Friday, January 19, 2007

Sam Harris: New Age Village Atheist

Here I thought that Sam Harris was a nineteenth-century materialist, stiff-necked and hardheaded in his skepticism.

Not really. Alternet Reports:
Harris, however, argues that not just Western gods but philosophers are "dwarfs" next to the Buddhas. And a Harris passage on psychics recommends that curious readers spend time with the study "20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation."

Asked which cases are most suggestive of reincarnation, Harris admits to being won over by accounts of "xenoglossy," in which people abruptly begin speaking languages they don't know. Remember the girl in "The Exorcist"? "When a kid starts speaking Bengali, we have no idea scientifically what's going on," Harris tells me. It's hard to believe what I'm hearing from the man the New York Times hails as atheism's "standard-bearer."

Perhaps Harris is more typical of those nineteenth-century Orientalists who piggybacked on materialist polemics, only to fill the spiritual void with exotic haphazard borrowings from the East. Possibly Harris is representative of the worst Boulder Buddhists, motivated mainly by the cachet of an "Anything but Christianity" spirituality.

To my regret, I have found his forays into New Age beliefs more noteworthy than his advocacy of torture. As penance, I include his not-so-subtle ethical calculations:

"We know [torture] works. It has worked. It's just a lie to say that it has never worked," he says. "Accidentally torturing a few innocent people" is no big deal next to bombing them, he continues.

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