Atheist icon Sam Harris needs to realize that religious violence is not restricted to one religion

sam harrisScholar and Atheist icon Sam Harris is not entirely correct on the nature of Islam. Since debating Ben Affleck with Bill Maher on Real Time, further controversy has surrounded his views on Islam’s proposed threat to the world.

Granted, Harris is well known for his criticism of many major religions, including Christianity. Yet, Harris has become embroiled in this idea that Islam is the only major religion that poses a danger to the world.

Where Harris fails in his argument is when it comes to his perception of Islam’s violence compared to other religions. Yes, Islamic extremists are responsible for horrible violence in the world, but other religions have very nasty track-records. Harris brushed off Christian violence, by minimizing it to “an abortion bombing in 1984.”

Harris fails to take into account the myriad of modern examples of where Christians (and other faiths) have acted violently and in very terroristic ways. I wrote an article detailing modern accounts of Christian fundamentalist extremism, which shows that this type of violence is not merely limited to events thirty years ago.

There is even a recent example of Buddhists in Burma who have organized attacks on Muslims, including beheadings. Harris uses Buddhism as a contrast religion to Islam, so the example is very ironic.

Where Harris fails the most here, is that he seems to cling to this vain idea that Christianity has evolved into a benign religion that, while worthy of criticism, is not a threat to human rights in the world. He fails to understand that the main reason Christianity is constrained in the Western World is due to secular governments, while Christianity has shown potential to run amok in societies lacking secular institutions.

Sam Harris often uses anti-Islamic scholar Ayaan Hirsi-Ali as the main insight into the evils of Islam and why it is far more wicked than any other faith. Ali’s perspective on Islam comes from her life growing up in Somalia, a nation lacking any real government structure, and where Islamic extremism has flourished. Had she grown up in say Jordan or Turkey, perhaps her view of events would be different.

Ali also tends to defend Christianity’s benign nature, stating that while she believes all Islamic schools should be closed, Christian schools should remain open. She buys into the same idea that Christianity is not a threat, so no buffer should be made against it. She has this perspective based on Christianity seen in Holland (her country of residence), where a secular government is in place to check religious extremism. If Ali had lived in say Nigeria or Uganda, where Christian extremism blossoms, or even the Southern United States, her view on Christianity’s dangers might be different.

The main issue is a lack of context. Islam has many horrible doctrines and should be criticized in due terms. But, we can’t assume it is the only religion capable of spawning violence.

7 COMMENTS

  1. You are simply not familiar with Sam Harris’ work. He has written ad nauseum about the historical role that Christian beliefs have played in the motivation of extremist violence. That’s not what they were talking about on Real Time, but he has written about this extensively.

    • Quite the contrary, I am very familiar with Harris and his work. I own and have read his books “Letter to a Christian Nation” and “The Moral Landscape.” While Harris has criticized Christianity’s ideas and events of its past, he does not believe that Christianity today is as violent and dangerous as Islam, so therefore it should not be criticized as equally. He is on record saying this. He reduced modern Christian extremism to merely an “abortion bombing in 1984.” Harris does not mention the countless of modern cases of Christian terrorism, and how equally horrible it can be compared to Islam. Harris has criticized Christianity’s doctrines, yet scarcely equates this with the countless cases of violence committed by Christians. Harris holds a vain idea that Islam is exceptionally dangerous to secular values and free thinking, while I argue that the Abrahamic religions in general are equally vicious and all hold equal potential to cause violence and mass destruction in the name of the faith. Harris is incorrect in his assertion that Islam is an exceptionally violent religion, and should not be criticized on an equal level with Christianity. Harris is on record saying this.

    • He might as well. Where is Sam Harris criticizing the LRA in East Africa? Where is he in criticizing Christianity when it comes to witch hunts in Nigeria? How about the kill the gays bill in Uganda?

      Harris tends to think Islam is exceptionally dangerous. Facts prove he’s not entirely accurate.

Leave a Comment