LEFT WING AWAKENING: Realization that not all religions are the same

If nothing else is to be gained by the Middle East’s most recent episode of uncontrolled rage and violence, at least it has opened the eyes of one liberal writer as to the danger Islam poses to free societies, and the inability of left wing leaders to confront it.

BY SAM HARRIS

Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of FaithLetter to a Christian NationThe Moral Landscape, and Free WillThe End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. 

Mr. Harris’s writing has been published in more than 15 languages. He and his work have been discussed in NewsweekTimeThe New York TimesScientific AmericanNatureRolling Stone, and many other journals. His writing has appeared in NewsweekThe New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesThe EconomistThe Times (London), The Boston GlobeThe AtlanticThe Annals of Neurology, and elsewhere

The latest wave of Muslim hysteria and violence has now spread to over twenty countries. The walls of our embassies and consulates have been breached, their precincts abandoned to triumphant mobs, and many people have been murdered—all in response to an unwatchable Internet video titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Whether over a film, a cartoon, a novel, a beauty pageant, or an inauspiciously named teddy bear, the coming eruption of pious rage is now as predictable as the dawn. This is already an old and boring story about old, boring, and deadly ideas. And I fear it will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Our panic and moral confusion were at first sublimated in attacks upon the hapless Governor Romney. I am no fan of Romney’s, and I would find the prospect of his presidency risible if it were not so depressing, but he did accurately detect the first bleats of fear in the Obama administration’s reaction to this crisis. Romney got the timing of events wrong—confusing, as many did, a statement made by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for an official government response to the murder of Americans in Libya. But the truth is that the White House struck the same note of apology, disavowing the offending speech while claiming to protect free speech in principle. It may seem a small detail, given the heat of the moment—but so is a quivering lip.

Our government followed the path of appeasement further by attempting to silence the irrepressible crackpot Pastor Terry Jones, who had left off burning copies of the Qur’an just long enough to promote the film. The administration also requested that Google remove “Innocence of Muslims” from its servers. These maneuvers attest to one of two psychological and diplomatic realities: Either our government is unwilling to address the problem at hand, or the problem is so vast and terrifying that we have decided to placate the barbarians at the gate.

The contagion of moral cowardice followed its usual course, wherein liberal journalists and pundits began to reconsider our most basic freedoms in light of the sadomasochistic fury known as “religious sensitivity” among Muslims. Contributors to The New York Times and NPR spoke of the need to find a balance between free speech and freedom of religion—as though the latter could possibly be infringed by a YouTube video. As predictable as Muslim bullying has become, the moral confusion of secular liberals appears to be part of the same clockwork.

Consider what is actually happening: Some percentage of the world’s Muslims—Five percent? Fifteen? Fifty? It’s not yet clear—is demanding that all non-Muslims conform to the strictures of Islamic law. And where they do not immediately resort to violence in their protests, they threaten it. Carrying a sign that reads “Behead Those Who Insult the Prophet” may still count as an example of peaceful protest, but it is also an assurance that infidel blood would be shed if the imbecile holding the placard only had more power. This grotesque promise is, of course, fulfilled in nearly every Muslim society. To make a film like “Innocence of Muslims” anywhere in the Middle East would be as sure a method of suicide as the laws of physics allow.

What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.

At moments like this, we inevitably hear—from people who don’t know what it’s like to believe in paradise—that religion is just a way of channeling popular unrest. The true source of the problem can be found in the history of western aggression in the region. It is our policies, rather than our freedoms, that they hate. I believe that the future of liberalism—and much else—depends on our overcoming this ruinous self-deception.  Religion only works as a pretext for political violence because many millions of people actually believe what they say they believe: that imaginary crimes like blasphemy and apostasy are killing offenses.

Most secular liberals think that all religions are the same, and they consider any suggestion to the contrary a sign of bigotry. Somehow, this article of faith survives daily disconfirmation. Our language is largely to blame for this. As I have pointed out on many occasions, “religion” is a term like “sports”: Some sports are peaceful but spectacularly dangerous (“free solo” rock climbing, street luge); some are safer but synonymous with violence (boxing, mixed martial arts); and some entail no more risk of serious injury than standing in the shower (bowling, badminton). To speak of “sports” as a generic activity makes it impossible to discuss what athletes actually do, or the physical attributes required to do it. What do all sports have in common, apart from breathing? Not much. The term “religion” is scarcely more useful.

Consider Mormonism: Many of my fellow liberals would consider it morally indecent to count Romney’s faith against him. In their view, Mormonism must be just like every other religion. The truth, however, is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than its fair share of quirks. For instance, its doctrine was explicitly racist until 1978, at which point God apparently changed his mind about black people (a few years after Archie Bunker did) and recommended that they be granted the full range of sacraments and religious responsibilities. By this time, Romney had been an adult and an exceptionally energetic member of his church for more than a decade.

Unlike the founders of most religions, about whom very little is known, Mormonism is the product of the plagiarisms and confabulations of an obvious con man, Joseph Smith, whose adventures among the credulous were consummated (in every sense) in the full, unsentimental glare of history. Given how much we know about Smith, it is harder to be a Mormon than it is to be a Christian. A firmer embrace of the preposterous is required—and the fact that Romney can manage it says something about him, just as it would if he were a Scientologist proposing to park his E-meter in the Oval Office. The spectrum between rational belief and self-serving delusion has some obvious increments: It is one thing to believe that Jesus existed and was probably a remarkable human being. It is another to accept, as most Christians do, that he was physically resurrected and will return to earth to judge the living and the dead. It is yet another leap of faith too far to imagine, as all good Mormons must, that he will work his cosmic magic from the hallowed ground of Jackson County, Missouri.

That final, provincial detail matters. It makes Mormonism objectively less plausible than run-of-the-mill Christianity—as does the related claim that Jesus visited the “Nephites” in America at some point after his resurrection. The moment one adds seer stones, sacred underpants, the planet Kolob, and a secret handshake required to win admittance into the highest heaven, Mormonism stands revealed for what it is: the religious equivalent of rhythmic gymnastics.

The point, however, is that I can say all these things about Mormonism, and disparage Joseph Smith to my heart’s content, without fearing that I will be murdered for it. Secular liberals ignore this distinction at every opportunity and to everyone’s peril. Take a moment to reflect upon the existence of the musical The Book of Mormon. Now imagine the security precautions that would be required to stage a similar production about Islam. The project is unimaginable—not only in Beirut, Baghdad, or Jerusalem, but in New York City.

The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. No apologies necessary. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance. And Governor Romney, though he is wrong about almost everything under the sun (including, very likely, the sun), is surely right to believe that it is time our government delivered this message without blinking.

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33 comments on “LEFT WING AWAKENING: Realization that not all religions are the same

  1. Some of the comments made here are kind of amazing to me… this is NOT about the validity of Religion, Mormon, Islam or any other. Nor is it about whether Romney is better/worse than Obama. Do Muslims hate us because of our policies or our freedoms? This question also misses the mark entirely (IMNSHO). But let me digress on that question for a moment: Is it our policies or our freedoms? In My Not So Humble Opinion: the answer is neither. The simple fact is this: They hate us simply for not being Muslim. Pure and simple. They are at war with the Jews and the West, true enough. The bigger truth is they are at war with ALL which lay beyond Islam. Apologetic,apathetic, pathetic attempts to placate only issue a message of fear and weakness,rightfully so. I used to think in societies like the former USSR outlawed religion because of an intrinsically evil nature. I have evolved that thought to the observation that the action taken to outlaw religion is because the steadfast order of any religion presents a partisanship which transcends borders, secular order and seeks to usurp secular order. in the case of Islam, by spectacular intimidation and violence. This paper was to address that last point. As for me, I really don’t care if a person is a Catholic or Protestant. Hindu or Shinto or Jew. I do pay attention to Atheists as I wonder sometimes if they lack a moral compass (please, don’t attack me for that, as I’m sure many faithful are questionable in this regard as are many Atheists who lead quite moral lives adhering to the Golder Rule simply because ‘it feels right’ to do so.).
    What I DO care about is whether people are Muslim or not. I’m sure there are Muslims that don’t really want to cut my head off just as there were probably were Nazis that weren’t Bloodthirsty Huns bent on the subjugation of Earth. But the very fact the the core scripture of Islam does promote such subjugation and promotes this as a right and a destiny is of grave concern and rightfully so. As such, we as the People of Earth need to confront this. We cannot run from Islam, we can only confront it. Not because it is a ‘foreign’ faith’ but because we have the power to decide to be FREE or not, for now. One thing many pseudo intellectuals fail to gasp is this :”The freedom to agree is no freedom at all”.

  2. not all religions are the same gee ya think? i wish there was someone else running against obama but how many people are going to ignore his lies since Sept 11 and put him back in office

    • Sadly this piece of shit may win!! He fooled them 4 years ago and with the media behind him he could do it. I have spoken about the dangers of Islam and USA politics and almost no one is listening. Critical thinking died years ago along with common sense. The west have been put to sleep with tales of tolerance and equality for so long that speaking out seems almost obscene to them. Of course when it all goes wrong for them they will claim they had no part in the civil war that they find themselves and their children in. Cowards at the start and in the end! I know how Pat Condell feels.

  3. I read Sam Harris’s ‘The End of Faith’ a few years back, and while he was critical of the idea of religion itself, he concluded that Islam was a threat to the world, while Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths were not.

  4. It irritates me when these journalists seem to “get it” on what drives the violence among Muslims then they blow it by blaming America. “They hate us because of our policies in the Middle East.” No they don’t. They hate us because of our freedoms and I mean c’mon they’re still holding a grudge about the loss of Spain and the crusades. The vast majority of Muslims dying in the ME are at the hands of other Muslims. The people languish in poverty because of the policies of their governments not because of us.

    I do think this guy made a lot of good points and emphasized how we’re free to ridicule in this country by pointing out some of the more unsavory aspects of Mormonism. I think he can get away with his ridicule because he’s left wing. If an evangelical wrote such an article it would be hate speech.

    As for Romney, he wasn’t my first choice either, but I’m gaining more and more respect for him. I think he gets it about how we’re the greatest nation on earth because of capitalism. He’s a friend to Israel. The smartest thing he did was pick Ryan. This guy who wrote the article needs to get his head out of his ass and stop supporting the worst president this country has ever had.

  5. As an atheist I have no use for religions. However, I do not have a problem with them as long as they are not trying to cram their beliefs and lifestyles down my throat. I grew up on the very religious southern U.S. so I am used to being around many religious people. Just don’t have a problem with Christians and Jews. My disagreement with Sam Harris is that he tries to use his PhD. in science to argue against the existence of God. Science is physics. God is metaphysics. God (the concept of anyway) is that which is beyond physical existence. All the science in the world can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. Science can only measure, test, analyze the “natural world”. It can say nothing about the “supernatural” world (assuming there is one). A scientist knows no more about God than a man who sells shoes for a living. Sam Harris implies that he does. Wrong.
    I will note that Harris has noted one trait that separates the Koranimals from those who are religious humans. Koranimals are fanatically killing non -Koranimal people. Their God tells them to do so. They seek to dominate the world. Not so with other religions. Other religions may have in the past, but Islam is the only religon at war with everyone in the year 2012.

  6. now, will he inform his liberal media brethren? the entire mainstream media, has not reported what is going on, if it is negative for the wh. What is the difference between this and state run (north korea, China or any other tyrannical press?)
    what the hell is wrong with our leftist jouralists? Americans killed, brutalized, and they don’t tell us?

    • And yet liberals till support them! I hate liberals more than these muslims because they are selling the west to these animals and when the fight really starts they will switch sides and claim they did not know what they were doing. Bunch of c##ts!

  7. Maybe the left is starting to realize that the muslim “leaders” speak out of both sides of their two faced mouths. They speak phony lying double talk to the West, while inciting their hate crazed, sex crazed mobs to unspeakable violence

  8. I was pretty ginned up those first few paragraphs and was ALMOST indpired to forward to my BFF – a true Lib Prog Regressive. But then I read the REST of his totally biased and ignorant prejudice and thought, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?!?”

    HIs ongoing and unabated disdain for and hatred of ALL religions actually undermines his relative openness and firm belief in freedom of religion, etc., expressed in the opening paragraphs. In other words, he only gives LIP SERVICE to protecting one’s freeom of speech, thought, association & religion; but he simply has NOT opened his HEART to those sentiments – he’s only revealed his extreme ANGER & PREJUDCIE himself!

    I guess one could say – based on his vitiated argument(s) – that he probably wouldn’t abrogate others’ rights to practice whatever voodoo religion they followed and in which they might firmly believe; but if push came to shove and the chance to act agressively AGAINST “believers” presented itself, I woudn’t trust him one iota to uphold the lofty ideals he merely proposes…

  9. What an interesting man, Sam Harris is – He can speak out of both sides his mouth at the same time~!
    I will give him credit for being open eyed about islam, but his cracks on other religions, and specifically noted Mormon/LDS, are rather pathetic, and I say this as a NON MORMON ~!
    Sheesh,,,

  10. This is another of those who believe that atheists invented science and tolerance when they were the major murderers of the last century killing over one hundred million people. I hope it is the beginning of his discovery of real reason and real civilization.

  11. once again , a liberal with his head up his ass !!! nothing new here !!! he does nothing but write garbage and pontificate while others fight for his right to produce his garbage !!! typical liberal and no difference between him and the muslim scum !!!

  12. I’m unconvinced by this figure’s supposed “repentance”: he has a VERY LONG WAY yet to go – further in fact than Eric Allan Bell, who HAS proven himself!!

    Granted that Romney is not a great or even a good alternative to Obama; however, he still IS better than Obama, who was THE WORST possible choice both then and now – and EVER WILL BE!!! His continuing to knock Romney is really as detrimental to the USA as ever; and that’s why I can’t give Mr. Harris any real credit as of yet… At best, he’s just starting out on the road to REAL repentance…

  13. No, not all religions are the same. Only one results in violence/death for insulting their so called ‘prophet’. Only one is intolerant. Only one lacks equality and freedom. Only one has not and will not evolve because it is forbidden to do so. Only one calls for the subjugation and/or death of nonbelievers. Only one has ‘god’ sanctioned approval to lie about their supposed peacefulness. Islam. Evil, bloody, and accomplished in murder and instituting dhimmitude. As an atheist I truly do appreciate how my country (and the western world) was formed under Christian/Judeo values – my Catholic upbringing instilled morals and values in me that remain, and I want them to continue to be Canadian. Not Sharia Law, not the loss of free speech, not the bowing down to the most brutal ideology on earth.

    How anyone could possibly defend Islam and deny the freedoms our veterans fought and died for, is beyond appalling. Liberals and Islam – our greatest threats entangled in a doomed love affair at the expense of all we stand for.

    Wake up indeed. Wake up and shove the truth down the inbred throats of Muslims and make them subdued. Nukes are an asset, ‘Mr. President Obama’ (it pains me to give him an ounce of respect).

  14. Pat Condell’s Latest video response to Muslim Violence is even more spot on than this johny-come lately Journalist. Nice to see him waking up but Pat and many of has have already been there for some time.

      • You guys really should read End of Faith. It tears Islam to pieces relentlessly. There’s a brilliant section where he condenses all the calls to violence in the Quran against the kafir. The effect is chilling. It was published around 2004. It woke me up to the danger we face long before Pat Condell, whose first video was uploaded in 2007.

  15. Sam said the right things. muslims must understand that we will defend freedom of speech if we want our democratic way of life to continue. Our government must be strong and resolute by defending freedom of speech, no matter what and not allow the mob violence of islam to control and deny our freedom of speech. It is insanity to riot over a cartoon of mohamad or teddy bear named mohamad. This is the insanity of islam to want to control all people with violence and threats. Hopefully the democratic free world is finally waking up to the threat of islam. It is about time that liberal writers such as Sam understand that appeasement and apologies is not what the muslims want. They want to dominate the world and they will chew up the liberal lefties first.

    • We are not a democracy we are a Constitutional Republic. So your quote “…we will defend freedom of speech if we want our democratic way of life to continue.” should reflect Constitutional Republic way of life.

  16. Bonnie, you must be joking. Your heading to this says that ‘the Middle East’s most recent episode of uncontrolled rage and violence, at least it has opened the eyes of one liberal writer as to the danger Islam poses’ but Sam Harris advocated using nuclear weapons against them in The End of Faith (page 129) years ago. Sam Harris’s eyes have been wide open for years.

      • Nah, he’s just anti-bullshit, in whatever form it takes. The End of Faith though does appear to be his signature work.

      • Actually, I found his attack upon Christianity relative to Our Lord’s Return too much to bear. Mr. Condell obviously didn’t read or remember the Book of Revelation: there it tells us plainly how the Messiah will come this Second Time (in great power and glory).

        Mind you, I DO understand and empathise with Mr. Condell’s extreme frustration; particularly given how things are only getting worse willy-nilly…

  17. Yeah, the Mormons haven’t killed anyone since 9/11 1857… They are pretty decent people now. I would rather have a magic underwear wearer that loves America and Israel than an American-hating, Marxist Muslim…

    However weird you think Mormonism is, it isn’t openly hostile to America with the goal of destroying us from within. Romney wasn’t my first choice but I knew from the beginning he was going to be the nominee… backroom deals from the 2008 election. Both parties are corrupt in my opinion… the party picks the winners and losers before the elections and we are stuck with who they pick… unless something weird happens like Palin.

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