Why Religion Must End: Interview with Sam Harris

A leading atheist says people must embrace rationalism, not faith--or they will never overcome their differences.

Continued from page 2

That's the point: in the West, we have delivered the salt. Obviously, people are no longer burning heretics alive in our public squares and that's a good thing. We in the West have suffered a sufficient confrontation with modernity, secular politics, and scientific culture so that even fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews can't really live by the letter of their religious texts.

 

We now cherry-pick the good parts. That's easier to do with the Bible because the Bible is such a big book and it's so self-contradictory; you can use parts of it to repudiate other parts of it. Unfortunately, the Qur'an is a much shorter and more unified message.

But you ask me what the scariest things are in Christianity: this infatuation with biblical prophecy and this notion that Jesus is going to come back as an avenging savior to kill all the bad people.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Christians believe that Jesus is going to come back, period? They don't necessarily believe that he's going to come back as an avenging person to kill people.

One of the things that is overlooked by many Christians is that there is a wrathful Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus comes out and condemns whole towns to fates worse than Sodom and Gomorrah for not liking his preaching. You can find Jesus in some very foul moods.

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Look at the theology of the "Left Behind" series of novels and all the religious extremists in our culture who describe a Jesus coming back with a sword and punishing those who haven't lived in his name.

Cherry-picking is a good thing and it's to be hoped that Muslims will eventually cherry-pick as well. But the Qur'an, virtually on every page, is a manifesto for religious intolerance. I invite readers of your website who haven't read the Qur'an to simply read the book. Take out a highlighter and highlight those lines that counsel the believer to despise infidels, and you will find a book that is just covered with highlighter.

Let's return to your idea that people must be convinced of the "danger and illegitimacy" of their core beliefs. How can they be convinced?

It's a difficult problem because people are highly indisposed to having their core beliefs challenged. But we need to lift the taboos that currently prevent us from criticizing religious irrationality.

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