Sam Harris, reason, the common agenda, discussion of Deep Topics

Sam Harris gave a speech to the American Athiest Alliance about how he doesn’t think atheists should identify themselves as such.He wants atheists to be champions of reason, maybe, but campaigners against belief?No.He makes an interesting case. I think the video would be interesting for any person who thinks about these things. Sam Harris, by the way, wrote The End of FaithOne of Sam Harris' books and Letter to a Christian NationOne of Sam Harris' books, of which I have read neither.

There are some really subtle issues here that surround the contention that atheism constitutes just another religion.The idea is this: there are a lot of people who identify themselves as atheists, and they have a social agenda based on their stated and committed belief.Based on this, they form a de facto religion.The fact that the core belief of this “religion” is that there is no god is somewhat irrelevant; if the group of people take up the structure of a religion, so the theory goes, so it should count as one.

I can see the logic in that argument, but most atheists I know are not that kind of atheist.They don’t belong to an atheist club and they don’t see themselves as ascribing to an external social agenda.They don’t commit themselves to the belief that there is not a god; they simply don’t care.It might be better called Apatheism (apathy-ism). That’s different again from agnosticism, which holds that the issue might be important, but we just don’t have an answer.

Apatheism can’t be called a religion in the same way that the American Athiest Alliance can be called a religion, even in the superficial sense.The point is that, on the whole, the agenda of thinking, caring people is not served by anyone representing themselves as anti-religion. For people who care to talk about these issues like truth and morality (the non-apatheists) the common ground is the desire for reason and understanding what is going on.Those desires are served by people being kind and reasonable to each other.

And when it comes to intellectual pursuits, intellectual honesty and integrity are things upon which people of any creed may insist.Even people without any other creed can insist on intellectual honesty and integrity.And that’s enough to accomplish our shared agenda.Nobody needs to insist on anybody giving up a belief as long as it is either (1) held up to standards of reason, or (2) held only as a private conviction and not as a social standard.

Reason is the cornerstone of a civil social space for a diversity of opinion and perspective.The Big Upshot is that I am not going to insist that people agree, but in the interest of a discussion I insist only that they be reasonable – that is that the views that they contend that I should also hold must be internally consistent and consistent with the observations of the world which we can all share.And even then, I certainly acknowledge silence as another option.

Thanks for reading.


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