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"The End of Faith"

One of the few disapproving responses to my book, FREEDOM FROM GOD: RESTORING THE SENSE OF WONDER, stated that I didn't respect enough those people who still believe in God. It struck me as a little strange, since the book, title and all, seemed to be an invitation to try life without God, to taste the fresh air, to learn to live free of guilt and to be responsible for one's actions. It was assumed that those who continued in bondage would miss the adventure.

It can also be said that the relative lack of negative responses must be due to the fact that the belligerent fundamentalists haven't found it yet. I recall a weak attempt on our part to get some of those types over in Alamogordo to burn the book, but they have declined the opportunity, so far.

Meanwhile, here comes another book, by Sam Harris, a scholar and philosopher, entitled, THE END OF FAITH. He makes plain what I merely implied. He says that faith is the problem. I said "God" was the problem. Faith is what enables billions of people to believe things that are not only preposterous, but dangerous. Harris' title is more of a wish than a declaration, he admits. But his analysis of the deleterious effects of faith is clearly on target. And the need for our species to outgrow faith has become urgent.

The monotheistic religions rooted in the Near East are the most dangerous: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Harris thinks Islam is the worst of the three, because a much larger percentage of Muslims really believe the dangerous nonsense. Most Christians, here and abroad, do not really believe that stuff, and very few act out the dangerous part, these days. Those who murder abortion providers, for example, are rare.

In the past it was different. Christians have perpetrated the Crusades, the Inquisition against heresy, the Inquisition against women, called witches, and the Inquisition against Jews. Most Christians do not do that kind of thing any more. However, a dangerous minority, in the name of faith, do believe in the grotesque myth of the Battle of Armageddon, in which God defeats evil and destroys the world. Some of those believers are in high places in our government. As I was reading Harris', book, I exclaimed aloud, "No one who believes the preposterous and nasty myth of Armageddon should be allowed to have forty thousand atomic bombs!"

My son retorted, "And it would be nice if whoever had those bombs was smarter than a pool cue."

The New Testament defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." [Hebrews 11:1] Faith is believing without knowing, believing without evidence, believing things that are preposterous, absurd, ridiculous and irrational. Faith has led to torture and mass murder. It is time for sane and sensitive people to speak clearly about the deleterious effects of faith on both policy and behavior.

Harris insists that we examine Islam very carefully. It will no longer do to say, "Every one is entitled to believe whatever he pleases. It is wrong to attack someone else's religion." Tolerance may have to yield to clarity and reason. The teachings of Islam, repeated in the Koran over and over, state that it is required to fight infidels, that martyrdom transfers one immediately to paradise, that dying is not something to be avoided or delayed. This is where suicide bombers come from. Their behavior is not even the result of relatives getting killed by American or Israeli bombs or raids, which is what I've been assuming. The behavior of suicide bombers is rooted in the religion itself, in the faith. People are believing preposterous and dangerous things.

These monotheistic religions are all based on a book, which is regarded as infallible and inerrant. Yet questionable translations have raised Cain in both Christianity and Islam.

The Christian tendency to mistrust sex and physicality itself, as well as womankind in general, goes back to a mistranslation from Hebrew into Greek of the word in Isaiah which Luke thinks applies to Mary the mother of Jesus. The Hebrew word means "young woman of marriageable age," but was translated into the Greek version of Isaiah as "parthenos," which means "virgin, a woman who has had no sexual experience." The translations say, "A virgin shall conceive..." This error has led from Virgin Birth doctrines, all the way to Mother of God concepts, to monasticism, illegitimacy worries, paedophilia and a general put-down of women.

The Muslim mistranslation verges on the comical. The passage where martyrs are promised seventy-two virgins in paradise, could contain a serious error. Not "virgins" but "candied raisins." But then, what were whose suicide bombers going to do with seventy-two virgins, anyway? And what about female suicide bombers?

Faith makes some people dangerous. Faith is what needs to be taken out of the equation. So, I'm thinking deeply, while reading this very upsetting book, which I highly recommend. What happened to me -- the way I thought and read my way out of all that mythology into personal freedom, which is described in detail in FREEDOM FROM GOD --something like that is what needs to happen to some three billion people. Harris insists that they are very dangerous, but the chances seem slim that enough of them can find that freedom in time.

But, nevertheless, both books are now out there, and a few people are finding them, and letting them change their lives. People write to me to thank me, telling me how they have moved from the bondage of myth into freedom. Could this become some kind of mass movement, in response to the clear and present danger?

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Copyright © 2005 Harry Willson

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