A couple people I know are enthusiastically absorbing the book, The End of Faith, by Sam Harris.
I have been scanning the reviews on Amazon, deciding whether I want to read it so I can jump into discussion in an informed way.
My observation is that secular intellectuals such as the author of this book often misunderstand religion and faith. They have choosen instead to believe deeply in something they call rationality and science.
Belief, on one level, as a friend of mine puts it, is the "scent" or "stink" of the tribe. It is how we tell whether someone is "one of us".
Faith to me is different from belief and has nothing to do with discounting the here and now over the hereafter -- a charge which the author of the book levels against religious believers and something which, in so much as it is true, I agree is often counter-productive. Faith to me is about a sense of wonder and awe. When you understand what a miracle it is that we exist at all, you open the door to faith. Simple people sometimes have an easier time of it than people with a patina of education.
I do not suggest that some bearded old geezer in the sky drew up blueprints for all creation down to the structure of the human eye as the ID folks seem to claim (this is the extreme anthropomorphism of god), but I do find it rather amazing that the principles of physics, such as we understand them today, allow for the existence of beings as complex as we are, to say nothing of all the other flora and fauna that abound. Intelligence is buried in the structure of our universe!
Intellectual and highly rational people often are stuck in a "rational" mode, thinking that rationality is the highest functioning of the human brain. There are higher levels. Rationality is slow and the human mind is unable to follow all rational chains of inference to their logical conclusion simultaneously or even serially. Inevitably we leave paths of logic unexamined. What we end up with is a collage of remembered narrative chains which have the flavor of rationality and logic. We tell ourselves things that sound rational. We have smart-sounding people, in positions of authority, who parrot these narrative chains until the narratives become articles of belief in the tribe. They look down on the myths entertained by religious folk but they subscribe to plenty of their own. A quick wit and a piece of parchment does not a wise person make.
So it is that belief is the stink of the tribe.
Those who focus solely on rationality and rationalism relegate the irrational to their subconscious. By remaining aware only of the "rational" processes of their mind, they limit their understanding of the mind's deeper workings. In this way they give power over to the irrational and they are right to fear it.
Logic is a tool much like a microscope. You can dissect symbols and look at their logical relationships but you will need more than a microscope to create a meaningful picture of the world around you.
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