End of [Violent] Faith

By Sam Harris

Sam Harris, who hold a Doctorate in Philosophy from Stanford, is not here predicting an “end of faith”; he rather makes a compelling and compassionate call for end to anything that fosters violence in the world, including any faith that does so – recalling the admonitions of Voltaire, Hume, Kant and American patriot, Thomas Paine. The title, like that of many books, is a book seller’s way of shocking readers into buying the book. His “End of Faith” (EoF) links Islamic terrorism with the irrationality and intolerance of all fundamentalist-religious beliefs. He challenges the extremists in all faiths, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus (however few of the latter tend to violence), and openly attacks “faith-based unreason”; he calls for reasoned debate, tolerance and peaceful solutions in this age of terrorism. Harris offers a gripping recitation of the human atrocities that various faiths have perpetrated over the centuries and continue to spawn today. Unreasoned faith, he argues, blinds us to the role that faith plays in fomenting and expanding human conflict. The author issues a clarion call for a new foundation and union of ethics and spirituality that is both secular and humanistic and which will enhance world peace.

He asserts that, “believers” insistence that they cannot “respect” the beliefs of anyone who has different beliefs, will ever promote exclusionary and intolerant behavior towards infidels (meaning, believers in other faiths or simply non-believers), and must often lead to violence. As historian Will Durant observed, “Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.” Similarly, “Only charlatans are certain…Those who begin in certainty end in doubt.” (Francis Bacon)

Acceptance of the Bibles (e.g., Torah, TaNaK, Christian and Muslim) as the literal word of The Creator, Harris maintains, to often leads to violence, because those scriptures overtly call for violence. According to various polls, some 50% of Americans believe that their Christian Bible represents the infallible word of The Creator; yet, most of them have never read most of the Bible, and they are unaware of, or ignore, the endless admonitions to “kill” or “stone to death” people for all manner of offenses, including some that are not even misdemeanors under today’s laws: for example, for taking The Creator’s name in vain (Lev.24:23); worshiping another The Creator (Ex. 22:18); insulting parents (Ex.21:17); cursing parents (Lev.20); harming one’s parents (Ex. 21:15); working on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14); adultery (Lev.20); having sex or for attempting to have sex with family members (in-laws, too) (Deut. 13:7-11), or animals (Ex. 22:18); idol worshipping (Ex. 32:27 and Num. 25:5); practicing witchcraft (Lev.20), anyone who attempts to “divert you” from The Creator (Deut. 13:7-11, 17:12-13, and 13:12-16). Even Christ is made an accomplice in such atrocities, where Gospel-writer John attributes this statement to Jesus: “If a man abide not in me…[he shall be] burned.” (John 15:6). Non-violent Christians conveniently characterize this as metaphorical, but acceptance of the Bible as literal and infallible does not permit such equivocations. “The Word” is either “The Word”, or it is not. Historically, Christians have tortured countless thousands in the most painful and barbaric ways imaginable before killing them for similar “offenses” (e.g. during the Inquisition, c.1100-1700). Still, the Christian Bible (referring to the King James Version and hereinafter simply “RJV”) requires that it be obeyed and not revised or amended by anyone (Deut. 13:1-).

The Judeo-Christian and Muslim Bibles effectively forbid moderation, and their countless contradictions (“Forgive thy enemies” vs. “An eye for an eye”) defy obedience. To obey one command is to violate another – clear examples of texts written by too many authors who lacked familiarity with other portions of the often unavailable texts and/or who held different views of violence. While the Koran is likely the most violent all Bibles, if most Jews and Christians read and followed their own Bibles, there would be little difference, even today, among the violence being wrought among all three of these religions. Violence by Buddhists is basically unknown, and violence by Hindus has seemed limited and in response to the burning of their temples by Muslims and to the border disputes between India and Pakistan; the Hindu scriptures preach absolutely no violence or even intolerance of other faiths; Hindus seem unconcerned with (and unthreatened by) the contrary beliefs of others. Harris’ attack on faith is aimed at those who use faith as a reason or excuse to be intolerant, exclusionary and even violent towards those with different views.

Harris is concerned with biblical exhortations to blind faith: e.g., “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29) Children are directed to disregard any facts that contradict the scriptures; the values of scientific data and reason are set aside, at least in the minds of the gullible and even many who know better but simply want the comfort (however unstable and fleeting) of an expectation of an eternal life of bliss – all because they believed their local religious leader and accepted his Bible as the infallible word of the Creator. The masses prefer comfort to logic and truth. For example, some, such as the Pentecostals, in a dangerous effort to demonstrate their faith in the literal word of the Bible, “take up serpents” (Mark 16:18) and “drink any deadly thing” (generally strychnine) and test prophecy (“[I]t shall not hurt them”). Some of them die, of course, as did the founder of the Pentecostals, George Hensley of a rattlesnake bite in 1955. What rational mind would be willing subject itself to such poisons? Most religious people are not insane, but their core dogmas, from their literal texts, absolutely are. Unless Muslims learn to ignore their core dogmas, as have most Christians, infinitely more worldwide violence lies ahead of us.

Harris finds questionable (or intentionally poor) scholarship in most bibles. For example, in KJV, the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin flows from faulty translations. The Hebrew word alma (for which parthenos is an erroneous translation) simpley means “young woman”, with no implication of virginity. Interestingly, the Gospels of Mark and John make no mention of Mary’s virginity. Paul apparently thought that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary, as he refers to Jesus being “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3) and “born of woman” (Galatians 4:4) with zero reference to Mary’s virginity. However, religions don’t like for their flock to be exposed to contrary views. The Church (R.C.) banned countless scholarly books, including some of those of Descartes, Montaigne, Locke, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Kant and Darwin, to name a few. Those who wrote or spoke in contradiction to religious dogma were banned as heretics or excommunicated. Galileo was not absolved of heresy until 1992.

Harris notes that the goal of religion is ethical behavior, which is essential for human happiness, but religions have become belabored by dogma which embodies erroneous facts and a close-mindedness to the scientific revelations of the past 4,000 years, and encourages followers to remain enslaved to terrible texts that urge them to be intolerant and violent to those of different beliefs. There is no reason to think that we can survive our religious differences indefinitely. Harris concludes that the battle between religions is a zero-sum game; that religions are inherently hostile to one another; that religions insist on blind faith, which deprives believers of considering scientific evidence and of thinking rationally. Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; where we have no reasons, we have abandoned our connection to the world and to one another. Nothing is more sacred than the facts. We must remain open to new evidence. It is time to merge reason, spirituality and ethics, but this will mandate an end to acceptance of most ancient scriptures as infallible and, further, an end to blind faith. Everything must change, even religion. Harris’ EoF” is clearly worth reading.