The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris
Disclosure: I like Sam Harris and agree with much of what he says.
The End of Faith has been reviewed extensively since its first publication, but I need to pipe my opinion. With my gradual understanding and knowledge of Sam Harris, this book came to my attention as an eventuality. I’ve read only one other of his books (Islam and The Future of Tolerance), but I intend to read them all. I like his approach and what is, in my opinion, his open mind regarding universal principles which not everyone (atheist or not) shares. Anyone who thinks that all atheists share the same thoughts, opinions, or principles with each other does not understand them. The thesis of this book is no exception.
Many people see the book as his attempt to dissuade people away from their faith, and maybe Sam would agree. Knowing what I have experienced with people of strong religious faith, it will take more than this or any other book. But, for those with serious doubts and deep questions, this is a valuable resource. This is a book written by an atheist who is critical of all religion, especially Islam; at least in terms of the radical elements of that faith. So for anyone emotionally sensitive about the criticism of religion, this may not be the book to read.
Sam begins The End of Faith with a bit of historical fiction based upon fact. He describes a scenario in which a young man boards a bus and explodes a bomb killing many people, including himself. This act of terrorism sets the stage for the remainder of the book.
In several chapters, Sam makes a number of claims which I first thought were outlandish. But after reading his explanations, I came into agreement with him. Two such examples are the problems enabled by western religious moderates and the evil of pacifism.
The textual material in the paperback version that I read was only 238 pages. That includes an Epilogue and an Afterword. It is not enough. However, these are followed by 64 pages of extensive end notes that provide more details. The bibliography is comprehensive and furnishes the more curious reader ample resources on the topic for more than a year of study. A useful index ends the book.
The copyright page indicates the years 2004 and 2005, so he probably wrote this in the 2002 to 2003 timeframe – a year or two after September 11, 2001. The world has not been static since then. In other places I have heard Sam admit that he has learned much in the dozen or so years that followed publication of this bestseller.
In at least a couple of his podcasts, Sam talks about this book and defends a lot of what he says. But he also explains what he might say differently today, or what different words he might now use to say things and why he would. The two podcasts can be found here and here and are worth the time of the serious reader. In the second, he spends a lot of time talking about presidential candidates and what he thinks of them. He is not a supporter of Donald Trump, but he also sees Clinton as a ‘lesser evil’ vote. Eventually, he gets around to the book.
I enjoyed reading The End of Faith. I’ve never found anyone who writes on such topics with whom I agree 100%. Sam Harris is no exception, but close. For me, this book is informative and educational. As he says, “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.” A comment right up my ‘snarkastic’ alley. I selected a couple of quotes from the book that I liked.
“There is no denying that a person’s conception of the afterlife has direct consequences for his view of the world.”
“Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.”
I need to get busy reading because I think Sam Harris is working on a new book. I don’t like it when these guys get ahead of me like this. God knows, I may actually learn something.