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Q&A: Sam Harris

The Christian right, radical Islamists, and secular leftists agree: this atheist is America’s most dangerous man


Sam Harris takes part in a group discussion on religion and faith on March 21, 2007, at Rick Warren’s Saddleback church in Lake Forest, California. (Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, and other best-selling works of moral philosophy and anti-religious polemic, first began to wonder about life after death at the age of 13, after his best friend was killed in a bicycle accident. He looked for answers in books about the occult and eastern religion, and then re-invented the 1960s for himself, experimenting with psychedelics and traveling to India and Nepal to study with Buddhist meditation masters. In college at Stanford, Harris studied religion, philosophy, and neuroscience and concluded that nothing spooky or mystical happens after people die. The idea of an Omniscient Being who demands obedience from his followers in exchange for the promise of life after to death was crap—the kind of crap that starts wars, condemns hundreds of millions of people to ignorance, poverty, and disease and has a pervasive and dangerous effect on public policy.

An expert polemicist—funny, logical, fearless, and sometimes impulsive—Harris also possesses the rarer qualities of psychological suppleness and a willingness to admit when he’s wrong. The son of a Jewish mother and Quaker father, he engages with the experiential components of belief in a deeply personal way. At the same time, he shows little patience for religious Christian leaders like Rick Warren, who Harris eviscerated in a public debate, or for Islamists, whose religion Harris regularly maligns in a way that has led both to outraged accusations of bigotry and actual death threats. Harris is equally unpopular with secular leftists, whose dogmas and pieties he also finds loathsome—starting with their sympathy for fundamentalist political movements like Hamas and Hezbollah.

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TAGGED: ATHEISM, INTERVIEWS, RELIGION, SAM HARRIS, SECULARISM


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