Thursday, September 28, 2006

That's what I meant to say...

It should be no surprise to anyone that I'm an atheist, and left any sort of religious belief behind nearly 30 years ago. For the most part, while I'm keenly interested in why other people have religious beliefs, it's not something I have anything in common with.

One of the hardest things about being non-religious is that I'm often questioned as to why I don't believe this or that, or accused of some sort of dire and evil agenda, or faced with a demand as to why I "hate religion". I've never been very good at being able to articulate that without coming across as attacking the person who asked, or expressing my very deep frustration with religion in a way that effectively squelches reasonable discussion. (In some ways, I don't believe it is possible for a person of faith and a nonbeliever to have a reasonable discussion about religion - in most cases, reason has little to do with religious belief, 'faith' being the basis for that belief. That is not an indictment of either believer or non-believer, just recognizing that there is little common ground there.)

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, an interesting discussion of the concept of 'religious tolerance' and why tolerance of other religions is one of the primary fuels for terrorism (you can find it here -- it's a bit of a dry read, really, but interesting nonetheless) has written a short, pithy commentary on religion in modern life - Letter to a Christian Nation -- which manages to express my views on religion, morality, belief, and the power of reason so much more clearly than I have ever been able to do to it.

Undoubtedly, the book will offend or bother some people; indeed, some analogies that Harris uses are provacative, but this short book is really a must-read. His premise that blind faith in religion is unreasonable, unncessary, faulty, and dangerous is presented clearly and supported with well-reasoned arguments. Those who dismiss this book may fall into the very group he addresses: people who are so mired in dogma and blind faith that any contrary idea is seen as an attack.

Atheism is not a single set of ideas, of course (and is constantly mischaracterized by others), but when we try to explain why we do not believe, why we reject the tenets of religion, these are the reasons for most of us. Whether you agree or not, I think that the book is worth the hour or so it takes to read. Will is change anyone's mind? Probably not. But it will (hopefully) make everyone think.

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