Sam Harris on the "dangers" of "atheism"

This video is a bit outdated, okay, more than a bit. It is Sam Harris’ talk at the AAI 2007 conference in Washington, DC, but I had not seen it until now.

The reason I am posting it here is because I really want to hear your opinions on the labels topic.

I have always said that my world views don’t define me, don’t define who I am as a person, but I also think we need to be outspoken on the way we see the faith issue.

In fact, I can humbly say, that just conversing with the people who are willing to listen, without even trying to deconvert them, I have managed to change the way they think, and many of them are now, if not atheists, at least agnostics.

So, let’s talk about this, please?

10 thoughts on “Sam Harris on the "dangers" of "atheism"

  1. I’ve pretty much echoed these statements to you via twitter. There is no reason to label ourselves as anything other than who we are. What we believe, or rather do no buy into, is not who we are. It is only simply a rejection of fantastical stories. I hashtag atheism for the sole purpose of finding others who are just as angry with the problem of religion as I am.

    And I have a huge intellectual man crush on Sam Harris.

  2. I agree with Harris in the fact that we should simply advocate intellectual honesty instead of portraying labels. However, with that said, people in general have a need to sort things. Sure, you and I may simply consider ourselves label-free, but those who do not share our rejection of myths as reality have a need to classify us, and they will.
    So what do we do? We can go underground, as Harris suggests, or we can be more proactive. To me, while a world without labels would be great, I think when someone labels us as an atheist or a secular humanist or whatever, it gives us an entry point. At least this person can understand that we are different than them. And the more intellectually honest of them may just one day learn about what it means to be an atheist or secular humanist. And then we can show them why it is we object to labels. And then this idea can spread downwards towards the larger masses.
    But perhaps I am overly optimistic of the human condition.

    • Perhaps, you might be correct, however, if a religious person approaches the subject of religion, to state, “I’m an atheist” will do less to further the conversation than simply saying, “I don’t believe that,” or “That’s preposterous,” or “Do you have any evidence?” or most simply “Prove it.” The Socratic method of making them prove their silly ideas is not only more enjoyable for one’s own entertainment, but it avoids the subject of labels altogether.

      I’m not an atheist. I don’t subscribe to some sort of Atheist code. I just don’t believe the crackpot, bullshit theories being peddled around and used as justification for murder for thousands of years.

      • You have a good point. But, and I could be wrong here, most people simply are not interested in the conversation. That may be another topic to discuss and work on.
        “Prove it” or “Do you have any evidence” will almost certainly bring up the “you have to have faith” statement. And while it is easy to dismiss this and say “why?” I think we have to look at a bigger picture here. There are many for whom “faith” is the pillar of their lives and I do not think it is constructive to be shaking those pillars for certain people; I believe it was Harris who once stated (in “The Four Horsemen” if I’m not mistaken) that for some, it is necessary to keep them in their myths. I’ve found this idea to be more profound than I think many are willing to credit. While yes we should be looking for those people who are truly intellectually honest and/or open minded, we should also be aware of those who simply unable to disbelieve (to re-appropriate a line from Pascal).
        And I think that there is a difference between the fundamentalists who are unable to disbelieve and the more moderate ones who are unable to disbelieve, if only in the sense that we must treat them differently. The fundamentalists should be actively opposed while the moderates must see why it is we oppose the fundamentalists and not necessarily the moderates (though I think we could both find plenty to oppose with the moderates). I think it’s a game of picking and choosing battles now, so that a greater war (I hate that term, but I think you get the idea) can be won later.

  3. I think Sam Harris is torn between calling himself an Atheist or any other label what so ever, mainly of a fear that the true arguments, which he does not fail to present eloquently , will not be given the listening ear. I think he has realizes since, that his arguments will not be listened to by those religious people who do not want to listen to them no matter what label, if any he chooses to stick or not to stick upon himself and his like minded friends. This said, we would not need any label for ourselves if reason and rational thinking where to triumph or at least occupy a slightly larger and more central position in our political, public and private lives. But until then, Atheism, and or any other descriptive or non descriptive labels will have to do, to enable us to distinguish ourselves from the non critically thinking and seriously deluded minions.

  4. When I’m amongst certain kind of people, that I know for sure will perceive the label ‘atheist’ as an evil or politically incorrect description, I just quote Lewis Black: “I have thoughts, and that can really fuck up the whole faith thing.”

  5. I’m a fan of Hitchens’s label, when he chooses to don one, of ‘anti-theist.’

    In a less militant context, however, I believe “rationalist,” “skeptic,” or “critical-thinker” are more useful terms.

    The issue at hand, Sam Harris, is contentious. On the one hand, yes, strategically, it would be nice if there was no need for a label. Unfortunately, you can’t mobilize “a group of people who believe in intellectual honesty.” Harris wants a reality where labels don’t exist and aren’t useful, but that’s not the reality in which we exist.

  6. I watched this with my dad just now (and we are both new to the atheism stuff and therefore had never seen this before, so thanks for sharing it through twitter). 😀 He thought the racist comparison Sam Harris made wasn’t very good, because he thinks semi-consciously about not-being-racist, at least sometimes, and so do I. It’s still a part of our world, and being “not racist” is really a thing to a certain extent. I feel his point is valid though, that atheism shouldn’t be defining us, since it’s a lack of belief, just like a lack of belief in astrology. Still labels do exist, and we still need at least SOMETHING to define us. Even if it’s non-religious, that’d end up being a box we’d have to check somewhere, and a label. Secular humanist is a fine label in my opinion. He was against it, but why? What’s wrong with professing that you agree with the general philosophy of “humanism” in a non-religious, aka secular, way? It helps explain what you are, relatively specifically, in comparison to your specifically Methodist friend. For example. Anyway… idk I don’t really have a problem with saying I’m an atheist. It’s what I am. Someone who does NOT believe in any god(s). Someone who has REALLY thought about it and continues to think about it and watches videos like this and types comments about whether or not using the word atheist is a good label or not. Because I spend some effort and time on it, atheism is actually a part of my life. I don’t care if I am sharing that with people. I like saying “Hey, I’d like to discuss religion with you and your views on the world because MY VIEWS ARE ATHEISTIC and I’m curious about yours, and i you’re curious about my views we can discuss that too”. What would you say if you don’t want to use the term atheist? I think it’s ridiculous to try to avoid the word. When black people were all slaves in the United States, the “non-racists” were labeled “abolitionists”. Everyone was racist by default unless otherwise labeled. Now we’ve gotten to the point where everyone is considered non-racist unless otherwise labeled (as a white supremacist, as racist, etc.). Right?

    Idk… lol.

    • Monica, you still read these older posts?  Anyway, just read this article, and I’m already familiar with harris’s video (Ive watched all the atheist videos and debates with eager pleasure)
      My simple take on it is this:
      Call yourself an Atheist and Anti – theist if you want to be a spokerperson FOR the atheists and anti – theists … giving them a voice and the courage to admit out in public who they are (because let’s face it, agnostics are atheists too because they don’t make the positive assertion that some God exists.)
      It’s when you actually want to get into the minds of the devout and irrational fundies where the issue comes into play.  I personally feel a different label is better.  A devout christian may be more likely to view a debate and listen to the other side if they don’t immediately think they are satans tool to spread the diesease of anti christian critical thinking amongst the children of America so that their beloved son doesn’t turn homosexual and burn in Hell (This really IS what many of them are thinking … )
      So all the labels have an objective, depending on what you wish to gain, or who your target audience is.
      If anyone ever asks me what my religion or faith is, I tell them straight up:  “I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in God”
      They usually remark … “You don’t believe in ANY GOD!?” … And with a smile, I just say : “Nope.”

      • Thank you for your comment, Dustin. Yes, I do read all the comments to my posts, even the older ones – it just takes a bit too long for me to reply. I’m always late, sorry.
        See, I have no problems with the label. I’d rather not call myself an atheist just because people in general hold so many misconceptions about us infidels, but I also think that every time we avoid the label we miss an opportunity to let someone know that an atheist is not a satanist. Believe it or not, this is the second most recurring question I get: “Then, you’re a Satanist?”
        If you’re wondering what’s the top reaction I get when I say that I don’t believe in god, it is a staggered “but you are so nice!!!”

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