Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Religion v. Reason, Repeated

And since I've mentioned Sam Harris here, if you didn't catch this at Huffington Post, RJ Eskow reads Sam Harris so you don't have to. (Unfortunately, this post is now a "re-post", responding largely to Harris' response to comments. The original, which I read earlier, has been lost.)

Let me say, too, that I've tried to read Harris's entries at Huffington Post. But if this:

It is not enough for moderate Muslims to say “not in our name.” They must now police their own communities. They must offer unreserved assistance to western governments in locating the extremists in their midst.
(by this logic I should have tracked down Eric Rudolph and David Koresh myself), and this:

"Nothing explains the behavior of Muslim extremists better than what these men and women believe about God, paradise, and the moral imperative of defending the faith against infidels and apostates."
represent "a brave, pugilistic attempt to demolish the walls that currently insulate religious people from criticism" and "articulates the dangers and absurdities of organized religion...fiercely and...fearlessly," well, thanks, but no thanks.

Indeed, Harris keeps bringing me back to the very Christian insights of Reinhold Niebuhr, whom I assume Harris would also discard, if only because he was a theologian and an ordained minister. Insight from such a "thinker," I don't really need.

Eskow makes some good points, and I won't reiterate them here. Unfortunately, he had better ones in his first post (now, perhaps, lost forever). Such are the wages of cyberspace.

ADDENDUM: Two final (hopefully!) thoughts on Sam Harris' arguments:

1) To claim, as Harris does at the linked blogposts, a knowledge of Islam derived from reading the Koran, is to claim a knowledge of Catholic doctrine, or Lutheran theology, from reading the New Testament. It is, in brief, a claim absurd on its face, and designed to appeal to the ignorance of the audience (no fault, theirs) it is made to.

2) Harris, it occurs to me, lives in the demon-haunted world he effects to despise. Religion is, for him, the root of all evil. But do people conjure up bad ideas to justify their predilections? Or do ideas cause us to go astray? Christian theology and most honest pastors will tell you that it is the former. If ideas were so powerfully persuasive, few pastors would have any trouble with their congregations. If Harris is right, then ideas influence us, much as demons are said to in some Christian teachings. That is, we are "possessed" by "bad ideas," helpless before them, compelled to behave in violent and destructive ways because of them, and the ideas themselves have their own motivations which control us like puppets.

Put that way, of course, it is a mockery of Platonism. But how else to explain Harris' thesis that "religion made them do it!"? Clearly Harris think ideas exist on some metaphysical plane, and cause people to behave in certain ways that are undesirable. Given this presumption, the only possible answer is to eradicate the "bad" ideas.

A notion with a woeful track record in human history. One would think Mr. Harris would understand at least that much.

No comments:

Post a Comment