Tuesday, November 01, 2005

How do people react to religion?

I sometimes stop by and read what Sherry is experiencing and thinking/writing about.

Recently, she heard Sam Harris speak which leads her to ponder the value of religion as a person who holds reason as a high virtue (she is a self-described recovering lawyer).

I've heard Harris on radio interviews and found him sounding very much like Michael Shermer.

Harris has written a book with the title, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.

The generally positive Amazon.com review said this of his book:
Sam Harris cranks out blunt, hard-hitting chapters to make his case for why faith itself is the most dangerous element of modern life.... Interestingly, Harris is not just focused on debunking religious faith, though he makes his compelling arguments with verve and intellectual clarity. The End of Faith is also a bit of a philosophical Swiss Army knife.
A second review quoted from publisher's weekly is less favorable:
In this sometimes simplistic and misguided book, Harris calls for the end of religious faith in the modern world.... Very simply, religion is a form of terrorism for Harris. Predictably, he argues that a rational and scientific view—one that relies on the power of empirical evidence to support knowledge and understanding—should replace religious faith.

As I see it, people have one of four reactions to religion.

I. Religion is not true

A. Religion is not only not true but it is BAD. This would be Harris' view. I've heard Shermer on the radio as well and sometimes he takes this position but sometimes his position is less strident.

B. Religion is not true BUT it helps people. Religion is the ultimate placebo effect. Marx called it the opium of the people. So religion even though it contains no truth, it comforts people and makes them try to do good things. Thus, religion though false has benefits.

II. Religion is true

A. All roads lead to god. Every religion has some grains of truth so they are valuable in some way. People like this will say religion is like a bunch of blind people touching an elephant; thus, each person describes some aspect of the elephant.

B. There is a path that is correct leading to god. In this position, the believer in religion X will say X has the most truth and it is the only way to god. Defenders of this line of thinking will make the analogy to ice cream and insulin. We can all differ on which ice cream is good and it is no big deal. But in the setting of treating diabetes, insulin is the only way. Thus, religion is like spiritual medicine; there might be only one correct treatment.

Any other ways people react to religion?


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