Most Americans oppose violence spurred by religious fundamentalism, but few agree on how to address it. In books like The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, author Sam Harris contends that religion itself--not its more extreme forms--is to blame. This week, Harris debates blogger and Conservative Soul author Andrew Sullivan in a no-holds-barred blogalogueTM. Return here to see Harris' next post--and check Andrew Sullivan's blog for his responses.

March 2007 Update: Jump to Part Two of the blogalogue to read Sam Harris' response

Sam Harris

Andrew Sullivan
From: Sam Harris  To: Andrew Sullivan 01/16/07, 5:20 PM

Hi Andrew--

First, I'd like to say that it is a pleasure to communicate with you in this forum. We've engaged one another indirectly on the internet, and on the radio, but I think this email exchange will give us our first opportunity for a proper discussion. Before I drive toward areas where I think you and I will disagree, I'd first like to acknowledge what appears to be the common ground between us.

I think you and I agree that there is a problem with religious fundamentalism. We might not agree about how to solve this problem, or about how fundamentalism relates to religion as a whole, but we both think that far too many people currently imagine that one of their books contains the perfect word of the Creator of the universe. You and I also agree that the world's major religions differ in ways that are nontrivial-and, therefore, that not all fundamentalists have the same fundamentals in hand. Not all religions teach precisely the same thing, and when they do teach the same thing, they don't necessarily teach it equally well.

We are both especially concerned about Islam at this moment--because so many Muslims appear to be "fundamentalists" and because some of the fundamentals of Islam pose special liabilities in a world overflowing with destructive technology. I think, for instance, that we would both rank the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad pretty high on our list of humanity's worst ideas.