Tag Archives: Sam Harris

Andrew Brown: Hating Islam Means Hating Muslims

To hate a religion according to Andrew Brown is to hate religious believers. To the point you want to make them victims. My hatred of religion for endorsing slavery makes me apparently hate modern religious believers, which is equivalent to rascism.

It is a trope among people who loathe and fear Islam that their fear and loathing has nothing in common with racism because Islam is not a race, the implication being that hating Muslims is rational and wise whereas hating black people is deeply irrational and stupid.

Racial and religious hatreds have one thing in common: they are not inspired by the race or religion of the hater, but by the religion or race of the victim. This is clearest in the case of antisemitism, which can appear as either a racial or a religious hatred, or indeed both. What’s constant is that it involves hating Jewish people, whatever the reasons given. Similarly, if you hate black people, you hate them on racist grounds whatever the colour of your own skin, and if you hate Muslims, Catholics, Quakers or Mormons, you hate them for their religion – whatever your own beliefs. So it is perfectly possible for religious hatred to be motivated by atheism and it may be quite common in the modern world. [Guardian Comment Is Free: Why I Don’t Believe People Who Say They Loathe Islam But Not Muslims

The article ends with Stalin and Mao being motivated in their religious hate by atheism. That these mass murderers would endorse Sam Harris, whose photo appears at the top of the article. That communism as an ideology promoted the hatred and brutal destruction of religion in society is not mentioned, just atheism.

The distinction between religion and its practitioners is an important one. Ideas do not have the rights, privileges and civility that people are entitled to enjoy. For me it is important to draw a distinction between Islamism and Islam, in that the former calls for society to be transformed along fundamentalist lines. Muslims that disagree and cross those lines are the first victims of such fundamentalists.

The body count is far higher for muslims killed by fundamentalists than it is for non muslims, when we look at the modern day blood bath playing out. The fundamentalist view that people are inseparable from their religion is one Brown is endorising.

Far right extremists need challenging because they promote discrimination (from immigration controls to no mosques being built) on back of religious critique debate. Secularism matters because it treats people regardless of their beliefs as equal citizens before the law and with the same universal human rights.

There is too much anti-muslim hate out there, when it is the fundamentalists and extremists which deserve our rancour. The oppressed by Theocratic States need solidarity, and to hell with people who suggest humanism is just a cover here to hate religion.

People matter not Gods. That is why I will continue to dislike religion, but stand up for people whether they have faith or not.

Andrew Brown offers no way to unite the religious and non religious to tackle extremism. Rather, he promotes that atheists are quite prepared to become mass murderers on the basis of other’s religious beliefs (just like plagiarist CJ does). Without specifying the context of what Sam Harris was saying about actions caused by beliefs that threaten humanity.

Feeding the paranoia of religious extremists, and deliberately misrepresenting how atheists feel about religious people is counter productive.

Those that discriminate against religious people need to be challenged. When it comes to religious freedom, atheists will be there supporting it. For it also means freedom from religion too.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Sam Harris Writes About Debating Ben Affleck on Real Time


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.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Sam Harris We Need A Serious Narrative To Counter Islamism


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.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under atheism, Dawkins, Religion, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, secular, World

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.


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:


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:


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


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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The Free Will To Debate: Sam Harris V Daniel Dennett

free will book cover sam harris

Sam Harris is easily misunderstood, regularly misrepresented and at times rightly challenged for what he says. All of these can apply on the same topic. Harris is wide ranging, from the nature of belief, use of torture, to his latest book – Free Will. His opponent on free will is a fellow member of the four horsemen of new atheism, Daniel Dennett. There have been more convivial discussions between them in the past.

In The Four Horsemen video filmed years ago, an accord was quite evident when talking about the virtues of rationalism and the principled position of atheism versus religion. Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and (the departed) Christopher Hitchens gave a lively round-table discussion. Whether you agreed or not, it provided an insight as they engaged each other in a civil discussion.

Daniel Dennett has this month done the academic equivalent of breaking into a book wrap party, bad mouthing the author, and showing he can urinate higher up the wall then all the assembled VIP scientists that support Harris. In an impressively long review of Sam Harris’ book “Free Will”, Dennett describes it as a museum of mistakes and that scientists are not thinking clearly on the subject – least of all Richard Dawkins. We need philosophers to remind them that there have been advances in thinking and that we need the concept of free will or else no one will be held responsible for their actions. No punches are pulled as Sam is described as needing instruction as an undergraduate on a philosophy course.

Dennett stresses that we may not have ultimate credit for our actions (e.g. moral education in childhood versus none, the genes we have) but we aid this by our subsequent cultivation and decisions. An endowed disposition  is tempered by many actions which are not random or subjective  – let alone out of our control – before we intuitively decide to act. An example is a tennis player practices ground strokes, and return of serve. They have a game plan against their opponent. How they return serve when a hundred plus mile per hour serve comes their way will not be consciously chosen at that moment – but it has been influenced prior to hitting the ball.

Dan is body serving Sam Harris, going for long rallies to show up his opponents game. Sam has opted in his reply for trying to keep the rallies short as a counter puncher. Do read both – they go into the concept of free will in more depth than a short blog post should even dare.

However, I will quote this bit from Sam Harris’ reply to Dan:

It is worth noting that the most common objection I’ve heard to my position on free will is some version of the following:

“If there is no free will, why write books or try to convince anyone of anything? People will believe whatever they believe. They have no choice! Your position on free will is, therefore, self-refuting. The fact that you are trying to convince people of the truth of your argument proves that you think they have the very freedom that you deny them.”

Granted, some confusion between determinism and fatalism (which you and I have both warned against) is probably operating here, but comments of this kind also suggest that people think they have control over what they believe, as if the experience of being convinced by evidence and argument were voluntary. Perhaps such people also believe that they have decided to obey the law of gravity rather than fly around at their pleasure—but I doubt it. An illusion about mental freedom seems to be very widespread. My argument is that such freedom is incompatible with any form of causation (deterministic or otherwise)—which, as you know, is not a novel view. But I also argue that it is incompatible with the actual character of our subjective experience. That is why I say that the illusion of free will is itself an illusion—which is another way of saying that if one really pays attention (and this is difficult), the illusion of free will disappears.

That is why I suggest you settle down, with your favourite tipple when you are unlikely to be disturbed, to read Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris discussing free will. Maybe the Richard Dawkins Foundation might even sponsor a discussion between the two of them in the future.

We need to end this with a tie break –  if there is a rational way to conclude the subject of free will.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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