Most of this book is a brilliantly written evisceration of religious faith, especially Islam, and a much needed defenestration of cultural relativism (and the political correctness that goes with it). The author also deserves credit to trying to describe a replacement. Unfortunately, a science of ethics, i,e., a rational atheism, seems equally hard to believe...
on November 17, 2015
One of my favourite quotes is Eleanor Roosevelt’s observation that;
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
In this book, the Sam Harris discusses ideas. He does not launch any ad hominem attacks on anyone, and only rarely attempts to voice hindsight opinions of past events. It is certainly true that some of his ideas are very controversial in today’s society. Harris has carefully thought out these ideas, and has not been afraid to challenge popular societal explanations and clichés in his presentation of his arguments. I disagree with just a very few of his points, but even on these issues, I do understand his reason for developing position he takes. The ideas in this book certainly need to be discussed, and Harris has eloquently presented them – perhaps trailing slightly in coherency in the last couple of chapters as compared to the rest of the book, but en masse, in a well written and very readable manner.
When taking stock of the somewhat controversial nature of many of Harris’ ideas, we might consider that less than five-hundred years ago, the only openly atheist people in Europe were a small few locked in Christian dungeons, or writhing in the flames as they were burned to death. Any dissension from the opinions held by the church was grossly unacceptable, and indeed unimaginable. Galileo was being threatened with torture for suggesting that Earth was not at the centre of the universe, and witches were being burned at the stake for flying on broomsticks or causing thunderstorms. These practices were the societal norm, and were considered good ideas at the time. The idea that God might not have done precisely what the church said he did was viewed as an entirely unspeakable suggestion. Any writer of that time courageous enough to challenge the church would be lampooned, excommunicated, shunned, tortured and quite likely executed. Moreover, their writings would be censured.
In the west at least, we have come a long way since those days, although other parts of our world still lag woefully behind. When we read a centuries-old document that carefully suggests that witches, just possibly, don't actually cause disease through spells or curses, our reaction is, "Um, duh! Well obviously!" I tend to think that it is probable, provided that we do not annihilate ourselves over religion first, that Harris’ ideas will cause readers five centuries from now to slap their foreheads as they read them and say the same thing. It will be boring and banal to them; a truism that is news to no one. So read it today, while it’s still controversial!
on July 19, 2013
This is a very provoking book, Sam puts everything into a perspective that I can relate too. It's been a little bit since I've finished reading this book, but it has since inspired me to purchase others books by him such as; Free Will and The Moral Landscape.
You can watch some YouTube clips about this book that Sam Harris does as speeches, it'll give you a nice insight into the book if you're on the edge.
The book is a bit long, but it's not very wordy and is quite visual. I suggest this book entirely to anybody who is curious!
on July 15, 2014
Love what he says not just because of what i do and don't Believe, but all of what he writes about makes logical sense. I find that in going to schools one is properly taught to think, and find solutions to problems in a quite systematic way, no matter the name attributed to this way of doing things. So when one says why one believes, or not, or changes one's mind i find that elucidating, and easy to understand. When suddenly all kinds of ideological processes are introduced then they all seem to not share everyone's understanding leaving only the Elite who dictate to the rest. That is not inclusive but cumbersome.
Any of Man's Systems, over time, seem to have gathered much moss, and more and more thought, until a simple understanding of all is not very possible. Why does a particular person, standing on a pulpit have to explain anything to me? Why don't i understand is my first question. AM i capable of understanding within my own self? Do i have that capacity? Then i'm quite lucky. but many don't understand, and don't know that particular religion's life-history, nor their doctrines, etc. This becomes way too complicated, esp. in the Christian mould whereby 2000 years of history involves not just beliefs but poetical interferences and modifications, now allowing mankind's personal ambitions to be injected into some simple thinking.
I believe in kindness, and consideration. Walking the walk of goodness, and not following all kinds of convolutions in complicated thought. Kindness is kindness and splitting the language into multiple interpretations is simply human, but not considerate to the common good.
Thank you Sam Harris for giving us better understanding in this now complicated world.
on August 2, 2013
You cannot put this book down. The clear concise manner that Sam Harris engages you in is like a discussion from a professor that opens your eyes to what is really happening in religion today. Not just Christian religion but all attitudes of religion and its effect on humanity. At times you think he has gone to far but you continue and see that there may be other alternatives to his conclusions regarding humanities fate. The course we are on is explosive and we must decide what baggage we are to carry if we are to survive our destructive tendencies. His incite into the current states of all religion make you ask question of yourself. What do I believe? What does my religion say about that? Is religion wrong? What is the truth?
This book may open a closed mind!
on February 22, 2016
5 stars in spite of a few points. Sam Harris gives me far more to think about than any one else re religion. I think he is far ahead of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens regarding this thinking.
But as much as I think Islam is drastically overdue to 'modernize', I think Harris goes overboard in his concern about the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the negative aspects of the religiosity of most Moslems.
To my disappointment, he takes snippets here and there from the Koran and Hadiths (without detailed and correct historical and linguistic context) and uses westerners like B. Lewis and S. Huntington as Islamic experts instead of actual Middle Eastern intellectuals and scholars for his evidence.
Thankfully In 2015 he and Maajid Hawaz (author of his autobiography Radical) and the founder of the Quillium Foundation, finally met to dialogue and jointly wrote "Islam and the Future of Tolerance". While Hawaz does not deny the many problems with Islam, he does very clearly clarify a lot of the bad interpretations Harris gave of Islam in End of Faith.
And yes, I do agree with him that most aspects of Buddhism leave traditional religions in the dust when it comes to explaining our relationship with ourselves, our fellow man, and the greater world and the even mightier universe.
I hope Harris and Hawaz will continue to work together in the future. The future of the world depends on people like them.
on June 18, 2016
This is a compendium of the best, clearest, most irrefutable arguments for the proposition that religion is not the answer to any meaningful questions and does far more harm to humanity than good. If you are one of the billions of people around the world who are still mired in belief in a religious dogma, or if you have personally shaken off religious superstition but still believe religion is some how a good thing, you owe it to yourself to buy and read this book. Do so with a view to refuting what it says about your religion, then read (or re-read) your religious texts and pray for guidance to lead you to credible refutations of Sam's idea. When that fails, join us in striving to make the most of the one and only life each and every one of us has. Join us to help make the lives of all our fellow humans better.
"Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity, a vanishing point beyond which RATIONAL discourse proves impossible.
When foisted upon each generation anew, it renders us incapable of realizing just how much of our world has been unnecessarily ceded to a dark and barbarous past."
The above comes from this eye-opening book by Sam Harris. He is a neuroscientist, philosopher, author, and C.E.O. of 'Project Reason,' a non-profit organization that promotes science and secularism. This is Harris' first book.
This is a fascinating book!! It is seriously concerned with organized religion, the clash between religious faith & RATIONAL THOUGHT, and the problems of tolerance towards religious fundamentalism. This book comprises a wide-ranging criticism of all styles of religious belief. ('Belief' is mental acceptance of something as true without absolute certainty. 'Faith' means complete, unquestioning acceptance of something without proof and especially of something not supported by reason.)
Harris tells us he began writing this book on Sept. 12, 2001.
Here are some of the things I liked about this book:
(1) It opens with an account of the last day of a suicide bomber
(2) There are two interesting sections on the Holocaust and 'honor' killings
(3) It has a frightening assessment of Islam
(4) A good discussion of religion's negative influence on societal issues like drug policy and stem cell therapy
(5) There is a look into the failure to separate church and state
(6) It offers a RATIONAL approach to ethics
This is the best book I''ve read with respect to RATIONAL thinking versus irrational thinking.
Warning!! Harris is direct and even blunt. Some readers may not like this writing style.
Lest you think that Harris made everything up in his book, you'd be wrong. There are over sixty pages of notes! These alone make for very interesting reading. As well, there are almost thirty pages of references!
In response to the feedback and criticisms toward his book, Harris wrote another book entitled "'Letter to a Christian Nation."'
"The End of Faith" was on 'The New York Times Bestseller List' for 33 weeks.
Finally, do I agree with everything that Harris wrote? Of course not. But this book is an effective wake-up call to religion's dangerous influence on society and humankind.
In conclusion, Sam Harris' tour de force demonstrates how faith--blind, deaf, dumb, and unreasoned--threatens our very existence!!
(first published 2004; 7 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 225 pages; notes; bibliography; acknowledgements; index)
<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>
At its heart, this book is about the difference between faith and reason. Faith is blind. It is not based on evidence or reason, and therefore offering evidence or reasons will not shake the faithful from their beliefs. Harris thinks that is very, very dangerous. It will come as no surprise to anyone that he began writing this book on September 12, 2001.
Harris argues that relying on faith instead of reason is a bad way to lead your life. It leads to all sorts of weird and dangerous beliefs, prevents important scientific discoveries, and stirs hatred between people who hold mutually inconsistent faith-based beliefs. Of course, people make mistakes when they rely on evidence and reason, but at least if we rely on reason and evidence, we are moving in the right direction and we are open to changing our minds when we are wrong. If our beliefs are based on faith, we are stuck forever.
This book will make religious people uncomfortable. Harris says exactly what he thinks, without making an attempt to spare the feelings of the religious. He does not, however, call anyone names or say anything in order to be mean or offensive. He simply states that facts as he sees them.
Some reviewers claim that Harris is "intolerant" or a "fundamentalist." They are wrong. Harris, unlike many religious leaders, fully supports the right to think, say and believe as you wish. He opposes any form of oppression. On other hand, Harris also reserves the right to think some beliefs are foolish. You probably do not respect the belief that Elvis is alive. Harris feels the same way about religious beliefs. He certainly would not want to see Elvis believers put in jail or denied rights, but he feels free to say that belief in Elvis is just plain wrong.
Mum always insisted; "Don't discuss politics or religion!" These days the two are too thoroughly intertwined to avoid discussing one without the other. Sam Harris thinks so, and is emphatic that we need to recognise that. He doesn't like religion - there are too many illogical and inconsistent expressions of it. He's particularly concerned about how religions manifest themselves in politics. In this challenging and provocative book, he urges us all to be aware about what the "faithful" learn about their gods, and how they express that learning. He finds the situation dangerous, threatening enough that immediate action is overdue to correct the peril we face. This cry of alarm must be heeded, and Harris has done a thorough job of explaining why we must act.
In the West, he notes how religious tolerance, after a long struggle to gain acceptance, poses a conundrum. Tolerance means acceptance, but the faithful in the three extensive monotheistic religions, preclude tolerance. "The Book", accepted if not admired universally, demands the diminution, if not the destruction of "heresy". He's particularly scathing of Islam's own "Book", the Qur'an in its insistence on rooting out infidels. Thus, there is no "border" to the Islamic world short of the planet itself. This, he argues, is a tangible threat. We've experienced one of its most diabolically conceived acts in the destruction of the Twin Towers. This, he argues, is but the first of a series of acts that will grow increasingly severe with the passage of time. Those in the West stressing that the suicide bombers are "fanatics" and "fundamentalists" are deluding themselves. It is clear, Harris says, that Islam "must find a way to revise itself".
Harris recapitulates the history of the Christian churches, with their extensive campaigns of expunging their own heretics and the Jews. With both religions driven by divine commands, as expressed in the "Books", the gods insist on obedience by all people. Those "chosen" to carry out that dictation are, of course, the faithful. Those insisting on "tolerance" are reading the "Books" selectively. To Harris, this is a shortsighted approach. Others see The Books as divine ordinances that must be obeyed. Christianity's long, bloody record is vividly presented, from the Inquisition through baptising Indian children before immediately executing them, the hunting of witches and other obscenities. Nazism, often portrayed as the mindless expression of a few adherents, Harris argues, is simply another form of mainstream religion. It certainly had the tacit approval of the Papacy. The injunction to "purify" is still with us in many guises - even if only at the level of banning "Harry Potter" as endorsing witchcraft and wizardry, expressly condemned in Christianity's "Book". Our enemy, Harris notes, is faith itself.
As a neuroscientist, Harris arrives at an unexpected solution to the ills of a religious societies. To Harris, the bizarre logic of Christianity - you can mutter a few words over your favourite Burgundy to render it into "Christ's blood" - must be shelved. So, too, must be the religion that claims to be the "chosen" of a desert deity. One that can condemn a man to death for writing fiction is morbidly irrational. Since all these concepts are but symptoms of "normal people embracing madness as something holy" a fresh means must be found. He's studied the various ideas of consciousness and discovered our notion of it can be abandoned. Harris argues that the Eastern mystics provide the solution. By abandoning the old faiths and learning the lessons mystics have acquired, the need for eliminating other humans for their derelictions of faith would evaporate. Although a rational recommendation, it remains difficult to envision how such transformation would be effected. The current technique of using "smart bombs" and imposed cultures is clearly inadequate, not to say unreasonable.
Harris's book is a must read for everyone. How else could the issues be confronted? His history is sweeping, if necessarily brief. His denunciation of religions is fully justified for their past and present practices, let alone the flawed foundations on which they rest. What is needed is a campaign strategy - the only shortcoming this book exhibits. Read it and make one of your own. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]