Saturday, March 7, 2009

A case against the religious moderates

Today I want to share a thought provoking speech by Sam Harris.

Some people are offended by the arguments atheists make for the implausibility of God and claim that they don't really understand the kind of faith that most religious people have. Those people have a point. After all, we don't take God and religion to be the forces of evil that atheists seem to suggest.

Most religious people argue that its a reasonable philosophical position to believe in the existence of God, if not a reasonable scientific one. I won't argue against that. However, belief in the existence of God does not entail the truthfulness of the entire baggage of extra beliefs that define us as Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews. Most religious people don't have solid arguments for why all those other set of beliefs are a good set of beliefs to have -- beliefs in angels, heaven and hell, and getting 72 virgins when you die fighting in the way of God. Most religious people don't have good reasons for why they are Muslims or Christians or Hindus other than the fact that they were born in a culture where that religion was followed and blind faith.

Most religious people allege that atheists take the religious texts literally whereas most religious people don't. I agree. However, their religious moderation blinds them of the religious fanaticism of the minority that does take the text literally. The major religions of the world are mostly incompatible, and this makes it a really alarming situation.

Sam Harris spends most of the latter part of the lecture making a case against religious moderation. Religious moderation is no doubt MUCH better than religious extremism, but Sam Harris' points are thought provoking and worth listening to, even if controversial.

One line that I particularly liked from the speech:

"There are spiritual experiences that human beings can have, and there are ethical truths. Whatever is true about that, has to transcend our cultural differences."

I couldn't agree more.


  1. hi there, May i ask what is the meaning of 'Spiritual Experience'? to you? What type of experiences you consider as spiritual experiences? Have you ever had a spiritual experience? Because you are trying to prove it as something different from religion and God.

    Believe me, to me it is really interesting to see how people talk about something which they don't even know how to define. Most of terminologies exist in this world are completely dependent on the individuals ability to comprehend them. And yet when someone tries to explain it to them they say it is subjective.

  2. Hi Ahmad,

    I won't attempt to define a spiritual experience. I would like to add that when I talk of a spiritual experience, I am not making any ontological commitment to the existence of something called a 'soul'. I use the term because people have generally called such experiences by this name.

    I definitely think that you can have such experiences irrespective of your religious beliefs, and probably independently of your views about the existence of God too.

    People of all religions have had such experiences. This shows that religious belief is something accidental, not essential, to such experiences. Unfortunately, most people tend to take such experiences as some higher sign that their religion is the right one.

    No, I personally haven't had an experience that I would classify as a spiritual experience. However, after reading some Buddhist literature, I have experienced moments of profound internal peace and calm at several occasions, without believing in any God whatsoever. The feeling was very similar to what I felt when I used to pray with deep devotion.

    You can go through the interesting presentation on the habits of happiness to get a vague idea of the kind of experience I had in mind.

  3. Hi, Actually i am not the perfect guy to explain this topic to you. I know very little. So anyone else can do that. I will just write.

    I asked you these question because these experiences are direct evidence that there is something under veil or may be not under veil. Many people who believe in God from bottom of their heart often went through such experiences.

    Now you have to note here that we all have Souls within us as it has been mentioned in Quran. So some of us who are sheer lucky or meditate continuously can have such minor experiences irrespective of religion. Also Allah's blessing has no limit he blesses anyone he likes, he is not God of only Muslims. But these experiences, without the guidance and message of God, will not serve you much although they will point you towards God. The state of being Calm and feeling internal peace is only a very small part of it. It will not last for longunless you have some connection with Allah.

    Islam is such a blessing that any Muslim who is leading a honest life, helping others and have a relationship with Allah and his Messenger SAW go though such experiences many times in his/her life time and internal peace and happiness is always there in his heart.

    You must have some good Muslims around you or in your family who are always ready to help others in trouble and who have relation with Allah. Ask them How many times they have gone through such strange experiences in their life? And what they have seen?