The worst liberal impulses

Amanda Marcotte on Pandagon discusses Sam Harris on Alternet, and they've both got smart things to say…but you have got to read the comments. Sam Harris says things like this:

On the subject of religious belief, we relax standards of reasonableness and evidence that we rely on in every other area of our lives. We relax so totally that people believe the most ludicrous propositions, and are willing to organize their lives around them. Propositions like "Jesus is going to come back in the next fifty years and rectify every problem that human beings create"--or, in the Muslim world, "death in the right circumstances leads directly to Paradise." These beliefs are not very contaminated with good evidence.

And of course he goes on, pointing out that religion does not confer any moral benefit, that the books of the Bible and the Koran are full of nasty, hateful stuff, that American politics is poisoned with delusional religious thinking, etc., all of it true…and here's the first comment.

Once again, we folks of faith are told that we're all, everyone of us, a violent, vengeful, and..oh, by the way...not very bright bunch. Once again, we're told that there's no proof for what we believe. (Here's a clue, Sam. It's all based on faith, a fact we freely admit.) Once again, the very worst examples of religious fanaticism and zealotry are thrown in our faces as if we were all just a hairbreadth away from killing our daughters for being victims of assault.

You want to be an atheist, be an atheist. But don't present your nasty bigotry and smarmy arrogance as if it were "enlightened thinking".

Sheesh...with people like Sam spouting this sort of mean-spirited baloney, it's no wonder the rest of America can't stand us liberals. Half my time in activism is spent trying to convince moderates that we aren't all as condescending and arrogant as Sam and his ilk.

Harris does not say anywhere that people of faith are all violent—he explains that the Bible is full of violent, vengeful stuff. This is true.

The "faith" argument is nothing. Claiming that your beliefs are OK because you believe in them blindly with no supporting evidence does not reassure me.

The argument isn't that the religious are going to start carrying out honor killings in this country. It's that religion can lead people to do very bad things, and therefore is not a reliable moral guide.

Harris doesn't say that the religious aren't very bright, and he doesn't have to. I don't think it's entirely true, but it's definitely the case that they're blinkered, and can't see any criticism of religion with lashing out. This fellow is definitely demonstrating that.

Harris's comments are perfect examples of enlightened thinking—they are ideas based on reason and evidence, rather than dogma and faith. That "nasty bigotry and smarmy arrogance" he's complaining about aren't there—what is there is calm, measured dismissal of delusions in which the commenter has placed importance.

That last paragraph is what really bothers me. He's a liberal activist, and he claims to be spending much of his effort undermining enlightenment values, and reassuring people that the liberal party will support their traditional tribal superstitions. No thank you, Mr Activist, you do not represent me. I think we ought to have one party in this country that is fighting hard for universal secular values, one group of people who are willing to stand up and say you can keep your superstitions in your home and your church, but they are not the basis for a rational government. That attitude that we must pander to the silly "faiths" of people, beyond just leaving them alone but instead making them core values of a political party, is exactly what we must oppose.

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It's really fascinating to see the kinds of reactions that statements like Harris's provoke. The key point to notice is that the peevish backlash, in that and many other fora (including this one from time to time), usually does NOT come from fundies; to them Harris is, yawn, just another degenerate atheist, pretty much beneath their notice except as a member of that despised class. No, it comes from the "reasonable", "moderate" believers. And as I read more and more comments from such people their tone strikes me more and more as arising from the pain of having to confront their own cognitive dissonance. They're aware at some level that the more or less rational principles by which they profess to live Monday through Saturday, are flatly incompatible with the irrational beliefs they parade on Sunday. When a Harris or a Myers forces them to confront their uneasy consciences (which they normally are able to repress), they feel pain, and like all people in pain they lash out. One can sympathize, while continuing to point out in a civil manner that only the repudiation of their unjustifiable beliefs will ever really cure the pain rather then temporarily suppresing it.

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

"One can sympathize, while continuing to point out in a civil manner that only the repudiation of their unjustifiable beliefs will ever really cure the pain rather then temporarily suppresing it."

Are you suggesting that we should show them the road to salvation? That would be a tableturning manoeuver. I like that.

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Well, living in peace with reality and one's own mind could appropriately be called the only genuine salvation, I suppose, though in the Buddhist tradition I prefer to call it simply "being awake". ;)

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Looking at the background image under the religious reply, I have to say I think it's an insult to Gumby's everywhere! Anyway, surely the 'We hate the architects' chant was the first proto-resistance to ID?

By lancelot_gobbo (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

one group of people who are willing to stand up and say you can keep your superstitions in your home and your church, but they are not the basis for a rational government.

"Attention 90% of Americans. Your beliefs are superstitions." Thanks, but I'd rather not lose in a landslide.

Anyway, what happened to that email debate you were having? You said you'd post it.

Yes, PZ, you are so right. I would join your Universal Secular party in a heartbeat.

I think the dude is dead wrong, too, except for one thing: outright hostility to religion does not help us achieve our goals. We can be honest, forthright and direct about the importance of a secular party but we have to be welcoming to religious people and this does mean stopping short of calling them idiots. We do not need to say their faith is irrational nonsense. It doesn't gain us anything in the context of a political debate. We need to focus on those areas which we agree with secular religious people so as to keep them on the team. It is not pandering, it is being respectful. PZ's previously stated notion that they do not deserve respect is wrong.

M.

Interesting articles. Sam Harris describes a vision of Jesus "being bodily present" and says "experiences like that are very interesting and worth exploring. There's no doubt that people have visionary experiences. . . . You don't have to believe in God to have the most extraordinary, mystical experience."

I'm not sure how atheism and mystical experiences fit together. Do you have mystical experiences, PZ? Yes, yes, I know, every time you meditate on octopus suckers, but I'm serious here. If you don't have them, do you agree with Harris that they are worth exploring?

Can I ask what may be a dumb question? (besides that one, I mean.)
How are you defining the term "religious", as in "the religious ... can't see any kind of criticism ..."?

I think what Harris considers to be "mystical expriences" needs to be more fully defined.

I am moved to tears when I hear certain pieces of music (Nessun Dorma comes to mind. This has no reasonable basis - is this considered a "mystical experience".

I've experienced Deja Vu countless times, is this a "mystical experience"?

If I've missed the boat and the explanation of what constitutes these experiences . . .

By Lya Kahlo (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Anyone can have a mystical experience, Julia. You don't even need drugs--severe illness, blood loss, dehydration, starvation, pain, or general stress can be enough to induce a vision (thus the popularity of ascetic sects among younger religions). If PZ hasn't had one, it just means that he takes care of himself.

I've experienced Deja Vu countless times, is this a "mystical experience"?

If I've missed the boat and the explanation of what constitutes these experiences . . .

The answer I've heard in laymen's terms for deja vu: We have some kind of biochemical 'switch' in our head that separates memories from what we're experiencing right now. Without it, if I remembered a scary experience, I'd end up screaming or whatever, thinking it was going on right now. With deja vu, the switch gets flipped so that you think what you're experiencing now is a memory.

Just remembered: There's a Skepdic entry on it.

PZ says: That last paragraph is what really bothers me. He's a liberal activist, and he claims to be spending much of his effort undermining enlightenment values, and reassuring people that the liberal party will support their traditional tribal superstitions.

No, he didn't say that. He said he spent half his time "trying to convince moderates that we aren't all as condescending and arrogant as Sam and his ilk". How is that undermining enlightment values?

"severe illness, blood loss, dehydration, starvation, pain, or general stress can be enough to induce a vision . . . . If PZ hasn't had one, it just means that he takes care of himself."

So you're saying that mystical experiences are produced by illness, injury, or other sorts of stress, and healthy unstressed people don't have them? That doesn't seem to cover all such experiences, but I can see that if it did a mystical experience would be just another symptom of physical or mental illness. It didn't seem to me, though, that Harris himself was suggesting that mysticism is an illness symptom.

To quote Bertrand Russell: In a democracy it is necessary that people should learn to endure having their sentiments outraged.

What makes religion in the public square so difficult is that the faithful want an exemption. They want to be able to use their irrational beliefs as a get-out-of-criticism-free card. If you concede the point to the moderates, the fanatics will take advantage. What we see in the U.S. today is an example of this.

As Sam Harris knows all too well, you can't criticize religion without being labeled an arrogant bigot.

Nobody's irrational beliefs ought to be regarded as above criticism or even ridicule -- even mine: I believe that the Mets are going to win the World Series this year.

I believe that the Mets are going to win the World Series this year.

I don't even watch baseball, and I know that's not going to happen.

"I think the dude is dead wrong, too, except for one thing: outright hostility to religion does not help us achieve our goals. We can be honest, forthright and direct about the importance of a secular party but we have to be welcoming to religious people and this does mean stopping short of calling them idiots. We do not need to say their faith is irrational nonsense. It doesn't gain us anything in the context of a political debate. We need to focus on those areas which we agree with secular religious people so as to keep them on the team. It is not pandering, it is being respectful."

This doesn't sound respectful to me; it sounds expedient and potentially manipulative. Like a labour party hiding mistrust of multi-national corporations in order to gain campaign contributions from those corps.

I should emphasise that I think this approach is fair. It's true that in the U.S. at present it would be political suicide to alienate all religious people, and if you want to widen your national influence and power, you'd do well to acknowledge this reality.

But you should be honest about what you're doing. "outright hostility to religion does not help us achieve our goals" and "It doesn't gain us anything in the context of a political debate" are not respectful positions; they are positions of diplomacy and expediency. Be prepared to be called on it by progressive religious people.

The guy is right: moderates *don't* try to undermine Christian values, because the private beliefs of your fellow citizens are none of your damn business. They are irrelevant as long as they stay in the private domain.

The smarmy factor come into it, I think, because of the context. Was anyone from the audience trying say that we should live in a theocracy? No. It was a friendly audience. So bashing some of the people on your own side for beliefs that should remain irrelevant seems a bit pointless and condescending.

It is a *failure* of the religious right to bring up religion in a context where religion is irrelevant. If you're arguing against a particular instance of this, fine, you've got to address the problem. But when you're going out of your way to bash the religious, well - aren't you falling into the same trap?

Making a point of deriding the beliefs of others *even then they are not trying to force those beliefs on anyone* is arrogant and petty.

What was said was true, of course, but you can't be surprised when the believers get cranky.

By SmellyTerror (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

The secular party is a great idea but it will never work in your two party system with a first past the post system. Too many people are "relgious" and would not take kindly to having their beliefds ridiculed. The rhetoric on boht sides can get pretty strong (just look at the comments here, never mind on Panadgon.

I have no time for religion, consider it does more harm than good overall but I also recognize for many people it provides comfort and is a part of their social lives. I also think many "religous" people don't really believe the silly superstions but do buy into the expressed morality (I don't mean the vicous, nasty, bigoted morality that is expressed in the bible if you care to read it), stuff like the golden rule.

Many of these types of religous people are good, compassonalte caring individuals regardless of where they think their morality comes from. I can understand why they don't feel they should be mocked for their beliefs. However if more of them would stand up and loudly and strongly condemn the excesses of religion (ID, Phelps, Dobson, Robertson, abstinence only sex education) the humanists and athiests would be much more likely to see and understand the difference between the good folk and the evil crazies that want to put us back into the dark ages.

By CanuckRob (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Errm, Harris was being interviewed and asked specifically about atheist ideas and attitudes. He was honest about it. That's the way it's supposed to be.

It's that religion can lead people to do very bad things

So can atheism. People do not to be "led" to do bad things. They do them because of what they are: people.

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

laf,

I don't get what you are saying. Are you saying that it is disrepectful (or manipulative) to concentrate on what you have in common with someone, rather than on what divides you? That doesn't make any sense to me. For example, an animal rights activist and a hunter can work together to make sure that the ecosystem supporting wildlife is not destroyed. Is that cynical or disrespectful?

Focusing on common values is the way things get done in a democracy. There is nothing disrespectful or cynical or dishonest about it.

There is a difference between (A) refraining from attacking someone's beliefs that you don't share, and (B) pretending to share them. I think we should never pretend to hold beliefs that we don't hold for political expediency, but I don't think anyone is saying otherwise.

It is not pandering, it is being respectful. PZ's previously stated notion that they do not deserve respect is wrong.

Uh, no. PZ has never, that I've seen, stated that religious people do not deserve respect. He's stated that the fact that they are religious does not automatically entitle them to any respect, in and of itself - however, they can be worthy of respect for other reasons.

He has said that their beliefs do not deserve respect, and in this I cannot disagree.

If you disagree, would you please explain why you think that religous beliefs are automatically entitled to respect?

PZ: sure, but the whole point of Atheism is that there's no reason to belive in a god. That's all that atheism needs. Arguments about the effects of religion have no bearing on the existence or otherwise of god. Would perfectly wonderful religions mean that god exists? No.

That magical invisible unicorn that may or may not exist in your yard? I can say it (almsot certainly) doesn't exist since it failed tests A, B, C and D. I don't need to go into the danger inherent in spiky horns, the misdeeds attributed to unicorns, the stinky smell of horses and horse-like creatures, and so on.

Doesn't exist. Burden of proof is on you, and you got nuthin'. End of story.

Going further is anyone's right, but of course it'll make people angry. What silly, stilly things people think in their own heads is none of my business. It's no-one's business.

If some redneck goes and talks about how icky-gross homosexual sex is, for example, they may well be speaking with perfect honesty, but it's none of his damn business, and people will get offended.

Trolling works. Surprised?

By SmellyTerror (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

That magical invisible unicorn that may or may not exist in your yard? I can say it (almsot certainly) doesn't exist since it failed tests A, B, C and D. I don't need to go into the danger inherent in spiky horns, the misdeeds attributed to unicorns, the stinky smell of horses and horse-like creatures, and so on.

Doesn't exist. Burden of proof is on you, and you got nuthin'. End of story.

Exactly. It's just dumb to get into the "religion causes people to do evil things" route because it is so easy for the religious to respond "Oh yeah? Well, Pol Pot was an atheist and he did worse things than the Spanish Inquistion", etc. etc. And responding "Well, I think that Marxism is basically a religion" will simply bring about the response "You are just calling anything you disagree with 'religion'".

But pointing out that religions have no evidence for their dogmas and that "faith" is just a fancy way of saying that, well, there's not not a lot the religious can say back, unless they just want to shout insults like "you heathen!".

Sorry to double post, but this gets my goat. From the discussion:

"SH:There are so many. Let's take the extreme case, honor killing in the Muslim world. Imagine the psychology of a man who, upon hearing that his daughter was raped, is inspired not to console her, not to seek immediate medical and psychological treatment for her, but to kill her. This is an honor-based, shame-based psychology. You cannot name a Muslim country to my knowledge where it doesn't happen. It even happens in the suburbs of Paris. It falls right out of the theology of Islam."

Bull. Shit.

Honour killings are part of ARABIC tribal culture, NOT Islam. Honour killings in Malaysia or Indonesia or most of Africa? No! So he's equating this behaviour with Islam... how? Becuase the only Muslims on earth are the ignorant tribal idiots in the backwoods of the middle-east (and their economic-refugee cousins in Paris)?

Bigotted much?

This is just the kind of unsupported, unscientific nonsense I'd expect to see PZ deriding, not supporting.

By SmellyTerror (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Actually, you are partly right. Honor killings aren't exclusively Islamic (Latin America has its own version), and isn't a necessary part of Islam, and Harris was wrong.

However, you've gone wrong the other way. Malaysia and Indonesia and most of Africa are not Arabic, either.

Roman: In fact, atheism cannot make you do bad things, because there's nothing to it except a lack of belief in one or more gods.

Specific belief systems that happen to include a lack of gods, such as Leninism or objectivism, can make you do bad things.

By Mithrandir (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Um, that was my point. He asked for Muslim countries without a tradition of honour killings, and I did.

(I also hate his repetition of the common refrain that Islam is inherently violent: "If ever there were a religion that's not a religion of peace, it is Islam." It's been, at times, extremely peaceful and progressive. The reasons for the present extremism have nothing to do with religion - and if Osama and co. try to pretend it does, well, they say a lot of other stupid stuff we know is false, too. Sam really did come across as a bigot in that interview, and I don't think it's any great surprise that people called him out on it).

By SmellyTerror (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Daryl:

"I don't get what you are saying. Are you saying that it is disrepectful (or manipulative) to concentrate on what you have in common with someone, rather than on what divides you?
[...]
There is a difference between (A) refraining from attacking someone's beliefs that you don't share, and (B) pretending to share them. I think we should never pretend to hold beliefs that we don't hold for political expediency, but I don't think anyone is saying otherwise."

No, I agree with you on all these points. The post I quoted sounded to me like "hold your nose and share camp with the xians, cause we need 'em."

Julia says:

"So you're saying that mystical experiences are produced by illness, injury, or other sorts of stress, and healthy unstressed people don't have them?"

Um, no. Drugs were mentioned. I can add sex, intense moments of revealed knowledge, meditation, too much training, et cetera. In short all these moments where your internal drug delivery system acts intensely.

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Somebody needs to coin a handy term for all "faith-based" belief systems that would embrace both religions and non-supernatural (but eschatological and non-evidence-based) belief systems like National Socialism and Marxism-Leninism. That would help shortcut the tedious "atheism makes people do bad things too" meme.

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Here's what I don't get: Why have faith in one thing but not another?

I mean, why is it sensical to have faith in a merciful god, but nonsensical to have faith in an unmerciful one.

In a way, Liberal Christians piss me off more then the Conservative ones.

They all say, "Oh, my religion isn't exclusionary! I beleive that all faiths are valid way to get to god!" Well, I've had some pretty profound religious experiences (To the point where I had a nearly overwhelming urge to throw myself to the ground and flop like a fish), and they were all of a trickster god; A being that invents religions out of whole cloth in order to sow confusion and discord, which he sees as the most important thing he can do.

To say that all religions are true is to belittle my religious experiences, which have told me that they're mostly all false.

I became an atheist because my religious experiences are not of profound love, but of chaos and alienation. I can't put my religious experiences together with everybody else's in order to form a coherent picture of god.

If my experiences are as valid as everybody else's, then God is both completely loving and completely indifferent. He's an incomprehensible entity that can't be spoken of in a meaningful way.

Now, I absolutely LOATHE it when people belittle my religious experiences. Therefore, I extend the same courtesy to them; I'm not just going to assume their experiences are insincere because theirs were different then mine.

So I'm left assuming that either all religious experiences refer to an actual existing being, or none of them do. But in EITHER of those scenarios, god is a being about whom nothing useful can be said.

So I became an atheist.

I don't know if that made sense, but I heard some of that hippy dippy "god is love" type stuff over at Pandagon, and since any statement to that effect implicitly says my religious experiences have no validity, hearing that tends to put me in a ranty mood.

By Christopher (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

If there is an all-powerful being hanging about, he's a sadistic bastard. Have a good look at the world, and tell me I'm wrong.

So the best case scenario for the religious still results in their worship of a being that deserves our contempt. If I die and discover god grinning at me in the afterlife, I'm going to punch him in the face.

Oh man that'd be sweet. "Welcome to Heav-" KAPOW!

By SmellyTerror (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

If I die and discover god grinning at me in the afterlife, I'm going to punch him in the face.

Oh man that'd be sweet. "Welcome to Heav-" KAPOW!

Well, Smelly, you should pick up a Gameboy and the original Final Fantasy Legend. You'd probably like the ending (I read a little too much of a spoiler).

Seriously? They made a game where you punch god in the face? That's... really cool. In fact, that really is my final fanstasy! How did they know?

Can you scream "This is for Rwanda" and kick him in the happysack, too?

By SmellyTerror (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

You can also Kick, X-Kick, Judo, and Karate him in the face, if you like.

Though you might want to take a look at some game endings site if you're not willing to go through all the necessary stat building. I should probably do that myself.

The two things I hate most about Christers are their face. How dare any dog one them criticize Harris for anything he says against the idiocy that is "faith," while from pulpits and electronic media they denounce the less credulous as fools, sinners, Satanists...and a hissed-out "stheculuhr HU-manizts," as if the term were a stand-alone epithet. I refuse to be intimidated by the fact that 90% of people are horribly wrong (or at least claim to be--many of them are probably simply too craven to state they are without faith, or too apathetic to do the work of figuring out what sort of reality they live in). And anyone who thinks there is ANY placating a full-on Christer, forget. Efforts at appeasement will be met with smug claims of victory. Forget them and the forgetful horse they rode in on.

By Greg Peterson (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

Somebody needs to coin a handy term for all "faith-based" belief systems that would embrace both religions and non-supernatural (but eschatological and non-evidence-based) belief systems like National Socialism and Marxism-Leninism.

Churches. I don't see a bunch of Buddhists getting together and attempting to stone the heathen.

By Phoenician in … (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.

To verify this, one need only read a very little history, or contemporary newspaper reports.
At this point, an excuse is always presented by the 'believers':
"They are ( or were ) not PROPER Christians / Muslims / Marxists / etc. .... We're different!"
Oh, yeah?
O.S.D. is still part of the Roman Catholic church, isn't it? Is Ian Paisley a Christian minister, or not? Are the Persian and Taliban ayatollahs clerics, or not? Were Stalin, Mao Zhedong and Pol Pot Marxists, or not?
Besides which, if these, and similar cases, are, or were not "proper believers", why do those proper believers never, ever do anything about it, except whinge?

So, we have a Corollary:
The bigots are the true believers.

There is a dangerous trap here. By fighting and studying the evil dragon of their opponent(s) and/or oppressors, a group, sect, or religion can easily become its' own evil mirror-image. Three current (2005) cases will suffice. I am sure any intelligent reader will be able to supply their own additional exemplars.
[I] Virtually everything Ian Paisley and his followers say about the RC church and its "evil" are true, and correct. But they have failed to see that they have also become a narrow, bigoted, bloodstained and oppressive reflection of the thing they most despise and fear.
[II] The previous Pope (John-Paul II) faithfully opposed the cult of Nazism, (or did he, really?) and the Stalinist version of Marxism. And, he became dragon too. Nowhere as evil as Adolf, or Joe, but a narrow, oppressive, censorious dictator, opposed to freedom of thought, reason, or logic, nonetheless. The current Pope (Benedict II), beautifully parodied by the magazine "Private Eye" as "Cardinal Ratpoison", is even worse. His rampant homophobia, his apparent joining of the Hitler-Jugend before it became compulsory, his authoritarianism ... need one go on?
[III] Persia / Iran, where opposition to the rule of the late Shah has produced a classic theocratic state. Of course, as always happens, an even more extreme movement, the Taliban, appeared in Afghanistan. Both these states have automatically enslaved half of their own populations - the female half. These are true "communities of saints", as were Calvin's Geneva, Cromwellian England, or Stalin's Soviet Union. Perhaps the best example of a total theocracy, where even when the personal representative of the people's enslavement dies, they mourn, rather than celebrate, is North Korea.

By G. Tingey (not verified) on 17 May 2006 #permalink

The secular party is a great idea but it will never work in your two party system

Many great ideas won't work in 2 party system, as it amounts to turning false dilemma fallacy into the basis of government :-)

damn thing keeps eating tags

test
test
test

so, again

The secular party is a great idea but it will never work in your two party system

Many great ideas won't work in 2 party system, as it amounts to turning false dilemma fallacy into the basis of government :-)

Atheists, left and right, have to get used to working with religious people with similar political views. We're a minority in a democracy; that's just the way it is.

Contrawise, religious people, left and right (but perhaps mostly on the left), are missing a big trick trying to marginalize politically like-minded atheists.

Atheists are just as good liberals as anyone else. We are in favor of *secularism*, the idea that the details of religious belief--even the presence or absence--is simply none of the government's business in any way.

But that doesn't mean that we don't have an opinion--even a political opinion--about religious belief.

The fundamental conflict in politics is not the conflict between radicalism (wanting to change things) and conservatism (wanting to keep things the same). The fundamental conflict is between liberalism and authoritarianism. I mean liberalism here as the idea that society exists for the benefit of individual citizens. I mean authoritarianism as the idea individuals exist for the purpose of composing an objectively good society; you have to use authority to make individuals act against their self-interest for the "good of society".

There can be no doubt that religion can serve only as a tool for authoritarianism; religion exists only to confer the authority of God to moral and customary beliefs and justify calling a society good or bad independently of the well-being of its members.

Both the religious and atheistic left are subverting religious authority. The religious left subverts religious authority by espousing tolerance for varying religious beliefs; the atheistic left by simply denying God and denying the truth-aptness of religious belief.

Both strategies have specific strengths and weaknesses. The atheistic strategy, of course, appeals only to a small minority of people. Atheism has the advantage of being actually true, but when did truth matter much in political discourse?

The tolerance strategy of the religious left, on the other hand, has the advantage of broader appeal. Even weakly religious people, or people who push their rational humanistic moral and social beliefs on "God", are reluctant to abandon their religious beliefs. On the other hand, their position of tolerance makes it very difficult to effectively criticize the christianists and islamists use of religion to support authoritarianism.

I have no idea how to solve this dilemma. By and large, atheists do as well as can be expected in promoting secularism at the purely governmental and legal level. By and large, we remain silent even on as sensible an issue as tax-free churches; that's not a battle we need to fight today. But outside the purely legal issues, we're not going to shut up about atheism. I suppose the religious left is just going to have to tolerate us.

Someone said:

If you disagree, would you please explain why you think that religous beliefs are automatically entitled to respect?

In a nutshell, when it comes to sex and religion I have a "don't ask don't tell" policy, meaning, in the end, it is no one else's business. I like to debate and discuss these things, but I don't feel that I should have a say in what gets you off or what you believe in. I do not give my respect for freedom of religion based on the values of the religion. My point was, politically speaking, secularists should say "leave your religion at home" and not "your religion is irrational".

PZ said:

Errm, Harris was being interviewed and asked specifically about atheist ideas and attitudes. He was honest about it. That's the way it's supposed to be.

This is true. I don't disagree with a word Sam Harris said. I guess I was reacting to the notion that the Left burns bridges with religious people unnecessarily. You are right that Harris was not speaking in a political context, per se.

Someone else said:

We're a minority in a democracy; that's just the way it is.

Well said. Secularists are a rather politically dysfunctional minority at that! Maybe I am too concerned about the political aspects of this, but if it is secularists vs. religious people we lose. If it is secularists vs. non-secularists, we stand a chance.

Regarding Reason and its limits:
I was taught as an RC altarboy that "trans-substantiation" meant the communion wine "actually" bacame the blood of Christ.
Not "symbolically" but really.
I now see this as one amongst many religious tenants, that are designed with the sole purpose of 'breaking' rationality. By forcing an illogical absurdity upon my mind, the church 'cracked' my reason, pushing me into an irrational space.
Some might say that's a good thing, that rationality cannot provide a group religious fervour, and that rational people abandon hurricane victims.
I prefer to value rationality. If I behave ethically, its because I have an internal image of the sort of person I want to be. I suggest that almost every human has this self-image, and that no other animal has such a self-image.

And I do mean 'forcing'. Dont forget my namesake, the original Giordano, had 'denial of transsubstantiation' on his heresy list when Cardinal Roberti Bellarmine ["the hammer of heresies"] had GB burned alive, without the usual benefit of pre-strangulation. Later, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says: "it became Bellarmine's official duty to signify the condemnation to Galileo, .. a life which had been no less remarkable for its virtues than for its achievements."[thats RB's life, not GB's, nor GG's]