Sam Harris: A Chance to Elaborate

In my last post I reference the debate that unfolded on Real Time with Bill Maher. In the video, you will notice Sam Harris being interrupted several times, while he and Maher were simply not listened to. I have argued that the attacks they have received have come from a place of emotion rather than reason, and most would find that they actually agree with them more than they realize. As is pointed out in the video above, we all are on the same side on this topic, and it’s time to be honest. I like that this interview does a very good job of clearing up a lot of misunderstanding so I think that it is worth watching. Enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts.

Politically Incorrect: Islamophobia

The correlation between Islam and the terrorism we are witnessing progress at an alarming rate does not seem to hold a middle ground in the debate forum. People either fervently believe this is an unbreakable relationship while others believe that this is a war of politics and madmen, tugging on the strings of Islam and creating an irrelevant connection. Those who side with the latter appear to condemn those that even consider Islam may be at the epicenter of this problem. They become quite offended, hardly allow the debate or discussion to even occur as they batter their “opponent” with the slander of calling them a racist, Islamophobic, bigot, etc.

As a big fan of Sam Harris’ work to this point, I was motivated to write this when I first became aware of the scrutiny he had faced over his stance on this subject. I, without needing his persuasion to begin with, hold similar views as he does on this topic. However, I am no large voice in this society, and I had been very busy, so I refrained. I have been motivated once more however after seeing the video above as even Bill Maher has faced similar heat as Sam.

The biggest problem I have with the side opposing Maher and Harris are the common arguments that I have heard, they either appear to be invalid and full of emotion rather than reason, or hold some truth but still miss the point that the likes of Maher and Harris are trying to make. With that said, I don’t intend to make this a massive blog post. I don’t think I need to. But in hearing these debates for some time now, I think I have identified three main points that are misunderstood or not completely correct.

Being Critical of Islam is not Racist

The first thing to realize is that Islam is not a race, it is a religion. Yet somehow, being critical of this religion or correlating them to terrorism borders on journalist suicide and one is almost guaranteed to be labeled racist within the day of their publication. But to argue that this is racism is to fail to set emotions aside and look at the facts. This is a debate about ideas and the consequences of those ideas, and in no way does race play a role. Never have I or any of the people I follow that have been criticized for this said “beware of the race x Muslims, but if the Muslims are white you’re golden”. Need I define racism? I find it too cliche.

What about those who are doing good?

Muslims that are out promoting a moderate interpretation of Islam really do help  in the fight against the extremists and we who are critical of Islam will admit that at this point they are a necessary piece to a better tomorrow in ridding ISIS and other jihadist groups. The path to a world rid of belief in various faiths is beyond my life, and most on my side that want a secular society would agree. The most visible path to this ultimate destination is through the growth of religious moderation, but this does not mean that I support religious moderation. I stand for reason and what is, and as long as faith exists, the potential for these cancerous expansions exists. So while I support religious moderation in this moment, it is worth admitting that it comes with a heavy caveat. So while we will concede that those who are working to reform Islam are beneficial to society currently, this is a point that shows you are missing the point.

We aren’t concerned about the moderates. We are concerned about the obvious consequences of not being able to criticize bad ideas. These consequences should not be taken lightly. Not only do we have good reason to fear another attack of the 9/11 scale, but even as you read this, women are facing gross inequality, gays are still in silence or being persecuted, and far too many are under a constant and very real threat of Islamist extremism. All this because we are trying to be accepting of other people’s culture. All of this because we are trying to be politically correct. Under no circumstances should any of these consequences be tolerated to the degree that the mainstream liberals have. To do this is to ignore the true reality of the suffering that is occurring right now to innocent victims. To be sensitive to what is going on in the middle east, not wanting to be critical of Islam, is to fail to care sufficiently about the true victims of in this tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes.

This isn’t about the religion, this is about politics

Politics plays a role without a doubt for many involved, but those on my side would argue that it is not at the center of this conflict. To play along, let’s suppose that the leaders are brainwashing their followers for their own political agenda, but how is this being done? It is being done through the filter of a belief in Islam. The ones who are willingly doing these evil acts are not psychopaths, but merely devout believers in the literal word of the Koran. If not for this, the leaders would have little to sell its followers but for the chance to be a psychopath with no reward. At bottom, politics is not what is driving the masses of the conflict.

Conclusion

As I have continually said, this is a conflict of ideas and what is. Trying to simply be politically correct will not get us far when we truly understand the magnitude of suffering that is being caused by this very real problem of Muslim extremism. This cannot be taken lightly, and those of you who are fighting us for being critical of Islam are not looking at the grand picture for what it is. We need to stop trying to bolster our ego by supposedly satisfying the masses by being politically correct and for once have an honest and open discussion about this problem. If you disagree, or agree, I give you the floor in the comments section.

Is Atheism/Christianity/Islam a Religion of Peace?

Today, while I was eating lunch, I was feeling sentimental. I missed good ol’ Christopher Hitchens and wanted to listen to him speak. So I decided to go onto YouTube and watch this debate here. The debate was asking the question; is Islam a religion of peace? Hitch in his opening statement made many points, from the totalitarian beliefs to the acts of many of the followers, speaking of terrorist attacks, fathers murdering their daughters, etc. We all know the rebuttal to this, regardless of the religion in question. They will proclaim that we cannot judge a religion by the acts of the extremists.

I agree. We shouldn’t do that. But this creates a better means of answering this question properly. There is one thing we can turn to in each of these religions. The Bible, and the Qur’an. While the people of the religion are free to interpret the text as they please and worship as they desire, they cannot deny that their holy book is the sole unquestionable representative of their faith. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that regardless of what you believe personally, your worship is based upon the existence of your respective holy book. Without the book, you have nothing to stand on.

So when we ask the question, is Christianity, or is Islam, a religion of peace? We need not look to the followers. The question for them would be, are the followers of Christianity, or are the followers of Islam peaceful? But this is not the question I am analyzing today. What I am looking at is the religion itself. So looking specifically at these religions holy texts, do they ever endorse violence? Do these texts ever promote things like slavery, misogyny, or the killing of those who leave the faith or who do not believe in one’s respective faith? I think it would be laughable if you asked me to actually point out these verses to you. Clearly, these religions are grounded in text that encourage violence in the defense of their God. They also foster ignorant views of the world and damn those who would dare to question. We need not look to the people to learn about the religion. We need to look at the religion. When we do, the answer couldn’t be more clear.

A single caveat to this point is that many followers will explain that much of the text was intended for a different time. Not only does this imply that you admit that at one time slavery was good or killing of those who don’t believe was okay, but because these “needless” verses remain, people can still interpret the text and come to violent conclusions about how to behave in the real world. In either case, religion is a cause lacking in peace.

This is where the argument falls, and yes, it falls heavily in favor to the atheist. When the religious try to claim that atheism is a religion, and further, atheism is a religion not of peace, they are met with many sad realizations. We do not have a doctrine prescribed to atheism. This also hurts their argument when they try to assert that people such as Stalin were atheist and therefore atheism leads to evil. If you wish to follow that train of thought, then you must concede to the facts regarding violence and your own religion. Thus if your religion, or any members acting on behalf of their interpretation of your religion, has an equivalent violence rate or history as Stalin (which it does, and it’s worse), and you then proclaim atheism is a religion of evil, then by your own logic, your religion is a religion of evil.

And you have no atheist text to hold us to because WE SIMPLY DON’T HAVE ONE! You cannot proclaim that Dawkins said this or Hitchens said that and therefore atheism believes this. No. Atheists are free to learn and believe what they so desire, and no text plays the ultimate hand. And no text acts as a holy book of atheism which then supports violent acts. You could maybe argue that an atheist activist has published statements that promote violence but this is not enough. If we are to say that any atheist, no matter the popularity, can publish his thoughts on the path of atheism, and then you go on to proclaim that what they say must fall into the line of what all atheists believe, then you once again must accept those who have done so within your own religion, whom you currently say we should ignore since they “aren’t representative of the true beliefs of your faith”. Thus, it must be crystal clear that the only religions* which are nailed to a book that truly represents their lives are the other two (Christianity and Islam, since these are the only two we are considering in this post).

We have already accepted that these texts do promote violence. Whether you  believe that these verses are irrelevant in today’s society or not, the fact is, the verses remain. Anyone with faith in one of these religions can read their respective texts, and draw conclusions which lead to violence. What puts the wait of these consequences on the backs of these religions is the fact that these conclusions come from their most important book. People can justify some of the greatest evils by reading the one book you recommend everyone study with passion. The book that you will proclaim is the book to answer all questions. People can justify the worst evils simply from the book that you will advise everyone live their lives by. Is Christianity or Islam a religion of peace? How can it truly be when this can be said about it? As Steven Weinberg states, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

 

*I should go on the record saying that clearly, atheism is not a religion. I just grouped atheism with Christianity and Islam for the sake of this post, given that many religious people tend to try to put us in the group. I merely show how the argument breaks down in that case.

Sam Harris: The Problem With Atheism

I do identify myself as an atheist. Before, it was with pride. I almost felt like a soldier in battle against the evil dictator called religion. Now, as a less militant atheist, I rather despise the term. My means of holding on to it now are merely out of laziness. I also understand that currently, I do not have a voice of social change, so I will not be the one to rid us of the term. Sadly, atheism has become a term that the ignorant use incorrectly to draw conclusions that aren’t there about the people connected. These days, I prefer to say that I am an advocate for reason and evidence, and avoid the term all together. Not only is this stance more difficult for others to oppose, it allows me to psychologically broaden my horizons. I no longer feel limited to only critiquing religion, but now to all claims made without sufficient evidence or reasoning. We are not in a battle simply with religion. Religion is just a result of a bigger problem which is letting bad ideas formed from bad reasoning spreading through society without disdain. To go into further detail on the matter, I lend you this video of Sam Harris talking about the problems we encounter by holding on to this term. This talk had me almost completely convinced by the time I was finished watching. Let me know your thoughts.

Blessings: Explicit Narcissism

A very successful, and very religious woman was in New York with her mother and daughter. She was in New York for business reasons, but invited her daughter and mother to enjoy the sights. While in New York, they visited all the sights that they desired, and being enamored with fashion, spent a lot of the time shopping and simply enjoying life. After a week or so of fun, outside of work, it was time to fly home to Oregon. The flight in which was scheduled was the last available flight that would enable this woman to be home on the day of her 3 year old sons birthday. While moving through the large New York airport, they would stop at various shops and a restaurant, enjoying their final hours in New York. Soon however, fun came to an end and it was time to reach their boarding area.

She was not the most punctual woman. That is not to say that she was never on time, she was usually on time when punctuality was required. But she was certainly never early. As time ran short on their flight departure, they raced to customs to have their bags checked, go through security and so on. With very little time until the flight, it was time for her to retrieve her I.D. It was at this moment when she would face her greatest conflict of the trip. She did not have her I.D.

In a moment of panic, she tried to calm herself down. She then looked at her mother and daughter and insisted they continue through to the plane while she tries to retrace her steps. Being in a large airport, she would have to take a train from point to point as she scrambled back to the places she had been. In the time that this took, the time for the flight was nearing too close for comfort. She returned to various shops and so forth, asking if an I.D. had been spotted only to feel the knot in her stomach tighten as a look of confusion grew over the employees she asked. This was about all she could bear. In the struggle with only minutes until the plane was to leave, she returned to her train in tears, hoping that she might be able to talk her way onto the plane. Something that she knew would be impossible.

While in tears, she began praying to God that a miracle would occur. Not long after, while still in tears with the belief that she would miss her sons birthday, a security guard approached her with a question. He asked of her name, “are you Mary?” She looked up, surprised. “yes,” she replied. “I have your I.D. here. I found it while walking to the train.” He held up an I.D. It was in fact hers. Tears of fear quickly became tears of joy and relief. She found even greater relief when she found that even though she was incredibly late for her flight, it had been delayed for quite some time, allowing her to board and later make it home in time for her son’s birthday.

This is a true story. My aunt, whose name is not Mary, for her privacy, actually went through this experience. I remember hearing her tell this story. At the end of the story, she went on to speak about how blessed she was by God for Him to answer her prayer. She would then end her story by saying, “I am so blessed.”

Now let me start by saying that I love my aunt. She is a kind and loving person. But this is something that all Christians fall in to. They believe that they are being humble; glory be to God, they might say. But what Christians do not realize is that by saying this, you are, to the most explicit degree, spitting in the face of those who suffer their entire lives.

We see this all of the time. People thanking God for shining the light on them, while in this same moment, playing the part of the completely blind to the reality of this life. What’s more is that these people who believe that they are blessed appear very narcissistic. Look at the things that these people believe God is blessing them with. God blessed me with the ability to play Football. God blessed me when I thought I would be late to work by guiding me to my keys. God delivered a man unto me holding the I.D. I needed to board the plane to make it to my sons birthday. These things are so petty. These “blessings” are so offensive in light of the reality we know to be true. So what is occurring at the same time as these blessings?

In the story above, her turmoil lasted about an hour. In that time, roughly 1,000 children under the age of 5 died. It is not hard to believe that the parents of these children were praying to the same God as my aunt that their child would be spared, and yet their prayers went unanswered. We can look at humans all we want, but suffering extends beyond our species. Animals in the wild were literally eaten alive in the time that my aunt faced this “crisis”. In the time that you have read this post, people have died of starvation and been diagnosed with a life-threatening illnesses. The list goes on and on. But isn’t what I have provided more than enough?

When Christians proclaim God’s favoritism over them, no statement is more vile to me. And I know that they do not always realize what they are saying, but that’s the problem. Open your eyes people. Open your eyes to the reality of this experience we call life. To believe that a God would help you find your keys, or throw a touchdown pass, while allowing a 5 year old to suffer his/her whole life and then die after hundreds if not thousands of the most sincere and desperate prayers, you are a narcissist, or you need to wake up.

Some people have been dealt better hands than others. This is a sad fact of life. No blessings, no punishments, nothing. This is a reality that makes sense and does not permit such selfish behavior. To rather claim that God blessed you with these little things is not a humble act, it is a selfish and immoral one. Driving my point home, I leave you with a video by Sam Harris. I conclude my thoughts by saying that this was primarily to express why many of us atheists show such displeasure when people speak of blessings around us. We know that you believe blessings are real and good. But they are not. They are only offensive when you consider the well-being of all who experience this thing we call life.

The Day I Quit Caring About God

In my personal circle of atheist friends, we don’t talk about God. To us, it has become one of the least interesting topics to discuss. I remember the day that this really clicked for me. My wife and I were driving with some friends to the store when one of us (I don’t remember who) said something that was essentially mocking the idea of God. This sent us down a conversational stream of reiterating points we had made in the past that made the idea of God seem laughable. We again pointed out the mere improbability (dare I say, impossibility) of God. We were saying many of the same things we had said in the past, perhaps from different angles, but for all intents and purposes, it was the same argument. It was then that one of my friends asked, “why are we doing this?” This wasn’t a sympathetic question towards the Christian faith, suggesting that we were being too hard on them. No, this question was asking; why are we talking about something that is so clearly false?

Soon after he asked this question, we all kind of laughed introspectively. I then began to mock what we were doing by pointing out the clear flaws in the myth of Santa Clause. Bringing up the improbability (dare I say, impossibility) of a man reaching every home over night. I pointed out how Santa was not as generous a man as claimed, leaving the starving kids of Africa without food or shelter while giving a child in America a new XBOX. We all laughed, because the idea of Santa is so clearly false that discussing his likelihood is literally a complete waste of time. It was then that we realized, so is God.

The idea of God is not a discussion worth having once you are an experienced atheist, and I think many atheists would agree. If you have studied religion and science for a substantial period of time, there comes a point when acknowledging the God hypothesis as a valid possibility is to give too much respect to it; lending far too much of our valuable (and finite) time to an unsubstantial claim.  God is clearly a failed hypothesis. Contradiction after contradiction, improbability after improbability in the face of a probable solution, no other hypothesis could fail so often, so explicitly, and still render five minutes of intellectual discussion. So why lend the 5 minutes to this?

The reason that I have taken the time to point this out is because we need to recognize that there are better things to be talking about. There are better things to ponder. The wonders of science are at our fingertips and we need not spend another moment wondering if there is a dictator in the sky waiting to punish us for thought crime. We know this argument is over. It’s time to move on to more relevant ideas.

Now there is a caveat to the points I have made above. What I have said above applies more to the subjective experience. I think that we atheists that have covered all the bases in the God debate need not spend so much time on it when there is so much more to discover in this life. That being said, we still need people that do speak out against religion. Religion is far too popular and we are clearly hindered as a people because of religion. I am thankful for people such as the four horsemen and the various atheist groups that work to keep religion out of our government, we need these groups, we need these people.

And I am sure that we still have people in our lives that we care about that do want to have this discussion with us. We should not ignore this simply because the idea of God is so stale. And due to religions popularity, sometimes we need to present ideas that people haven’t heard before. If we want religion to lose its popularity, people need to feel pressure when they try to claim nonsense. We need to be willing to speak out when someone tries to present an unsubstantial claim with pride.

To summarize, the power that religion still has on society makes our voice in opposition important. But at the end of the day, for me, I know that this debate is over. I have spent a good amount of time this subject and I have quite honestly spent enough. I personally rarely desire the conversation anymore. Now, I am open minded. If someone has a new and revolutionary idea, let me hear it. But I know (virtually, I should say) that it won’t happen. The argument is over. I have better things to think about. There is a universe filled with plenty of wonder and beauty and I need not waste any more of my time on this idea called God.