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Jan 18

Militant Secular Fundamentalism?

Today The Revealer points to this review over at Reason Online, wherein Chris Lehmann, of New York Magazine, has little nice to say about The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris. It would seem Mr. Harris possesses an unusually single-minded (dogmatic?) devotion to casting all religious thought in an eerie, monochromatic light. Lehmann writes:

Never mind … that militantly atheist movements like Soviet and Khmer Rouge communism-as well as volkish pagan ones like Nazism and Tutsi supremacy-stand behind some of the worst mass violence of the past century. Harris believes religious belief is the single greatest threat to the survival of the human species. Religious faith is not merely a maladaptive superstition, Harris writes; it is the ‘common enemy’ for all reasonable people concerned with the preservation of the world as we know it. All extant religious traditions, to him, are without exception ‘intellectually defunct and politically ruinous.’

I’ve long been a proponent of the idea (heh heh!) that ideas have consequences and that sometimes ideas can even kill. But this is not a viewpoint we’ve come to expect from secularism. Harris seems to promote a slightly more militant version of secularism than we’re used to. Lehmann goes on to say:

… Harris, as it happens, is only getting warmed up with the 9/11 scaremongering. He’s ready to roll up his sleeves and endorse pre-emptive assaults on both individual bad believers and dangerous Islamist regimes by any means necessary. In a world-class show of ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you’ disingenuousness, Harris makes it clear that the fault for this state of affairs resides entirely with the believers he thinks we may have to kill. ‘Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.’

Full disclosure: I’ve not read Harris’ book. But sometimes the reviews are entertaining enough.

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