2016-06-30

Finally, let me say that there is something tragically unnecessary about all of this. I do not doubt the consolations you get from your faith. But faith is like a pickpocket who loans you your own money on generous terms. Your resultant feelings of gratitude are perfectly understandable, but misplaced. You are the source of the love that you attribute to Jesus (how else can you feel it?). Realizing this, what need is there to feel certain about ancient miracles?

I do share your feeling of gratitude for this conversation. It has been a great pleasure to correspond with you. I very much admire your writing, your candor, and your willingness to put your beliefs on the line.

Until we next meet…

All the best,
Sam

From: Andrew Sullivan  To: Sam Harris 05/03/07, 12:36 PM

Sam,

I've waited a while before my final response - and the end of this dialogue - because this debate is about as important a one as we can have in any time, and yet it seems particularly urgent at this time. The reason I have found our dialogue helpful is because we actually agree on some core issues. Maybe it's worth pointing them out. We both accept the role of some mystery in the universe, something we cannot yet explain, something humans may never be able to explain rationally. You air this at the end of your book, "The End Of Faith," where you describe your own Buddhist experimenting and meditation. We also both accept the danger of fundamentalism. In many ways, both our books are aimed at fundamentalist politics, and the existential peril it threatens in an age when the technological capacity for mass destruction is world-threatening.

We disagree on how best to understand mystery and how best to counter fundamentalism. You write:

You want to have things both ways: your faith is reasonable but not in the least bound by reason; it is a matter of utter certainty, yet leavened by humility and doubt; you are still searching for the truth, but your belief in God is immune to any conceivable challenge from the world of evidence. I trust you will ascribe these antinomies to the paradox of faith; but, to my eye, they remain mere contradictions, dressed up in velvet.
I hope this dialogue has shown that I am indeed bound by reason - up to the point where reason tells us little or nothing at all. We may disagree where that boundary is. There is more space beyond my reasonable barrier than yours, more content, more meaning. But since I do not claim that my faith must in any way impinge on your life or on anyone else's, I fail to see how my Christianity is less reasonable than your different, and more modest embrace of mystery. Or less reasonable than Einstein's dictum, relayed in Walter Isaacson's new biography:
"Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious."
I am more religious than Einstein, because I have experienced the love of Jesus and his redemptive, transformative power. But I fully concede that this is a gift, not a theorem. I hope it's clear I think no less of you for not seeing it or for seeing only so far as Einstein; and when I see this gift more fully realized in others - like the monks in the Grande Chartreuse - my response is not to feel frustrated by them or fearful of them, but simply to watch and listen to what they have to say in their silence. As long as they leave me alone - and all genuine Christians leave others alone - I am in awe of them.

But I agree that we are in a civilizational crisis outside the monastery's walls. Fundamentalist religion is on the march, its certainty dangerous, its ambitions terrifying, its capacity for destruction incalculable. In my more realistic moments, I have come to accept the inevitability of large-scale global destruction in my lifetime. The odds against it aren't great. Islamist countries already have nukes; a particularly extreme faction in Iran may soon have access to them; Islamists are not only capable of inflicting Armageddon, they clearly want to. They are not subject to intimidation, which is what makes religious faith at its most intense so powerful. They cannot even be stopped by force. We have learned that in Iraq. Bullets cannot change hearts. It is so easy to destroy; it is so hard to build.