Sam Harris‘ book The End of Faith presents a strong argument that for our species to survive we will have to put to rest our irrational convictions (usually called “faith”) about a supposed creator of the universe and his will. Religion divides people, causes hatred and motivates death and destruction which cannot be rationalized without the firm belief that eternal joy awaits the perpetrators.
Without a doubt the most offending religion in our time is Islam and Harris spends a whole chapter arguing, quite successfully I might add, that the reasons for Islamic terrorism are not economical or political but are to be found on the pages of the Koran and the Hadith. As the costs of developing or otherwise acquiring nuclear and biological weapons come down, Harris argues, it is only a question of time until we see them applied by people of blind faith against people who don’t subscribe to their particular set of irrational beliefs.
Harris also points to the consequences of Christian “teachings”, especially in the United States, the effects they have on science and science education, and on legislative issues, such as capital punishment and drug laws.
To save this world, or rather ourselves, Harris concludes that we must leave behind our irrational beliefs and that we must stop respecting other people’s irrational beliefs. After all, if we respect the terrorist’s faith in the Koran and his (not very far flung) interpretation of it, we must conclude that he did the right thing by crashing that airplane into that office building!
All in all, I found this book to be very enlightening and I agree with its main thesis wholeheartedly. I do have two major nit-picks, though, both of which do not affect the book’s central thesis, however.
My first issue are the endnotes. This book has 348 pages, of which 63 pages contain endnotes, written in small type, some of them several pages long. If you don’t want to miss anything you’ll want to look up the endnotes while you’re reading the book, which disrupts the flow and can be rather tiring. Harris should have separated the bibliographical endnotes from the others, making a traditional bibliography out of the former. He could have made footnotes out of the shorter endnotes (ironically, the book contains exactly one footnote) and he should have gotten rid of the longer ones, working them into the main text.
My second nit-pick concerns the last chapter, which is basically a short praise of Buddhism, meditation, introspection and secular “mysticism”. The problem I have with it is not so much that it re-introduces religion or faith (it doesn’t), but that it simply has nothing to contribute to the central thesis of the book. It seems like this is a topic very dear to Harris’ heart, but instead of writing a book on its own about it, he decided to slap a chapter on it onto this one. In my opinion the book would lose nothing if the chapter was removed.
My conclusion: Read it! Don’t bother reading the last chapter, though – you won’t miss anything concerning the book’s message.