Monday, January 25, 2010

The Truth Pressed Flat

O heavens. It appears that Sam Harris and company are now defiling the very grave of Socrates by making definite claims about the shortcomings of faith as a truth-finding mechanism and the really existing consequences of religious enthusiasm -- so unlike wiser men writing in gentler times.

Look away if you have a weak stomach: many of the claims are expressed with a bluntness that doesn't seem crafted to flatter a worldwide majority of religious believers. Prithee absorb the weight of Karen Armstrong's soothing rocks:

I have written at length about the desecration of religion in the crusades, inquisitions, and persecutions that have scarred human history. I have also pointed out that ... far too many Muslims have in recent years distorted the traditional Islamic view of jihad, which originally referred to the “effort” required to implement the will of God in a violent world.

But these abuses do not constitute the whole story. Religion is also about the quest for transcendence, the discipline of compassion, and the endless search for meaning; it was not designed to provide us with the same kind of explanations as science, but to help us to live creatively, serenely, and kindly with the suffering that is an inescapable part of the human condition. As such, it continues to appeal to millions of human beings across the globe. To identify religion with its worst manifestations, claim that they represent the whole, and then demolish the straw dog thus set up does not seem a rational or useful way of conducting this important debate. [emphasis mine]
Certainly not! The only rational or useful way of conducting this important debate is to identify religion with its noblest manifestations. For authentication of its usefulness and rationality, stare directly at religion's continuing appeal to millions of people across the globe; Karen Armstrong will thank you on behalf of Socrates himself for ignoring the flickering, shadow-like quality.

Rock solid.

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