Ty's Reviews > The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

The End of Faith by Sam Harris
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's review
Sep 17, 08

bookshelves: commentary, religious, atheism
Recommended for: Anyone intersted in the mind of a militant atheist
Read in August, 2008

Insofar as man has created his own gods (and the practice has indeed been rampant) I find Harris' critique of faith accurate and interesting. I find militant religion as frightening as he does. It's therefore unfortunate that he's riddled his book with double talk, contradictions and absurdities. Presumably, there's a militant atheist out there who has or will endow the perspective with more credibility. I'll continue to search.


The following are notes I made during the read. I kinda fell in like with the format. Let me know if you'd rather I cleaned it up...

I'm looking to understand the mindset of the militant atheist. The following quote confirms I'm reading the right book.

"I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance - born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about god - is one of the principle forces driving us toward the abyss."

First, referencing the above quote and Harris' follow-up on it. America did not attacked Afghanistan for its peoples personal beliefs but for the Taliban's ability and demonstrated determination to take action on them. If anyone involved did target anyone for their personal beliefs, they did not do so with their country's support. Has this guy even taken an American history class?

Harris' premise that our ancestors were less capable of rational thought than we is irrational. The fact that the wheelbarrow was in someone's future indicates nothing at all about their intellect. And if the author is correct, there were as few evidences of god then as now.

Harris claims that the only claim of authenticity of holy books come from the books themselves. This ignores the possibility of a 3rd party quietly confirming truth to the millions of people standing unseen in the author's face. He slyly addresses this as the mind speaking to itself. A fare argument given today's philosophy, but sadly self-deceptive.

Another point of interest is that his ire seems to be more against organized religion than against actual faith as he himself reveals that he possesses some.

Also, was his research so narrow as to not have included the fact that Christians don't today kill heretics because Christ fulfilled the Mosaic law? Not because we now find it distasteful? Isn't that a fairly basic Christian tenant?

One of my more pressing questions has been answered. I've wondered why the use of the term 'militant'. Why not something like 'assertive', 'new' or 'proselytical'? Answer in following quote from book...

"The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them."

Astounding really. He rails against organized religion for killing people. Runs it as a theme through the book and then has the audacity to claim for his own organization ethical grounds for killing people - solely based on their beliefs.

He indicates that his intentions are only toward those with beliefs that themselves drive to kill, but consider history for a moment. This 'high thinking' murderous rationale arrays the beginning of countless atrocities. He seems to believe that his beliefs are superior to others because they're based on modern thought - which rational persons everywhere will recognize are not yesterday's modern thought and won't be tomorrow's modern thought.

Let's keep our heads people! There is much to be learned from science and philosophy, but talk of killing only reveals lessons not learned.

Having great fun with this book. May raise it a star on just those grounds :)

Seem to be in the middle of large section outlining the horrors that people have heaped upon others in the names of their religions. A very good refresher course and reminder, but I'm not sure he's going to add anything significant to the overall discussion of the topic. He also neglects to mention the horrors that people have heaped upon others in the name of science. These come to mind: eugenics, scientific human tests during holocaust, vivisection, animal testing. And of course, hovering over all is his own stated intention of hurting others in the name of his fears.

A bit bored. Wow - the endless run-on scripture quotes and date recitals were a bit much.

Harris insinuates that there has been an increase in the number of pious leaders in American government. A very shallow study of our founding fathers and subsequent leaders clearly shows the opposite. Fact is, we all stand on the shoulders of our pious forefathers.

Again, a contradiction. Harris clearly claims as a moral imperative that citizens be productive instead of spending time in religious pursuits like building churches and nearly in the same breath calls for the rights of everyone to spend their free time experimenting with drugs.

Victims of victimless crimes include spouses, children, employers etc. And of course those on death row are responsible for their crimes. Harris would give them a pass on genetic, upbringing and bad luck grounds? Outside reality. And then he hammers home the culpability of honor killers despite their genes, upbringing and luck. Some consistency here please?

btw Harris, again, a study of America would reveal to you that the people rule. I applaud the action you've taken to change public thinking to suit your beliefs - we should all follow your example - , but to call a majority of the people idiots reveals something unflattering about your own beliefs and education.

Harris' case against states with 'vice' laws is laughable. He'd actually have us believe that these laws are current and enforced? Well, he clearly didn't find enough material on that subject to back up the claim.

So now there's a high-level Christian conspiracy heading the war on drugs fueled by a hot jealousy over spiritual experience. Sometimes I wonder if he's even being serious with us here. And this next advances the incredulity.

Did he just justify torture? The torture subject isn't nearly as difficult for the rest of us as it is for Harris. The difference between bombers and torturers is clear, but perhaps most clear from the victim's perspective. We'd all prefer to suffer a lifetime from the effects of a bomb than to suffer at the personal hands of a fellow human being who's lost his humanity for several weeks in a dungeon. The difference is in the level and type of horror experienced. The horror of someone personally inflicting pain upon you is the entire point of torture and why it rates so high as a fear in the human mind.

Didn't Harris himself earlier in the book get the point when he almost brilliantly differentiated between the throat-slitting 9/11 hijackers and the weeping American soldier who mistakenly killed innocents in the line of duty? And in the 'perfect bomb' theory? The bombing victim in Berlin suffers less in the knowledge that the bombardier would prefer not to drop his bombs than the stewardess suffers at the hands of the terrorist. Torture is still wrong. Even at times of war.

I can quote again from Harris himself to make my final point.

"Intelligent dissent has its limits. People who believe the earth is flat are not dissenting geographers. People who deny the holocaust even occurred are not dissenting historians. People who believe god created the universe in 4004 BC are not dissenting cosmologists. And we will see that people who practice barbarisms like honor killings are not dissenting ethicists."

I only add that people who disparage faith wholesale are not dissenting prophets.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Shannonmg (new)

Shannonmg wow.


message 2: by Adam (last edited Aug 26, 2008 02:57PM) (new)

Adam You go, boyee!

Excellent addition. Based on your review, I think it could be added that disparaging the right to believe based on one's beliefs is hypocritical in the extreme. Although it would appear that that would not bother him at all. After all, hypocrisy seems to be a moral question, not an ethical one.


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