Sam Harris on the Danger of ‘Religious Ecstasy’ Pointing the Wrong Way

Sam Harris often gets criticized as “Islamophobic.” But in a piece recently posted on his website, he explains his appreciation for “contemplative rituals,” like religious calls to prayer. It’s not that he lacks empathy for moderate Muslims (the “peaceful billion,” he writes) when he goes after the radicals; instead, his empathy lies with the victims of Islamic fundamentalism — the gays, the women, the apostates, etc. Religious devotion, in the wrong hands, can wreak havoc on a society:

Islam marries religious ecstasy and sectarian hatred in a way that other religions do not. Secular liberals who worry more about “Islamophobia” than about the actual doctrine of Islam are guilty of a failure of empathy. They fail not just with respect to the experience of innocent Muslims who are treated like slaves and criminals by this religion, but with respect to the inner lives of its true believers. Most secular people cannot begin to imagine what a (truly) devout Muslim feels. They are blind to the range of experiences that would cause an otherwise intelligent and psychologically healthy person to say, “I will happily die for this.” Unless you have tasted religious ecstasy, you cannot understand the danger of its being pointed in the wrong direction.

To think that religious doctrine plays no part in Islamic terrorism — that the “religion of peace” could never drive someone to violence — is to plead ignorance on the matter. Yes, of course, there are other factors at play, but religion is the key ingredient.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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