Sam Harris and A Dangerous Christianity- A Menace Himself
|March 12, 2009||Posted by admin under Christianity, Excerpts, Sam Harris|
That the self-proclaimed advocates of secular tolerance might themselves be (like some theists) fully capable of 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.”[i] This statement raised so many eyebrows, even among atheists, that Harris felt compelled to give an explanation on the internet.[ii] 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. “[iii]
. . . 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.][iv]
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)[v] 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”[vi] 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.”[vii] 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 has a strong incentive to “uproot” the ideas that “must” disappear-the salvation of the human race. Do I need to point out that the word “uproot” has connotations of violence? Harris openly said people with dangerous ideas should be killed, and then, when questioned, said “Oh, I just meant a few terrorists.” He has identified theists, including Bible believing Christians, as people with dangerous ideas that menace the human race. That Christianity is dangerous is one of the main themes of his Letter to a Christian Nation. What is to prevent him, or those with his “values,” from believing that killing Christians, or any other believers, is necessary for the good of mankind?
“The world would be a much better place if we could just get rid of (a) the capitalists and kulaks; (b) the Jews; (c) people who believe in God. They are to blame for all our problems. They are enemies of humanity, and we are doing the world a favor by getting rid of them.”
Once an atheist accused me of “paranoia” on this point-but I am not the least bit paranoid about Sam Harris. I realize he may just be talking without knowing what he is saying-though I doubt it. I realize he will probably never get his hands on the levers of power. I only want to suggest that he may, like Hitler, be pointing at other people as the source of evil when he is a source of evil himself. Certainly the atheists Lenin, Stalin, and Mao make Osama bin Laden look like a Boy Scout. Hitler also gave plausible explanations to those who were concerned about his radical statements.
Perhaps, since the idea that bloodshed follows from secular ideas is one of the main ideas of this study, it might not be too much of a digression to look at another place where Sam Harris advocates a policy that could lead to the deaths of millions. Referring to the SARS scare that emerged out of China in 2003, Harris states that the consequences of China’s irrational and politically motivated policies did not lead to catastrophe-that time. He goes on to say that it is “not difficult to imagine” a situation where inability to properly handle such a health crisis would be too dangerous for the entire world. In that case, “There is little doubt we would ultimately quarantine, invade, or otherwise subjugate such a society.”[viii]
This is a remarkable statement. If a truly world-threatening epidemic were to emerge from China, the Sudan, Burma, Mexico, Rumania, or some other country whose health-standards were less than adequate, Harris thinks it might be necessary to “invade” or “subjugate” such a country. Oh, he allows for the possibility of a quarantine as well, but he can calmly and rationally advocate a policy-including subjugating China or, who knows, even Russia-that would cause unimaginable suffering and slaughter.
Sam Harris has a vision of an ideal world. In this world, there would be no irrational health policies and no security threats, because everyone would have basically the same ideas (his ideas naturally). In order to attain this vision, some people will have to go. Religious people have to go, and threats to the general well-being must be subjugated, by force and invasion and full scale war if necessary. Sam Harris is a good example of how the road to secular Utopias leads through swamps, bogs, and quagmires of human blood and bones-and in the end proves to be unattainable, so all of the suffering was in vain.
[i] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (London 2006), pp. 52-53.
[ii] Sam Harris, “Response to Controversy,” http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/; accessed September 2008.
[iii] Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 13-14.
[iv] Ibid., p. 30.
[v] Ibid., pp. 26, 26, 15, 23.
[vi] Ibid., pp. 24, 21.
[vii] Ibid., pp. 14, 15, 27.
[viii] Ibid., p. 233