Is Religion 'Built Upon Lies'?

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

Continued from page 14

You argued a while back that my notion of God "doesn't have much in the way of specific content (apart from love)." I have indeed held back a little (although God-as-love is no small idea; it is an immense idea). What you have been driving at--rather effectively--is my refusal to say outright that because I believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God, the tenets of other faiths--Islam, Buddhism, Judaism--must be logically false. Mine, you insist, is a solid truth-claim that requires being addressed, especially because these mutually contradicting truth-claims are the source of so much conflict and dissension. You're right, I think, to judge me "a little evasive" on this score.

So let me get less evasive. As a Christian, I do deny Islam's claim that Jesus was not actually divine. I deny Judaism's claim that the Messiah has not yet come. I deny any other number of truth-claims held by people of other faiths. And you rightly point out that the nature of the phenomenon we're discussing--faith--has no universal rubric upon which to rationally decide one claim over another. You want me to engage instead in a discourse about the meaning of the universe that is based on more solid ground--the "real science" of cosmology, biology, chemistry, and ultimately neuroscience--as the key to understanding reality. Or you want me to be more consistent and take the gloves off and start pounding at the Muslims and Jews (and atheists, for that matter) for being so wrong about the most important issue we face as humans.

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What is my answer to this? My first is to insist that spiritual humility and the limits of human wisdom should and do temper my own convictions on matters of faith. I am very much aware that humans have no common rubric by which to judge these religious truth-claims except their internal coherence, their congruence with historical data, their longevity, and one's own conscience. The last of these is dispositive to my mind, because of the irrational and deeply personal nature of the phenomenon we're discussing. So I defer to others' consciences and I'm a reluctant proselytizer. I'm also aware of the hideous human toll over the centuries of excessive religious certainty and intolerance. I've read my Locke, and I spent years studying European religious history. I'm not going back to the Inquisition or indeed to the rigidity and certainty of much of modern Islam. This is both a pragmatic and a religious move--pragmatic because I want to live in a peaceful world (I like my iPod and my civil society), and religious because the violence such certainty provokes violates the very teachings of the God I worship. I'm tolerant because I am a Christian.

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