How Spiritual Can You Be Without Religion?

Sam Harris‘ new book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion will be released in a couple of weeks:

The book is all about topics like meditation and spirituality, all without a religious basis, and Harris just published the first chapter on his website:

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Florida School Board Member Tells Pagan: If You Deliver an Invocation, I’ll Walk Out and Ask the Crowd to Join Me

Back in June, David Suhor (who calls himself an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist) spoke during an open forum for the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners (in Pensacola, Florida) and argued against the use of religious invocations. Eventually, he was invited to give an invocation of his own — which he accepted — but Suhor points out that the Board still screws up in other ways. They lead the prayers, they ask the crowd to stand, they make you jump through hoops to get on the invocation roster. (The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the Board a letter on Suhor’s behalf.)

On Tuesday night, Suhor spoke to a different audience, the Escambia County School Board, saying that they were not very welcoming of non-religious viewpoints at all. He acknowledged that one board member invited him to deliver an invocation (though he had a conflict on that date), but that was a rarity:

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Obama Administration Bends Over Backwards (Again) to Accommodate Religious Opposition to Birth Control Coverage

Remember when we thought the Supreme Court had only allowed an exception to the contraception mandate to closely-held businesses?

They were just kidding about that.

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Did You Know the Only People Capable of Being Compassionate Humanitarians are Christians?

One of the benefits to writing on an all-inclusive site about religion like Patheos is that I’m surrounded by several really incredible bloggers. The downside is that some of them say things that are craaaaaaaazy.

Speaking about the Christian missionaries who contracted Ebola, Gene Veith (also a professor at Patrick Henry College) says that they’re doing incredible work. He’s not wrong there — I agree that they delivered much-needed medical care, putting their own lives in jeopardy, even if I have a problem with missionaries who proselytize.

But then he goes on to claim that Christians are the only people who make that sort of sacrifice:

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Convert or Die: In Group Ceremony, Yazidis Swear Off Their Religion and Pledge to Worship Allah

Forced conversions to Islam are as old as the religion itself.

I’ve never understood why it works. Wouldn’t you quietly seethe with anger or stew in resentment over having been made to give up the sacred beliefs that you and your forefathers swore by?

I’m not puzzled by what brings about acute forced conversions. The threat of imprisonment, beatings, torture, rape, outcast status, and/or burdensome religious taxes ought to do it. But I don’t follow why the imposed religion ultimately takes hold, often within a generation. Virtually none of the African people who were captured and brought to North America as slaves were originally Christians. But they soon internalized forced Christianity to such an extent that, in the United States, they became regarded as exemplars of piety. Later, in our time, it emerged that

African-Americans are markedly more religious [that is, Christian] on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer, and religion’s importance in life.

It would be wonderful if forced conversions were futile because people’s deeply-held religious beliefs (or the absence of any god belief at all) are impervious to brutal coercion. But chances are good that the Yazidis in this ISIS video, who are filmed as they are forced to swear loyalty to Islam (skip to 5:56), will be faithful Muslims in a dozen years or fewer. Their children almost certainly will be, if ISIS isn’t beaten back.

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