Sam Harris

Hey atheists, this should diminish your opinion of Sam Harris.

Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself. This is not to say, however, that I think we should prevent our fellow citizens from building “the ground zero mosque.” There is probably no legal basis to do so in any case—nor should there be. But the margin between what is legal and what is desirable, or even decent, leaves room for many projects that well-intentioned people might still find offensive. If you can raise the requisite $100 million, you might also build a shrine to Satan on this spot, complete with the names of all the non-believing victims of 9/11 destined to suffer for eternity in Hell.

There’s a difference between being an intellectual atheist and being bigoted about religion. Here he falls into the latter camp.

I too fall somewhat into that camp – part of me thinks any belief in one religion is a kind of fanaticism. How can the tenets of one religion describe the God of the entire universe/multi-verse? It’s fairly senseless. Some small part of believers must be open to the idea that, Hey, maybe the Buddhists are right, or the atheists. If you take the orthodox approach to any religion, they’re mostly demented. I honestly wish all people could drop their religion, no matter how moderate. But I also get that people can use religion to do good works or for personal growth. More importantly, freedom of thought should be a more-cherished idea than “these things should not be believed.”

The slippery slope is a terrible one, especially in the hands of the fascist-prone far-right. By Sam Harris’s logic, there should be no church or cultural center erected, given the ludicrous ideas of all religions when taken to their extreme. Never mind the proximity of the center to Ground Zero – Harris is arguing that Islam itself is problematic, which means it’s problematic wherever they choose to erect a new cultural center. Indeed, this could come back to bite Sam Harris when the freedom-hating right gets into power and bans atheists from public discourse. They could argue that Godless secularism is an “evil.” Just to provide a science fictional example – hindering freedom is a terrible precedent.

Islam is a young and, yes, fucked-up religion in some ways (“Allah commands his followers to slay infidels wherever they find them, until Islam reigns supreme”) – but please don’t tell me that the orthodoxy of Judaism has not also been intensely violent, drawing up lines on a map based on Biblical text. They’re fucked up, the lot of them. But the way for society to improve is to embrace the moderate elements of these religions. If he wants “frank acknowledgment of these unpleasant truths” from the Muslim community, treating them all as terrorists might not be the place to begin. Slamming the door in the face to moderates will just give further fuel to the jihadists, as has our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. In short, don’t go to war with people, whether it’s with the military or ideology.

Some ideologies need to be eradicated – war can be justified, but many of the people advocating that we bomb Iran would just as soon wipe away Islam – in a way, that’s the side Sam Harris is on. Muslims don’t deserve fair treatment. They should be banned from existing. Whether it’s one cultural center or many is irrelevant. That’s the slope he’s started. He should keep an eye on who’s running the show of this hysteria – the people who advocate a closed society. That he’s also jumped on board shows a similar closed-mindedness, which colors his views on atheism. They’re all fanatics.

He ends with:

The erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.

I would think the reaction would be the exact opposite of what he’s stated. That we triumphed over simple bigotry. That we are not all Sarah Palin.

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