Category Archives: Sam Harris

Sam Harris Meme On Rape

With the magic wand remark, here is the full quote:

Saltman: Your analogy between organized religion and rape is pretty inflammatory. Is that intentional?

Harris: I can be even more inflammatory than that. If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology. I would not say that all human conflict is born of religion or religious differences, but for the human community to be fractured on the basis of religious doctrines that are fundamentally incompatible, in an age when nuclear weapons are proliferating, is a terrifying scenario. I think we do the world a disservice when we suggest that religions are generally benign and not fundamentally divisive.

Dawkins recent tweets on rape, and these old ones of Sam Harris quotes, are a reminder. It is not just what you mean but how it comes across that people judge you on.

Memes never provide the full context. Google.

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Sam Harris Writes About Debating Ben Affleck on Real Time

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Sam Harris has just written a blog post about the debate on Bill Maher’s show with Ben Affleck. He addresses when he mentioned that most Muslims do not take their faith seriously:

[The Video and full analysis can be read here]

Although I clearly stated that I wasn’t claiming that all Muslims adhere to the dogmas I was criticizing; distinguished between jihadists, Islamists, conservatives, and the rest of the Muslim community; and explicitly exempted hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t take the doctrines about blasphemy, apostasy, jihad, and martyrdom seriously, Affleck and Kristof both insisted that I was disparaging all Muslims as a group. Unfortunately, I misspoke slightly at this point, saying that hundreds of millions of Muslims don’t take their “faith” seriously. This led many people to think that I was referring to Muslim atheists (who surely don’t exist in those numbers) and suggesting that the only people who could reform the faith are those who have lost it. I don’t know how many times one must deny that one is referring to an entire group, or cite specific poll results to justify the percentages one is talking about, but no amount of clarification appears sufficient to forestall charges of bigotry and lack of “nuance.” [my emphasis]

Misspoke? In an earlier post (September 10 2014) Sam Harris had this to say about the 1.5 billion Muslims attitudes to Islam:

No doubt many enlightened concerns will come flooding into the reader’s mind at this point. I would not want to create the impression that most Muslims support ISIS, nor would I want to give any shelter or inspiration to the hatred of Muslims as people. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences, not about 1.5 billion nominal Muslims, many of whom do not take their religion very seriously. [my emphasis]

Harris still appears to be saying that Muslims who do not believe in blasphemy, apostasy, jihad, and martyrdom, are not taking their religion seriously.

Maybe Sam is just articulating himself badly in two blog posts, and a TV appearance. His writings however, suggest that a serious Muslim believes these things. Ergo you are not a serious Muslim if you do not.

As I pointed out in my previous post, this does not help the pluralist secular minded muslims to challenge the theocratic societies they live in if we call them not serious muslims ourselves. Just like the people who use that as a criminal charge against them. (For more on that read here)

Sam has put himself into a bind by suggesting that Muslims who do not believe these things are either ignorant of scripture, or not serious believers.

This makes his support rather problematic for Muslims fighting extremists when Sam’s view of Islam is in line with those very extremists.

Extremists that want to kill them for not being serious Muslims.

The reason this matters is the very concerns and critiques we have on Islam will be ignored if we continue to suggest that the extremist position is the serious one for muslims to follow. When most of them do not already.

But then Sam once said the far right were the only ones talking sense about immigration. Hitchens replied “not while I’m alive they’re not.”

I hope Sam starts talking sense soon about how Muslims can be serious about their faith and promote secularism. Otherwise, theocracy will remain much longer than it should.

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Sam Harris We Need A Serious Narrative To Counter Islamism

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Sam Harris has written a blog post in the aftermath of prior to his appearance on Bill Maher’s show. On the show, Ben Affleck showed concern that all Muslims were being judged by one variant of extreme Islam as true in the whole world.

For Sam, as he stresses in his post, the true believers are ISIS. If you as a Muslim, who does not believe like ISIS in punishment for apostasy, blasphemy, or polytheism you are one of “many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.”

Rather an odd way for Harris to encourage such unserious Muslims:

Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces.

While Sam calls his article Sleepwalking Into Armageddon I want to scream at Harris to wake up to reality. Calling people not serious Muslims is part of the religious fire which is helping the implosion throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Just ask an Ahmadi or a Shia.

Theocratic States are the problem. Whether Iran sentencing to death Mohsen Amir Aslani for stating Jonah being swallowed by a big fish was metaphor. Or Rafi Badawi sentenced to imprisonment and regular lashings hosting a liberal secular site in Saudi Arabia. About thirty countries deny basic human rights thanks to their blasphemy and apostate laws.

Such emotional human narrative was never used by Sam Harris or Bill Maher. It is the principle and concept, rather than using the names and examples of those dying by oppressive theocratic regimes. It comes across as an academic discourse that dehumanises people; it does not help us win over the emotional (but less informed) argument that Ben Affleck gave.

Sam Harris tries to use biblical scripture, and the teachings of Jesus, for why the West is secular.

Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy.

Just one slight problem. That is not a literal interpretation of the Gospel. To quote from Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”:

The truth is that Jesus’s answer is as clear a statement as one can find in the gospels on where exactly he fell in the debate between the priests and the zealots—not over the issue of the tribute, but over the far more significant question of God’s sovereignty over the land. Jesus’s words speak for themselves: “Give back (apodidomi) to Caesar the property that belongs to Caesar . . .” The verb apodidomi, often translated as “render unto,” is actually a compound word: apo is a preposition that in this case means “back again”; didomi is a verb meaning “to give.” Apodidomi is used specifically when paying someone back property to which he is entitled; the word implies that the person receiving payment is the rightful owner of the thing being paid. In other words, according to Jesus, Caesar is entitled to be “given back” the denarius coin, not because he deserves tribute, but because it is his coin: his name and picture are stamped on it. God has nothing to do with it. By extension, God is entitled to be “given back” the land the Romans have seized for themselves because it is God’s land: “The Land is mine,” says the Lord (Leviticus 25:23). Caesar has nothing to do with it. So then, give back to Caesar what is his, and give back to God what belongs to God. That is the zealot argument in its simplest, most concise form. And it seems to be enough for the authorities in Jerusalem to immediately label Jesus as lestes. A bandit. A zealot. [Location Kindle 1520]

Does Sam Harris want Christians to take seriously that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews? Because that is the literal interpretation – real estate divinely given. Let no Caesar take away. We know the bloodshed such an idea of the Holy Land has led to.

Instead Sam has modified the text to suit a liberal secular agenda. That it is scripturally incorrect does not matter. His idea of what the scripture means is a perfect fit for the moderate Harris.

Woe betide any Muslims that attempt to do likewise with their Koran or Hadith. Sam already knows your scripture in a way he does not even know the bible. He has passed a fatwa that you are not a serious muslim. While twisting how Christianity is to fit a secular paradigm. Do as I say not as I do. It is a contradictory and frankly confused counter message.

So much for the counter narrative and the Christian secular narrative. On Bill Maher’s show again Maajid Nawaz (author of “Radical” and whom Sam Harris singles out as someone we should support) talks here about the ideological narrative of islamism – and how relatively new it is. Note how he gives the human emotional narrative I mentioned.

We need to make the case for universal human rights, and how a theocratic state prevents that. We need the concept of pluralism, that a religion is more varied than any claim to orthodoxy about one true version. Whether by a mullah or an atheist, the history of ideas and culture has shown different rivers flowing through time. Despite claims there is one true source, and one course to follow.

Tom Holland introduced me to the concept of various rivers flowing into the Koran, rather than my suggestion it was a plagiarised work. In the concluding part of his critical review of Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” in today’s Sunday Times he states:

Islam, by militarising Christian notions such as martyrdom and spiritual struggle, then helped the Arabs forge the largest empire the world had ever seen.

From that point, the struggle for competitive advantage between Christian and Muslim powers would repeatedly witness the drafting of theologians as well as soldiers. Had Armstrong only set about tracing the evolution of such dynamics, she would have succeeded in endowing her book with the focus it so signally lacks.

We need to get serious about the human, the theological, ideological narrative of the evolution of islamism. Harris needs to get that sharp focus as does Armstrong. Until he does, his challenge will be dismissed by the very Muslims he is trying to inspire.

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Did Christopher Hitchens Say That On Islamophobia Or Someone On Twitter?

 

Sam Harris recently interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali. He attributes this line by Christopher Hitchens on islamophobia (my emphasis):

A few weeks ago, Ayaan and I had a long conversation about her critics and about the increasingly pernicious meme of “Islamophobia”—which our inimitable friend Christopher Hitchens once dubbed “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

It is a great line. The question is though, when did Christopher Hitchens say that? Because the earliest mention in an article of the quote I can find via google is the Sam Harris interview this month. Now everyone is saying it, including Bill Maher.

Thing is, one of my followers on twitter says that in 2013 they originated the phrase, while sharing an article with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, that accused them and Hitchens of Islamophobia.

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As far as online is concerned, their tweet is the earliest mention written down I came across. So whose recollection is correct? Sam Harris or Andrew Cummins?

It certainly never featured in “the Quotable Hitchens” book under the  Islamophobia entry:

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While fresh in people’s minds would be great to properly attribute – and accurately cite where – the quote comes from.

This sort of thing happens to us all. For example, I fell for a misquote attributed to Marcus Aurelius:

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Yet when brought to my attention, my digging up revealed he never would have said this:

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It is still a memorable phrase, but should not be wrongly attributed to him.

Hopefully we can nail this islamophobia quote, helping Andrew start off his own memorable quotation collection.

Religious freedom should concern us all, and that allows for us to be critical of religion. See my post on Ayaan Hirsi Ali for more on critiquing Islam.

Update 12/5/2013

Sam Harris has updated the article to reflect that Andrew Cummins, not Hitchens, said this. Below is how the updated article now reads. Very impressed how quickly Sam resolved

A few weeks ago, Ayaan and I had a long conversation about her critics and about the increasingly pernicious meme of “Islamophobia”—which our inimitable friend Christopher Hitchens once dubbed “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” [NOTE 5/11/14: This wonderful sentence seems to have been wrongly attributed to Hitch (who was imitable after all). I’m told these words first appeared in a tweet from Andrew Cummins. Well done, Andrew!]

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When Atheists Attack Each Other

 

The battle for top dog plays out on twitter

 

Unity is overrated as a virtue. Dissent can be thankless, and critiquing mistaken as disloyalty to a higher purpose. Movements will eventually have people falling out, over ideas or clash of personalities. After all when something matters to you the ability for clear heads and compromise, let alone reaching a consensus, may be the last thing to have as an objective for yourself.

Wondering where to begin writing about the Atheism Plus and detractors I thankfully saw Martin Pribble’s post Walking A Thin Line – The Perils of an Online Voice. If you have no idea what this is all about read his post for a fair attempt at being even handed to both camps, with measured criticism on both. It is a good introduction so I can move on to other things. Having tweeted the link Alex Gabriel offered his thoughts which have rather taken a march on my own being original here. Walking On Thin Ice may have been a better title for Martin – because this may be one instance where protagonists on either side will not appreciate an even handed reflection on what has been happening.

I have spoken to Martin before about being for Sam Harris’ position that using atheist in social policy debates is like lying down in a chalk outline laid out for us by theists. If we are talking about homosexuality and they suggest God is against, quoting bible and scripture I can point out the nonsense of using their God and how even if we allow for this being how on earth you know what their will is and why we should give a damn – without being concerned that perhaps instead values of ignorant men long since dead are imprisoning the living.

Yet I can win this convincingly as a secularist, that no one gets to impose their religion on anyone else especially when someone’s happiness and well being is at stake. Political principles of citizenship and human rights, let alone pluralism in a democracy, win this without resulting to an atheist/theist feud. More on this and being a critical free thinker in my post here.

The infighting within the atheist online community may seem a big deal to us that regularly use social media. I expect to the vast majority that do not it will seem churlish, capture the banner of the atheist spirit over others, a storm in a tea cup. Mud slinging and demonizing – civility lost in a deluge of insults and vulgarity. It is getting so heated it will take more than a censor bot to stop the torrents of hatred from hounding some from using social media. Or saying a plague on both your houses.

The bot is being used to label people with tags that immediately ruin a person’s standing – that smarts even if you do not care a jot for what those deciding these things think. This is already happening in the real world when prominent members in the atheist community use their influence to blacklist speakers, or ruin reputations with allegations but no evidence that could go beyond the court of public opinion. Maybe we think we can be flippant because we care about issues so passionately – it hardly justifies sitting in judgment based on one tweet, or rumors. Well, if you want to have others decide what you can hear and who from on twitter more fool you. The point is this storm in a tea cup is happening in the real world, and otherwise good people are being spilled out.

I look on with bewilderment and anger at how quickly people are being labelled. For me atheism is not the issue but secularism in the political process and society. My anti-theism means I am critical of religion – good people will do good things and find good things from their religion to commend this just as bad people will do the same. The problem is once you say a text or leader is sacrosanct then ideas can become heresy, and morality turned on it’s head as not a matter of reason and empathy embracing a common humanity, but tests of identity by trial that no one of compassion would ever do. Beyond a personal understanding of good and evil things become a matter of faith. The tribal nature of A + makes me think this is happening here to.

Political Secularism

In this battle secularism is claimed as only being possible because of atheists, they are the champions. Neglecting that secularist principles were well established by theists/deists who saw religious conflict as needing to be made a personal one and not one to be played out in civil strife. Or that by sheer numbers alone the most persecuted are the religious by the religious. We all have a stake in a secular state, yet we are allowing the religious and atheists to denote secular as atheist. Not on my watch.

Regarding Dawkins – he is a social commentator first with particular interest in religion and it’s impact on society. He is a retired biologist whose books on science, and in particular public understanding of evolution, mark him as an intellectual. Yet whether it is his praise for Fitna, not maintaining The Out Campaign Website, tweets needing re clarifying / apologies later – there are things to be critical of him. He is not just this guy you know – with his platform, his influence both financial and as a public figure, are ones that make secularism as a big tent difficult to be reconciled with the atheist troll you see online.

The world is a far bigger place. Do not confuse the social media world of infighting and name calling for being representative of all. Yet without twitter I would not have met secularists, both atheist and theist, who want freedom from religion and religious freedom for real. That in itself is worth the occasional loud mouth that tries to test my civility. I find often it is those that dish it out that get it back; for some reason they cannot stomach that.

UPDATE: good example of double standards by Atheism Plus linked to in this tweet by Rah.

UPDATE: much more detailed analysis here of what is happening.

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Video: Sam Harris – Fireplace Delusion

Do not burn wood, or any other materials. They are hazardous for your health, and your neighbours, even with a chimney. It makes life worse for those with respiratory conditions and makes such health problems more likely to develop in children.

Do not want to believe this? Welcome to the fireplace delusion orginally written by Sam Harris.

You can read the essay as it appeared on Sam Harris’ site here.

Thanks to @CarnunMP for sharing in twitter whose blog you can read here.

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May there never be compulsion in religion

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Religious freedom is truly one of the great ideas to be expressed by the enlightenment. Though we can trace those ideas to other thinkers before, it was this movement which went beyond speaking and acting as freethinkers to actually challenge orthodox organised religion’s monopoly on thought and explanation. Humanism, emboldened by empirical observation and reasoning beyond scriptures, came out of the shadows of being an act of religious reflection. Humanist thought became a way of understanding the world, morality, ourselves and the cosmos without strict adherence to the confines of the divine or preceding tradition. Natural philosophy, and the scientific method ushered in a new era.

Whilst this age of reason is one to celebrate, one of the challenges to the notion of religious freedom is the consequence of leaving a faith – being an apostate. Here I am trying to lay out the battle for the idea of where it comes from and means now in Islam. The reason this matters is quite simply the death penalty that exists, or the process of being excluded by family and other believers, if someone renounces the faith they grew up in. Let alone principles of free speech and freedom of expression which together with freedom of religion are classed as universal rights.

Apostasy matters now

As my good friends at the Council of Ex Muslims Britain Forum (CEMB) observe:

Countless individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy face threats, imprisonment, and execution. Blasphemy laws in over 30 countries and apostasy laws in over 20 aim primarily to restrict thought, expression and the rights of Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims alike. [CEMB]

In my critique of Islam I mentioned concern that by cherry picking the Koran and Hadith it gave cover for Islamists to kill apostates. For example:

Qur’an (4:89) – “They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”

Bukhari (52:260) – “…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ ” Note that there is no distinction as to how that Muslim came to be a Muslim. [Ibid]

When discussing this with Sam Harris he made these observations:

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A modern retelling

In Abdul-Azim Ahmed’s article for the Rationalist Association, he explains why as a Muslim he fully supported the Apostasy project using Koranic quotes to justify:

“The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who desires believe and let him who desires disbelieve.” – 18:29

“If they accept Islam, then indeed they follow the right way; and if they turn back, your duty is only to deliver the message.” –3:20

“And if your Lord had pleased, all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them. Will you then force people till they are believers?” – 10:99 [Rationalist Association]

It would be amiss of me not to point out that Ahmed stresses European Colonialism as having a theological impact on punishment for apostasy in response to machine guns and missionaries. Regrettably, death for apostasy existed way before the British Empire ever attempted to prevent the sun setting on it.

Yet sociological and political factors are playing a part. Acceptance of principles like pluralism and secularism mean challenging concepts such as apostasy. In the battle of ideas some modern theological thinkers are pointing out the subjective spin put on death for apostasy in the past, though often stating such a view is controversial to the point of putting a bullseye on your thinking cap even now.

As Usama Hassan mentions in a concept paper:

There is no explicit sanction in the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) for the criminalisation and punishment of blasphemy: in fact, the opposite is the case; the few scriptural texts that are misquoted in this regard all refer to wartime situations, and the harsh, mediaeval Islamic jurisprudence on blasphemy was developed centuries after the Prophet himself.[Quilliam Foundation]

The War of Apostasy, also known as Ridda Wars shortly after the death of Mohammed suggests that violence was sadly a means of preventing dissent which was considered a threat to cohesion let alone future territorial ambitions on Persia and beyond. Conquest existed way before modern European colonisation.

The title for this post will be familiar to those aware of The Koranic verse, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). A critique of the context of that verse can be found on the CEMB forum site. That rather than a call for tolerance it is the manifest destiny that Islam is the faith for us to follow when quoted in full:

“There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.”

Still that is a hallmark of a particular religion that it is the right way. The narrative given in the Quilliam Foundation concept paper: NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION: AN ISLAMIC CASE AGAINST BLASPHEMY LAWS is certainly an answer to Sam Harris’ earlier remarks.

It is the practise of political Islam by Islamists which concern all of the people mentioned above. Where we differ in belief we would uphold the values of pluralism, free speech and free expression. An inherent inalienable right we would agree is religious freedom. I am delighted to see that the Quilliam Foundation takes the radicalisation of people by some within Islam very seriously and looks to challenge that.

Maybe not in the next world

As mentioned in the past I wish we did not have to argue over interpretations of sacred texts but could move beyond them. That is not the world we live in. As such we will continue to debate and argue with each other over such things.

The bare minimum is that none should be put to death for the argument, and dissent from others beliefs should not just be tolerated but considered a cause for celebration in a pluralistic and free society.

Those who believe, those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Sabians, Christians, Magians, and Polytheists,- God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for God is witness of all things. – Koran 22:17

I hope mothers and fathers can embrace their children no less just because they no longer follow their religion. It really is a matter of free thought and not a reflection on them. However, the fear of the next life is one that still grips people. Apostasy will still concern people even in a free society.

Perhaps until we are free of the fear of death freedom of religion will not be absolute in this life when people consider the stakes are eternity and the blessings of the Almighty are available even now if all follow His will.

My thanks to Sam Harris, CEMB, Maajid Nawaz, Usama Hasan, and the Rationalist Association UK (and Abdul-Azim Ahmed) for known or unknown assistance in writing the above article (which is written by me and not necessarily endorsed by the above) and to @yakuza72 for passing on the cartoon.

Please support the Apostasy Project

My Apostasy Story

Update 18/6/2013: Tribune article on blasphemy in Pakistan

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