I just listened to an interview with one Sam Harris, posted on the CNN website, about how "we" should ditch religion. Religion, he says is not a good tool for making moral decisions, and modern science works much better.
I also saw some comments on Facebook about this, about what a wonderfully clear thinker Harris is, and how more people should think like him. So I want to post some thoughts from a different perspective. Perhaps they will start a conversation.
I have problems with Mr. Harris' positions on several counts. First, he makes an array of assumptions without real support. For example, he says President Obama is against gay marriage "because of his faith." The assumption is that Obama subscribes to a teaching of Christianity that sees homosexuality as an abomination. However, there is nothing in the teachings of his long-time church or his personal statements to support that. More likely -- if we're making assumptions -- is that gay marriage is not a core goal of a major constituency, and so it's politically risky, with little payback. It is, after all, very unpopular with the general American public. Barak Obama is nothing if not political.
Then he mentions the differences between Christianity and Islam, and says they cannot be reconciled. He is correct, they cannot. The two are fundamentally opposed views of the world. That's true as well of Hinduism, Buddhism and more. It's also true of political philosophies, many of which are fundamentally opposed in their core beliefs. So what? That's how the world is. Some of us believe some things are beyond compromise. Mr. Harris is one, I suspect. It's not wrong.
He also says "religion" is not concerned with the problems of our world, but only with what happens after this life. But this is nonsense, and is clearly shown as such by a glance at events, both ancient and modern.
Christians, for example, have built tens of thousands of orphanages and given shelter and care to the most powerless in society by the millions. They have built schools, also by the thousands, to give those same kids an education. And then there are hospitals: Who knows how many thousands across the world? Most are hospitals who treat many of their patients without cost.
I am personally familiar with Christian congregations and organizations today that spend many millions of dollars addressing problems of AIDS, other diseases, refugees, hunger, lack of clean water, education, economic opportunity and more in the United States, Africa, South America and Asia.
Now, since Mr. Harris and those who agree with him claim to have a better idea, I think it's fair to compare their own actions in these cases. Let's see... Schools? Hard to find. Orphanages? Haven't heard of any. Hospitals? Nope. Have America's atheists done anything to alleviate the suffering in our world? Hard to see it, if they have. Condemning those who are doing the work is not helping with a problem.
What about his superior moral decision making? Is that the result of decades of public school children being taught by secularist teachers that making moral choices is "no different than choosing the flavor of ice cream at Baskin-Robbins." That there are no absolutes, and it's every person for him- or herself. It's okay to steal, do drugs, cheat, gang-bang, and more. This is superior morality?
The problem with Mr. Harris' broad brush approach, just dumping all religions in one pot, is that it simply ignores some fundamental differences. It makes a moral equivalence between Osama bin Laden with Mother Teresa, for example. Is that the outcome of scientific moral decision-making?
This is no superiority. It's nonsense and the path to a social jungle.