Beliefnet

Where I think we disagree is on the nature of faith itself. I think that faith is, in principle, in conflict with reason (and, therefore, that religion is necessarily in conflict with science), while you do not. Perhaps I should acknowledge at the outset that people use the term "faith" in a variety of ways. My use of the word is meant to capture belief in specific religious propositions without sufficient evidence-prayer can heal the sick, there is a supreme Being listening to our thoughts, we will be reunited with our loved ones after death, etc. I am not criticizing faith as a positive attitude in the face of uncertainty, of the sort indicated by phrases like, "have faith in yourself." There's nothing wrong with that type of "faith."

Given my view of faith, I think that religious "moderation" is basically an elaborate exercise in self-deception, while you seem to think it is a legitimate and intellectually defensible alternative to fundamentalism.

Assuming I've got that about right, I propose that in my next post, I launch into a brief diatribe about religious moderation, and then you can respond any way you see fit. If I have misconstrued any of your views above, please sort things out for me.

All the best,

Sam

From: Andrew Sullivan  To: Sam Harris 1/17/07, 11:36 AM

Dear Sam,

First off, same back at you. I found your book, "The End of Faith" to be an intellectual tonic, even when I strongly disagreed with it. It said things that needed to be said - not least because many people were already thinking them - and it said them without cant or bullshit. I was and am grateful for that. And I wrote the religious passages of my own book, "The Conservative Soul," with some of your arguments in mind.

We agree that Islamic fundamentalism is by far the gravest threat in this respect (because of its confort with violence); and that the core feature of what occurred on 9/11 was not cultural, political, or economic - but religious. We agree that a large part of the murder and mayhem in today's Iraq is also rooted in religious difference, specifically the ancient rift between Sunni and Shia. We also agree, I think, that the degeneration of American Christianity into the crudest forms of Biblical inerrantism, emotional hysteria and cultural paranoia is a lamentable development. But we differ, I think, on why we find these developments discouraging.

The reason I find fundamentalism so troubling - whether it is Christian, Jewish or Muslim - is not just its willingness to use violence (in the Islamist manifestation). It is its inability to integrate doubt into faith, its resistance to human reason, its tendency to pride and exclusion, and its inability to accept mystery as the core reality of any religious life. You find it troubling, I think, purely because it upholds truths that cannot be proved empirically or even, in some respects, logically. In that sense, of course, I think you have no reason to dislike or oppose it any more than you would oppose my kind of faith. Your argument allows for no solid distinctions within faiths; my argument depends on such distinctions.

I'm struck, in other words, by the difference between Christianity as it can be and Christianity as it is expressed by fundamentalists. You are struck by the similarity between my doubt-filled, sacramental, faith-in-forgiveness and fundamentalism. We Christians are all as nutty as one another, I think you'd say. And my prettifying up religion as something not-so-crazy or unreasonable therefore may be more irritating to you than even the profundities of Rick Warren or Monsignor Escriva. At least, that's where I predict you will aim your next rhetorical fire. I'm braced.

Here's the nub, I think. You write:

I think that faith is, in principle, in conflict with reason (and, therefore, that religion is necessarily in conflict with science), while you do not.

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