Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. His writing has been published in over fifteen languages. Dr. Harris is cofounder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Please visit his website at SamHarris.org.
In this sometimes simplistic and misguided book, Harris calls for the end of religious faith in the modern world. Not only does such faith lack a rational base, he argues, but even the urge for religious toleration allows a too-easy acceptance of the motives of religious fundamentalists. Religious faith, according to Harris, requires its adherents to cling irrationally to mythic stories of ideal paradisiacal worlds (heaven and hell) that provide alternatives to their own everyday worlds. Moreover, innumerable acts of violence, he argues, can be attributed to a religious faith that clings uncritically to one set of dogmas or another. Very simply, religion is a form of terrorism for Harris. Predictably, he argues that a rational and scientific view-one that relies on the power of empirical evidence to support knowledge and understanding-should replace religious faith. We no longer need gods to make laws for us when we can sensibly make them for ourselves. But Harris overstates his case by misunderstanding religious faith, as when he makes the audaciously na?ve statement that "mysticism is a rational enterprise; religion is not." As William James ably demonstrated, mysticism is far from a rational enterprise, while religion might often require rationality in order to function properly. On balance, Harris's book generalizes so much about both religion and reason that it is ineffectual. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Harris, who is currently completing a doctorate in neuroscience, pulls no punches in this forcefully presented call to reject all forms of religious faith. Viewing religious irrationality and fundamentalism as both the immediate source of terrorism and also the source of much of the evil that has taken place throughout history, Harris proposes turning away from religion entirely and living on the basis of reason. Drawing on insights from Eastern philosophy and neuroscience, he suggests using meditation to achieve a state of consciousness that is nondualistic. While Harris's arguments are attention-grabbing and carefully presented, readers might get the sense that much of this has been stated before-his plea for rejecting religion in light of the violence it inspires is reminiscent of the Enlightenment's call for religious tolerance and the primacy of reason. Still, it is rare in this postmodern age to read a book by someone so vigorously defending rational thought, especially from a unique neuroscientific perspective. Recommended for academic libraries.-John Jaeger, Dallas Baptist Univ. Lib. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"While one might dispute some of the claims and arguments presented by Harris, the need for a wakeup call to religious liberals is right on the mark."