Sam Harris On Religion as a Force in the World

This is a short video, but it’s very helpful in explaining why religion, western monotheism in particular, is fundamentally regressive and will continue to slow if not reverse humanity’s progress. In our current increasingly precarious position, the fantasy of religion may delay our action on climate change, disease control, or some other vital issue long enough that we will become extinct. The earth will of course continue on without us.

I am very conflicted by religion. On the one hand, religion allows many people to give meaning to their existence, in a way that no scientific or humanist set of ideas can. The majority of people are incapable of accepting a non-religious set of ideas as their source of meaning, and it seems cruel to deprive these people of this source of peace and even joy, despite the unquestionable damage religious beliefs do to both individuals and humanity.

The damage religious belief has done; to humanity, animal life, and the earth; over the ages is the other, perhaps more compelling side of this conflict. Is it right to allow individuals to subscribe to a fantasy that causes them to value their fellow humans more or less based on their beliefs or nationality, or to love or hate them based on immutable traits such as race, skin color, gender, or sexuality? We can argue about whether religion is merely strongly correlated with or an actual cause of this harm.

My study of history tells me that belief in the supernatural, and the abandonment of reason and compassion that accompanies this, is a generally negative trait and should be replaced with something more positive. The open question is whether anything can serve for these people as an effective replacement for religion. What can we provide to the masses of humanity that’s as accessible, highly structured, and compelling as religious belief? How do we compete with a fantasy that assures each person that he’s part of a well planned whole, that there is a reason for everything, that no matter how things look in the present, all will turn out well in the end, and that this end includes an eternal continuation of life?

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