"The End of [Burning in Hell]"

Once again my paradigm has been challenged, and I suspect it has moved a bit. Actually, there are several things that I agree with in Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith.

It is very easy for any religious adherent (the German word is "anhanger"--on-hanger) to become dogmatic. The moderately innocuous result of this dogmatism is the statement "I hope you burn in hell." The ultimate form of such dogmatism is the suicide bomber and those who encourage and celebrate such wanton destruction of life.

Sam Harris makes several provocative statements in his recent book. The most provocative to me (because I think it is almost infinitely insightful from a Mormon sociological perspective) is this:

Because we are a people of faith, taught to concern ourselves with the sinfulness of our neighbors, we have grown tolerant of irrational uses of state power.

--The End of Faith, page 162

This is to me the quintessence of why a majority of Mormons decried the sexually immoral acts of Bill Clinton, while shortly thereafter looking the other way when it comes to the very likely politically immoral acts of George W. Bush. Most religions imply that faith is more important than knowledge. Those who misunderstand Mormonism--including a plethora of Mormons themselves--attribute such policy or doctrine to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They are wrong. Whereas false faith is blind obedience to the patently unreasonable, true faith is reasonable, and true faith finds its ultimate substance in knowledge, while eventually discarding the dross that was ultimately not true faith.

Here's some more truth for our time from Mr. Harris, as he quotes the words of Nazi henchman Rudolf Hess:

The National Socialism of all of us is anchored in uncritical loyalty, in the surrender to the Führer that does not ask for the why in individual cases, in the silent execution of his orders. We believe that the Führer is obeying a higher call to fashion German history. There can be no criticism of his belief. (p. 100)

It would definitely require more than just the changing of a few words to impute to George W Bush the same motives as Hitler, but how many times has he said that if we're not with him on terrorism that we're somehow unpatriotic?

True faith is not blind. True faith is critical and persuasive. True faith has alacrity. Faith seeks knowledge. A person of true faith seeks reason and improvement. True faith welcomes and respects alternative points of view.

Is it the traditions that have been handed down to us that have persuaded us to believe unfortunately otherwise? To devolve into tribal mentalities?

Rather than find real reasons for human solidarity, faith offers us a solidarity born of tribal and tribalizing fictions. ...religion is one of the great limiters of moral identity, since most believers differentiate themselves, in moral terms, from those who do not share their faith. (p. 176)

I hope that my religion is not so exclusive. I hope that this is not the religion that I am teaching my children. Harris suggests:

...an utter revolution in our thinking could be accomplished in a single generation: if parents and teachers would merely give honest answers to the questions of every child. (p.225)

A world without dogmatism. What a novel idea. What are we waiting for? What are we afraid of?


  1. Thanks for the post. I was just having a discussion on this recently. I like the distinction between true faith and blind faith.

  2. And what, in Harris' philosophy, qualifies as "honest answers to the questions of every child"?

    True faith is indeed based in truth. But as humans, we have a continually evolving understanding of truth. We don't know it all. Most religionists do, however, believe that there is a Source that does comprehend all truth. When that Source has proven itself reliable, religionists feel that it is entirely appropriate to rely on unproven statements from that Source.

    So, if I provide my child an answer about which I do not yet have temporal evidence but that is based on this type of faith, am I by Harris' definition providing a dishonest answer to my child? One could just as easily say that providing an answer based in limited human understanding of 'truth' is dishonest.

    I think that many parents that mislead their children believe that they are in fact being honest with them. My Dad grew up in Nazi Germany. He knew many that completely bought into the Nazi Party line. Many of these acted with religious zeal and believed they were being honest. They accepted and taught the propaganda of a sinister leader. Certainly, however, there were many in the party structure that were completely dishonest.

    Thus, much more than honesty is required, since it can be co-opted for evil. Rather, unyielding allegiance to pure and true principles is what is needed. Sadly, today there are many that question whether such principles actually exist or are simply another value system that is on par with any other value system.

  3. Perhaps a better way to answer a child's questions would be to teach them some tools to finding truth, rather than providing them the answer to the question.

    I spent far to long in my life parroting off answers that I had been fed by my parents and other religeous and social leaders.

    My approach with my kids thus far has been to explain my understanding of a specific principle or idea, but encourage them to figure it out for themselves, and offer suggestions as to how they might do that.

    Raising kids that have been taught to be mindless robots would make me a collosal failure as a parent.

    Excellent Post by the way!!

  4. Sounds like you're a pretty good parent! That's what I try to do with my kids as well. I tell them that at some point they're going to have to make these decisions all by themselves and for themselves, so why not start now. As long as they are surrounded by good books and other media, they will have the desire and ability to find out the truths of life all by themselves.


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