Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Quotation of the day

Sam Harris occasionally manages to say something intelligent:
While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question (i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us) religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.

(h/t to Radical Atheist)


  1. I find his book The End Of Faith difficult to read to the end. I'm stuck at about a third at the moment.

    I think your extract is from the first chapter, which I have found to be the best part of that book. While that chapter was very agreeable, the rest so far has given me a feeling of estrangement in its logicalness (logicality?), somehow.

  2. As you might have noticed (I damn him with faint praise), I'm not Sam Harris's biggest fan.

  3. I think we're in violent agreement, apologies if that was unclear from my first comment.

  4. You were not unclear, NB. We do indeed agree.


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