Why Religion Must End: Interview with Sam Harris

A leading atheist says people must embrace rationalism, not faith--or they will never overcome their differences.

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Yeah. It is still fashionable to believe that how you organize yourself religiously in this life may matter for eternity. Unless we can erode the prestige of that kind of thinking, we're not going to be able to undermine these divisions in our world.

To speak specifically of our problem with the Muslim world, we are meandering into a genuine clash of civilizations, and we're deluding ourselves with euphemisms. We're talking about Islam being a religion of peace that's been hijacked by extremists. If ever there were a religion that's not a religion of peace, it is Islam.

If 9/11 hadn't happened, what would be the example atheists would point to--another egregious, contemporary misuse of religion?

There are so many. Let's take the extreme case, honor killing in the Muslim world. Imagine the psychology of a man who, upon hearing that his daughter was raped, is inspired not to console her, not to seek immediate medical and psychological treatment for her, but to kill her. This is an honor-based, shame-based psychology. You cannot name a Muslim country to my knowledge where it doesn't happen. It even happens in the suburbs of Paris. It falls right out of the theology of Islam.

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What are some problems with Judaism and Christianity?

There is no text more barbaric than the Old Testament of the Bible--books like Deuteronomy and Leviticus and Exodus. The Qur'an pales in comparison.

Richard Dawkins, a vocal atheist, has said the Old Testament God is a "psychotic monster."

Not only is the character of God diabolical in those books, but there are explicit prescriptions for how to live that are not metaphors; they are not open to theological judo. God just comes right out and says "stone people" for a list of offenses so preposterous and all-encompassing that the killing never stops. You have to kill people for working on the Sabbath. You kill people for fornication.

Doesn't the evidence show that people take their sacred texts with a grain of salt?

That's the point: in the West, we have delivered the salt. Obviously, people are no longer burning heretics alive in our public squares and that's a good thing. We in the West have suffered a sufficient confrontation with modernity, secular politics, and scientific culture so that even fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews can't really live by the letter of their religious texts.

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