The End of Faith

The End of Faith

infobox Book

author = Sam Harris
name = The End of Faith
country = United States
language = English
subject = Religion
publisher = W.W. Norton
release_date = 2004
media_type = Hardcover, Paperback
isbn = ISBN 0-743-26809-1

"The End of Faith" (2004) is a book written by Sam Harris, concerning organized religion, the clash between religious faith and rational thought, and the problems of tolerance towards religious fundamentalism.

Harris began writing the book in what he described as a period of "collective grief and stupefaction" following the September 11, 2001 attacks.Adler, Jerry. [ "The New Naysayers"] , "Newsweek", 2006.] The book comprises a wide-ranging criticism of all styles of religious belief.

The book was first published in August 2004, and it was awarded the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction the following year. [PEN American Center, 2005. " [ The PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction] ."] The paperback edition was published in October 2005. In the same month it entered the "New York Times" Best Seller list at number four, and remained on the list for a total of 33 weeks. [Sunday Book Review, 2005-07. "New York Times".]


"The End of Faith" opens with a literary account of a day in the life of a suicide bomber – his last day. In an introductory chapter, Harris calls for an end to respect and tolerance for the competing belief systems of religion, which he describes as being "all equally uncontaminated by evidence". While focusing on the dangers posed by religious extremist groups now armed with weapons of mass destruction, Harris is equally critical of religious moderation, which he describes as "the context in which religious violence can never be adequately opposed."

Harris continues by examining the nature of belief itself, challenging the notion that we can in any sense enjoy "freedom" of belief – for as he points out, "belief is a fount of action "in potentia"." Instead he posits that in order to be useful, beliefs must be both logically coherent, and truly representative of the real world. Insofar as "religious" belief fails to ground itself in empirical evidence, Harris likens religion to a form of mental illness which, he says, "allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them "holy"." He argues that there may be "sanity in numbers", but that it is "merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your prayers, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window."

Harris follows this with a brief survey of Christianity down the ages, examining the Inquisition and the historic persecution of witches and Jews. He contends that, far from being an aberration, the torture of heretics was simply a logical expression of Christian doctrine – one which, he says, was clearly justified by men such as Saint Augustine. Going still further, Harris sees the Holocaust as essentially drawing its inspiration from traditional Christian anti-Semitism. "Knowingly or not," he says, "the Nazis were agents of religion."

Possibly the most controversial aspect of "The End of Faith" is an uncompromising assessment and criticism of Islam, which Harris describes as being a "cult of death." He infers a clear link between Islamic teaching and terrorist atrocities such as 9/11, something which he backs up with five pages of quotations from the Koran, all extolling the use of violence. He also presents some Pew Research data, showing that significant percentages of Muslims worldwide would justify suicide bombing as a legitimate tactic. In an attack on what he terms "leftist unreason," Harris criticises Noam Chomsky among others for, in his view, displaying an illogical willingness to lay the entire blame for such attitudes upon U.S. foreign policy. Fact|date=February 2008

However, Harris makes an equally strong critique of the role of the Christian right in contemporary America, in influencing such areas as sex and drug policy, stem-cell research, and AIDS prevention in the developing world. In what he sees as a steady drift towards theocracy, Harris strongly criticises leading figures from both the legislature and the judiciary for what he perceives as an unashamed "failure" to separate church and state in their various domains. "Not only do we still eat the offal of the ancient world," he says, "we are positively smug about it."

Next, Harris goes on to outline what he terms a "science of good and evil" – a rational approach to ethics, which he claims must necessarily be predicated upon questions of human happiness and suffering. He talks about the need to sustain "moral communities," a venture in which he feels that the separate religious moral identities of the "saved" and the "damned" can play no part. But Harris is critical of the stance of "moral relativism", and also of what he calls "the false choice of pacifism." In a controversial passage, he compares the ethical questions raised by collateral damage and judicial torture during war. He concludes that collateral damage is more ethically troublesome. "If we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war," Harris writes.

Finally, Harris turns to spirituality where he takes his inspiration from the practices of Eastern religion, arguing that as far as "Western" spirituality is concerned, "we appear to have been standing on the shoulders of dwarfs." He discusses the nature of consciousness, and how our sense of "self" can be made to vanish by employing the techniques of meditation. To support his claims, Harris quotes from Eastern mystics such as Padmasambhava, but he does not admit any supernatural element into his argument – "mysticism is a rational enterprise," he says, "religion is not." He states that it is possible for one's experience of the world to be "radically transformed", but that we must speak about the possibility in "rational terms".


In a review for "Free Inquiry", the editor Tom Flynn alleged that Harris had allowed his argument to become clouded by his personal politics and his use of spiritual language. [Tom Flynn, 2005. "Glimpses of Nirvana." "Free Inquiry", volume 25 number 2.] Harris later described Flynn's review as "mixed, misleading, and ultimately exasperating."Sam Harris, 2005. " [ Rational Mysticism] ." "Free Inquiry", volume 25 number 6.] Another review by David Boulton for "New Humanist", also stopped short of a ringing endorsement, describing the book as containing "startling oversimplifications, exaggerations and elisions." [David Boulton, 2005. " [ Faith kills] ." "New Humanist", volume 120 number 2.]

Writing for "The Independent", Johann Hari was largely encouraging but also expressed considerable reservations about Harris's political leanings, and revealed how he "began to choke" while reading the final chapter on spirituality. [Johann Hari, 2005. " [ The sea of faith and violence] ." "The Independent".] Other broadly positive reviews have come from Natalie Angier, [Natalie Angier, 2004. " [ Against Toleration] ." "The New York Times".] Daniel Blue, [Daniel Blue, 2004. " [ A fear of the faithful who mean exactly what they believe] ." "San Francisco Chronicle".] and Stephanie Merritt. [Stephanie Merritt, 2005. " [,6903,1406746,00.html Faith no more] ." "The Observer".] Richard Dawkins has also endorsed the book. [Richard Dawkins, 2005. " [ Coming Out Against Religious Mania] ." "The Huffington Post".]

Critical reviews from Christians have included those by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. for "The Christian Post", [R Albert Mohler Jr, 2004. " [ The End of Faith – Secularism with the Gloves Off] ." "The Christian Post".] and Matthew Simpson for "Christianity Today". [Matthew Simpson, 2005. " [ Unbelievable: Religion is really, really bad for you] ." "Christianity Today".] The paperback edition of "The End of Faith", published in 2005, contained a new afterword in which Harris responded to some of the more popular criticisms he has received since publication.

Harris's 2006 book, "Letter to a Christian Nation", was written as a full response to feedback he received following the publication of "The End of Faith".


External links

* [ Official website]

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