Imagine there’s no heaven, Atheist Manifesto — by Sam Harris (thanks to Re Collection for this link)

This is an intriguing and strident essay in which the case for atheism is made. Many of the arguments are familiar to me (and I think not only to atheists, but to many questioning believers), but what was surprising was his attack on religious moderates. Here’s one part where he does this…

. . . To believe that God exists is to believe that one stands in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for one’s belief. There must be some causal connection, or an appearance thereof, between the fact in question and a person’s acceptance of it. In this way, we can see that religious beliefs, to be beliefs about the way the world is, must be as evidentiary in spirit as any other. For all their sins against reason, religious fundamentalists understand this; moderates–almost by definition–do not.

The incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Either a person has good reasons for what he strongly believes or he does not. People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they possibly can. When rational inquiry supports the creed it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided; sometimes in the same sentence. Only when the evidence for a religious doctrine is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, do its adherents invoke “faith.”

. . . It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The endgame for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality. While all parties to liberal religious discourse have agreed to tread lightly over those points where their worldviews would otherwise collide, these very points remain perpetual sources of conflict for their coreligionists. Political correctness, therefore, does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. 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.

Intersting points, but I’ll have to disagree on his fundamental thesis. Faith is not the denial of knowing, but rather the acknowledgment that there are different kinds of knowing. Humans have gone through many phases in our social evolution, most recently away from blind faith and towards reason and rationality. However, many of us (including myself) now see that this latest evolutionary change is also lacking, and that pure reason is empty and doesn’t satisfy the human spirit that yearns for something more.

So I guess to me the urge of spirituality (particularly for those who’ve outgrown traditional religion), is about this quest to connect with the divine, to find meaning, to find beauty.

But let me say it another way… if I depended solely upon reason to understand the world, I would be compelled to be an agnostic. (atheism, never has made sense to me. I can understand saying you don’t know about the existence of God, but being sure there is no God at all, that just seems like another form of faith to me, except it is faith in an unprovable and unknowable notion) However, there is another kind of truth that rings true to me, the fact that evolution didn’t create a world that is ugly and utiliatian, but rather is beautiful. The fact that despite the brutality of survival of the fittest, human beings through the millenia have shown love and kindness to others (this is the argument I would make, that Sam Harris seems to ignore). All of these things point to the existence of some kind of divine order.

Now as to what that order is, what “God” is, I can’t really say. The way Jesus spoke about the divine resonates the best with my heart (maybe it was my upbringing and culture, maybe it is something else), but I won’t say that his way is the only way. I see the same kind of truth, the same kind of clarity in other faiths, in the riches of the Jewish traditions, in the austere and brave deep looking of Buddhism, in the irreverent but delightful teachings of the Tao te Ching, in all of these places I see God.