Prominent atheist Sam Harris is being attacked by the secular left for daring to criticize Islam and the violent actions of some of its practitioners. They’re saying he makes atheists look bad, but he’s he’s actually one of the “celebrity” atheists who makes atheists look better because he doesn’t have the elitism of Dawkins or the assholery of Hitchens. It’s not that I don’t appreciate those things — Hitchens’ brutal way of stating his case was brilliant — but I feel they tend to shut most believers down instead of opening them up to their ideas. Sam knows how to make a topic like this conversational instead of confrontational, and for someone to call him a “racist” for his views (which are well-stated and clearly written) is beyond ridiculous.
Anyway, I have to agree with the final sentence below quite a lot, as I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own anti-religious sentiments and why they are stronger for one religion vs. another. The more I read and explore certain ideas, the harder I’m finding it to condemn all religions as equally crazy.
My criticism of faith-based religion focuses on what I consider to be bad ideas, held for bad reasons, leading to bad behavior. Because I am concerned about the logical and behavioral consequences of specific beliefs, I do not treat all religions the same. Not all religious doctrines are mistaken to the same degree, intellectually or ethically, and it would be dishonest and ultimately dangerous to pretend otherwise. People in every tradition can be seen making the same errors, of course—e.g. relying on faith instead of evidence in matters of great personal and public concern—but the doctrines and authorities in which they place their faith run the gamut from the quaint to the psychopathic. For instance, a dogmatic belief in the spiritual and ethical necessity of complete nonviolence lies at the very core of Jainism, whereas an equally dogmatic commitment to using violence to defend one’s faith, both from within and without, is similarly central to the doctrine of Islam. These beliefs, though held for identical reasons (faith) and in varying degrees by individual practitioners of these religions, could not be more different. And this difference has consequences in the real world. (Let that be the first barrier to entry into this conversation: If you will not concede this point, you will not understand anything I say about Islam. Unfortunately, many of my most voluble critics cannot clear this bar—and no amount of quotation from the Koran, the hadith, the ravings of modern Islamists, or from the plaints of their victims, makes a bit of difference.)
Facts of this kind demand that we make distinctions among faiths that many confused or dishonest people will interpret as a sign of bigotry. For instance, I have said on more than one occasion that Mormonism is objectively less credible than Christianity, because Mormons are committed to believing nearly all the implausible things that Christians believe plus many additional implausible things. It is mathematically true to say that whatever probability one assigns to Jesus’ returning to earth to judge the living and the dead, one must assign a lesser probability to his doing so from Jackson County, Missouri. The glare of history is likewise unkind to Mormonism, for we simply know much more about Joseph Smith than we do about the twelve Apostles, and we have very good reasons to believe that he was a gifted con man. It is not a sign of bigotry against Mormons as people to honestly discuss these things. And I believe that atheists, secularists, and humanists do the world no favors by insisting that all religions be criticized in precisely the same terms and to the same degree.