Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Exchange on religion between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan

I would like to suggest that you read the Jan. 25 installment (scroll down a bit to get to it) of a correspondence that has been playing out between Andrew Sullivan's and Sam Harris on Sullivan's blog. Harris is the author of "The End of Faith" and "Letters to a Christian Nation." Sullivan makes a good case that they both agree that there may be a higher truth beyond our current understanding of empirical inquiry or proof.

That's why Sullivan says of Harris: "That's why you've gone on retreats, explored Buddhism, experimented with psilocybin, as I have." and then, "...that brings me to the asymmetry of our positions. We both accept that there may well be a higher truth beyond empirical inquiry or proof. I respect your opinions in this matter, and feel informed by them. You regard my opinions as inadmissible in public debate... you are being intolerant." (Sullivan writes in the context of the Christian canon and uses the "God" word with ease.)

But Sullivan actually gives Harris' (I think legitimate) reason for this intolerance earlier in his text: "You argue further that even if you concede the possibility of a legitimate form of religious truth-seeking, the content of various, competing revelations renders them dangerous. They are dangerous because they logically contradict each other. And since their claims are the most profound that we can imagine, human beings will often be compelled to fight for them."

The issue seems to me a practical one. there may be higher levels of universal truth, but conventional religions haven't proven a very effective way of revealing them in a form that can be agreed to by all of us humans that share a common evolutionary biology. Only rational empiricism has done that.

1 comment:

  1. Harris and Richard Dawkin don't get non-rational knowledge, but it is integral to humanawareness, as in this comment by de Chardin:

    "... I took the lamp, and leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came -- arising from I know not where -- the current which I dare to call my life."

    which leads to the state of mind described by Shunryu Suzuki:

    "Because you think you have body or mind, you have very lonely feelings. But when you realize that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe, then you become very strong and your existence becomes very meaningful." [Zen Mind Beginner's Mind]

    The problem with religion is the fact that history is a learning process and so, what we need today to answer ultimate questions is different from what they needed a thousand years ago, even a hundred years ago.

    "The decline of religion in advanced industrial society is a natural and evolutionary process. It happens whether we comment on it or not. It stems from increased material security and information. With these resources, the self becomes stronger, and so it needs less myth and less sedative to deal with the pain stored in the unconscious.

    As the self becomes more mature, it needs less sedation and turns to purer and more direct techniques of contemplation. Thus, paternalism and ritual decline and meditation and equality increase. Religious systems that cling to hierarchy and hypnotic ritual lose constituency, and so a social milieu arises that rejects religious authority. We call this milieu secularism." [Michael H. Ducey, The Secular Spirit]

    Harris and Dawkins don't get this, at all. Therefore, all their discussions are all beside the point. Human beings will continue to seek the non-rational ground of their existence.

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