Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sam Harris The Problem with Atheism

"The problem is that the concept of atheism imposes upon us a false burden of remaining fixated on people’s beliefs about God and remaining even-handed in our treatment of religion. But we shouldn’t be fixated, and we shouldn’t be even-handed.


The second reason to be attentive to the differences among the world’s religions is that these differences are actually a matter of life and death. There are very few of us who lie awake at night worrying about the Amish. This is not an accident. While I have no doubt that the Amish are mistreating their children, by not educating them adequately, they are not likely to hijack aircraft and fly them into buildings. But consider how we, as atheists, tend to talk about Islam. Christians often complain that atheists, and the secular world generally, balance every criticism of Muslim extremism with a mention of Christian extremism. The usual approach is to say that they have their jihadists, and we have people who kill abortion doctors. Our Christian neighbors, even the craziest of them, are right to be outraged by this pretense of even-handedness, because the truth is that Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery, than Christianity has been for a very, very long time. And the world must wake up to this fact. Muslims themselves must wake up to this fact. And they can."

Sam Harris On Faith/Atheist Alliance September 28th, 2007
Let me at once say that I disagree with avoiding calling ourselves Atheists. However, he makes some good points in the article. The quote above in particular. I for one am sick and tired of hearing the stupid relativistic mantra that "There are extremists on both sides". There are a couple of billion believers in the world, and we can't take on them all, so we need to set our priorities right and if we are to be understood we can not say that some evangelical fundie is as bad as a suicide bomber. That's simply not the case. Now naturally, we must target Christianity, but we shouldn't tell Christians that they're all as bad as Muslim fundamentalists. This kind of comparison is even used about Atheists vs fundies, so I think you know how it feels. It's unfair.

Now to the qeustion of labels. How can you be a political force/lobby group unless you can show hard cash in the shape of a large (and larger) number of people who call themselves Atheists? You can't. I think we've all heard about "the powerful Jewish lobby" in USA. Well, there are only five million Jews in USA, and lots more Atheists. (And it's not like they weren't stigmatized at a time.)
Sam Harris also forgot, regarding racism, that there are actually a lot of people who refer to themselves as Anti-Racists. (Imho, some of them often do come across as a tad fanatic and at least here around think that beating up nazis is OK, but it's in part because nazis by definition are also fanatic. Well, different problem altogether.) However, the thing is: if there is something in society that you object to, then it's not meaningless to label yourself as being opposed to it.

It's when the idea that you object to has disappeared that you should ask yourself what the point is in using a term for being against it. However, Atheism is a perfectly meaningful term because there is rampant theism everywhere.

As for meditation, I think what he argues is that since lots of religious feelings are based upon argument from personal experience, then we should try this experience so that we know what we're talking about. That's a fair point, although I will meditate over my own dead body! I also don't think it's practical to spend half a day doing nothing.I always liked the term Protestant work morals, so I'd rather be a Protestant Atheist rather than some half-buddhist.

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