Sam Harris is a man on a mission. He wants people to abandon all faith, because he feels people of faith are the most dangerous people in the world. That is, any faith.
To promote his viewpoint, he has posted a long “response” to the Pope’s address that has caused such a ruckus. I put response in quotation marks because, well, it’s an interesting retort that twists the Pope’s speech into something it’s not.
Sam starts with:
a speech so boring, convoluted and oblique to the real concerns of humanity that it could well have been intended as a weapon of war.
You can see where this is going.
While the pope succeeded in enraging millions of Muslims, the main purpose of his speech was to chastise scientists and secularists for being, well, too reasonable.
What speech was he reading? What Sam is alluding to is that the Holy Father explained, quite well, is that ethics derived from secular reasoning are inherently flawed because they are made by man. Ultimately the system becomes corrupt.
Here’s what the Pope said:
In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science”, so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.
It’s an excellent discussion of the inherent flaws in allowing subjective and personal will to dictate ethical formation. In other words, because man is a creature who derives knowledge from his experiences, and all experiences are different, then each man will derive a faith-system that is unique to that man and has no overreaching relevance. In addition, as ethos flows from such a faith-based system (regardless of the religion in question), the ethos becomes wholly subjective. For example, if a man kills another to take that man’s food and bring it to his family, and there are two observers, one will say “It’s a crime of murder!” while the other says “He cannot be condemned for only trying to keep his family alive!” The same act is viewed differently by two different people, and their particular moralities, regardless of sources, conjure different emotions upon seeing such an act.
The pope suggests that reason should be broadened to include the empirically unverifiable.
Evidently the speech was so boring that Sam forgot how to read. Sam, what the Pope is saying is this: reason without moral temper is dangerous.
If you have any doubt this is true, think about the Jews who were experimented upon by Mengele. If Mengele had any possible repulsion to such experiments, he would never have done them. But he lacked a conscience and only pursued greater scientific knowledge, regardless of the cost.
Sam then diverts to the Catholic profession of faith. Essentially he just (mis)used something the Pope said to launch himself into the tired, misunderstood notion that Catholics are cannibals:
While one can always find a Catholic who is reluctant to admit that cannibalism lies at the heart of the faith, there is no question whatsoever that the Church intends the above passage to be read literally.
He makes it sound like we’re all closet Hannibal Lecters. But Sam is too busy sharpening his blades to truly understand the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It’s easy to paint his foes as “unreasonable cannibals”, so he does that because it’s easy.
Sam then makes the same error that most of the Muslim world has made:
It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as “evil” and “inhuman” before 250,000 onlookers and the world press is now talking about a “genuine dialogue of cultures.”
No, he was quoting a man from 700 years ago. The Pope uses that as a jumping point to declare ALL religious violence as anathema to God’s will.
The Koran says that anybody who believes that Jesus was divine–as all real Catholics must–will spend eternity in hell (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38). This appears to be a deal-breaker. The pope knows this. The Muslim world knows that he knows it.
Again, that dodges what the Pope is saying. It IS possible for religions to coexist so long as all religious renounce violence. There cannot be Holy War and still be a true understanding of the divine message, regardless of the religion from which it comes.
Sam runs off onto a tangent again:
We might, however, note in passing that one of the pope’s “most profound convictions” is that contraception is a sin. His agents continue to preach this diabolical dogma in the developing world, and even in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 3 million people die from AIDS each year.
It is a sin. Maybe if Sam had taken the time to find out why, he wouldn’t be so quick to say it. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t even mention that the Church promotes abstinence before marriage, the best way not to get AIDS. But using such information would not give Sam the cheap shot he so desperately needs to get his point across.
I hope it doesn’t seem peevish to point out that the West faces several dangers even greater than those posed by an incomplete epistemology. The West is endangered, primarily, by the religious fragmentation of the human community, by religious impediments to clear thinking, and by the religious willingness of millions to sacrifice the real possibility of happiness in this world for a fantasy of a world to come.
Solution: Destruction of all religion. It’s the only way to save our civilization!
It’ll only cost you your soul.