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Sam Harris Proves Karen Armstrong’s Point

Sam Harris—atheist activist and pseudo-neuroscientist—attempted to take Karen Armstrong to task and did a splendid job of strengthening her point. Karen Armstrong wrote an article with which Sam Harris took umbrage yet, being an emotive reactionary he simply fails to respond intellectually and merely poured derision upon her whilst providing even more evidence to back up her original point.

Sam Harris wrote:
In her article ("Think Again: God," November 2009), Karen Armstrong discovers that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and I have mistaken "fundamentalism" for the totality of religion. (Sorry about that.) But do Richard and Christopher really hold religion responsible for "all human cruelty"? That is a surprise. I hadn't realized that they were idiots.[1]

Well, welcome to the light of day Mr. Harris.

Considering statements such as Christopher Hitchens’ “religion poisons everything” (it is right there on the very front of his book).

Or, Richard Dawkins’ statement:
Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition (religious riots between Hindus and Muslims where more than a million people were massacred), no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as “Christ-killers”, no Northern Ireland “troubles”, no “honour killings”, no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (“God wants you to give till it hurts”). Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.

The fact that this is jejune, myopic, historically absurd and that he backs away from it when challenged does not negate the fact that he promulgated this position.

The problem is not that the debunked New Atheists are only ever seen asserting that religion responsible for "all human cruelty"? but that they are so lacking in making balanced statements that one is virtually forced such a conclusion. Whether it is Sam Harris, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, Harris explains, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion”[2] or the New Atheists anti-historical denial that atheism motivated Communism they, themselves, are to be faulted for the manner in which they come across.
Sam Harris prescribes capital punishment for thought crime and is then shocked when people are shocked by the fact that he prescribes capital punishment for thought crime, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”[3]
Sam Harris’ first book was titled The End of Faith—Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and not The End of the Various Human Nature Related Dangers to the World—Whether Faith-Based or Not.

But what is Sam Harris’ specific response to his notion that Karen Armstrong mistakenly believes that the New Atheists “really hold religion responsible for ‘all human cruelty’”? He adds fuel to the fire and proves her point by launching into a tirade against religion—and he did not realize that he is an…well; his words, not mine.

Let us glean from Sam Harris’ article:
I can't quite remember how we got it into our heads that jihad was linked to violence. (Might it have had something to do with the actual history and teachings of Islam?) And how could we have been so foolish as to connect the apparently inexhaustible supply of martyrs in the Muslim world to the Islamic doctrine of martyrdom?...

The point is not whether Sam Harris is correct but that he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He has a chance to elucidate the fair and balanced views which he claims to hold but he does not, will not or cannot.

He then references, “a preoccupation with witchcraft” such as “belief in the curative powers of human flesh” in Africa.

He notes that in “Kenya elderly men and women are still burned alive for casting malicious spells.”

That “In Angola, unlucky boys and girls have been blinded, injected with battery acid, and killed outright in an effort to purge them of demons.”

That “In Tanzania, there is a growing criminal trade in the body parts of albino human beings -- as it is widely believed that their flesh has magical properties.”

And concludes, “I sincerely hope that my ‘new atheist’ colleagues are not so naive as to imagine that actual belief in magic might be the issue here.” Again and again, that is not the point; his understanding of her assertion was that he and the New Atheists hold that “religion responsible for ‘all human cruelty’” and he proves it and adds more weight to it.

In part, Karen Armstrong replied thusly:
It is clear that we need a debate about the role of religion in public life and the relationship between science and religion. I just wish this debate could be conducted in a more Socratic manner. Socrates, founder of the Western rationalist tradition, always insisted that any dialogue must be conducted with gentleness and courtesy, and without malice. In our highly polarized world, we really do not need yet another deliberately contentious and divisive discourse.

I think that she simply does not understand; to personages such as Sam Harris “religious” people are antiquated evolutionary vestiges no more to be regarded with respect than a mosquito that in biting you.

Since Sam Harris’ worldview is premised upon a rejection of God his responses cannot help but being emotionally motivated and charged, he is certainly exciting and inciting but he is simply in error.

For this is the will of God,
that by doing good you may put
to silence the ignorance of foolish men

—1st Peter 2:15

[1] Sam Harris, “The God Fraud,” Foreign Policy, January/February, 2010
[2] Jörg Blech, “THE NEW ATHEISTS - Researchers Crusade against American Fundamentalists,” Spiegel, October 26, 2006
[3] Sam Harris, The End of Faith—Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004 ), pp. 52–53

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  1. Rubbish!
    Your intellect is non-existent, and your arguments against Sam Harris are redundant, unbalanced and lacking in credibility.

  2. Heh, I'm going to assume that the previous comment is dripping with sarcasm.

  3. Mariano - Find me one recording of Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens claiming that all human cruelty is caused by religion. Only an idiot would believe something like that, their claim, that has a lot of evidence, is that Religion is more harmful than it is good. They have never once said all suffering and cruelty is caused by religion.