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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"People are dying because of a belief in an imaginary god."

It has always been clear to me that faith-based belief systems eliminate the possibility of conversation and the alternative to conversation is violence. For example, if you want to discuss a policy issue that relates to a faith-based belief, the dialogue ceases when one says "I don't believe that." There can be no response.

Sam Harris, in his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, makes similar points, but much more articulately. He argues that current world conflicts relate to incompatible religious doctrines; that even thought the Israeli-Palestinian debate is framed in terms of land, the theological claims on the real estate are incompatible. Moderates remain blind to the impact of religious dogma on behavior. Harris argues in his book that we need to take religious dogmatists at their word; if they say that blowing themselves up in the service of their belief will gain them a place in heaven, we should believe them.

Is there an alternative to religious faith? Either God exists or he doesn't. What's the alternative to believing in Santa Claus. No one wants to be the last kid in class to believe in Santa. There doesn't have to be an alternative to faith. We can relinquish our religious beliefs. There are no consequences. Only 10% of Swedes are believers unlike 80% of Americans. Change the word God to Zeus. How many people would insist that we hang on to Zeus. When the tsunami killed thousands, wouldn't it have made more sense to suggest we pray to Poseidon, just to cover all the bases?

Harris argues that whatever is true ultimately transcends cultures. We don't talk about Christian physics or Moslem algebra. An experiment in physics done in Baghdad will be just as legitimate in Los Angeles. The challenge for us is to find ways for us to find terms that don't require belief in anything that has insufficient evidence. "A fundamental willingness to be open to evidence is essential for the conversation."

"Blasphemy is a victimless crime."
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