The end of faith: religion, terror, and the future of reason / Sam Harris. (Norton, 2005) Review

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by Neil Godfrey

This is a disturbing book principally for its ignorant tirade against Moslems. As an atheist myself I had hoped for something more rational and informative given the enormous popularity of this book in the U.S. but find Harris here is too often little more than a mega-mouthpiece for Western (read American?) ignorance of Moslems and the Moslem world outside the U.S. borders. I expected to read along with a like-mind since I also see religion and religious faith as a net negative left-over from our evolutionary past that needs to be eradicated just as acceptance of rape as a natural means for reproduction has been eradicated. But I found points of agreement only at a superficial level. It is bad enough that he blames religion as the principle or fundamental root cause of suicide terrorism: he says it was religious belief, belief in a blissful life after death, that enabled the 9/11 hijackers to commit their atrocity. What rot. A slight amount of reflection and simple logic would inform him that if religious belief were the root enabler of suicide terrorism then we would surely have had suicide terrorism for as long as we have had such beliefs in any religion. Pape’s “Dying to Win” is a scholarly research work that amply demonstrates that suicide terrorism is a function of national identity humiliation brought about by foreign occupation and that perpetrators of this form of terrorism since the 1980’s have included both the religious and non-religious and secular, Christian and Buddhist as well as Moslem. Pape’s research pulverizes Harris’s ignorant diatribe.

Harris also makes the tired old moral comparison between “collatoral damage” and “wilful terrorist acts” meant to sanitize western belligerent responses to 9/11, and in so doing becomes a supporter of the very actions that are dooming us to more war and increasing terror. Again deeper reflection would enlighten one to a more accurate comparison that brought the two much closer together than Harris wants to admit: imagine a police officer opting to open massive firepower into a house where murderers are suspected of hiding knowing that that firepower would also inevitably wipe out several other houses sheltering innocent families that (unfortunately!) happened to be in the general path of fire! The balance is thus not that the terrorist wants to kill civilians while “we” regrettably unavoidably kill civilians; it is, rather, that the terrorist wants to kill civilians while “we” don’t care if we kill civilians. (Disagree? Then why do “we” say “we don’t do body counts” if we really do care and truly regret?)

But the book is more disturbing than this because it would appear to me to be fanning ignorant prejudice and inhumane policies against Moslem peoples that can only guarantee a deepening of the problem he thinks will be solved by the eradication of religious belief, especially Moslem belief. He writes point-blank on page 133 that if Moslem societies prospered they would more than likely threaten and harm “us” even more and therefore the best thing for “us” is that those societies stay undeveloped! He writes that millions of Moslems (suggesting the majority) want to set up a Taliban-like society over “us”. He equates Hammas with a terrorist outfit pure and simple. The only hope in the book to balance such ignorance is his pleading for a rationality that is open to new evidence (p.235). One can only hope that Harris is open-minded enough to seek out and embrace evidence that will surely to be new to him — evidence about the truth of the majority of Moslems and Hammas that is freely available in western societies like his to any who care to seriously inform themselves.

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Neil Godfrey

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