Sam Harris delivers a creative little piece that pretty much exactly frames my usual utter hostility to literal religious belief. I go in waves, of course, more tolerant at some times than at others. But even at my most tolerant, I still see the thing pretty much as utterly ridiculous as he lays it out.
In the following essay, I present excerpts from actual reviews of
recent atheist bestsellers, replacing terms like "religion," "God," and
"atheist" with terms like "witchcraft," "the Devil," and "skeptic."
Observe how much intellectual progress we have made in the last five
That is how preposterously delusional –indeed stupid — it all sounds to me at any invocation whatsoever of literal religious belief, regardless of how how self-fooling fervent or touching it all feels. It’s all just the casting of magic spells and that’s all there is to know or think about it. Furthermore, I think all you literal believers would simply have to acknowledge it if you were honest about it in the context of the entire human history of supernatural belief. This is just the next in the series and it’s no more true that the last set of delusions.
Then, of course, there’s the recent Truthdig debate between Harris and
Beyond putting out these small fires, I would like to briefly address the main claims that Hedges makes in his essay:
Real religion has nothing to do with superstition, irrational
beliefs, or tribalism. God is not an anthropomorphic deity; He is just
“the name we give to our belief that life has meaning.”
It should be immediately clear to all readers that Hedges is simply
dodging the fact that millions (probably billions) of people practice
religion in the naïve, anthropomorphic, and superstitious forms he
would rather not defend. By saying that faith is really
something other than the irrational belief in magic books, virgin
births, the power of prayer, etc., Hedges ignores how pervasive the
problem of religious irrationality is. As many readers will recognize,
this is one of the sins of religious “moderation” that I discuss in
“The End of Faith”—and I really could not have hoped to find a more
lumbering, bellicose, and sanctimonious perpetrator of this
obscurantism than Chris Hedges. According to recent polls, 53 percent
of Americans think that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and
59 percent believe that Jesus will one day return to Earth wielding
magic powers—and yet, religious moderates like Hedges invariably accuse
me of “caricaturing” Christianity whenever I criticize these beliefs.
Hedges appears to be playing a highly disingenuous game of
hide-the-ball with the articles of faith, and it is a game that keeps
the world safe for religious lunacy; it also prevents a truly rational
approach to spirituality from emerging in our discourse.
I get that all the time and I hate it. Some of you know that I investigated the beliefs of the Eastern religions for a time — so at least I could say I gave it a look — and this was the most infuriating aspect. They, meaning lots of them, simply flat out deny that literal belief in, as Sam Harris puts it: "the naïve, anthropomorphic, and superstitious forms…belief in magic books, virgin
births, the power of prayer, etc.," exists to any large degree. In other words, they claim it’s just as lunatic as I’m saying it is, but then deny its widespread existence; because to do so would compromise their own tenuous positions. To put it another way, they see acknowledgment of the lunatic
fringe majority a slippery slope and I’d certainly have to acknowledge understanding of their fear of that.
At least the literal believers in an imaginary friend are shameless to
the point of pride in expressing their absolute lunacy on the thing.
They’ll look you right in the eye, utter the most primitively
delusional thing and smile as though you’re supposed to respect them
for their "honesty," candor and "courage." Hardly.
Look, nobody in the world would be complaining if religion or faith really meant only that "life has meaning." Atheism wouldn’t even exist. Who beyond a few mostly forgotten philosophers doesn’t believe that life has meaning? And do you know what? It only need have meaning for you, anyway; that’s enough. You can guide yourself accordingly, which is to say: you can pursue your own values. Do that, and life has all the meaning you’re ever going to need. And if that involves an imaginary friend, fine. But it is, alas, only imaginary (so you really ought to just keep it to yourself).