Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The End of Faith?

I've just finished reading The End of Faith, by Sam Harris, which I picked up in a bookstore on Dupont Circle while traveling on business in DC last week. Sam Harris is apparently a philosophy grad who is getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience, "studying the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty," according to the back cover.

He writes an impressive book, I must say. Since I am married to an agnostic who is the son of an agnostic, I figure it behooves me to pay attention to the opposition, even if I start off as a hard sell.

The basic tenet of the book, as I surmise, is that religion -- any religion -- that cannot prove its claims scientifically has no claim to anyone's belief. Harris also claims (correctly) that religion has become an inappropriate subject for criticism in the modern world ... a taboo subject, particularly as far as Islam goes (he presents a rather devastating summary of Islamic beliefs, which I am not qualified to critique). And he states, again correctly, that what's wrong with religious fundamentalism of any sort is its fundamentals: belief in the inerrance of its sacred texts, belief in their divine authorship, and rigid adherence to norms and rules which are essentially tribal in nature.

I cannot disagree with any of this, except the requirement of scientific proof. I think it is unlikely that we will ever have scientific proof of God's existence. I have also been reading Bishop Spong with great attention recently, and I agree with him that the gospels are unreliable as narratives of fact.

But is it all about fact? As homo sapiens, conversant in whatever languages we speak, we should be comfortable with simile and metaphor. With symbols.

I think something important happened on Easter morning. I'm not sure what it was, but I'm not sure that matters.

I think the Buddha was enlightened beneath his tree.

I think most religions have a slice of the pie. But I can't "prove" any of it.

But that doesn't impede my intuition, my belief.


FranIAm said...

Greetings! I give you a lot of credit for making it through that book. I am very open-minded and liberal - and I am not joking when I say some of my best friends are atheists.

In fact, I have been invited to blog at an atheist friend's blog, which I am working on. (who has time? not me!!)

In any event, I read about everything , but found that book unreadable.

True indeed - what can be proved, right? I am in complete agreement with your closing statements about belief.

I have no problem with people believing or not believing. I do have a problem being called delusional and the simplistic thought that all religion leads to evil.

Oh well, to each their own. I figure I learn from everyone or at least I try.

I just read Chris Hedges', I Don't Believe in Atheists, which I thought was a pretty good book, although the title annoys me.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think that Sam Harris confuses matters. Religious is about symbols, about poetry, about meaning. It deals with a wholly different order of knowledge and understanding than science does. So OF COURSE the existence of God can't be proved. What of it? God is to me just a deeper interpretative framework for explaining the world and how we should live within it. Science doesn't deal with questions like that.

I agree with your final comments about Buddha, Easter, and the pie. :)

Anonymous said...

Unrelated comment -

You really really should be on facebook.

It's not just for college students anymore. Seriously.