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 thoughts 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.
It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of
mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our
Most religions have merely canonized a few products of ancient
ignorance and derangement and passed them down to us as though they
were primordial truths.
The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise
normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them
A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything
else in a person's life.
Beliefs are scarcely more private than actions are, for every
belief is a fount of action in potentia.
To believe that God exists is to believe that I stand in some
relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the
reason for my belief.
We are no more free to believe whatever we want about God than
we are free to adopt unjustified beliefs about science or history,
or free to mean whatever we want when using words like
"poison" or "north" or "zero."
The problem with faith, is that it really is a conversation
stopper. Faith is a declaration of immunity to the powers of
conversation. It is a reason, why you do not have
to give reasons, for what you believe. (SALT talk
Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of
faith; where we have no reasons, we have lost both our connection
to the world and to one another.
Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape
velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.
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
The idea that any one of our religions represents the
infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedic
ignorance of history, mythology, and art even to be entertained....
Whatever their imagined source, the doctrines of modern religions
are no more tenable than those which, for lack of adherents, were
cast upon the scrap heap of mythology millennia ago.
Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of
good ones for all time. It is the denial—at once full of hope and
full of fear—of the vastitude of human ignorance.
Because most religions offer no valid mechanism by which their
core beliefs can be tested and revised, each new generation of
believers is condemned to inherit the superstitions and tribal
hatreds of its predecessors.
"We are, even now, killing ourselves over ancient literature."
The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men
and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow
would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.
Not only do we still eat the offal of the ancient world; we are
positively smug about it.
How do we know that our holy books are free from error? Because
the books themselves say so. Epistemological black holes
of this sort are fast draining the light from our world.
We have Christians against Muslims against Jews. They're making
incompatible claims on real estate in the Middle East as though God
were some kind of omniscient real estate broker parsing out parcels
of land to his chosen flock. People are literally dying over
Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its
literalism, and as at odds with the civilizing insights of
modernity as any other religion.
Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the
morality of the Bible with a single sentence: "Do not injure,
abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any
creature or living being." Imagine how different our world might be
if the Bible contained this as its central precept.
To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world—to
say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain
mountains of life-destroying gibberish—is antithetical to tolerance
as moderates currently conceive it.
I've read the books. God is not a moderate. There's no place in
the books where God says, "You know, when you get to the New World
and you develop your three branches of government and you have a
civil society, you can just jettison all the barbarism I
recommended in the first books."
Lecture at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (2005)
It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists
within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our
other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity.
[T]he very ideal 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
It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the
Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that
heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale
murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of
course, free to interpret the Bible differently—though isn't it
amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of
Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of
your faith failed?
Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), pages 11-12
Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the
religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the
context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can
never be adequately opposed.
There is no question but that nominally religious scientists
like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting
harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to
A person can be a God-fearing Christian on Sunday and a working
scientist come Monday morning, without ever having to account for
the partition that seems to have erected itself in his head while
Our present policy on human stem cells has been shaped by
beliefs that are divorced from every reasonable intuition we might
form about the possible experience of living systems.
The point at which we fully acquire our humanity, and our
capacity to suffer, remains an open question, but anyone who would
dogmatically insist that these traits must arise coincident with
the moment of conception has nothing to contribute, apart from his
ignorance, to this debate.
Those opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research on religious
grounds constitute the biological and ethical equivalent of a
In this area of public policy alone, the accommodations that we
have made to faith will do nothing but enshrine a perfect immensity
of human suffering for decades to come.
The moral truth here is obvious: anyone who feels that the
interests of a blastocyst just might supersede the
interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral
sense blinded by religious metaphysics.
All pretensions to theological knowledge should now be seen
from the perspective of a man who was just beginning his day on the
one hundredth floor of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11,
2001, only to find his meandering thoughts—of family and
friends, of errands run and unrun, of coffee in need of
sweetener—inexplicably usurped by a choice of terrible starkness
and simplicity: between being burned alive by jet fuel or leaping
one thousand feet to the concrete below.
The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were
certainly not "cowards," as they were repeatedly described in the
Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They
were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this,
it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.
A significant percentage of the world's Muslims believe that
the men who brought down the World Trade Center are now seated at
the right hand of God.
If Jesus does come down out of the clouds like a superhero,
Christianity will stand revealed as a science. That will be the
science of Christianity.
Lecture at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (2005)
Fundamentalist Christians support Israel because they believe
that the final consolidation of Jewish power in the Holy
Land—specifically, the rebuilding of Solomon's temple—will usher in
both the Second Coming of Christ and the final destruction of the
Millions of Christians and Muslims now organize their lives
around prophetic traditions that will only find fulfillment once
rivers of blood begin flowing from Jerusalem.
We can no longer ignore the fact that billions of our neighbors
believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom, or in the literal truth of
the book of Revelation, or any of the other fantastical notions
that have lurked in the minds of the faithful for millennia—because
our neighbors are now armed with chemical, biological, and nuclear
It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that if the city of
New York were replaced by a ball of fire, some significant
percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in
the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the
best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the
return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of
this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for
ourselves- socially, economically, environmentally, or
There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and
coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human
Spirituality can be—indeed, must be—deeply
Mysticism, to be viable, requires explicit
instructions, which need suffer no more ambiguity or artifice in
their exposition than we find in a manual for operating a lawn
Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and
ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the
beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns.
It would also be the end of faith.
Mr. Harris argues cogently, pithily, wittily, passionately,
that religious "faith" is leading humanity straight to a very
~Nina Burleigh, "Forget About Christ, Get God out of Christmas
The End of Faith is one of those books that deserves
to replace the Gideon Bible in every hotel room in the land.