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

The End of Faith by Sam Harris
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Mar 08, 08

bookshelves: non-fiction, atheism, favorites
Read in November, 2007

I wouldn't start here if I were beginning to explore atheism. The book is rather ponderous, but it's worth reading as you make your way through the literature of the field. In places, I found it a little hard to follow, in terms of the progression and linkage of his ideas.

Many individual sentences are quotable gems of pithy insight, and often humor. Take, for example, the following: "The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among non-fundamentalists is not some sign that faith, itself, has evolved. It is, rather, the product of many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt. Not the least among these developments has been the emergence of our tendency to value evidence, and to be convinced by a proposition to the degree that there is evidence for it."

Or, how about: "Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge, and scriptural ignorance-and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts, themselves, are unequivocal. They are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God's law. By failing to live by the letter of the text, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question (that is, that we know that there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us), religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness."

This is wonderful, wonderful writing, at least for this reader. However, sometimes his complex sentence construction and word choice seem needlessly abstruse. In addition, taken as a whole, I thought the book wandered too far and wide, and lacked coherent direction.

His exploration into mysticism piqued my interest, contrary to the experience of many of his other atheistic readers, and I don't ordinarily have much patience with mysticism. He gave me some interesting new ways to consider it, particularly when contrasted with what we consider religion in mainstream western thought.

"Letter to a Christian Nation", also by Harris, is much more focused and fun. "The God Delusion" (by Richard Dawkins) lays out a more logically organized and readable look at a broad range of naturalist (as opposed to supernaturalist) arguments, and would be my recommended starting point for someone just beginning to read modern atheist literature.

A more lighthearted, and in fact, deliberately comedic, but wonderfully insightful introduction would be to listen to Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God". She raises just the same issues as the atheist "heavyweights", but does so in such a disarming, funny way that even your moderate Christian friends will be charmed. Look at her talk on TED. Who could help but love her?
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Quotes Steve Liked

Sam Harris
“The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not 'cowards,' as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.”
Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason


Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Clark I see what you mean Steve. It is a rather complicated paragraph but insightfull. I like the term "moderate" when he refers to the, shall we say, main stream religious person. I know the moderate Christin will say he is right but their thinking is I am forgiven. Neither side will sway the other.

I will brouse your list and see if I can find something that will give me a start. The book on Darwin caught my eye.


message 2: by Pushkarini (new)

Pushkarini wow. these are big sentences. i. like. short. sentences. i wonder if it's going to be too tedious to read for me. Thanks for including some excerpts.


message 3: by Steve (last edited Aug 09, 2012 09:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Steve Pushkarini wrote: "wow. these are big sentences. i. like. short. sentences. i wonder if it's going to be too tedious to read for me. Thanks for including some excerpts."

Thanks for your comment. No, I don't think that Sam Harris would be tedious for you. Although his sentences are sometimes long, he punctuates well, making those long sentences readable. I like his style very much, actually, but even for those who do not, his insights on his topics are so penetrating that any quibbles about style fall by the wayside.

I looked at your blog, and I thank you for this chance meeting. I loved your pithy little quip " I started out with writing creatively and ended up just yapping." No, I didn't laugh out loud, but I did smile broadly, and shook my head in appreciation. Your joke reminded me of the self-deprecating humor of your generation. At least, of the brighter examples of that generation.

I have daughters who bracket you in age (21, 29) so it's fun for me to take a fatherly look over the shoulder of young people such as yourself for a glimpse of your generation. That look gives me great hope for our world. Naturally, your Indian heritage adds a whole, additional depth of fascinating complexity to that view. Such cultural cross-pollination is a great benefit of the web. I thank you for your funny, intelligent writing. It's enriched me.

Steve


message 4: by Ted (new)

Ted Steve, I enjoyed your (above) comment very much.


message 5: by Pushkarini (new)

Pushkarini Oh thank you for the kind words! :-) Just saw your comment.


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