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W. P. Gibbons "Paul Gibbons" (London)

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Letter To A Christian Nation
Letter To A Christian Nation
by Sam Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.69

178 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harris factually accurate, but politically off-track?, 16 April 2007
Letter to a Christian Nation - Review

Paul Gibbons

Reading Harris' latest contribution leaves me in a difficult state. Harris follows through with his attack on religion started in The End of Faith. He ridicules belief in the supernatural, and reviews some well travelled territory such as `the argument from evil'. In doing this he advances some interesting thought-experiments: if Salamanders can re-grow lost limbs, why wouldn't God, just once, allow an injured child to do so?

However, supernatural beliefs, on their own, do little harm. Most people have little superstitious oddities: my friend who must sit in the same seat playing Bridge, people who spend good money on homeopathy, not having important meetings on Friday the 13th. Harris' real beef is where such beliefs promote social ills and violence.

He lays quite a lot of misery at the door of religion, most of it on target, some of it overstated. When travelling in the Caribbean, I enquired why AIDS was such a difficult issue on the small island of St Lucia - surely it must be easy to contain within a tiny population? No, the island is very Catholic and many of the hospitals and educational institutions are under the sway of that ideology - no condoms for them. Clearly this causes much suffering and death, and the Church's position in Africa is implicated in the four million deaths per year on that continent. The Church not only advocates this, but defends it in the face of criticism. I hold those cardinals personally responsible for the policies that exacerbate this suffering. Harris' ninety-some pages are replete with this and many stronger examples.

I found myself agreeing with almost every word he writes. I completely endorse his intention - to bring back rationality into the spheres where it will make the biggest difference to our human condition. It has long been my belief that religion and religious morality allowed the formation of groups and ordered societies hundreds of years ago, but has outlived its usefulness. It is now a source of social harm and inter-group conflict.

But I am not sure books like this get the job done. In my circle of friends are, surprisingly, a large number of very religious people. (My beliefs are as strong as Harris'.) One of them even doubts evolution! They are a happy, delightful to be with, and make sustained efforts to help the disadvantaged in their communities. Better neighbours one could not wish for. They are smart (Oxford or Cambridge), and while they hold all the fanciful beliefs Harris criticises, they do not proselytise, and are political moderates (even left of centre).

What Harris' has done (here and in `The End...', which I saluted at the time), is to take the fight to the moderates. It is easy to attack Abu Hamza or Pat Buchanan - few would dissent. His argument is essentially that religious moderates provide social and political capital to the fundamentalists.

I'm with Harris - tolerance has gone too far. No other beliefs are cordoned off from critique in the way that the religious demand. Cartoonists and polemicists can savage politicians, scientists and business people for their beliefs and actions. But put on a robe and special protection is claimed. The special tax and political status that religions, churches and religious schools attract need to be put to the sword.

One could argue that religion needs to be returned to the sphere of private belief where it does no harm, but this seems far-fetched. All groups organise politically to assert their rights - indeed this is part of what our secular, liberal society should fight for. While we should not privilege religion, neither can we discriminate against it.

Harris and I both want change, but the moderates are the people we need to influence. Influence does not come from mocking or belittling, even thought it is more fun. It does not come from taking cheap shots - and Harris takes many of them. By influencing the moderates, they can over time effect change within their religious institutions. Harris and I won't effect change to these institutions from the outside much as we'd like to. The inter-faith dialogue that Harris criticises needs to happen less between Muslims and Christians and more between secularists and religionists. To do this, we are going to have to stop talking about them and to them as if they were fools.

Perhaps Harris has done a good thing bringing the moderates into the discussion. After all, not everyone who voted for Bush is a foaming-at-the-mouth radical Christian (much as we'd like to think so). He attracted political support from moderate Christians too - thinking people who want a better, safer, more humane world. It is those guys we need to go after. We need to win their hearts and minds - and that conversation won't start with `you are a moron, and this is why....'.

So keep it up Sam, but keep the end in mind. You, a fellow philosopher, know the road - either from the teachings of the Buddha or Sextus Empiricus - take your pick. We want a coalition of rational people who want change and this includes people who have some funny beliefs. Let them keep those. But lets not tolerate the consequences of those beliefs and lets not tolerate the intolerable. Lets get the moderates talking to us and not hating us. We need to lighten up our attack on their beliefs and get talking shared intentions and shared solutions. Both sides will have to give up self-righteousness and dogmatism - and this is where the political journey meets the psychological and the spiritual.

Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris

* Hardcover: 112 pages

* Publisher: Bantam Press (12 Feb 2007)

* Language English

* ISBN-10: 0593058976

* ISBN-13: 978-0593058978
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2016 10:31 AM BST

Sound Business
Sound Business
by Julian Treasure
Edition: Paperback

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Business book of the year?, 16 April 2007
This review is from: Sound Business (Paperback)
Sound Business is a remarkable book, for its vision, for its insight and for hard-edged practical advice. It starts from the premise that sound is the undiscovered country for businesses and workplaces. The country is important because sound (obviously) can distract, irritate or impede, or it can calm, excite and focus. The country is undiscovered, because as the author, Julian Treasure, says we become habituated the assaults of unpleasant sound, and businesses quite simply don't know what they don't know about linking brand and sound. It is written for the layperson/business reader and gives a good overview of the huge unmapped area of using sound intentionally in all aspects of business.

The book is in three parts. `Sounds Interesting' reviews the physics of sound. In a logical sense, the beginning of the book is a good place for this, but for a business reader (or skimmer) this place might give the wrong impression of what `Sound Business' is really about: . For my money, the next two sections are worth their weight in gold. `Sound Affects' is a brilliant and accessible description of what research on sound and human performance tells us. For the business reader, the finale, `Sound Practice', is a introduction to what businesses can do to take advantage of sound to enhance customer experience, gain market share and brand recognition.

Treasure grounds his assertions about the value of sound with empirical research from a number of retail organisations. Going from a unplanned to a planned soundscape produced an increase in retail sales of between 3% and 10% at a major retail test site.

I run a management consultancy and witness businesses struggling to eek out an extra few tenths of percentage points in traditional ways. There is not much in print about multisensory approaches yet, and Treasure is out to shift a paradigm. Treasure has been generous with his references and suggestions, so the book is a great starting point for anyone looking to get a handle on this complicated but clearly important area. It's straightforward, not over-technical and very practical, with plenty of suggestions for improving sound everywhere from shops and offices to toilets. The CD brings much of the theory alive in sound.

If there is a challenge to the book, is its level of ambition. Treasure is clearly a businessman and an intellectual. There aren't so many of those about. Rather than trot out the usual unsubstantiated pap (e.g. `Five Key Steps to Transforming your Organisation'), Treasure grounds his pragmatic opinions in science. This makes the book a harder read, but well worth it.

My verdict on this book is that it is an excellent introduction to an important new field, one which might shift the current paradigm around brand and customer experience.

Paul Gibbons, Chairman, Future Considerations Ltd., [...]

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