Posted: Apr 12, 2019 6:52 pm
by quas
Sam Harris wrote:Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim as to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of these incompatible claims they accept—rather than on the basis of language, skin color, location of birth, or any other criterion of tribalism. Each of these texts urges its readers to adopt a variety of beliefs and practices, some of which are benign, many of which are not. All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: “respect” for other faiths, or for the views of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses. While all faiths have been touched, here and there, by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed. Once a person believes—really believes—that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one.


I certainly stand by this claim - I’m sure I will read this at some point in the book – but just imagine what it would like, some of you might in fact know what it’s like- to be certain that the difference between spending an eternity in heaven or eternity in hell turns on whether you believe the right thing about a book, or about the origins of a universe. Now many people pretend to believe these things. Or believe it to some degree. But if you are certain of this, certain that someone with the wrong ideas, by persuading your child to doubt the truth of your religion, has thereby prepared an eternity of suffering for the person you cared about the most in this world. Well, if anything, is intolerable. That is. That is worse than your neighbor kidnapping your child and torturing him or her in his basement, for a decade. We are talking about an eternity of hellfire. That is the worst possible fate.

And what many people lose sight of is that some people really believe that this fate awaits you. If you think the wrong thing about the origin of a book, or about the invisible being who’s imagined to have dictated it, and it’s only as so far as people are uncertain about these claims, it’s only as so far as they doubt these doctrines, that they otherwise pay lip service to, that they are capable of behaving themselves in a condition of epistemological pluralism, in a condition of rival truth claims, in a condition of teachers and camp counsellors and new friends may lead their children to doubt the truth of their religion. Otherwise the need to resort to violence is absolutely imperative. What would you do if you knew someone was about to inflict an eternity of misery on your child? You would do whatever it took to stop them. And if you couldn’t pass the requisite laws, you would become a law unto yourself.

This leaves aside, of course, the curious morality of a god who would do such a thing. God, the omniscient sociopath, who has rigged the game this way. Who has condemned to eternal torment, people who by mere accident of birth, by the sheer fact that they have the wrong nouns and verbs in their heads, that is the sort of morality in offer in Abrahamic religions.

In closing I would say that, we are seeing more and more, especially in the Muslim world, are the anti-social consequences of religious certainty. We see what should otherwise be an unthinkable psychological reality. We see well-educated people with other opportunities, often with families, willing to blow themselves up and going to their deaths in a spirit of jubilation. Watch some of these videos, see the smiles on the faces of people who are about to blow themselves up. Nothing in your life has made you this enthusiastic in recent memory. And this once again is the power of belief. You might call the power of brainwashing, if you think that these people are, on some level, victims of propaganda. Fine. But to doubt their belief -what they say they believe- makes absolutely no sense in these cases.