In a debut certain to anger anyone who is not an atheist, the author argues that religious faith is the root of all evil.
Sacred books, Harris declares, are either sacred or not; religious adherents must therefore either believe everything in them or question everything. People cannot, he continues, assert that the virgin birth is true because it is in the Bible and simultaneously decline to murder their children for apostasy, as Deuteronomy prescribes. Harris believes the most dangerous religion today is Islam and quotes several pages of passages from the Koran to illustrate his contention that it is manifestly not a religion of peace and tolerance. But he is an equal-opportunity opponent, so he also assails, in phrases that coruscate with sarcasm, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and by extension all the world’s religions. They are medieval at best, he declares. And anti-intellectual, requiring believers to accept without question notions that they would summarily reject in all other arenas of life. How would we react, he wonders, if President Bush replaced the word “God” with “Apollo” in his public comments? There really is no difference, states Harris. He begins his treatise by showing how religious faith trumps rationality, proceeds to a disquisition on belief itself, glances at the Inquisition and the Holocaust (to show religion run amok), gnaws on the problems in the Middle East, attacks religious objections to stem-cell research, drug use, and sexual privacy, considers how ethics may thrive in a nonreligious world, and ends with a dense discussion of consciousness, much of which he ought to have consigned to the lengthy and often discursive endnotes. In many ways this is a courageous analysis whose theses will deeply trouble readers who choose to think about them rather than summarily reject them. But Harris’s discussion of ethics sometimes reads like an undergraduate essay—the probable parent of his arguments.
Provocative is too pale a word.