Is Religion 'Built Upon Lies'?

Best-selling atheist Sam Harris and pro-religion blogger Andrew Sullivan debate God, faith, and fundamentalism.

Continued from page 10

I also hope you appreciate the irony of your viewing your sexual orientation as a gift from God. I'm very happy, of course, that you don't consider your homosexuality to be a curse or a product of Adam's fall. But the idea that homosexuality is sinful or otherwise pathological has more than a little to do with the history of religion. Is there any force on this earth that has done more to shame and terrorize homosexuals (or heterosexuals for that matter) than your own church? I'm not suggesting that the revulsion that some heterosexuals feel for homosexuals can be entirely explained in terms of religious doctrine (but it can be largely explained in such terms; and this hatred has, at a minimum, been enshrined and made durable by religious institutions). So I find it peculiar that you consider your successful ordeal of living as a homosexual in a homophobic faith to be evidence in support of the religious project. It's like hearing a man who has been unfairly confined to a straight-jacket all his life say that he is grateful to have been taught such "economy of motion." This is not to make light of the very obvious and important fact that we can all grow through adversity. Many people can honestly say things like, "cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me." So, I do not doubt for a moment that your struggle with the sexual taboos of Christianity has made you a better person. But your experience does not transform a two-thousand-year pandemic of needless and crushing sexual neurosis in the name of Christ into some kind of spiritual sacrament. Generally speaking, the Church has promulgated views about human sexuality that are unconscionably stupid and utterly lacking in empathy. Full stop. The fact that you have navigated this labyrinth of sacred prejudice and kept your sanity is no point in favor of religion. The glory is very much your own.

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Finally, let me make it clear that I do not consider religious moderates to be "mere enablers of fundamentalist intolerance." They are worse. My biggest criticism of religious moderation-and of your last essay-is that it represents precisely the sort of thinking that will prevent a fully reasonable and nondenominational spirituality from ever emerging in our world. Your determination to have your emotional and spiritual needs met within the tradition of Catholicism has kept you from discovering that there is a mode of spiritual and ethical inquiry that is not contingent upon culture in the way that all religions are. As I wrote in The End of Faith, whatever is true about us, spiritually and ethically, must be discoverable now. It makes no sense at all to have one's spiritual life pegged to rumors of ancient events, however miraculous. What if, tomorrow, a blue-ribbon panel of archaeologists and biblical scholars demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Gospels were ancient forgeries and that Jesus never existed? Would this steal the ground out from under your spiritual life? It would be a shame if it would. And if it wouldn't, in what sense is your spirituality really predicated upon the historical Jesus?

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