A reader offers a clarification:
I’m not an acolyte in the Church of Harris, but you’re making an
undeserved charge against him.
“In other words, they use the language of reason to belittle and mock
traditional religion and morality, but they are not in fact champions
of reason themselves”
There are many, many liberals/leftists/what have you who fall into
this category. I lived in Berkely for years, so I know exactly what
you’re talking about. But Harris scorns these people as much as
you/we do. He’s not a trend-chasing meditator.
Quote (p. 205 of “The End of Faith”):
“The term ‘spirituality’ seems unavoidable here . . . but it has many
connotatiosn that are, frankly, embarassing. ‘Mysticism’ has more
gravitas, perhaps, but it has unfortunate associations of its own . .
. I will use both ‘spirituality’ and ‘mysticism’ interchangeable here,
because there are no alternatives, but the reader should remember that
I am using them in a restricted sense. While a visit to any New Age
bookstore will reveal that modern man has embraced a daunting range of
’spiritual’ preoccupations – ranging from the healing power of
crystals and colonic irrigation to the ardors of alien abduction – our
discussio here will focus on a specific insight that seems to have
special relevance to our pursuit of happiness.”
Harris is indeed a champion of reason, but he’s not a materialist.
He believes (and has one really lengthy footnote, like 10-15 pages,
more of an appendix really, in “The End of Faith,” where he explains
his take on this) that meditation is, or can be, a rational inquiry.
If thousands of monks hiding away in thousands of caves report similar
or identical experiences from their inner mystic crystal explorations,
this, for Harris, is a sort of scientific (though trans-materialistic)
I know you must be busier than ten cats right now, but the book is
worth time if you’ve got it to spare. Just take a look at Chapter 7,
“Experiments in Consciousness,” and I think you’ll find that Harris
does a semi-decent job of avoiding the trap/contradiction you’re
Yours in yelling “STOP,”
Me: There’s a lot here to deal with and I’m too busy on other fronts. I also have not read Harris’ book and I am entirely open to the possibility he’s more complex than one sentence makes him seem. Indeed, several readers insist I’m being unfair to him and that he doesn’t fall into the very real category of people I’m discussing. Fair enough.
But, one point cries out to be made. One is free to make a lot of the common experience of many meditating monks. But, you have to explain why their meditation is special compared to the experience of thousands (or millions) of praying Christians. I’m no student of this, but it seems that lots of dying people experience being pulled toward a light. Assuming this is an authentic experience, it seems to me an atheist who extols monk-meditation can’t — without good explanation — then dismiss such things out of hand. There is a vast, vast body of work by Jewish and Christian theologians who’ve held that their faiths are rational endeavors too.