Return of the Me
Home again, home again, jiggity jog.
I've been quite isolated during the past week, but I have a couple of observations to record:
1. Stupid Bush vetoed federal funds for stem cell research. This lunacy would anger me anyway, but as it happens my sister has juvenile diabetes, one of the diseases that stem cell advancements might eventually cure, making the veto that much more personal. Adding insult to injury, of course, is the fact that Bush unabashedly acknowledges the role of his religious convictions in this decision of public policy, allowing a convenient segue to ...
2. I read Sam Harris's book The End of Faith while I was gone. Wow. I'll be frank: If you don't enjoy philosophy this book is probably not for you. I, on the other hand, adore philosophy in all its circle jerking glory, so the sections of Harris's book addressing, for example, issues of epistemology delighted me.
Most important, though, are Harris's points about the dangers of religious faith, particularly when mixed with government. The main problem he identifies is that religious faith is inherently, indeed by definition, at odds with reason; however, this species of irrationality has achieved a status in the culture such that it is immune to critique or challenge. Thus religionists get away with all sorts of bizarre perversions of public policy ... Bush.
Harris presents an entire excellent chapter on Islam and religious war. He also discusses at length the phenomenon of consciousness and the experience of "selflessness" through meditation in an attempt to show that belief in an omniscient god is by no means necessary to "spirituality."
I have to say that even if you are not inclined toward Harris's subject matter, his prose boasts a beauty everyone can appreciate. He is really a lovely writer. He is direct in his criticisms, though. Take for example:
It is time we admitted, from kings and presidents on down, that there is no evidence that any of our books was authored by the Creator of the universe. The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom the wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology. To rely on such a document as the basis for our worldview--however heroic the efforts of redactors--is to repudiate two thousand years of civilizing insights that the human mind has only just begun to inscribe upon itself through secular politics and scientific culture. We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accomodations we have made to faith itself. Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed. (45)
3. I go back to work next week. SIGH.