The End of Faith: Prophecy or Prattle?

December 6, 2012

If you know anything about Sam Harris, the author of ‘The End of Faith’, then you know that he wants to have a conversation with the world. And the topic under discussion is the role of religion in modern society. To this effect he has famously debated religious leaders in open forums and become an outspoken poster child for active atheism. And what he wants to say to people, what he has said in this compelling audio book selection, is that religion and reason cannot peacefully coexist. Although his views will no doubt be unpopular with many, especially those that value the role religious beliefs play in their lives, his engaging argument about the perils of faith in a modern world will keep most listeners riveted, if for no other reason than that Harris has crafted a nearly indestructible rationale.

The true shock delivered by this book is not the diatribe on religious foibles. Harris does speak at great length about the brutality, criminality, and outright warfare conducted in the name of religion throughout history. He speaks about the dangers of believing in “one true God” to the extent that one is willing to die, or kill, to prove a point. And of course, there is plenty of fodder to support his views in the modern world, with Islamic (and other) extremists acting out on a global stage. But what will surprise most listeners is that Harris also argues against religious tolerance (after a fashion). In his view, it is not only religious zealots and mob mentality that are to blame for the world’s ills, but also those who passively allow or even support the formation and growth of myriad religious entities. The mere fact that the general populace refuses to see the threat of unfounded belief is enough to allow atrocities like the Crusades and the Holocaust to occur, and we are all responsible in our way if we allow these faith-based practices to go unchecked.

Of course, spouting off about the evils of religion is nothing new, although Harris takes a decidedly radical stance on finger-pointing. What is most compelling about this audio book, however, is that he also provides truly insightful suggestions for how society might function better without any religious institutions whatsoever. In his estimation, religious fanaticism and truly, religion in general, are attacking the very tenets of reason that have led to modern means of governance. But because we have progressed so far in terms of protecting basic human rights through democracy, he posits that modern man is uniquely positioned to manage “moral” affairs without the use of religious beliefs.

With a background steeped in both philosophy and neuroscience, Harris has determined that man’s desire to embrace spirituality and ask the question “Is god real?” comes from a biological, cognitive need to bring order to the world around us. But he argues that we can more sensibly meet this need by using reasoned thought and secular means to create an organized structure for society and for our own social behavior. There’s no denying that ‘The End of Faith’ is divisive in both topic and tone. But if you consider yourself a reasoned person, either religious or merely tolerant, there’s a lot to mull over in Harris’s thoughtful and thought-provoking audio book.

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