Sam Harris - Letter to a Christian Nation
Posted: 07 October 2006 12:25 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Does anyone else think this is one of the best Point of Inquiry episodes to date?

I know I’ve heard Sam speak most of these things before, and he is getting longer segments on NPR and other mainstream outlets lately too. But, I’m really enjoying hearing him put everything on the table in this one.

His point about people going to Africa because they are concerned about the state of their fellow beings being a better reason than going there because they want to be rewarded by a god is a very powerful and under-discussed in my opinion.

I used to work on site at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. I met a lot of people there who have done exactly what he says. Most of them are not particularly religious people, but they were concerned with the world and wanted to help spread healthier practices.

I find that juxtaposing ideas that stand in such stark contrast to each other tends to make a good reductio ad absurdum argument especially in this scenario.

Imagine an epidemiologist from CDC goes to Africa. She is also a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian. While there, she helps teach people about how to clean their water and helps provide walter filtration systems. She calmy explains to them that [b:b32bc5cd39]diseases are not caused by spirits, demons, curses, or the gods[/b:b32bc5cd39]. She shows them pathogens under microscope and helps them to learn about the germ-theory of disease.

Later in the day she opens her Bible and begins to preach. She attempts to teach them that only by accepting Jesus Christ as their true lord and savior will they be redeemed and saved from burning in hell. She goes into a lengthy explanation of the "hidden mysteries" of God, culminating with utterly terrifying tales of "the rapture", during which, she explains, any of the villagers who had accepted Jesus would vanish from the earth and join Jesus in heaven and then Jesus would annihiliate the rest of the population. She explains to them that while demons and spirits do not cause illness, Jesus does control the ultimate gates to Heaven and Hell.

A young boy raises his hand and says "I bet we need to use a telescope to watch people go up to Heaven instead of a microscope to see this happen, right? Did you bring a telescope too?" 

The young epidemiologist/evangelical has to think about that one for a moment. She admits she doesn’t know and says it is a "mystery of God".

This is a completely absurd set of juxtapositions. To believe that a well trained epidemiologist could hold such views side by side is really beyond belief, so far as I can tell. Even more absurd would be to imagine a Muslim epidemiologist and a Christian both in the same area, both arguing against each other on theology and trying to convert to inhabitants. Yet, they would be able to get along just fine when it came to providing for the physical needs of the inhabits because they both agreed on that because of their scientific training.

In effect, they would be arguing against miracles and demonic causes of disease, yet would be arguing for supernatural intervention in the process of physical death, yet they could never produce evidence via the telescope that the young boy requests. He is left to fight two competing and incompatible ideas in his mind.

On the one hand, he looks around his world, thinking to himself about the germ-theory of disease, and begins to comprehend the physicality of nature and the competition for resources and energy that organisms undergo. He wants to get his own microscope to examine the tiny creatures swimming through the ordinary creekwater and puddles in his village. He is open to discovery and the scientific method.

On the other hand, he lays awake at night, tossing and turning his body in his bed and his thoughts in his head. His body is being tormented by the heat and bugs, but his mind is being tortured by images of burning flames and demonic creatures that he has been told he will meet if doesn’t confess with his lips that Jesus Christ is the lord and savior of the universe.

Unlikely tale? Absolutely. But, while you may not find many university educated epidemiologists (scientists) who hold these kind of antiquated religious doctrines, you definitely will find others who hold these views both in Christian circles and in Muslim circles.

Keep up the good work Sam Harris!

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Posted: 07 October 2006 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There have been so many excellent episodes of PoI that I have a hard time deciding which I think is best. I have listened to this Sam Harris interview three times so far since yesterday (yes, I have a lot of time on my hands). If that is any indicator then it is right up there with the Druyan, Price, and Kurtz intertviews that I have listened to several times each.

I hadn’t heard of Sam Harris until I listened to the End of Faith interview. At that time I agreed with much of what he said but disagreed with him about moderate or liberal christians. After hearing this interview, probably aided by things I have read and watched in the mean time, I am agreeing with him more about moderate and liberal believers. I have friends who are liberal christians who work on interfaith projects with muslims which I didn’t think that odd as little as a month ago, but now it astounds me that they BOTH have to ignore their “holy books” because both of the books proclaim that the other will be going to hell. Hmm…

I really liked what he said about religious people doing good things for bad reasons when there are plenty of good reasons available. Something that has been troubling me about the mission work of christian churches is that the factor that determines if the missionary is successful is how many “souls she saves” and not how many starving people she feeds. This may not be true of all religious mission projects, but it has been in the churches with which I am familiar. Also, as they are helping people by feeding them and giving them medical attention, they are also spreading ignorance and death with their preaching that “a wonderful after life awaits you if you believe in my particular version of the one and only true God” and by teaching abstinence instead of providing condoms to people with very few pleasureable options other than sex. I also wonder if missionaries don’t sometimes consciously or unconsciously tend to treat and feed those who get “saved” better than those who don’t. If that were the case it may not take long for a person living in misery to learn to hit the “faith lever” for more food or better treatment. That is just a thought, not sure how realistic it actually is.

Anyway, great interview. Glory to the Cosmos for creating people like Sam Harris.

DBH

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Posted: 13 October 2006 01:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, I also found it a really fine interview. Harris is very articulate and clear about his views and arguments, which makes him a pleasure to follow. I also do appreciate his stated aim to take an uncompromising position in order to leave space open for more moderate attacks on religion ... I think that is an important point to make.

The one thing I didn’t understand with his book is the title—perhaps he explains this in the book itself, but it seems to me words like “Christian nation” reinforce the incorrect assumption of many on the religious right that the US is in fact a “Christian nation”. Of course, as we know from reading our history, this country was not founded on the tenets of any religion. So it seemed to me odd that Harris would word the title in that fashion. Perhaps “Letter to a Christian” would have been better? Or was he just trying to get the attention of the right wing Christian on the cover of his book?

At any rate, it’s a question I’d have liked DJ to ask. It doesn’t happen often that DJ skips a question that I was interested in.

:wink:

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Posted: 05 November 2006 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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More Sam Harris

Sam Harris fans may be interested to know that Sam was interviewed on CBC’s Tapestry program this afternoon.  Host Mary Hynes leaned on him a bit harder about some of his ideas than DJ did, so it was an interesting contrast with the PoI interview.  It seemed to me he was mostly successful at answering her concerns.

After the show has been broadcast, the audio is often posted in the progam’s online archive:     
The archive is usually updated within a day or two of the broadcast.  Sam’s interview took up the whole hour.

catwalker

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Posted: 06 November 2006 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Welcome catwalker!

Bob Reasoner

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Posted: 06 November 2006 03:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Re: More Sam Harris

[quote author=“catwalker”]Sam Harris fans may be interested to know that Sam was interviewed on CBC’s Tapestry program this afternoon.

Not up yet at the site, but I will try to remember to keep an eye out for it. Yes, thanks much for the link and welcome!

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Posted: 17 November 2006 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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More Sam Harris

Further to my post above:

For the next couple of weeks you will be able to find a podcast of the CBC
Tapestry Interview with Sam Harris at
http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/editorschoice_20061106_1256.mp3

After it falls off the bottom of the podcast list, you can listen on-line (but not download) at
http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/archives.html

regards to all,

catwalker

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