The End of Faith
The End of Faith is a 2004 book by American neuroscientist Sam Harris, concerning the conflict between religious faith and rationality. Often identified as a text of the "New Atheism," it developed out of Harris's reflections on the September 11, 2001 attacks.
- The central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error or, at best, dangerously incomplete. Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed.
- Ch. 1: "Reason in Exile"
- The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total. For every emotion that you are capable of feeling, there is surely a belief that could invoke it in a matter of moments. Consider the following proposition:
Your daughter is being slowly tortured in an English jail.
What is it that stands between you and the absolute panic that such a proposition would loose in the mind and body of a person who believed it? Perhaps you do not have a daughter, or you know her to be safely at home, or you believe that English jailors are renowned for their congeniality. Whatever the reason, the door to belief has not yet swung upon its hinges.
The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.
- It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence. There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.
- Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love.
- Nothing is more sacred than the facts.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 225
- It is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.
- It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.
- Most religions have merely canonized a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement and passed them down to us as though they were primordial truths.
- The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.
- The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.
- p. 52–3
- A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person's life.
- Beliefs are scarcely more private than actions are, for every belief is a fount of action in potentia.
- To believe that God exists is to believe that I stand in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for my belief.
- We are no more free to believe whatever we want about God than we are free to adopt unjustified beliefs about science or history, or free to mean whatever we want when using words like "poison" or "north" or "zero."
- Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; where we have no reasons, we have lost both our connection to the world and to one another.
- Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse.
- The idea, therefore, that religious faith is somehow a sacred human convention—distinguished, as it is, both by the extravagance of its claims and by the paucity of its evidence—is really too great a monstrosity to be appreciated in all its glory. Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity—a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 25
- Religious faith is the one species of human ignorance that will not admit of even the possibility of correction.
- We must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it.
- Faith is rather like a rhinoceros, in fact: it won't do much in the way of real work for you, and yet at close quarters it will make spectacular claims upon your attention.
- Clearly the fact of death is intolerable... and faith is little more than the shadow cast by the hope for a better life beyond the grave.
- As quoted in Dinesh D'Souza, Life After Death: The Evidence (2009), p. 11, citing from The End of Faith (2005), 39.
- We have been slow to recognize the degree to which religious faith perpetuates man's inhumanity to man
- It is imperative that we begin speaking plainly about the absurdity of most of our religious beliefs.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 11
- The idea that any one of our religions represents the infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedic ignorance of history, mythology, and art even to be entertained.... Whatever their imagined source, the doctrines of modern religions are no more tenable than those which, for lack of adherents, were cast upon the scrap heap of mythology millennia ago.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 16
- Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time. It is the denial—at once full of hope and full of fear—of the vastitude of human ignorance.
- Because most religions offer no valid mechanism by which their core beliefs can be tested and revised, each new generation of believers is condemned to inherit the superstitions and tribal hatreds of its predecessors.
- The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.
- Not only do we still eat the offal of the ancient world; we are positively smug about it.
- How do we know that our holy books are free from error? Because the books themselves say so. Epistemological black holes of this sort are fast draining the light from our world.
- A close study of these books, and of history, demonstrates that there is no act of cruelty so appalling that it cannot be justified, or even mandated, by recourse to their pages.
- Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings.
- The Creator who purports to be beyond human judgment is consistently ruled by human passions—jealousy, wrath, suspicion, and the lust to dominate.
- The deity who stalked the deserts of the Middle East millennia ago—and who seems to have abandoned them to bloodshed in his name ever since—is no one to consult on questions of ethics.
- The God of Abraham is not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.
- Words like "God" and "Allah" must go the way of "Apollo" and "Baal," or they will unmake our world.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 14
- Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.
- As a matter of doctrine, the Muslim conception of tolerance is one in which non-Muslims have been politically and economically subdued, converted, or put to sword.
- The penalty for apostasy is death. We would do well to linger over this fact for a moment, because it is the black pearl of intolerance that no liberal exegesis will ever fully digest.
- What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?
- [M]uch of the world's population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman.
- There are other ideologies with which to expunge the last vapors of reasonableness from a society's discourse, but Islam is undoubtedly one of the best we've got.
- Jesus Christ—who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death, and rose bodily into the heavens—can now be eaten in the form of a cracker.
- Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its literalism, and as at odds with the civilizing insights of modernity as any other religion.
- According to Zakaria, 'if there is one great cause of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is the total failure of political institutions in the Arab world.' Perhaps. But 'the rise of Islamic fundamentalism' is only a problem because the fundamentals of Islam are a problem. A rise of Jain fundamentalism would endanger no one. In fact, the uncontrollable spread of Jainism throughout the world would improve our situation immensely. We would lose more of our crops to pests, perhaps (observant Jains generally will not kill anything, including insects), but we would not find ourselves surrounded by suicidal terrorists or by a civilization that widely condones their actions.
- Quoting Zakaria in The End of Faith 
Moderation and tolerance
- Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance.
- p. 21
- To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world—to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish—is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it.
- The End of Faith (2004), pages 22-23
- It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity.
- [T]he very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 15
- By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 21
- 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.
- A person can be a God-fearing Christian on Sunday and a working scientist come Monday morning, without ever having to account for the partition that seems to have erected itself in his head while he slept.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 16
- 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 17
Stem cell research
- Our present policy on human stem cells has been shaped by beliefs that are divorced from every reasonable intuition we might form about the possible experience of living systems.
- The point at which we fully acquire our humanity, and our capacity to suffer, remains an open question, but anyone who would dogmatically insist that these traits must arise coincident with the moment of conception has nothing to contribute, apart from his ignorance, to this debate.
- Those opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research on religious grounds constitute the biological and ethical equivalent of a flat-earth society.
- In this area of public policy alone, the accommodations that we have made to faith will do nothing but enshrine a perfect immensity of human suffering for decades to come.
- All pretensions to theological knowledge should now be seen from the perspective of a man who was just beginning his day on the one hundredth floor of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, only to find his meandering thoughts—of family and friends, of errands run and unrun, of coffee in need of sweetener—inexplicably usurped by a choice of terrible starkness and simplicity: between being burned alive by jet fuel or leaping one thousand feet to the concrete below.
- The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not "cowards," as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.
- A significant percentage of the world's Muslims believe that the men who brought down the World Trade Center are now seated at the right hand of God.
Prophecy and Armageddon
- Fundamentalist Christians support Israel because they believe that the final consolidation of Jewish power in the Holy Land—specifically, the rebuilding of Solomon's temple—will usher in both the Second Coming of Christ and the final destruction of the Jews.
- Millions of Christians and Muslims now organize their lives around prophetic traditions that will only find fulfillment once rivers of blood begin flowing from Jerusalem.
- We can no longer ignore the fact that billions of our neighbors believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom, or in the literal truth of the book of Revelation, or any of the other fantastical notions that have lurked in the minds of the faithful for millennia—because our neighbors are now armed with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
- There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life.
- Spirituality can be—indeed, must be—deeply rational.
- Mysticism, to be viable, requires explicit instructions, which need suffer no more ambiguity or artifice in their exposition than we find in a manual for operating a lawn mower.
- Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of faith.