As often happens when two intelligent people debate both are right from their respective understandings/convictions/definitions of the issue they are debating, each impervious to the other’s perspective.
To Sam Harris the word religion evokes witchcraft, cannibalism, superstition and such. It cannot be denied that these have been aspects of religion in the past, and still are so in many contexts.
To Armstrong, “religion is also about the quest for transcendence, the discipline of compassion, and the endless search for meaning; … to help us to live creatively, serenely, and kindly with the suffering that is an inescapable part of the human condition.”
She wisely rejects explicitly those aspects of religion which Harris emphasizes, and (I trust) the latter will be sympathetic to those features and goals of religion which Armstrong mentions.
Then why the difference and why the debate?
This, I contend, is because the ugly sides of religion have dominated humanity for much too long, and its finer and ennobling dimensions can be incorporated into human life and culture without the heavy doses of deadweight that still deface many religions.
Perhaps the New Atheists and the New Religionists should be spending more of their time and energy in salvaging whatever is good and noble in our religious traditions and reject all that is anachronistic, unconscionable, and muddled in religious frameworks
They should join hands to formulate a new pan-human religious framework which will be meaningful to the masses, which will foster caring and compassion, and which will make us aware of dimensions beyond consuming, purging, and propagating. But this will not be possible as long as those who are ardently affiliated to traditional religions refuse to acknowledge the negative and hurtful dimensions of their religions (or are unable to do so), and the awakened folks are incapable of seeing anything good in humanity’s religious heritage and sensitivity.
January 6, 2009