The End Of Faith Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason


Sam Harris

August, 2004


From W.W. Norton:

This important and timely book delivers a startling analysis of the clash of faith and reason in the modern world.  The End of Faith provides a harrowing glimpse of mankind’s willingness to suspend reason in favour of religious beliefs, even when these beliefs inspire the worst of human atrocities. Sam Harris argues that in the presence of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer expect to survive our religious differences indefinitely.

Most controversially, he maintains that “moderation” in religion poses considerable dangers of its own: as the accommodation we have made to religious faith in our society now blinds us to the role that faith plays in perpetuating human conflict.  While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism in an attempt to provide a truly modern foundation for our ethics and our search for spiritual experience.

Some of the arguments presented in The End Of Faith have inspired considerable controversy. Sam offers further comments in his post, Response to Controversy.

The End of Faith by Sam Harris is a genuinely frightening book about terrorism, and the central role played by religion in justifying and rewarding it. Others blame “extremists” who “distort” the “true” message of religion. Harris goes to the root of the problem: religion itself. Even moderate religion is a menace, because it leads us to respect and “cherish the idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence”. Why do men like Bin Laden commit their hideous cruelties? The answer is that they “actually believe what they say they believe”. Read Sam Harris and wake up.

The End of Faith articulates the dangers and absurdities of organized religion so fiercely and so fearlessly that I felt relieved as I read it, vindicated, almost personally understood… Harris writes what a sizable number of us think, but few are willing to say in contemporary America… This is an important book, on a topic that, for all its inherent difficulty and divisiveness, should not be shielded from the crucible of human reason.

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Do we need another book on the conflict between reason and faith? Yes, if it is as well-written as Sam Harris’s The End of Faith.

Sam Harris launches a sustained nuclear assault… A bold and exhilarating thesis… The End of Faith is a brave, pugilistic attempt to demolish the walls that currently insulate religious people from criticism… The End of Faith is badly needed…

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This book will strike a chord with anyone who has ever pondered the irrationality of religious faith… Even Mr. Harris’s critics will have to concede the force of an analysis which roams so far and wide, from the persecution of the Cathars to the composition of George Bush’s cabinet.

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[Harris] writes with such verve and frequent insight that even skeptical readers will find it hard to put down.

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A radical attack on the most sacred of liberal precepts—the notion of tolerance… [The End of Faith] is an eminently sensible rallying cry for a more ruthless secularisation of society.

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Harris’ tour de force demonstrates how faith—blind, deaf, dumb, and unreasoned—threatens our very existence. His exposé of faith-based unreason—from the religious fanaticism of Islamic suicide bombers to the secular fanaticism of Noam Chomsky—is a clarion call for reasoned debate in this age of terrorism. THE END OF FAITH shows how the perfect tyranny of religious and secular totalitarianism demonizes imperfect democracies such as the United States and Israel. A must read for all rational people.

Here is a ringing challenge to all Americans who recognize the danger to American democracy posed by the political alliance of right wing religion and politics and the failure of the tepid and tentative responses by liberal persons of faith. While one might dispute some of the claims and arguments presented by the author, the need for a wake up call to religious liberals is right on the mark.

At last we have a book that focuses on the common thread that links Islamic terrorism with the irrationality of all religious faith.  THE END OF FAITH will challenge not only Muslims but Hindus, Jews and Christians as well

Harris, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience, has written an unabashed antireligious polemic — so unabashed and so antireligious that one wonders how he found a mainstream publisher when, as he astutely observes, “criticizing a person’s faith is currently taboo in every corner of our culture.

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Now, in “The End of Faith,” a young philosopher named Sam Harris makes the least modest proposal of all, maintaining that weapons of mass destruction require humans to give up, or grow out of, religion.

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Harris does a muscular job as a warrior against religious authoritarianism.

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What shall we do to be saved? Well, we could try … appeals to logic, science, and common humanity, raising anew the banner of reason, exposing the cruelty and absurdity of taking the supernatural on faith. Like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.

Sam Harris is just the man to do it.

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