I don’t like the label “atheist” because I’m really not. Just the same, I think theism is ridiculous and not really much worth discussing. It is just that when it comes to cosmology I stand with Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” As a result, I feel akin to the smarter atheists. I have never noticed that I had a disagreement with Richard Carrier: I agree with him about religion and philosophy. On the other hand, I have major problems with Sam Harris, even though I generally agree with him when it comes to religious matters.
Without a doubt, I most part ways with Dr. Harris when it comes to his hateful campaign against Islam. Look: I have no love for Islam. I normally just group it with the other Abrahamic faiths: belief systems that may have spoken to people hundreds and thousands of years ago but which really have no purpose in the modern world. But if I were to pick one religion that most bothers me, it would be Christianity. I say this even though I have a number of Christian friends. But Christianity is the religion that I know—the religion that as an American, I just can’t escape from. And above all: I feel responsible for it.
In the past, I’ve written about my difficulty being a member of the in-group. And maybe that’s what’s happening. But it seems cowardly to focus all of my anger and concern toward them and not toward us. Today, Glenn Greenwald called Sam Harris to task about this very issue. He wrote, “Beyond all that, I find extremely suspect the behavior of westerners like Harris (and Hitchens and Dawkins) who spend the bulk of their time condemning the sins of other, distant peoples rather than the bulk of their time working against the sins of their own country.” Indeed.
Much of the article is spent discussing whether Harris’ anti-Islam beliefs are racist. Greenwald will not go so far as to say that they are (although he gets as close as you can). I think I have some insight into this. I’m not sure if it is the definition of racism, but it is clearly a primary mechanism by which racism renews itself.
The nature of prejudice is that it accumulates confirming data and dismisses contradictory data. For example, suppose you don’t like Latinos and you are driving your car. If a white guy cuts you off, he is just some asshole who cut you off. If a Latino cuts you off, it is entirely typical of Latinos: they just don’t care! If a Latino stops to allow you to get onto a busy street, well, that’s the exception that proves the rule!
Sadly, this is what has been going on with Sam Harris for at least a decade. And it is easy to see why, especially given the propagandistic tendencies of American media. I see this kind of thing from conservatives generally. Every person they see in the Middle East who is happy about some misfortune that befalls us only proves that all them Islamists just hate us. And no amount of “Sorry people of America this not the behavior of our Islam and profit” signs will change that.
I had thought that Harris was liberalizing his beliefs in recent years, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.