Why We Should Ditch Religion, According to Sam Harris

Sam Harris, a well-known secularist, philosopher and neuroscientist, was recently interviewed on CNN:

For the world to tackle truly important problems, people have to stop looking to religion to guide their moral compasses. Religion causes people to fixate on issues of less moral importance. We should be talking about real problems, like nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education. These are issues which tremendous swings in human well-being depend on. And it’s not at the center of our moral concern. We talk about morality in ways that are uncoupled from real questions of human and animal suffering, and this is the influence of religion. Religion has convinced us that there’s something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There’s concerns about what God wants, there’s concerns about what’s going to happen in the afterlife. And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it’s the greatest problem of the 21st century.

Harris claims that we should all ditch religion, because it delves into issues that are irrelevent in light of the critical issues facing the world today. Does this mean that we should ditch some form of arts that are irrelevant? Does this mean that we should ditch some scientific fields as well? What does paleontology and cosmology have to contribute to some of the big issues of the world? Why not direct all the best scientific minds into solving such issues rather than ponder about our origins?

Harris on the other hand, believes that a person who pours battery acid on a girl for trying to learn to read, for instance, is objectively wrong. According to him, science can provide answers to moral questions. This forms the premise of his talk at the TED conference. You can listen to it in the youtube video below. Now which part of science tells us this is wrong? Where does the objectivity come from? What standards can science provide on issues of morality? And yet he is certain that some religions are wrong in claiming that homosexuality is immoral. Who determines this? Can science prove this through empirical data? I agree with him that we can know with a fair amount of certainty regarding questions of morality and value. But is this form of knowing really scientific? Or does it appeal to a higher form of reasoning that goes beyond science, with its own set of assumptions? For instance, can science show that the survival of the human species should be the reason detaire for morality, as assumed by Sam Harris?

On the other hand, Sam Harris does have a point – one which people of all faiths need to take note of.

Why are Christians (not just in America) obsessed about homosexuality, when there are larger issues facing the world e.g genocide, environmental crises, and poverty? Why are the concerns of the church tangential to the concerns of the world? Why are Christians so concerned about the afterlife… searching for a pie in the sky? Was Jesus ever concerned about the afterlife? Or was he more concerned about how we lived in this life? Was Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God about life after death, or about God’s love and justice in the world? Was Jesus’ concerns widely different from that of his contemporaries? Or did he confront those issues head-on, while offering an alternative way forward?

Why are Muslims in Malaysia focusing on alcohol, the use of God’s name, adultery, when there are wider issues of corruption, oppression and abuse of human rights? And what are the Christians in Malaysia concerned about?

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2 thoughts on “Why We Should Ditch Religion, According to Sam Harris

  1. i’m gonna sorta digress, but the digression comes from a statement you made in your post, so, here’s something for you to chew on… =)

    yes, there are Christians today who would not make homosexuality their biggest concern, but the concern still remains, and it is still an issue that needs to be handled (with much care I might add).

    so, how then, would we address this issue? you do not judge them because of what they are, but rather, we love them for who they are. but do still allow them to carry on being who they are? what if they think that serving God and being homosexual is no biggie? we wouldn’t wanna make the whole issue about that, but we would still have to make that judgement call sooner or later no?

    i’m asking because i struggle with this and i don’t have the answers.. thought it’d be good to pick your brain… =)

    but after digressing, i do agree somewhat with Sam Harris that we should ditch religion. we should ditch institutionalised religion, but only in favour of an authentic faith will stand up against injustice, make room for the poor and fight for better education for all.

  2. I agree with you that the issue of homosexuality is something that the Church needs to continue to struggle with and work through, just as it worked through the issue of slavery two centuries ago. What I am pointing out here is that some people make such an issue out of it while supporting the war in Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and keeping a closed eye to the environmental crisis. The result is that people (not just Sam Harris) think that religion has become no longer relevant. 🙂

    Should the Church allow someone who confesses to be a homosexual to serve as a minister/clergy/leader? Should the Church allow someone who openly supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine to serve as a minister/clergy/leader? The question is, why do people think question 1 is so important for the church but not question 2? 🙂 Personally, I am sitting on the fence on the issue of homosexuality for now! I really don’t have an answer too…

    I have no problems with institutionalized religion… coming from one myself! But like any other institution, I believe that religious ones like the Church need to be transparent, and be open to critique, correction and change

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