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Stephen J Denton (London)

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The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
by Sam Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

68 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Telling the courageous truth about the lies of religion, 3 Mar 2006
When Sam Harris finished the manuscript to this, his first book, he was doubtful that he would be able to find a publisher brave enough to publish it, because - make no mistake - this is an extremely controversial book!
It is controversial not because it makes wild, libellous accusations, nor because it attempts to construct its arguments out of nothing more substantial than gossip, rumour and myth, nor because it contains patent falsehoods.
No, Harris's book is controversial because it dares to tell the truth.
And in 21st century Western culture, dominated as it is by the disingenuous double-speak of political spin, the soothing blandishments of slick marketing campaigns and the linguistic eugenics of political correctness, it seems that telling the truth has become rather unfashionable; bluntness, plain-speaking and honesty are seen as impolite, imprudent and impertinent.
So it is wonderfully refreshing when someone has the balls to speak the truth. And Harris doesn't only speak the truth, he shouts it from the rooftops, he bellows it through a megaphone at point-blank range for the benefit of the hard-of-hearing - and the hard-of-thinking.
And the truth that he dares to speak is this: that organized religions are a curse on mankind; that they have been the cause of incalculable human tragedy and suffering in the past, and continue to be so in the present day; and that, unless human civilization can manage to struggle free of their deadly embrace, they will ultimately drag us all into an abyss of medieval religious tyranny, international terrorism and global war.
Harris articulates this truth over 280 pages of a meticulously researched thesis (almost one third of the book is devoted to notes and bibliography). But this is no dry exercise in academic scholarship; the style of Harris's prose is fast-paced and fluid, almost approaching stream-of-consciousness narrative in places, and he writes with such passion and intensity that you are left in no doubt as to his total conviction in his beliefs, and the urgency with which he feels he must communicate them.
He attacks the irrational mindset of the religious, and explores the consequences for our intellectual integrity of a willingness to believe in the preposterous things that religions claim: "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 proves impossible."
He attacks Christianity, showing how it has led men to do wicked things in the past (citing the Spanish Inquisition), and demonstrating how it continues to inspire men to do wicked things today, with specific references to religious objections to stem-cell research, abortion and contraception: "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."
He reserves particular scorn and contempt for Islam, which he sees as posing by far the greatest threat to peace and human progress in the modern world, denouncing it as a 14th century religion with a 14th century moral code, and questioning the wisdom of allowing its fanatical adherents to get their hands on 21st century weapons of mass destruction. And he dares to do what few politicians have so far done, by demanding that we face the frightening truth that the West is at war with Islam, even if no western politician has had the honesty to declare the outbreak of hostilities, and that, contrary to the soothing denials of liberal apologists, it most certainly is a war between two civilizations, a conflict of cultures.
And he paints a dark picture of where this clash of cultures might lead: "What will we do if an Islamist regime...ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?...In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime...but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe."
Given that Harris finished his book in 2004, before both the 7/7 bombings in London and the rise to power of an Islamist leader in Iran, a state with both the capability and, it is suspected, the intent to produce nuclear weapons of its own, Harris's words begin to sound worryingly prescient.
To quote Richard Dawkin's endorsement of 'The End of Faith', "Read Sam Harris and WAKE UP!"
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