Friday, October 26, 2007

Sam Harris Addresses Common Missconceptions About Atheists.

Even many atheists cringe when you say the name Sam Harris. I guess I'm going to have to read End Of Faith because I'm still at a loss as to why. I've seen numerous interviews and read several articles by him and this is what I usually see, someone who is firm, but calm and soft spoken--challenging people to evaluate the basis of their beliefs, not just lashing out at them for being "idiots." The most serious claim I hear over and over again is that Sam Harris actually embraces and promotes intolerance towards the religious. That would indeed be a serious charge against him, and it may be true. But from all I've read the intolerance he's speaking of is (to use his own words) "conversational intolerance"--which means nothing more than expecting people to justify the claims they make in public on grounds which we can all share. Such "intolerance" is not hatred, or slander, or repression. It is the freedom to be comfortable with demanding evidence when someone tries to persuade you of the value of their beliefs. We should not have to trip over ourselves with politeness and defer to someone who asks that their viewpoint be respected and observed, but refuses to give any reason for doing so. No person has the right to demand honor without earning it. To insist on such reasonable, democratic standards of evidence in conversation is not "intolerant"... it is the very basis of mutual respect. Think of the much needed humility this attitude would introduce into our cultural dialog. Yes Let us talk. Let us acknowledge our diversity and try to learn from one another. Let us find common ground for governing society in a way that we can all be satisfied with. How? By using reasons which we can all accept, evidence that we can all see for ourselves regardless of our personal beliefs and private convictions. Surely, there would not be widespread agreement on controversial issues if this attitude was adopted for our public dialog, but I doubt we would be in the midst of a vicious culture war either.

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