Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by the highway in a ditch.
He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled pokin’ that dog with a stick.
Got his car door flung open he’s standin’ out on Highway 31.
Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run.
— “Reason to Believe”
I had not heard the final song from Bruce Springsteen’s 1990 album Nebraska in more than 10 years, but the opening lyrics came to mind while reading the first few chapters of Sam Harris’ book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004). Springsteen’s song is a bitter joke that comes at the end of an album filled with nihilistic despair, so, I was not surprised that my memory would call up this song while reading Harris’ depressing words:
“Despite the considerable exertions of men like [theologian Paul] Tillich who has attempted to hide the serpent lurking at the foot of every altar, the truth is that religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern – specifically in the propositions that promise some mechanism by which human life can be spared the ravages of time and death.”
An atheist friend suggested I read Harris’ book after I invited him to comment on my first post on this blog, Faith, Liberals, and Biscuits
. He sent me an email complimenting me on my new hobby, made a snide comment about an admittedly shallow theological remark I made in the post and suggested I read Harris’ book. (Thanks for the prescription, Jimbo.)
End of Faith comes at a time when the Neocons and car bombers are sharing the news and beginning to wear down the American public; Harris started writing the book on September 12, 2001. Harris’ solution to the turmoil religion created was to destroy religion for the sake of world peace. Does Harris really think we will all be happier without God or, for his sake, the concept of God? Absolutely. In fact, reading End of Faith is a horrifying experience. “Words like ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ must go the way of ‘Apollo’ and ‘Baal,’ or they will unmake our world.” While he spends most of his time with fundamentalists in his sights, it is a bit strange how he seems to believe that even religious moderates are capable of anything. This, of course, is not a revelation to a Muslim, Jew or Christian. We have asserted from the Beginning that man is capable of atrocities, just as he is capable of lying or stealing an apple from a market; it is called “sin nature.”
If you can remove yourself from any religious predilections and look at the world with pure logic, most of Harris’ views are difficult to refute. Still, who is his audience here? Is he preaching to the choir? (Sorry folks, I just couldn’t help myself.) If he is trying to convert believers to the abyss it is a hard sell. Ask anyone who believes in God, whether their deity goes by Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah or some nebulous entity, and he’ll tell you the idea of abandoning this supreme belief for Harris’ solution is impossible to reconcile with what he knows and feels.
It is not just a choice of which is more sensible; any staunch nonbeliever who reads the Bible is confounded by the idea that millions of people throughout the ages lived and died not only understanding, but also believing in this nonsense. Any college student sufficiently full of himself can read Harris’ book and come away with the idea that this author has found the panacea for religious fanaticism. Conversely, anyone who has gone beyond Harris’ worldly assertions can see how utterly foolish they are and, Biblically speaking, “full of dead men’s bones.” (For a review far more eloquent then these comments by someone who, I trust, was able to finish the book, check out: Matthew Simpson’s review posted April, 5, 2005 at www.ChristianityToday.com
Ultimately, Harris writes off the religious folk as people who have never reflected on the intellectual foundations of their beliefs. If his book is so tactfully written to cloak his contempt for Christians and other Believers, the titles of some of his posts in the Huffingtonpost like “Science Must Destroy Religion” and the presumptive “There is No God (And You Know It)” remove all doubt. Of course, there are plenty of contemporary works of religious philosophy to discount his claim. One that stands out can be found in To Everyone an Answer (2004), a collection of Christian apologies focusing on subjects that include God’s existence, Intelligent Design, miracles, and Christianity v other faiths and cults, among others subjects.
Like James Moreland and Kai Nielsen’s Does God Exist? and Peter Kreeft’s Fundamentals of the Faith, I found To Everyone an Answer at the bookstore and “just had to have it.” In addition, like so many other books I impulsively purchase, this one could have spent years on the shelf unopened if it had not been for Harris’ impish opus, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
One essay, “A Thomistic Cosmological Argument,” by W. David Beck, lays out the logic of God’s presence and our place in His universe. TheThomistic Cosmological Argument comes from Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century philosopher and theologian. His Cosmological Argument, as it is commonly known, is based on three premises:
- What we observe in this universe is contingent. Nothing we see exists in and of themselves.
- A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite. Just as one boxcar pulls another that pulls another, the boxcars cannot be infinite; there must be an initial cause, like the train’s engine.
- The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite. The premise that completes the logic is that if the sequence cannot be infinite, then it must be finite.
His conclusion is that there must be a first cause in the sequence of contingent causes. Still, pessimists like Harris can retort that the initial cause was a “big bang” or something similar. What actually caused the initial “big bang” that ultimately ended in you and me is something Darwin, his followers and, I would assume, Harris would simply shine on as a goal for future science to patch up along with all the “Origin of the Species” holes.
I hate the idea of not finishing a book I started – almost as much as I hate walking out of a movie, even if it really stinks. It is just that I have so many books I want to read, and being such a slow reader, the list of books I want to read only grows longer when I am dragging my eyeballs across the lines of a suicide-inducing tome like this one.
I would like to think that Harris would consider the words of Beck and other apologists in To Everyone an Answer, but in the time it took me to read what little I did from this depressing book and all the time this post spent in my jump drive waiting for me to finish it, a new book from Harris titled Letter to a Christian Nation has been published. From the blurbs on the Amazon.com site, it sounds like another tombstone.