Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Alex123 » Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:01 pm

poto wrote:He denounces faith, yet seems to have faith in his atheism. So, I must assume it is only people who have faith in something different from what he believes that he has a problem with.


You have a fairly common saying on atheism, that it is faith. Sure, even 2+2=4 we take on reasonable faith. But it is different than to believe in some God with white beard who created the world with only justification that some Holy Book (of which there are plenty) says so. Or belief that Devas cause rain, wind and so on when we have much more evidence that it is natural phenomenon that modern science knows more and more about.

We can take things on faith OR evidence. Different religions tell us "Believe in our God!", but when one asks a reasonable question "why?" they don't provide evidence. They just tell us to believe or go to Hell for which they don't provide proof either.

With science we are discovering more and more facts about the world that removes more and more need for God. Some people have misused our incomplete knowledge to say, "if Science cannot solve it, then God, our God, must be the answer". But with the evidence of Higgs boson particle, there is less gap in our knowledge to smuggle the concept of God into. The fact that we use computers and have internet is due to secular science.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Ben » Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:21 pm

daverupa wrote:Casting aspersions is useless without contextual quotes.


Thank you, Dave.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:35 pm

tiltbillings wrote:If you are going to say this, you really need to use Harris' word, in context, to show that what you say is true, otherwise this is exactly what you are acciusing Harris of being.

My post was obviously meant to be as somewhat hyperbolic as Alan's. However, since you asked...

Remember his classic, "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them"? I think that about sums it up. He's antagonistic and unbelievably intolerant. You really can't read anything he's ever written, especially on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Islam, or really brown people in general, without hearing a clear disdain for anything non-European. Trying to find a quote to summarize such a pervasive and vicious attitude is both unnecessary and impossible.

He has an absolutely paper-thin understanding of Christian or Muslim theology and a clear disdain for those who point out his blind assumptions. Do you read his attacks on Scott Atran after he wrote an article criticizing Harris' absurd statements about suicide bombers? It was schoolyard trash.

In The End of Faith, he devotes an entire chapter essentially to how Jews "brought the Holocaust upon themselves." That alone is reason to call him an idiot.

Remember when he said that the best option against Islamic fundamentalists in Iran was a preemptive nuclear strike?

If you want to know why Harris is a Euro-centric bigot drunk on arrogance, you really only need to read his books!
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Ben » Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:39 pm

Greetings LY,
I don't remember that chapter in End of Faith where he says the jews brought the holocaust on themselves.
I understand that Sam Harris isn't everyone's cup of tea and that he is very provocative.
However, I do believe that just because we find someone's ideas challenging we shouldn't just dismiss them.
The reason why I posted this topic and his blog post "In defence of Spiritual" was because of his position, and those of his "New Atheist" peers on transcendentalism. I thought that might give those amongst us who have a negative affective response to Harris to give some pause for thought.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:54 pm

Ben wrote:Greetings LY,
I don't remember that chapter in End of Faith where he says the jews brought the holocaust on themselves.
I understand that Sam Harris isn't everyone's cup of tea and that he is very provocative.
However, I do believe that just because we find someone's ideas challenging we shouldn't just dismiss them.
The reason why I posted this topic and his blog post "In defence of Spiritual" was because of his position, and those of his "New Atheist" peers on transcendentalism. I thought that might give those amongst us who have a negative affective response to Harris to give some pause for thought.
kind regards,

Ben


I did a quick search and found a portion of the quote, but the entire passage is worth reading.

"The gravity of Jewish suffering over the ages, culminating in the Holocaust, makes it almost impossible to entertain any suggestion that Jews might have brought their troubles upon themselves. This is, however, in a rather narrow sense, the truth. [...] the ideology of Judaism remains a lightning rod for intolerance to this day. [...] Jews, insofar as they are religious, believe that they are bearers of a unique covenant with God. As a consequence, they have spent the last two thousand years collaborating with those who see them as different by seeing themselves as irretrievably so. Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its literalism, and as at odds with the civilizing insights of modernity as any other religion."

I hate to come off as acerbic; I have a lot of respect for many of Harris' positions. I think partially the reason he angers me so much is because I find myself agreeing with him on a lot of what he says, only to be surprised and upset by the next sentence, so to speak. It's that proximity of belief that drives me crazy.

You're right that he is not one to be dismissed, however, and I apologize if I came off as overly aggressive in my attempts to over a somewhat hyperbolic counter to Alan's post. Harris is a man I definitely disagree with but he's also undeniably an intelligent, and in the case of your article, fairly persuasive writer.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Jul 07, 2012 12:13 am

Some of his background: father was a Quaker, mother was Jewish (non-religious).

His credentials are way up there:
B.A. philosophy from Stanford
Ph.D. neuroscience from UCLA

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Harris_%28author%29

I know it's not pc, but I think it is okay to critique religions and challenge some long-held beliefs. As the Dalai Lama himself said, if science clearly shows something is not so, then we need to re-think or even change our position / view, even if it contradicts a Buddhist position.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jul 07, 2012 12:18 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:. . .
You are still spitting into the wind. I think, if you are going to make such accusation, it will need to be backed up with something a bit than you have offered so far. Right now you are simply messing all over yourself.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Ben » Sat Jul 07, 2012 12:20 am

Thanks LY.
I'd need to read that passage or chapter regarding judaism in context. Its been seven or eight years since I've read End of Faith. You might like to know that Harris isn't the only academic who has described WWII (European theatre) as a religious war. Jacques Barzun's classic European History "From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present - 500 years of Western Cultural Life" also described the anti-semiticism of the Nazi and Stalinist regime to be conclusion of thousands of years of enmity towards the Jewish by Christians.

You don't have to apologize, LY. For exactly the same reasons that Harris provokes anger in you - he provokes interest and introspection within myself.
with metta,

Ben
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sat Jul 07, 2012 12:35 am

tiltbillings wrote:
LonesomeYogurt wrote:. . .
You are still spitting into the wind. I think, if you are going to make such accusation, it will need to be backed up with something a bit than you have offered so far. Right now you are simply messing all over yourself.

What more do you need? I think he himself would admit all of my criticisms towards him. I don't see what else I should say.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby daverupa » Sat Jul 07, 2012 12:55 am

I want to suggest that binding (self-)identity to cultural or social groupings is bound to be fraught with dukkha. I think the argument (...collaborating...) has merit, but it applies equally well to the perception of, say, Americans on the world stage. Any group with stereotypes will show the point, in fact, and efforts to refine and defend such boundaries of identity have buried innumerable beings.

That there will be statistical outliers in a spectrum of these categories, however complex, seems par for the course; that the fringes of such curves seem over-populated with religious philosophies is noteworthy (let us not neglect eugenics as a non-religious example), and we might recall here that Harris often lauds the ahimsa of the Jains (do these count as your "brown people"?), while taking particular care to note that a communal human exploration of these heights of human endeavor can hardly take place when the fanatics on the other side might end up with a nuclear weapon.

Just spitballing here.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Jul 07, 2012 2:27 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
LonesomeYogurt wrote:. . .
You are still spitting into the wind. I think, if you are going to make such accusation, it will need to be backed up with something a bit than you have offered so far. Right now you are simply messing all over yourself.

What more do you need? I think he himself would admit all of my criticisms towards him. I don't see what else I should say.
His actual words that support your negative claims.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Dan74 » Sat Jul 07, 2012 4:04 am

Let me step into the firing line, gents, by saying I largely agree with LY, though I would've put it differently.

There is an article linked to by sunyavadin http://www.thenation.com/article/160236/same-old-new-atheism-sam-harris# that does a good job of critiquing new atheism and Harris in particular.

His anti-Islamism seems to have a blind spot for most of history when Muslims were more tolerant and more developed in science, arts and medicine than Christians. He may stroke our ego by juxtaposing a Tibetan monk who after years of torture was only afraid to lose compassion for his captors and what he perceived as the attitude of hate and intolerance of Islam (linked at the bottom), forgetting people like Badshah Khan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khan_Abdul_Ghaffar_Khan, forgetting that the most populous Muslim country in the world right now is a pluralistic democracy with transgender TV personality, freedom of religion and press. Ignoring the massacres of Tamils by Sri Lankan Buddhists, forgetting the massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Serbian Christians, forgetting the genocide of Circassians by Russian Christians, forgetting the genocide of Dzungar musilms by Chinese Buddhists, forgetting the Japanese Buddhist teachers encouraging the war... And of course he ignores the fact that the top three of the worst atrocities of the past century were orchestrated by atheists - Nazis, Communists and the Khmer Rouge with science and technology enabling the scale of devastation and loss of life never seen before.

Looking at the intolerance in his own backyard, it is easy to see how the hermeneutics of religion, rather than the literal texts, play the most significant role. I mean the context, the interpretation, the reality on the ground, so to speak, which can vary widely for the same religion. Look at the variety of religious expression of every religion. It was the Buddhists as kamikaze who pioneered suicide attacks, Hindus as Tamil Tigers who first used them widely against civilians and even Jews got in on the game before the muslims as Lehi terrorist group who operated in British mandate of Palestine.

Harris was an early supporter of Bush's War on Terror, a supporter of strong decisive action rallying against Western relativism as our greatest weakness. For me, being able to appreciate the context and complexity underlying a view and a variety of its manifestations is a deep strength not a weakness. For me, the War on Terror has exacerbated the problem it has tried to address with the 3rd world (not just Muslim!) perception and opinion of the US at all time low at the end of Bush's presidency, with new and more powerful terrorist groups sprouting in Africa and no progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2009/aug/08/religion-atheism

My sense is that his refusal to look at history, to consider the context and hermeneutics of religion are linked to his criticism of relativism. He is not good at contexts. Contexts are fuzzy, hard to splice, to dissect, to reduce. His is a reductionist materialist approach and for my taste we've had too much of it already.

I know people are impressed by Harris's smarts and his articulate no-punches-pulled defense of his views. But if one digs beneath, I think one finds that his views lack the richness and compassion the world so needs right now. And sadly I don't hold high hope that what he sees as spiritual, being a worshiper of science as the sole arbiter of what is true and what is good, is going to approach the Buddhadhamma any time soon. Working with academics perhaps I have developed a bit of an allergy to the likes of Harris who can actually be decent honest intelligent people, but I just hope that people who have ear of millions can do better.



PS Oh, and their architecture is pretty magnificent! This is a view from the hotel gate where I am staying now:

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby imagemarie » Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:28 am

:goodpost: Dan

:anjali:
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby robertk » Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:34 am

It was the Buddhists as kamikaze

I agree about Harris' limitations. However let's be clear the Japanese kamikaze pilots took their justification from Shinto religion- seeing the emperor as a kami (god). Nothing to do with any Buddhist beliefs .
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby sunyavadin » Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:48 am

I think Dan74's reference was to Brian Victoria's book Zen at War, which documented the involvement of the Japanese Zen hierarchy with militarism and nationalism in the lead-up to WWII (he can correct me if I'm wrong.)
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Dan74 » Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:56 am

Yeah, I was thinking of the events described in Victoria's book but Robert maybe right in that the kamikaze looking more to Shinto for inspiration and sanction. Again the supposedly divine emperor languished in poverty and obscurity for centuries prior to Meiji restoration and people didn't worry about what Shinto said about it then. Context.

And thanks, Marie, I thought it was a bit of a rant... Apologies to those who find things of value in Harris's writings. I am sure there is much of value there, there is also something that I find very unbalanced and that's what I've focused on.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby sunyavadin » Sat Jul 07, 2012 6:07 am

I agree with your post, to which I would add: his thinking is strongly colored by aversion. If one is averse to certain views, and if this aversion becomes a motivating factor, then one will propose all kinds of things driven by aversion. It is very hard to present a detached analysis from that perspective.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby alan » Sat Jul 07, 2012 2:39 pm

There is a danger in taking quotes out of context. Most of all when the person you are quoting thinks in long sentences.
I've read both his books twice and find no reason to believe he was "for the war on terror". Rather, he tells it like it is. Maybe Muslim society was great at a certain time in the past--ok. But now, it is radicalized. What do we do with this fact? And how do we, living in a world composed both of rational, progressive societies, and backward, ideologically constricted theocracies, deal with this situation?

As I said before, read and understand before commenting.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sat Jul 07, 2012 2:46 pm

alan wrote:There is a danger in taking quotes out of context. Most of all when the person you are quoting thinks in long sentences.
I've read both his books twice and find no reason to believe he was "for the war on terror". Rather, he tells it like it is. Maybe Muslim society was great at a certain time in the past--ok. But now, it is radicalized. What do we do with this fact? And how do we, living in a world composed both of rational, progressive societies, and backward, ideologically constricted theocracies, deal with this situation?

As I said before, read and understand before commenting.

And his solution is violence, intimidation, bigotry, and even a goddamn preemptive nuclear strike. How is that not "backward" and "Ideologically constricted?"
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby alan » Sat Jul 07, 2012 2:56 pm

Where did he say that?
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