek ajánlani tudom, de ha valaki csak egyetlen könyvet akar elolvasni a témában, annak inkább az Isteni téveszmét nyomnám a kezébe.

Varga Gábor
2009. október 1.
It's not often that I see my florid strain of atheism expressed in any document this side of the Seine, but ''The End of Faith'' articulates the dangers and absurdities of organized religion so fiercely and so fearlessly that I felt relieved as I read it, vindicated, almost personally understood. Sam Harris presents major religious systems like Judaism, Christianity and Islam as forms of socially sanctioned lunacy, their fundamental tenets and rituals irrational, archaic and, important when it comes to matters of humanity's long-term survival, mutually incompatible.
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For my mother
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The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal.
Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book.
The very ideal of religious tolerance, born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about god, is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.
The idea of a victimless crime is nothing more than a judicial reprise of the Christian notion of sin…. Because we are a people of faith, taught to concern ourselves with the sinfulness of our neighbors, we have grown tolerant of irrational uses of state power.
Given the requisite beliefs about ‘honor,’ a man will be desperate to kill his daughter upon learning she was raped.
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This important and timely book delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in the modern world. The End of Faith provides a harrowing glimpse of mankind’s willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities. Harris argues that in the presence of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely. Most controversially, he maintains that "moderation" in religion poses considerable dangers of its own: as the accommodation we have made to religious faith in our society now blinds us to the role that faith plays in perpetuating human conflict. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism in an attempt to provide a truly modern foundation for our ethics and our search for spiritual experience.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393327655, Paperback)

Sam Harris cranks out blunt, hard-hitting chapters to make his case for why faith itself is the most dangerous element of modern life. And if the devil's in the details, then you'll find Satan waiting at the back of the book in the very substantial notes section where Harris saves his more esoteric discussions to avoid sidetracking the urgency of his message.

Interestingly, Harris is not just focused on debunking religious faith, though he makes his compelling arguments with verve and intellectual clarity. The End of Faith is also a bit of a philosophical Swiss Army knife. Once he has presented his arguments on why, in an age of Weapons of Mass Destruction, belief is now a hazard of great proportions, he focuses on proposing alternate approaches to the mysteries of life. Harris recognizes the truth of the human condition, that we fear death, and we often crave "something more" we cannot easily define, and which is not met by accumulating more material possessions. But by attempting to provide the cure for the ills it defines, the book bites off a bit more than it can comfortably chew in its modest page count (however the rich Bibliography provides more than enough background for an intrigued reader to follow up for months on any particular strand of the author' musings.)

Harris' heart is not as much in the latter chapters, though, but in presenting his main premise. Simply stated, any belief system that speaks with assurance about the hereafter has the potential to place far less value on the here and now. And thus the corollary -- when death is simply a door translating us from one existence to another, it loses its sting and finality. Harris pointedly asks us to consider that those who do not fear death for themselves, and who also revere ancient scriptures instructing them to mete it out generously to others, may soon have these weapons in their own hands. If thoughts along the same line haunt you, this is your book.--Ed Dobeas

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:04 -0400)

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A startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in today's world, this historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify atrocities, asserts that in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, we can not expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely. Most controversially, argues that moderate lip service to religion only blinds us to the real perils of fundamentalism. Harris also draws on new evidence from neuroscience and insights from philosophy to explore spirituality as a biological, brain-based need, and invokes that need in taking a secular humanistic approach to solving the problems of this world.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393327655, 0393035158

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