Friday, July 29, 2005

Harris: Atheists Should Analyze Each Religion, not Condemn Them All

Lee Harris recommends that atheists be less knee-jerk in their condemnation of all religious thought. Whether "superstition" or not, Harris remarks that
The atheist . . . would be forced to conclude that there was in fact nothing that distinguished societies more than the illusions that they entertain about the divine. The Aztecs worshipped cruel and ruthless gods who demanded mounds of freshly ripped out human hearts; the Zoroastrians worshipped a god of light who spent day and night watching over men, struggling against evil and working always for the good. Both forms of worship were based, from our point of view, on pure illusion -- and yet what a profound difference it makes to a society which illusion it chooses to go with.

Few things matter more than how men chose to deceive themselves.
I don't know for sure whether Harris is an atheist himself, and that doesn't matter, but I do know that much of what he writes is interesting and evocative. He is also a "child of the Enlightenment"--though he also undertook his own "un"-education--and much of his philosophy stems from this background, along with his own grasp of history and a sprinkling of psychology. In reading his work, one gets the impression that he believes that understanding ideology is important in analyzing contemporary society. As such, he has offered atheists a method to view religion as an ideology and advises that, from there, they should logically evaluate the degree to which each religion is good or bad. Perhaps he's pointing to a comparison of Christianity to Islam? In the past, he has written about the fantasy ideology of the Middle East, with radical Islam at its core. In some sense, his admonition to atheists can be employed by anyone. Whether you believe what they (the "other") believe is less important than acknowledging the sincerity of their belief.

No comments: