The End of Faith
Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
Norton, $24.95, 336 pp.
Sam Harris must have felt conflicted when contemplating the outcome of the last U.S. elections. He believes that values are objective and important, and has little time for moral relativism. He thinks that the greatest threat to world security comes from militant Islam and that Western powers may have a duty to take large-scale preemptive action—even at the cost of innocent lives. He is accordingly dismissive of those who talk down Islamic fundamentalism in the spirit of cultural tolerance. Thus far Harris shares views with many on the Republican Christian Right. At the same time, though, he is critical of efforts to control lifestyles, particularly in relation to sexuality and the recreational use of marijuana. He is also scathing in his criticism of the deference accorded religion in America and evidently regards Evangelicals as a poisonous presence in U.S. society.
Those sympathetic to the last judgment should be aware that it is but one example of Harris’s general animus toward religion—understood to include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—an animus he extends both to moderate and fundamentalist versions of these faiths. Indeed, for Harris, religious moderates are particularly irritating because they give the appearance that religion is generally harmless and tolerable. In fact, Harris contends, they are culpably selective in their beliefs, self-deluded, or just not intellectually able to see what reason requires...