the future of religion

Earlier this year, I read Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, in which the renowned atheist called for an end to religious belief on account for the evil it makes us all do to each other. All religion, Harris argues, is at best fundamentalist and sectarian by nature (claiming it is the sole path to paradise/God/life), and at worst militant and violent against non-believers. The solution, Harris argues, is a putting to rest the childish fairy tales of religion — “to close the door on a certain style of irrationality” — in favor of a goodness and compassion drawn from our being human.

While there are certain truths to Harris’ plea, he forgets that while we are beyond the days of Christendom — where Christian faith is taken for granted in the West — complete secularism has also been tried, and has failed.  In other words, places like Western Europe have attempted to live free of religious faith and spirituality, and people keep running back to their God or gods.  Why is that?

Which brings me to Karen Armstrong’s TED Talk (HT: Steve Knight and the Shearons) earlier this year.  Armstrong, a former nun who has written extensively on religions and the role they play in society, has recently turned her attention to the unifying elements of the major world religions.  What she found was that in all major world religions lies one central truth: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” (or its negative variant, “don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them doing to you”)  In short, Armstrong believes that we could have the possibility of a much more sane and peaceful world by pointing out and reclaiming our religions from fundamentalism that would stray from those things which bind us together.  OK, enough of a teaser … I hope you’ll take a few minutes and watch her 21-minute TED Talk, posted below. I found myself nodding along throughout. (as opposed to nodding off) It’s worth your time, if you have it. If not, why? =)

What do you think?  Is she crazy?  Does this scare you just a little bit?  Sound off.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Good talk. I suppose Ms Armstrong considers her efforts to find the lowest common denominator of the big three religions a starting point. I can’t imagine the final product not including Jesus. He’s the onlyreason I hang on to any remnant of religion.


  2. Posted by Johnny on November 19, 2008 at 3:40 am

    Video is interesting. Reminds me of these words from Thomas Merton in “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:”

    The heresy of individualism: thinking oneself a completely self-sufficient unit and asserting this imaginary “unity” against all others.

    The true way is just the opposite: the more I am able to affirm others, to say “yes” to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone.

    I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further. So, too, with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, etc. This does not mean syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing. There is much that one cannot “affirm” and “accept,” but first one must say “yes” where one really can.

    If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.


  3. Posted by miller on November 20, 2008 at 2:01 am

    i’m not sure what there is to be afraid of in this presentation. she’s absolutely correct about one thing…

    our faith has been hijacked by those who prize being right above all else! it’s why we’re infinitely divided. if we really believed Jesus when he says “treat others as you would like to be treated this sums up all the law and the prophets” how could we be divided?

    in recent months i’ve had the privilege of spending much time with people who aren’t christian but who nonetheless practice “the golden rule.” it has been so refreshing! being with people who are better “christians” than the “christians” even though they don’t believe in God. it shames me…

    Jesus teaches there is no “right” that does not have as it’s central tenet the practice of loving our neighbors. some will say that we must include “love the Lord your God”…

    to which i would respond by pointing to 1 john where he says love for one’s neighbor is love for God.

    good post



  4. Posted by Cody on November 20, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    “Love for one’s neighbor is love for God.” That’s a slippery slope… The good kind.


  5. Posted by miller on November 21, 2008 at 2:34 am


    yeah, it’s one i hope to ski for the rest of my life!



  6. Posted by Kevin Williams on November 21, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    This video has sent me thinking and thinking and thinkng. Then I read Ephesians 3 today. Verse 17 is what caught my ears.

    “And I pray that you be rooted and established in love, and my have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

    Compassion and charity are the only paths to an experience of God. Not better doctrine, but a practice of love for others. I love it.


  7. Posted by Daniel T. on November 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Sam Harris made it clear in the last chapter of his book that he fully believes in what is commonly called secular or western buddhism, which has also been covered in Stehpen Batchelor’s book, “Buddhism Without Beliefs.”

    In looking at Karen Armstrong’s website: we see that she is explicitly calling for people to follow the Buddhist noble eight fold path without mentioning any other religious dogma (such as belief in Jesus, or Mohammed.) She is, in short, advocating that we all become Buddhists in the western or secular sense.

    In other words, Karen Armstrong and Sam Harris are advocating the exact same thing… Something to think about.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: