Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The End of Faith" by Sam Harris - a review

I first came across Sam Harris when I read his article "Bombing our Illusions" right after the 26/11 Mumbai massacre. This article written in 2005 sounds prophetic and ominous in equal proportions. He made an attempt to be intellectually honest and didn't care to be politically correct regarding the nature of religion and the ills that it propagates in our world and was determined to read his thesis published as "The End of Faith", in greater detail.

The book enters into great detail the ills that religion has inflicted upon us over the years or as some believers would want us to say, the ills that have been inflicted upon us "in the name of religion". The basic thrust of his thesis is that "Religion has no place in the age of reason, especially when most religious tenets are overflowing with irrational claims and fantastic myths that have been laid to rest by most of the scientific knowledge accrued over the years.
The only reason anyone is "moderate" in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought. The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. the moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt...
Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance....
Extremely critical of any and all evils that arose out of religious dogmatism from spanish inquisitions to public stoning of "adulterous women"(which incidentally is still followed in some places) down to the calls for jihad. He calls the bluff of left-liberals who adopt illiberal dogmas in the name of "pragmatism" and "relativism". He pans all irrational beliefs across the spectrum, yet makes a few concessions for metaphysical or "mystic" phenomena that science hasn't yet been able to explain.
"It is not enough that Jesus was a man who transformed himself to such a degree that the Sermon on the Mount could be his heart's confession. He also had to be the son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.... According to the dogma of Christianity, becoming just like Jesus is impossible, One can only enumerate one's sins, believe the unbelieveable, and await the end of the world

But a more profound response to existence is possible for us and the testimony of Jesus, as well as that of countless other men and women over the ages, attests to this. The challenge for us is to begin talking about this possibility in rational terms"
The book makes for a thoroughly provocative yet at times dry read getting bogged down by philosophical monologues. Perhaps these are very basic statements for a student of philosophy but I would rather read them in simpler language. It also appears that at times in order to support his thesis, he brings in questionable evidence. I don't see the reason why he should do that. History of the last two thousand years is replete with examples that support his arguments, and using such pieces may only serve for the "shock value" but diminish the cogency in his message.

Bottomline: Well worth a read for everyone who considers himself/herself to be a rational human even though the going might get slow at times.

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