Friday, February 29, 2008

Sam Harris at AAI 07

At AAI 07, Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith
and Letter to A Christian Nation floats the idea of
Atheists giving up their label. He also makes some interesting comments
about meditation. During the Q & A following his speech at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Sam revealed that he practices silent meditation for periods of time which can stretch into months. His description of the meditative technique is consistent
with Vipassana Meditation which is taught (albeit without charge) by Atheist Buddhist monks.
Christopher Hitchens said of Harris, "He's a bit of a Buddhist."

"How many people have had to identify themselves as 'non-racists'? ... It seems to me that attaching a label to something carries real liabilities - especially when the thing that you are naming isn't a thing at all. I would argue to you that Atheism is not a thing, it is not a philosophy just as non-racism is not one. It is not a world view and yet is regularly construed as one and attacked as such; and we who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by naming ourselves. Another problem with accepting a label is that we are consenting to be thought of as a marginal interest group ... As a matter of philosophy we are guilty of confusion and as a matter of strategy I think that we have walked into a trap. ... This whole conversation about the 'new atheists' and 'militant atheism' has been used to keep our criticism of religion at arms length and has allowed people to reject our arguments without meeting the burden of actually answering them. I think this whole discourse around the conflict between faith and reason and religion and science has been and will continue to be successfully marginalized under the banner of Atheism ... We should not call ourselves Atheists. We should not call ourselves Secularists. We should not call ourselves Secular Humanists or Free Thinkers or Rationalists or Anti Theists or Brights. We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar for the rest of our lives and while there we should be decent, honest people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them. Now it just so happens that religion has more than its fair share of bad ideas, so I think of necessity we will continue to criticize religion ... but we should not name ourselves in opposition to religion". Video 1, 9:32 - 13:04

"Why should we stand obediently in the space provided? Why should we stand in the space carved out by the conceptual scheme of theistic religion? ... Think about what would happen if we simply used words like 'reason' and 'evidence'".
Video 1, 21:45 - 22:20

Sam's position on spirituality and mysticism: Video 1, 23:23

"I wrote The End of Faith ... and I was never tempted to call myself an Atheist." Video 2, 4:53

"I started calling myself an Atheist or at least answering to the name simply because it started to look a little shifty dodging it in interviews. Because the truth is I am an Atheist by most peoples standard of Atheism, certainly. And so, just in the interest of being civil I'm using that word. But I notice that we pay a price every time we do it." Video 2, 12:34

On Meditation

"The interest for me in meditation is in the difference between happiness and suffering. You know, 'Why do we suffer?' 'Is our suffering always necessary?' These are the kinds of questions ..." Video 2, 9:22

"There is nothing that I am aware of believing that requires the supernatural ... it's just there is a range of human experience that can take a tremendous amount of effort and inquiry to get a look at; and this has been historically the unique preoccupation of the mystical traditions within religion. ... they've had experiences that are interesting and worth talking about and don't lend credence to their supernatural doctrines but which nevertheless have a lot to say about the plasticity of the human brain and the possibility of us transforming our moment to moment experience of the world. That's all I'm saying." Video 2, 10:11 - 11:32

watch this video on (full screen capability)

No comments: