Skeptic » eSkeptic » January 24, 2007

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine



Introducing…

Mr. Deity logo

We have a special treat in the form of four short films produced, written, and starring Brian Dalton, a long-time friend of the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine who, in fact, redesigned Skeptic magazine for us a few years ago. Brian is a creative genius who has many talents and interests, and in his latest project he explores the lighter side of religion through these humorous short films. Launched only last Monday, January 17, within a few days there were over 200,000 downloads of them from YouTube, iTunes, and at his own webpage, mrdeity.com. Everyone who watches them — whether religious, nonreligious, or antireligious — enjoys the wit and humor.

Brian is an ex-Mormon who came to skepticism in the late 1990s through the Skeptics Society, because he liked our nonconfrontational approach that allowed him to explore the many options available to believers who harbor doubts. In time he gave up his religion, but remains utterly fascinated by religion in general, and he has written a pilot for a television series based on his character, Mr. Deity. Enjoy!

Brian Dalton (as Mr. Deity) reading "Why Darwin Matters"

Brian Dalton (as Mr. Deity) reading Why Darwin Matters

SUBSCRIBE to Mr. Deity
within iTunes

SUBSCRIBE to Mr. Deity
via His RSS feed

direct download links

Letter to a Christian Nation (cover)

In this week’s eSkeptic Kenneth W. Krause reviews Sam Harris’ book Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006, ISBN 0307265773). Krause lives in Wisconsin, along the Mississippi River. He is a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney with degrees in law, history, literature, and fine art. Books editor for Secular Nation, Kenneth has recently contributed as well to Free Inquiry, Skeptic, and The Humanist.


Sam Harris (photograph by Sara Allan)

Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation (photograph by Sara Allan)

The End of Faith Revisited: a Good Start

a book review by Kenneth W. Krause

Reason is to morality what design is to construction, and monotheism is a collective intellectual disaster that necessarily implies an international moral emergency. So says Sam Harris in his predictably candid, derisive and hyper-focused Letter to a Christian Nation, as he lectures an audience of agitated religionists who protested similar and, in some instances, identical scolds dispensed through his first book, The End of Faith.

Faith, by some accounts, is conviction to a belief despite facts and reason. When overwhelming majorities accept lesser standards of intellectual integrity, faith becomes institutionalized and potentially dangerous. Faith in omnipotence only exacerbates the problem. Christianity and Islam, especially, because they define in- and out-groups in terms of perpetual rewards and punishments, are inherently dangerous. Monotheists define morality according to no objective standard outside the Bible. Instead, religious affiliation necessarily depends upon the foundational texts that attempt in vain to identify both ethical and non-ethical behavior. Hence, for the faithful, any conceivable act may be defined as moral so long as the relevant god’s text can be interpreted to support it. Humans may piously slaughter other humans in any number, in any imaginable way, simply because their faith allows them to trust in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent creator who desires or all too regularly demands that they do so.

The Christian faithful, Harris contends, have inherited some of the most unethical standards imaginable. Consistent with Proverbs, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Exodus, Mark and Matthew, pious parents are obliged to thrash or kill their disobedient children. The Abrahamic texts insist that followers stone not only the adulterer, but also those who labor on the Sabbath. Although some Christians will argue that New Testament morals have superseded those of the Old, Harris counters that, according to the former, Jesus instructed his followers to remain true to the ancient laws. The Church incinerated heretics for more than 500 years as it cited allegedly validating chapter and verse. Augustine supposed that dissenters should be tortured; Aquinas directed that they be murdered. Both Luther and Calvin encouraged the slaughter of innocent apostates and Jews. In no Christian text was Jesus said to have objected to slavery; in many was the practice condoned.

The first four of the Ten Commandments, Harris observes, had nothing to do with morality. The rest clearly did, but were hardly original. Virtually every culture edified similar principles in its annals, laws, and myths. Regardless, morality predates recorded history and, perhaps, humanity itself. Our closest primate relatives demonstrate some degree of kin altruism and broader social concern. The point, of course, is that religious ethics represent only one phase of our moral evolution, a phase that humanity can and must transcend.

Hopelessly antiquated religions have grown increasingly counterproductive as sources of moral guidance. Christians delight in imagining themselves supremely ethical in their opposition to embryonic stem cell research and abortion. But neither stem cell use nor legal abortions harm anything capable of either experiencing loss or inspiring a reasonable sense of loss in others. Insisting that human “souls” can inhabit the microscopic recesses of a Petri dish is not a moral argument. Rather, it is the imposition of both intellectual and moral primitivism.

Indeed, religious ethics often seem impervious to empathy. Many Christian conservatives oppose vaccination for the human papillomavirus, now the most common sexually transmitted disease in America, largely because they consider HPV an obstacle to premarital sex. The Vatican contests condom use even to thwart the spread of HIV. Christopher Hitchens summarized the crisis well when he pointed out that Mother Teresa “was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God.” Teresa might have performed admirable deeds for humanity as an individual, but it should be clear that she brought such goodness despite, rather than because of, her religion. That so much suffering can be directly attributed to religion, Harris concludes, should inform us that honest and thorough criticism of religious faith is both our intellectual and our moral responsibility.

To religious moderates, Harris offers neither sanctuary nor convenient alliance. Temperance and tolerance are not solutions to this deadly predicament. To the contrary, religious liberalism’s demand for respect only lends ostensible though certainly not actual credibility to religious dogma and fanaticism. Moderates simply cannot continue to have it both ways, the author demands. Either human beings created the Bible, or they did not. Either Christ was a man, or he was not. If so, the fundamental and necessary tenets of Christianity are and have always been false. At some point, Harris persists, one side will win and the other will lose.

Speaking truth to both religious and secular power, however redundantly, has become Sam Harris’s claim to fame, perhaps even his raison d’être. Although the underlying problem is a bit more complex than the author appears to recognize, his assessment of faith’s threat to human survival is sound. Arguably, much of the developed world seems well on its way to begetting the end of faith, or, more precisely, faith of the licensed, monotheistic variety. In America, of course, the crisis is more severe; a mere letter to a Christian nation will never suffice. But if such letters are read and rejoined by the right Christians, perhaps history might prove them to have been a very good start indeed.

Patreon: a new way to support the things skeptic creates

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2017. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.