A religious moderate is a failed fundamentalist.

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    The following is taken from “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris.

    What is the alternative to religion as we know it? As it turns out, this is the wrong question to ask. Chemistry was not an “alternative” to alchemy; it was a wholesale exchange of ignorance at its most rococo for genuine knowledge. We will find that, as with alchemy, to speak of “alternatives” to religious faith is to miss the point.

    Of course, people of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. One of the central themes of this book, however, is that religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. The very idea of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.

    We have been slow to recognize the degree to which religious faith perpetuates man’s inhumanity to man. This is not surprising, since many of us still believe that faith is an essential component of human life. Two myths now keep faith beyond the fray of rational criticism, and they seem to foster religious extremism and religious moderation equally: (i) most of us believe that there are good things that people get from religious faith (e.g., strong communities, ethical behavior, spiritual experience) that cannot be had elsewhere; (2) many of us also believe that the terrible things that are sometimes done in the name of religion are the products not of faith per se but of our baser natures—forces like greed, hatred, and fear—for which religious beliefs are themselves the best (or even the only) remedy. Taken together, these myths seem to have granted us perfect immunity to outbreaks of reasonableness in our public discourse.

    Most of what we currently hold sacred is not sacred for any reason other than that it was thought sacred yesterday. Surely, if we could create the world anew, the practice of organizing our lives around untestable propositions found in ancient literature—to say nothing of killing and dying for them—would be impossible to justify. What stops us from finding it impossible now? Many have observed that religion, by lending meaning to human life, permits communities {at least those united under a single faith) to cohere. Historically this is true, and on this score religion is to be credited as much for wars of conquest as for feast days and brotherly love. But in its effect upon the modern world—a world already united, at least potentially, by economic, environmental, political, and epidemiological necessity—religious ideology is dangerously retrograde. Our past is not sacred for being past, and there is much that is behind us that we are struggling to keep behind us, and to which, it is to be hoped, we could never return with a clear conscience: the divine right of kings, feudalism, the caste system, slavery, political executions, forced castration, vivisection, bear-baiting, honorable duels, chastity belts, trial by ordeal, child labor, human and animal sacrifice, the stoning of heretics, cannibalism, sodomy laws, taboos against contraception, human radiation experiments.  The list is nearly endless, and if it were extended indefinitely, the proportion of abuses for which religion could be found directly responsible is likely to remain undiminished. In fact, almost every indignity just mentioned can be attributed to an insufficient taste for evidence, to an uncritical faith in one dogma or another. The idea, therefore, that religious faith is somehow a sacred human convention—distinguished, as it is, both by the extravagance of its claims and by the paucity of its evidence—is really too great a monstrosity to be appreciated in all its glory. Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity—a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible. When foisted upon each generation anew, it renders us incapable of realizing just how much of our world has been unnecessarily ceded to a dark and barbarous past.

    Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance and the benignity of most religious moderates does not suggest that religious faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance, nor does it guarantee that there is not a terrible price to be paid for limiting the scope of reason in our dealings with other human beings. Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities. Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience.

    Religious moderation will do nothing to help the evolution of human enlightenment and progress. (my words). Do you agree?



    Religious moderation will do nothing to help the evolution of human enlightenment and progress. (my words). Do you agree?

    I disagree. I think some people need religion. Not everyone can be like Sam Harris.



    Harris is underappreciated…such perspicacity..

    Religious moderation will do nothing to help the evolution of human enlightenment and progress unless it is a necessary step towards atheism. To the extent it replaces fundamentalism it has its place in advancing civilization. In and of itself atheism is much to do about nothing but it gives license and urgency to issues of governance and ethics. Religion as a guide is about as bad as you can do.

    Harris is one of the few prominent atheistic authors who addresses the void that is or will be sustained in the absence of the FEELINGS evoked through religious devotion. I think meditation and love and friendship are good substitutes.  But that is just a guess on my part. How about exercise, drugs and appreciation of nature and the cosmos?


    @asianne I disagree. I think some people need religion.

    I disagree, people think they need religion because they believe what the myth (as the post says) of religion claims to offer. It is our tolerance of religious moderates that gives continuity to the myth. If people were taught coping skills, critical thinking skills, literacy skills, Science and even “mindfulness strategies”  they would be much better off. Religions ensnare the mind and make people dependent on it to the point where they become unaware of being deluded by it. Trying to convince people that they are to become immortals in another life is preposterous. It in no way gives them a skill set for coping in this life.

    Modern religion is the “endarkenment” of our world to the detriment of all societies.

    As Jon Stewart said: Religion – it gives people hope in a world torn apart by religion.



    Enjoyed reading that.

    I agree. I thought it was great to walk through life saying, “it’s gods will”. Why should I take any responsibility? It’s gods will. Read the news and a thousand people were gassed in bum fuck Egypt, it’s gods will. It was awesome to float through life not having to pin responsibility for anything on myself or anyone else cause “it’s gods will”.

    From an early age, what? 11 or 12 years old?, I questioned everything. Science class was great but not so much when I attended “Religious Instruction” (that’s what they called it in the 60’s) and I was questioning everything. Didn’t last too long in that class but they still allowed me to make my first communion and confirmation. Oh Catholics.

    My journey to not believing in all this iron age bullshit was akin to a shaft of light searing through my brain. I’m fine with taking responsibility for myself, for my thoughts, and for my actions. Think it’s called growth.

    In substance abuse programs they say that “emotionally, you’re at the age that you started using. You’re 30 years old but emotionally you’re still 15”. That’s how I feel about religion.

    Edit: Sort of completely got away from the topic of this thread LOL but calling anyone who practices this stone age bullshit moderate can’t be right. You’ve bought the entire store but want everyone to think you’ve only bought half the store. How long before this so called “moderation” is completely out the window?

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by  Noel.


    It’s just the practice that has moderated. The fundamental beliefs are still there. Is there a god? Yes. If I believe in him and are reasonably “good”, will I go to heaven? Check. Did god send his son to save us? Yes. Does morality come from god? yes. Do we celebrate the birth of baby jesus? Of course, I even get some days off.


    Simon Paynton

    more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics,

    If we do this then we find that Sam Harris is missing at least one point – that religion isn’t “just” a giant fairy tale: it has genuine things to offer that are not found in the secular world so far (its appreciation of the pressure to thrive).

    Even when things are found in both worlds (the religious and non-religious or post-religious), there’s nothing wrong with doing the same thing three or four different ways.

    I think it’s true also that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to replace religion with reason.  If we do this, the reasoning is quite complicated.  But we’ve yet to see how that plays out.


    Simon Paynton

    I think the major problem with fundamentalism is that its doctrines too often clash with human rights.


    Simon Paynton

    I think meditation and love and friendship are good substitutes. But that is just a guess on my part. How about exercise, drugs and appreciation of nature and the cosmos?

    I think one of the big ones is cooperation – it fulfils many basic human spritiual and emotional needs.


    @ Simon – I think it’s true also that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to replace religion with reason.

    I don’t want to see religion replaced. I want to see it gone. I don’t want polio replaced, I want it eradicated globally. It is almost an embarrassment to our species that we still find any value in religion. A prisoner chained to the rocks in “Plato’s Cave” (or Shawshank prison) does not want his chains replaced. He wants them removed so he can be free of them. Religion is an enslavement of the mind, a prison that never lets in the light of new ideas and keeps its prisoners intellectually immature and surrounded by a deep moat that quenches any candles that might bring enlightenment to the mind of its prisoners. It is a putrid carbuncle on the back of mankind that hinders our evolution and progress. (There, I said it :-))



    Religious moderation will do nothing to help the evolution of human enlightenment and progress. (my words). Do you agree?

    “The weak die out and the strong will survive, and will live on forever”—Anne Frank from her Diary



    There’s a reason that religion and spirituality have been part of our culture since….forever. That’s not insignificant.


    Nobody has argued that religion has not been part of our culture or history. Religion was used to explain what we did not understand when we were in our infancy as a primitive, ignorant and illiterate species. We now have better explanations for what we then did not know. But religious leaders still battle against Science and Reason because it is all about power for them. Why do people need religious leaders and spokesmen if everyone is an equal member of their god’s family? People can be “spiritual” without it. Religion corrupts it by claiming one needs faith in order to have spiritual experiences. We have better answers and better solutions to anything that religion has to offer because religions are based on a delusion. They are a hindrance to humanity and no longer required.


    Simon Paynton

    @asianne – how do you define spirituality?  I see it as: 1) personal transformation; 2) nurturing what sustains us.  But it carries an ethical component too.


    Simon Paynton

    religions are based on a delusion.

    But the central spiritual thrust of religion is largely missing from the non-religious world.  It’s not just a case of explaining the universe.  It’s also a question of doing well in the long term.

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