Dear Mr. Harris:
To say that your book, The End of Faith,is riddled with contradictions would be to unwittingly suggest that there are portions of it which are NOT contradictory. Empirical evidence in the form of quotes will follow. But first, let me say that this book chilled me to the bone because in essence, it is nothing less, or more, than a religious fatwa, disingenuously issued in secular terms.
To say that the title is misleading would be a gross understatement. You also draw a great many illogical conclusions in your book based on biased and partial information. This came as no surprise to me, especially after having read the sentence “WE are at war with Islam”. By including yourself in an US against a THEM scenario, you lost all scientific and moral credibility, as science and ethics are outside the realm of politics.
Example #1 You suggest that a willingness to risk injury and death to promote a set of religious or ethical principles is insane and worthy of a death sentence, yet later chide yourself for the cowardice of not having exposed yourself to injury and possible death to promote your ethics to someone abusing a woman.
Example #2 You go on at length about torture perpetrated by Christians during the Spanish Inquisition, and how people confessed to being witches as a result of it, then later suggest that it is useful in extracting truthful information, and further, that it is therefore sometimes justified.
Illogical Conclusion — The low rate of literacy in the Middle East is the result of Islam. You didn’t mention that powerful Christian slave owners in America forbade slaves to learn to read, and those caught doing so were often put to death. In much the same way, American military and financial support of repressive regimes has resulted in a society of slaves, all owned by the wealthy few, also discouraged or forbidden from ”gettin’ too much book learnin”, and for similar reasons.
I suppose, since you say that “the world is full of poor, uneducated, exploited people who do not commit acts of terrorism”, that you consider the violent uprisings of slaves against their masters acts of terrorism as well. If one’s very will to live is used against one for purposes of enslavement, is it not a moral decision to use it oneself to perhaps free others from that enslavement? And what of the immorality of using a person’s will to live to enslave, torture and exploit them, whether for personal profit or sadistic amusement? You make no mention of the immorality of that at all. Nor do you ever mention that all the countries in the middle east, where the polls you referred to regarding whether killing is justifiable, were created by the British in order to better divide, enslave, and exploit the inhabitants of those lands.
An aside worth thinking about—suffering and happiness are not separate and opposite states–anyone can suffer quite happily if they choose to–and often do. The most joyous individual suffering is chosen on behalf of those principles that decrease the individual’s importance and therefore, separateness, while increasing awareness of and connection with humanity as a whole.
Another aside perhaps worth investigating–understanding of BDSM has evolved quite a bit since de Sade’s day. Rather than presenting it in the same category as meth, a mere vice, I believe you might benefit from studying it for nothing more than the human power dynamics involved. You may learn something about the causes and expressions of human cruelty as well as the meaning of consensual. You’ve at least read Foucault, right? You’re not just pandering to the homosexual suburban pseudo-intelligentsia by poo-pooing archaic religious laws, are you?
I thought it a bit odd that you would make such extensive references to the Bible and the Koran as examples of cruelty, exclusion, racism, and justifications for murder and exploitation of “the other”, but no references whatsoever to the Torah, in which justification for the enslavement, exploitation, exclusion and mistreatment of Gentiles abounds. However, you at least dedicate one page to including Judaism as a religion that must also bear some responsibility for the continuing sectarian violence in the world.
You say that “Science has not yet addressed the moral sphere in a systematic way”, and your book has certainly made little contribution towards doing so. I’ll be on the lookout for your next achievements in the headlines, which may read “trained philosopher performs exorcisms”. Hopefully, as you age, you’ll become more capable of separating from the safety of the herd. In the meantime, with intellectuals joining in on the religious gang-banging, humanity can look forward to another generation of bloodshed.
The End of All Faiths– Except Mine would have been a much more honest title.
Update: Faced with irrefutable evidence, I had to revise portions of this letter. Ironically enough, Mehdi Hassan posted this link and asserted that Sam Harris should apologize for making anti-semitic remarks! Pages 93-94 completely escaped my notice when I read the book, as the vast majority of it was dedicated to criticizing Christianity and Islam. I now have to say that even if it was only one page, it was a very brave page indeed. I hope it won’t be the only brave thing you ever write.