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Sam Harris Vs Chris Hedges


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I have recently started watching a video debate on youtube between Sam Harris and the liberal Christian Chris Hedges about Islamic terrorism. Here's the video and it's divided into nine parts:

I haven't watched all of it yet but from what I've seen, I think both authors bring up interesting points. On the one hand, I agree with Hedges that the real problem with religion is not simply faith but it's tribalism which is something all the major religions of the world suffer from. Hedges argues that Islamic terrorism is more of a product of the government suppression and poverty rather than the Koran. He cites the usual verses Muslim apologists use where the Koran prohibits suicide and attacking others expect in cases of self-defense but ignores the contradictory verses such as these http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/cruelty/long.html. I disagree with Harris' criticism of moderate believers and that moderate believers enable fundamentalism simply for believing in the same religion. That to me is like saying all Americans are fanatical believers that agree with the policies of George W. Bush simply because we're all members of the same country. It makes no sense at all. But at the same time, I agree with Harris that the Muslims' belief in martyrdom plays just as much of a role in their terrorism as poverty and government suppression and the like. Harris points out the examples of British Muslims who are not living in poverty and are very well educated people who do believe in the justification of martyrdom.

 

But I also think that religion can be used for either good purposes or wicked purposes and are neither inherently good or inherently evil and I think both Harris and Hedges are guilty of making sweeping generalizations about the nature of religion. I also think if Harris really does believe it's ok to torture people then he's just as bad the religious fundamentalists he criticizes, which is a belief he has yet to deny so far in this video. My question is what is the real cause behind religious fundamentalism? Is it blindly believing in the existence of God and religion that leads to this fundamentalism or is it the product of external factors? If it's a combination of both, how much of a role does blind faith play in religion terrorism and how much do these external factors play and what is the solution to this? Is it simply like the John Lennon song Imagine where the world would be a better place without religion and so we should deconvert the religious? Should we spread education and put an end to poverty in poor countries? What do you think is the cause of fundamentalism in general and what can we do about it?

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I finally finished watching all of it and Hedges does concede later in the debate that there are immoral verses in the Koran. I should have probably watched the whole thing before making my criticisms. I agree with him that it would make more sense to "re-enfranchise" Islam rather than destroy all the Muslims in a meaningless war. But I'm not sure if I agree entirely with his answer that fundamentalism is caused more by despair and secular reasons than religious faith as I think it's more likely a combination of both. I think the question is more about which came first; the chicken or the egg. Is it political oppression that creates fundamentalism or is it fundamentalism that creates oppression?

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What do you think is the cause of fundamentalism in general and what can we do about it?

Oh good god, that's a huge question. First I don't care for Harris, for reasons that he seems to appeal more to emotions than balanced reason. But beyond that, the word exclusivism pops to mind. What is the cause of fundamentalism? Too rapid of changes; Western cultural notions of "right" and "wrong" inherited from our Christian past; and inability to see life beyond doctrines of orthodoxy which breed a sad lack of imagination and flexibility in thought - an overly exaggerated sense of opinion; and a view that we somehow can claim "authority" to our views because we can offer good arguments for them.

 

So, as other opinions, points of views, and ideas come to the table, we, as products of this culture respond with a right/wrong scenario inhered in our mindset through our culture through Christian orthodoxies and react with a doctrine to compete for predominance, rather than rejoicing in the wisdom gained through multiple points of view. Where the F* did this idea that there is a single truth come from? It carries over into religious versus religious view comes into play, or religious versus secular, or secular versus secular. It is our inheritance, it is our culture, and that is the bathwater of the Christian West that has poisoned our entire approach to world views.

 

What causes fundamentalism - whether that be religious or secular? It's the notion that one truth is the only truth. And that idea is our inheritance.

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Fundamentalism, just like staunch conservatism, is reactionarism in the face of changing times.

 

Recall that under the Medieval Catholic Church, and under the Islamic Caliphate, despite the humanistic intellectual flourishes that were allowed to exist (universities and such), in the end a lot of people got mutilated, hacked up, tortured, burned alive, beheaded, and so on, for various crimes against religion. And next to nobody seriously questioned anything. Both had a serious lock on cosmological hegemony when it came to their respective territories.

 

In the West, it was the violent rise of Protestantism -- which was more reactionary than revolutionary, because it was a reaction to the Catholic church loosening up and becoming more 'humanist' -- that caused the Catholic Church to get really reactionary with the Counter-Reformation. We can only imagine how lax the Vatican would have become in the centuries following the 15th were it not for Martin Luther & Co. The Renaissance basically got 86ed as a result of Protestantism and the 30 Year War, and Enlightenment (which has oftentimes been fundamentalist in its own way) rose from the ashes of the 1640s to take the place of the discarded Renaissance Humanism/Pluralism. Anyways, that's the argument of Rabbi Toulmin, who wrote a very good book called "Cosmopolis." Highly recommended.

 

Also, the fundies we have to contend with today rose up in the 1970s in reaction to the slippage, or breakage, or fragmentation of the 1950s consensus. Fundies were certainly around during the 1950s, but they were a lot less obnoxious. The liberal church was at the forefront during the 1960s but the numbers they were hoping for (they thought if they changed with the times that the pews would swell with young people) failed to materialize. Fundamentalism came to the forefront by the late 1970s.

 

I'd write more but I gotta go!

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Fundamentalism, just like staunch conservatism, is reactionarism in the face of changing times.

 

Recall that under the Medieval Catholic Church, and under the Islamic Caliphate, despite the humanistic intellectual flourishes that were allowed to exist (universities and such), in the end a lot of people got mutilated, hacked up, tortured, burned alive, beheaded, and so on, for various crimes against religion. And next to nobody seriously questioned anything. Both had a serious lock on cosmological hegemony when it came to their respective territories.

 

In the West, it was the violent rise of Protestantism -- which was more reactionary than revolutionary, because it was a reaction to the Catholic church loosening up and becoming more 'humanist' -- that caused the Catholic Church to get really reactionary with the Counter-Reformation. We can only imagine how lax the Vatican would have become in the centuries following the 15th were it not for Martin Luther & Co. The Renaissance basically got 86ed as a result of Protestantism and the 30 Year War, and Enlightenment (which has oftentimes been fundamentalist in its own way) rose from the ashes of the 1640s to take the place of the discarded Renaissance Humanism/Pluralism. Anyways, that's the argument of Rabbi Toulmin, who wrote a very good book called "Cosmopolis." Highly recommended.

 

Also, the fundies we have to contend with today rose up in the 1970s in reaction to the slippage, or breakage, or fragmentation of the 1950s consensus. Fundies were certainly around during the 1950s, but they were a lot less obnoxious. The liberal church was at the forefront during the 1960s but the numbers they were hoping for (they thought if they changed with the times that the pews would swell with young people) failed to materialize. Fundamentalism came to the forefront by the late 1970s.

 

I'd write more but I gotta go!

 

Great recommendation. I'm so into the Reformation right now. I just can't get enough. I remember watching an interview with Steven Toulmin (he's a rabbi?) a while back. He was brilliant. I'll have to check out his book. Thanks.

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Fundamentalism, just like staunch conservatism, is reactionarism in the face of changing times.

 

Excellent post, Vomit Comet. You have outlined what fundamentalism is very well.

 

Also, the fundies we have to contend with today rose up in the 1970s in reaction to the slippage, or breakage, or fragmentation of the 1950s consensus. Fundies were certainly around during the 1950s, but they were a lot less obnoxious. The liberal church was at the forefront during the 1960s but the numbers they were hoping for (they thought if they changed with the times that the pews would swell with young people) failed to materialize. Fundamentalism came to the forefront by the late 1970s.

 

Yes, and fundamentalism is also a reaction against modernity, the scientific discoveries of the late 19th and 20th centuries that conflicted with a literalistic interpretation of the Bible.

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Comet, you say the Catholic Church was becoming more Humanist before the Reformation? How so? I recall from history that they were selling indulgences and keeping the Bible from being translated into the common language. Where did the Humanism come it?

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I have recently started watching a video debate on youtube between Sam Harris and the liberal Christian Chris Hedges about Islamic terrorism. Here's the video and it's divided into nine parts:
I haven't watched all of it yet but from what I've seen, I think both authors bring up interesting points. On the one hand, I agree with Hedges that the real problem with religion is not simply faith but it's tribalism which is something all the major religions of the world suffer from. Hedges argues that Islamic terrorism is more of a product of the government suppression and poverty rather than the Koran. He cites the usual verses Muslim apologists use where the Koran prohibits suicide and attacking others expect in cases of self-defense but ignores the contradictory verses such as these http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/cruelty/long.html. I disagree with Harris' criticism of moderate believers and that moderate believers enable fundamentalism simply for believing in the same religion. That to me is like saying all Americans are fanatical believers that agree with the policies of George W. Bush simply because we're all members of the same country. It makes no sense at all. But at the same time, I agree with Harris that the Muslims' belief in martyrdom plays just as much of a role in their terrorism as poverty and government suppression and the like. Harris points out the examples of British Muslims who are not living in poverty and are very well educated people who do believe in the justification of martyrdom.

 

But I also think that religion can be used for either good purposes or wicked purposes and are neither inherently good or inherently evil and I think both Harris and Hedges are guilty of making sweeping generalizations about the nature of religion. I also think if Harris really does believe it's ok to torture people then he's just as bad the religious fundamentalists he criticizes, which is a belief he has yet to deny so far in this video. My question is what is the real cause behind religious fundamentalism? Is it blindly believing in the existence of God and religion that leads to this fundamentalism or is it the product of external factors? If it's a combination of both, how much of a role does blind faith play in religion terrorism and how much do these external factors play and what is the solution to this? Is it simply like the John Lennon song Imagine where the world would be a better place without religion and so we should deconvert the religious? Should we spread education and put an end to poverty in poor countries? What do you think is the cause of fundamentalism in general and what can we do about it?

 

Thanks for the video link, Neon, I enjoyed listening to all three speakers. I too had mixed reactions to both positions, and I'm very pleased to report that the middle position is the one which I've been holding for some time. :D Namely that some religions 'lend themselves' to violent (you can add the word 'tribalist' if you like) causes more than others, but that the initial motivations behind religious or non-religious violence/terrorism is political/economic. And that isn't a defense of religion -- quite the contrary, it just makes religion out to be weaker than economic forces/reality. Harris draws all the right conclusions about the logical direction of certain religious beliefs but he hasn't seen that that doesn't quite map onto the historical record with total precision, while Hedges can't bring himself to denounce religion as bullshit along with terrorism and tribalism. Anyway, I really enjoyed the video. Thanks for posting!

 

postscript: You may find an excellent introduction to the ethical conversation about torture in the opening episode of 24, where Jack Bauer gives a speech in his defense to a congressional hearing.

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Comet, you say the Catholic Church was becoming more Humanist before the Reformation? How so?

 

Well, it was more that society was becoming more humanist - in France and Italy at least, who probably mattered more than anywhere else in the West at that time - and the Church was either contributing to that or going along for the ride. I'd say the primary thing they did was their patronage of the arts. Indulgences meant that you could do all kinds of fun stuff and not sweat it, whereas the counter-reformation church would chop a guy's balls off for stuff he could have just shelled out some $$$ for a pass if his guilty conscience compelled him to.

 

Hell, during those times, the church used to sponsor brothels. There was a thread here once about sexuality during the Renaissance era, IIRC. This was one of the things that really pissed off Martin Luther. On a pilgrimage to Rome he was horrified to see that pilgrims were quite fond of living it up with the local hookers, and that included priests and monks. And it made him want to puke that the church either turned a blind eye or actually encouraged it.

 

I used to think that Martin Luther was a hero for standing up to the church and calling them big fat hypocrites whose nuts were owned by satan. But now I think he's a giant asshole!

 

Grim, tight-ass Protestantism and the Catholic reaction to it fucked up everything. If you go to Italy today you can still see traces of how it was back in the day; you can be a Catholic and you can snort coke, fornicate, keep a mistress, and otherwise live it up and nobody will care enough to call you a hypocrite. For the most part. Those that take it so seriously that life gets robbed of its potential for fun and pleasure are rare. They're easy to spot, too; if you see a woman covered up to her neck in the summer rather than flaunting a mile of cleavage, chances are she's one of the tiny minority of Catholic girls there that actually take that shit really seriously.

 

Protestantism also saddled us with the Puritan work ethic that makes our lives much more stressful than they need to be, even today.

 

Seriously, Protestantism and the Catholic reaction to it was one of the worst things that ever happened to the West, in my opinion. If only because it produced the 30 Year War, which in terms of proportion (the population of the time, etc.) was perhaps the most horrific war in Western history.

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Whenever I think of pre-Refomation Catholic Church and sex, I think of Lucretia Borgia. Her father became Pope. He forced her into marriages for political reasons. He made her life miserable. It may have been more fun for the men back then, but I don't know how fun it would have been for the women. When I think of Humanism, brothels don't come to mind. And many Catholic men were monks who were not allowed to have sex, ever. Not even allowed to marry. Martin Luther at least wanted the clergy to have marriage as an option. Personally, I think Christianity was bound to split sooner or later. Most religions have their different sects.

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Whenever I think of pre-Refomation Catholic Church and sex, I think of Lucretia Borgia. Her father became Pope. He forced her into marriages for political reasons. He made her life miserable. It may have been more fun for the men back then, but I don't know how fun it would have been for the women. When I think of Humanism, brothels don't come to mind. And many Catholic men were monks who were not allowed to have sex, ever. Not even allowed to marry. Martin Luther at least wanted the clergy to have marriage as an option. Personally, I think Christianity was bound to split sooner or later. Most religions have their different sects.

 

Somebody around here is a historian of that era, IIRC. Is he still around?

 

And monks fucked. Believe me.

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