Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is moderate religion a good alternative to funamentalism?

Sam Harris (top) and Andrew Sullivan (bottom) are currently debating the topic. Sam Harris takes the position that moderate religion is actually a bad alternative to fundamentalism, since it basically ends up legitimating the craziness of its more extreme form. Here's part of his argument, as quoted by Sullivan:
Religious moderation is the result of not taking scripture all that seriously. So why not take these books less seriously still? Why not admit that they are just books, written by fallible human beings like ourselves? They were not, as your friend the pope would have it, "written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost." Needless to say, I believe you have given the Supreme Pontiff far too much credit as a champion of reason. The man believes that he is in possession of a magic book, entirely free from error...

Religious moderates—by refusing to question the legitimacy of raising children to believe that they are Christians, Muslims, and Jews—tacitly support the religious divisions in our world. They also perpetuate the myth that a person must believe things on insufficient evidence in order to have an ethical and spiritual life. While religious moderates don’t fly planes into buildings, or organize their lives around apocalyptic prophecy, they refuse to deeply question the preposterous ideas of those who do.
I agree with Harris's critique of moderate religion in that what religious moderates believe is often just as metaphysically ridiculous as what fanatics believe, and that moderates do a pretty bad job of reigning in their more extreme co-religionists. But I think behavior and ability to come to terms with the rest of the world in a peaceful, cooperative manner should count for something.

Note that when Harris and Sullivan use the term "religion", they are both meaning "supernatural religion". Some religions are not necessarily concerned with the supernatural at all. Unitarian Universalism and some forms of Buddhism are examples, though many (perhaps even a majority) of practitioners of those religions do have supernatural beliefs.


Anonymous Dave said...

I was happy to see this debate initiated because I have continually been challenged by both of these writers. But I fear Andrew has taken things too personally and allowed his usual impressive thinking to be replaced with defensive posturing.

Andrew writes:
What you are doing here by the use of the word "lying" is imputing to the believer an insincerity you cannot know for sure. When we speak of things beyond our understanding - and you must concede that such things can logically exist - we are all in the same boat. Your assertion of nothingness at the end of our mortal lives is no more and no less verifiable than my assertion of somethingness.

I think Andrew has misconstued Sam's points. Lying to oneself is not about "insincerity" as Andrew has chosen to classify it. It is about self-deception. I doubt Andrew would find such fault with Sam's charge of lying if Sam's target was astrologists or fortune tellers?

Also, I may have missed it, but where is Sam's "assertion of nothingness"?

10:18 PM, January 23, 2007  
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7:54 PM, May 27, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:55 PM, May 27, 2010  

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