Going underground


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I just read the transcript of this speech and as always I was highly impressed with Sam Harris’ words. Sam made two points that I’d like to ponder. The first is that non-believers do themselves a disservice by being labeled atheist. The name becomes a pigeon hole, and we are forced to live there. He says just go about your life practicing reason and demanding proof for superstitious beliefs and the world will be better. No need to oppose region in general (because there’s no such thing he says) but rather oppose specific bad ideas.

Now I can see the sense in what he says, but it seems a one sided rule. The first time you criticize any religious idea that religion’s adherents will label you regardless of your wishes. Oppose the ten commandments in the courtroom? You’ll be the evil spawn of the godless ACLU. Suggest that stem cells which would otherwise be destroyed could save the live of actual people? Godless heathen. I suggest that the only practical way to avoid being labeled an atheist is to follow my course, and be a nameless heathen. Avoid identifiable public discussion and support reason in whatever private method is available to you.

The second point Sam raised was that we don’t need to be even handed with religions. Most of my time is spent thinking of the issues raised by Christianity in the US, and I have felt the need to balance the evils of Islam with the evils of Christianity. Still I know that I would much rather live among Christians than Muslims. They would ostracize me if they knew what I was thinking, but they probably wouldn’t hurt me unless I did something really stupid. (I suspect I’d most enjoy living among Buddhists, but I don’t see how to arrange that as an American).

Even the Iraqi Sunni’s are beginning to choose American infidels over Al-Quaida after some of the latter’s more horrific crimes. I’m free to do the same. I know that I was horrified when that Afghan who wished to convert to Christianity was sentenced to death (even though he was eventually released). What shocked me so were clerics being described as “moderates” agreeing with the sentence. Reading Richard Dawkins latest column helps me believe that these attitudes aren’t isolated to backwards countries, but rather represent some significant percentages of Muslims.

So, while I’d prefer a world without superstition, I think it’s best to focus my concern on truly dangerous ideas. I’m still pondering to what degree that makes me an ally of the religious right in the current geopolitical situation.

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