Sam Harris’ Atheist Diatribe
In response to Sam Harris, by Ed Carden, not “Consider This.”
Sigmund Freud, a rather famous atheist, said that the three hallmarks of maturity for human beings are the ability to work, the ability to love, and the ability to tolerate ambiguity. It seems to me that Mr. Harris fell significantly short of the latter two elements of maturity in his treatise called AN ATHEIST MANIFESTO.
He condemns his own rhetorical style in the last paragraph of his manifesto, “Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.”
Mr. Harris’ claim for certainty sounds exactly like the certainty of the religious right he despises (with good reasons, in my opinion). I believe it is the very same immature inability to love and immature inability to tolerate ambiguity that fosters this pseudocertainty among religious “fundamentalists” such as Mr. Harris. (We should note the terms “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” have a long history in religion, and only recently have been narrowed to mean zealots who want to dominate their society with their own beliefs, and exclude other beliefs.) He condemns moderate or liberal religionsists more vehemently than religionists from the rabid right because he thinks, at least in this article, exactly the way the rabid right does.
Atheists often cringe when they hear that atheism is just one more religion, and understandably so because many atheists have a visceral reaction to the enormous evils that have been perpetrated on humanity under the auspices of some “divinely appointed” authority. But if they try to understand the whole mess called the human condition, the religious pedigree of atheism should rapidly become apparent. Agnosticism is an attitude, atheism is a religion.
Whether there is any real basis to the invisible world that most people experience in very variable and often antihuman ways is a theory. It cannot be proven or disproven. When a person believes one way or the other, it becomes a matter of faith, i.e., an assumption about something that may or may not be true. But faith MUST include doubt, or it is no longer faith. That is the moral basis for the tolerance of all religions, including atheism.
Articles of faith are called dogmas, implying the doubt meant in the Latin derivation of dogma, meaning “given.” Religion occurs when people form communities that share dogmas. The term religion literally means “things” (res) “written” (legio). So if an agnostic eventually makes up his or her mind that this invisible reality is nonsense (a reasonABLE position) and shares that dogma with others, they have formed a religion. There is nothing demonstrable to indicate that the opposite decision is not equally reasonABLE, although many specific applications of the God theory are not reasonable, as has been attested to over the years by thousands of theistic religious scholars of various persuasions. The fact that Mr Harris either chose to ignore these scholars or is ignorant of their work makes his treatise one of vitriolic personal opinion rather than scholarly reflection, in my opinion.
When belief about an unprovable theory casts all doubt aside, like Mr. Harris has done, the theory has become an ideology, and its adherents have become ideologues, just like the people Mr. Harris despises who have a different ideology. Ideologies by their very nature compete for adherents and are therefore usually intolerant of other ideologies. What ideologues fail to realize in this competition is that ideologies are, AT BEST, partial truths. They can learn this historically proven fact only if they become humble enough to accept the inadequacies of the human condition and learn to tolerate ambiguity.
When they learn how to love (i.e., have respect for the dignity and autonomy of the entire, DIVERSE human species), they are not only mature, they are humanists, whether or not they subscribe to the God theory.
Regards to all and best wishes for success with your FINO groups.