Is Religion 'Built Upon Lies'?

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

Continued from page 8

I am, of course, unconvinced by your response. But this can hardly disappoint you, as it was not intended to convince me. You simply wrote to inform me that you have never doubted God's existence, cannot account for how you came to believe in Him, and are well aware that these facts will not (and should not) persuade me of the legitimacy of your religious beliefs. I now feel like a tennis player, in mid-serve, who notices that his opponent is no longer holding a racket.

You have simply declared your faith to be immune to rational challenge. As you didn't come to believe in God by taking any state of the world into account, no possible state of the world could put His existence in doubt. This is the very soul of dogmatism. But to call it such in this context will seem callous, as you have emphasized how your faith has survived-and perhaps helped you to survive-many harrowing experiences. Such testimonials about the strength and utility of faith mark off territory that most atheists have learned never to trespass. This reminds me of the wonderful quotation from Mencken: "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." The truth is, no one wants to be in the business of arguing that another person's principal sources of comfort and gratification are not as he thinks them to be. But we are now in this up to our eyebrows, so permit me to just blurt out what I'm thinking and to tell you why I believe that your nonjustification-justification of faith should not satisfy you (or anyone else).

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While you claim to have integrated doubt into your faith, you say that you have never (never) doubted the existence of God. This seems rather like my saying, "I am an extremely loving person. I just don't happen to love my parents or my children. Never have. Probably never will." There are surely instances where the caveats to an assertion loom too large to ignore.

As stated, your notion of God doesn't have much in the way of specific content (apart from love). Beyond that, you have sought refuge in a towering mystery-and have boosted yourself there with the claim that any Being sublime enough to have created our universe must be so far beyond our ken as to perpetually elude our powers of description. This last assertion seems plausible, as far as it goes. But, of course, it isn't an argument for the existence of God, much less a good one. In any case, your vaporous conception of a deity allows you to say that your religious beliefs do not conflict with those of others. God as a loving cipher allows for multiple, and even contradictory, doctrines to achieve parity. Faith in the absence of specifics makes a man humble.

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