Sam Harris and the Menace of Secularist Intolerance (1 of 2)
|September 18, 2013||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Is it my imagination, or are we hearing less about the new atheists these days? Maybe as economic and other social problems continue to mount, it is becoming more and more evident that people who seriously try to follow the teachings of Jesus are not the most crucial problem the world is facing these days.
Some may even be aware of the very real threats to liberty posed by advocates of secularism who feel that they have found the answer to the problems of life, and that those who disagree with them are enemies of the future happiness of mankind.
That the self-proclaimed advocates of secular tolerance might themselves be (like some theists) fully capable of establishing dictatorships and even killing for their beliefs is exemplified by the popular atheist author Sam Harris. In his book The End of Faith, he states that “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”  This statement raised so many eyebrows, even among atheists, that Harris felt compelled to give an explanation on the internet.  Since this attitude is directly related to the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, and Mao, it merits some discussion.
Attempting to dispel criticisms of his remark, Harris first gives on the internet the relevant passage from The End of Faith. Then he concedes that he did not express himself as well as he might have—“Granted, I made the job of misinterpreting me easier than it might have been”—and goes on to claim that saying he wants to kill people for their ideas “remains a frank distortion of my views.” He explains:
When one asks why it would be ethical to drop a bomb on Osama bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri, the answer cannot be, “because they have killed so many people in the past.” These men haven’t, to my knowledge, killed anyone personally. However, they are likely to get a lot of innocent people killed because of what they and their followers believe about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc.
At this point we can breathe a sigh of relief—if he only wants to kill some terrorists then it’s alright—and Harris (who wears a white hat) can go back to his hobby of demonizing theists (who wear black hats). A closer examination of his explanation reveals, however, a couple of difficulties.
For one thing, millions of people share Osama bin Laden’s ideas. Should they be killed? If Sam Harris says “Yes,” then he wants to slaughter millions of people not because they have done anything wrong, but because they might do something wrong someday. That was Lenin the atheist’s reasoning in a nutshell. It’s easy for people who deny the immortal soul to advocate—and do—such things. If, on the other hand, Harris says millions of people should not be killed for their ideas, but should only be killed if they put their ideas into practice, or if they enable and cause others to put those ideas into practice, then he has shifted ground considerably, and did express himself poorly.
A second problem with this is that in his aforementioned book The End of Faith, Harris has repeatedly identified not only Islamic extremists, but also Christians who believe in the Bible, as threats to the survival of humanity. According to him, belief in the Bible is a threat to civilization and Christians, not just Osama bin Laden, could easily be included among those whose dangerous ideas require their elimination.
Many quotes could be given to show that Harris sees theism, including biblical Christianity, as a danger.
. . . our religious differences—and hence our religious beliefs [emphasis in original]—antithetical to our survival [emphasis added]. We can no longer ignore the fact that billions of our neighbors believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom, or in the literal truth of the book of Revelation . . .Words like “God” and “Allah” must [emphasis added] go the way of “Apollo” and “Baal,” or they will unmake our world. ” 
. . . faith is still the mother of hatred . . . The only salient difference between Muslims and non-Muslims is that the latter have not proclaimed their faith in Allah, and in Mohammed as his prophet. [Harris is imprecise in his use of language here—he says “non-Muslims” when he means “non-Muslim theists like Christians and Jews,” not “all non-Muslims”—but his meaning is clear from the preceding words and from the whole thrust of the chapter.] 
Words like “the fall of civilization,” “could ultimately destroy us,” “driving us toward the abyss,” “life-destroying gibberish” (this of both the Koran and the Bible)  tell us that Sam “The-sky-is-falling” Harris wants to save the human race from religion—and what might not be done if the fate of humanity is at stake? Wouldn’t it be justified to kill some people to save humanity—especially if they have no immortal souls and are nothing but matter?
Harris does not just want to save humanity—he wants to “create the world anew.” This requires “the building of strong communities”  where everyone will think the way Sam Harris wants them to. Wouldn’t life be so much easier in a “unified” community where everyone marched to the beat of the same drum? That was Hitler’s and Lenin’s dream exactly. To achieve this secular paradise religion, especially Christianity and Islam, needs to go. It is urgent for the future well-being of humanity. Religious faith “must” disappear. “Religious tolerance . . . is one of the principle forces driving us toward the abyss.” Along with this clear call for intolerance, Harris advocates “uprooting” religion, which he falsely describes as “the most prolific source of violence in our history.”  Somehow he blames the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the War of 1812, drug related ghetto violence and World Wars I & II on religion.
 Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (London 2006), pp. 52-53.
 Sam Harris, “Response to Controversy,”
http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/; accessed September 2008.
 Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 13-14.
 Ibid., p. 30.
 Ibid., pp. 26, 26, 15, 23.
 Ibid., pp. 24, 21. Hitler, in a speech of 1937, stated that “Its [the National Socialist Party’s] aim is to set up a strong community, to rule wisely and sensibly, to the end that it may thus make life possible for all its fellow citizens” (May 1937, Hitler Speeches and Quotes, p. 63).
 Ibid., pp. 14, 15, 27.