Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Misquoting Sam Harris: Culture of Irresponsibility

It appears that the propagandists for anti-atheist bigotry have found a weapon to use in a quote from Sam Harris’ book “The End of Faith.” There, Harris wrote:

[S]ome propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing in them.

This is being used around the internet in a campaign of fear, representing Harris (and those who approve of his work) of arguing for a state much like the Inquisition, where people are arrested and executed merely for having the wrong beliefs.

In Context

As posted on A Load of Bright in “Misquoting Harris”, this quote is taken out of context. Harris is talking about somebody whose beliefs cause him to threaten others. His account would apply, for example, to a case where a neighbor of mine took seriously the commandment that those who work on the Sabbath shall be put to death. Noting that I publish blog entries every day of the week and deciding that this constitutes work, he decides that I must be put to death. While I am sitting on my patio working on my next post, he comes over with a machete in order to execute God’s will.

Clearly, I would have the right to defend myself and to use deadly force to do so. Of course, additional principles such as a clear and present danger also apply – nothing in Harris’ actual quote even hints at overruling these caveats. Yet, those who wish to believe otherwise are free to add their own (false) assumptions in order to season the words to taste.

A consistent use of the principles employed by some hard-core fundamentalists may dispute this conclusion that I would have a right to defend myself. They may protest that any act of self-defense on my part constitutes ‘militant atheism’ – an attempt on my part to force my religious views (that there is no wrong in working on the Sabbath) on my neighbor by preventing him from freely exercising his religious requirement to kill me. These are people who refuse to recognize that a “freedom of religion” is not an absolute moral permission to do whatever one wants, to whomever one wants, as long as one can find a piece of scripture to support it.

Yet, let’s leave these anomalies aside, and work within the common-sense view that the right to freedom of religion is still constrained by moral limits that are higher than scripture – limits that would allow me to defend myself from my religious neighbor’s attack regardless of his ability to find biblical passages to support his view.

In this context, his ‘belief’ – and the fact that it has driven him to be a danger to others – justifies a lethal act of self-defense.

Intellectual Immorality

Harris’ quote, taken out of this context, is an extremely useful tool for those whose business is the manufacture and untaxed sale of hatred (since contributions to religious institutions are not taxed) against atheists. As such, it is reasonable to expect that some would find this business hard to resist. Moral prohibitions against bearing false witness against others, lying, sophistry (engineering false beliefs) and intellectual recklessness are of no concern to such people – only the profitability (in terms of cash and power) of their product.

This is the point that I want to make in this posting. It is not that there are people who have taken Harris’ statement out of context in order to manufacture hate. It is not the fact that what they have done is morally contemptible. A morally responsible person would have checked the quote to determine if it was accurate, and refused to use it if it was not.

No, the real issue is that these people are part of a vast and powerful culture that have absolutely no respect for the intellectual virtues. Intellectual recklessness, bearing false witness, sophistry (manufacturing false beliefs), and deliberate deception – they shrug off these moral crimes with a lack of guilt that would make them the envy of any sociopath.

As I work on this blog, I have often thought of what might happen if my writings somehow became noticed by the members of this culture. I suspect that they would immediately cast me as somebody who says that people may do whatever they desire because fulfilling desire is the root of all value.

Yes, I say that all value consists of relationships between states of affairs and desires. However, these people would likely choose to ignore (because they care nothing about truth) that this implies that the value of certain desires rests in their tendency to fulfill other desires. Thus, it is not the case that all desires are equal – some are clearly better than others. Some desires (those that tend to fulfill the desires of others), we have reason to promote and encourage. Other desires (desires that do harm to or otherwise thwart the desires of others) we have reason to inhibit.

However, once this propaganda machine gets up to speed, there is little that I, with my little corner blog and the need to spend a good portion of my day working for a living, could do anything to stop it. Those who read the words of people who would bear false witness against me equally will accept the accusations as true. This is because they share in this culture of intellectual irresponsibility – it is a part of their culture. Reading the words of others through a lens of moral responsibility is simply out of the question.

There are, then, three responses to an incident such as this wrong committed against Harris. The first response is to simply point out that the author made a mistake. The second response is to condemn the author, because a morally responsible agent would not have made a mistake. The third response is to condemn the culture to which that agent belongs – a culture that cares nothing about intellectual integrity, and a great deal about doing harm to others through careless and deliberate falsehoods.

Culture of Intellectual Recklessness

Who are the members of this culture of intellectual recklessness? To find out, all we need to do is to trace the thread of this misquote through the internet. Everywhere it stops and obtains an implicit endorsement is another person who is part of this intellectually reckless culture.

It is not surprising to find a link between intellectual recklessness and religious fundamentalism either. Fundamentalism teaches intellectual recklessness. It is, in fact, a primary requirement for membership. This is not to say that all intellectually reckless people are fundamentalists. Nor is it to say that all religious people are intellectually reckless (because not all religious people are fundamentalists). It is only to say that religious fundamentalism is intellectually reckless.

Do we wish to see how far this intellectually reckless attitude – this fundamental disregard for truth – goes? Our current day and age gives us a handy tool to do so. All we need to do is search the Intranet, and we can track intellectual recklessness through the strands of the world wide web.

Note that I am not talking about tracking religious fundamentalism through the web and using that as a marker for intellectual recklessness and a fundamental disregard for the truth. I am talking about tracking something where the intellectual recklessness can be more easily noted. In this case, it is in the many examples of bearing false witness – either recklessly or through deliberate and malicious deception – against Sam Harris.

That these people show the same moral failing if intellectual irresponsibility on matters of religious belief as they show here is simply another piece of evidence in what criminal lawyers would call “establishing a pattern of behavior” which, with enough examples, is sufficient to prove moral culpability.

Promoting Intellectual Responsibility

One lesson that I wish to draw from this is that it is possible to criticize and to condemn religious fundamentalists without once bringing God or religion into the picture at all. People suffering from the vice of intellectual irresponsibility are bound to use it even in areas outside of religion – areas that have real effects on real people (e.g., global warming, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) costing real lives and real suffering. When these types of opportunities come up, blaming the cult of intellectual irresponsibility for the harms done – for the lives lost, the injuries, the suffering – will have a real-world significance that will pay dividends against other instances of intellectual recklessness.

The point is to say more than, “You are mistaken,” but to go further and say, “Your mistake is either reckless or deliberately malicious and, in either case, is morally reprehensible,” to the final charge (where bad reasoning can be shown to have been picked up and spread around by others), “You are a part of a morally irresponsible culture that appears to embrace intellectual recklessness, bearing false witness, engineering false beliefs, and even deliberate deception, with all of the evils that such people bring to the world.”

Note that my accusation in this case applies to those whose moral irresponsibility applies to misquoting Sam Harris - an easily demonstrable example of, at best, moral recklessness and, at worse, deliberate and malicious deception. Yet, its targets are also those who are morally irresponsibile in other ways.

To the degree that intellectual irresponsibility in all of its harmful forms can be reduced, to that degree we will all live longer, healthier, and happier lives, and to that degree even harmless unreasonable beliefs will fade away.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, but even put into context (though I haven't read the book and you haven't provided the context) I don't see how "to kill people for believing" is ever ethical.

The situation you describe, the atheist might kill the theist for what he is DOING, not what he believes. If the theist believes his neighbor should be killed, or even that he himself should kill him, that's not enough to kill the theist. The theist may be too cowardly to try or physically unable. Harris may have meant what you say, but I have no way of knowing, since what he said was to kill for believing dangerous beliefs, not for taking dangerous actions based on those beliefs.

olvlzl said...

While I am absolutely confident that you are correct, that “the propagandists for anti-atheist bigotry have found a weapon to use in a quote from Sam Harris’ book” that is a far cry from the belief that casual readers of what you say might interpret it to mean. I can’t believe you mean that anyone who objects to that idea, placed by Harris in a long polemic calling for the end of all religion, is guilty of “anti-atheist bigotry”. I know of at least one atheist who cited exactly that as why he thinks Sam Harris is a jerk who will do atheists no good in the long run. I don’t know if his objection to Harris would qualify it as part of a “campaign of fear”, unless you include the fear that Harris will play a role not unlike Eldrige Cleaver’s in the civil rights era, get himself lots of attention, say lots of irresponsible things and hasten the worst part of the bigots’ backlash. I’ll leave the subsequent trajectory of Cleaver’s career on the shelf for now, though I’ve got my suspicions about their applicability. They certainly do in Christopher Hitchens’ case.

My fear about Harris and his admirers is exactly that. I’ve called his quest to destroy religion a romantic one. Given the fact that religion hasn’t been wiped out anywhere in the world, even in places where it was brutally suppressed, there isn’t any reason to believe it can be. England, often cited as the big success story of “rational” atheism due to the sparse attendance at church services, has a flourishing scene of non-official religion, much of it the type that would drive SCI-COP bananas. Harris’ most likely use will be to promote exactly the kind of backlash you describe. I don’t think an honest person looking at Harris would be able to deny that he is purposely provocative. It’s the style he adopts, it is the reason that Harris is the second most prominent atheist in the West today.

Provocation works for Harris. But, as you have noticed, it gives a weapon to the backlash. My concern is for the practical results in politics. I don’t care one little bit what anyone believes. If every single person decided to join the Humanist Society yesterday it wouldn’t be any of my business. I care about what they do, especially what they do at the ballot box. Progress in the Civil Rights movement stopped at just the point when Cleaver and his friends were handed the microphone by the corporate media. Progress in Women’s rights stalled when Ti-Grace Atkinson and her likes were featured in the media. Progress in the gay rights movement is damaged by idiots who say stupid things on camera that reinforce the worst stereotypes of gay people.

I am a leftist. A gay leveler, supporter of universal healthcare, universal education, who is in favor of making the guarantees of the Bill of Rights and the rest of the constitution a human’s only document. I am in favor of the absolute separation of church and state, no manger scenes on public property, no religious clap trap at football games. I see the left, especially as manifested on the blogs, following the most puerile line of Harrisite invective into splitting the already fragile left and handing our enemies a weapon that has been very effective for them in crucial elections for decades. I’ll lose an election over evolution or the prayer ban, I won’t lose one so some jerk can gas on about flying spaghetti monsters. That jerk is on his own.

Your scenario of a machete wielding fundamentalist, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as fantastic as Harris’ goal. It is a real danger. Since I agree with you that Harris is being used in a hate campaign against the non-religious, and the left, it poses an important responsibility on Harris. There is a clear responsibility for someone who has made himself a spokesman to chose his words with more care than Harris has. I will also tell you as a person who has lived with a far higher threat of anti-gay violence than atheists do for my entire life that I’ll trade with you any time. But I’ll leave it at a bit of advice.

The relatively few recorded incidents of threat or violence against the non-religious are what should be addressed as discrimination, not the pique of people who are annoyed that they happen to live in a society where religious observance is a public thing. You have to spend only what will get you more in return and not what will get you many times less. You should try to discover what the real extent of that threat is, not through opinion polling, but by collecting incident data. You should be rigorous in weeding out the merely petty from the truly dangerous and illegal. You should also document actual civil rights violations in government actions and the denial of services. Get some responsible public faces, plan responsibly in full knowledge that whatever you do will be twisted. You must act but you have to act and speak in a manner so as to make those who want to distort what you say have to work for it. Those atheists who do their work for them are doing you no favor.

As to what Harris meant, I’ve read Harris. I think it means what it said. That’s why I took him at his word in my comment here the other day.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I provided a link to a site that puts the quote in its context. You can check that out if you want to know the context.

However, relevant to your specific point, the sentence immediately preceding the target sentence is,

"The link between belief and behaviour raises the stakes considerably."

It comes after a couple of paragraphs that discuss this link between beliefs and behavior. It is the behavior that a person is defending himself from, but it is a mistake to think that the agent's belief is irrelevant to that behavior.

olvlzl said...

Alonzo, the difference between belief and action is that one of them is protected by the constitution and the other can get you thrown in jail or killed in an act of legal self-defense.

In the wider context of the Harris production I stand by what I said, it says what it says. Harris isn't stupid enough to not give himself a parachute if someone in a televised debate uses it against him, he is bright enough to do that. Demigogs have always used that tactic to protect themselves in the formal context of a public performance. I'll bet that you can find instances where some pretty putrid anti-atheist bigots have done the same for themselves, it doesn't change the full effect of their efforts.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


What about the belief that beliefs are NOT protected by the Constitution. Is that belief also protected by the constitution?

The idea that there is an absolute right to believe whatever one wants simply contradicts itself - because if it is true, then people have a right to believe that there is no such right.

olvlzl said...

What about the belief that beliefs are NOT protected by the Constitution. Is that belief also protected by the constitution?

The idea that there is an absolute right to believe whatever one wants simply contradicts itself - because if it is true, then people have a right to believe that there is no such right.

Alonzo, now that's my idea of fun. The answer to the first question is certainly, in the abstract, of course that idea would be protected even though it negates the very freedom it protects. The right to believe is absolute, the right to put that belief into practice is not absolute, it impinges on rights other people have. If there is a threat that someone, actually it would have to be a fairly large group, would gain power and overturn the laws protecting and allowing the exercise of the rigtht then there would be the risk of an action and that would increasingly lessen the absolute nature of the belief. It's the risk of action and its reasonable danger that diminishes the right to believe, not that someone holds the belief. Any reaction would have to be in proportion to the danger. You couldn't kill someone because he wanted to make it a crime to display a Star of David, you couldn't even kill someone who put a bill in front of the congress to ban the display of a Star of David. If they wanted to put people who displayed a Star of David in concentration camps then the lesson of history is that the right to oppose them with arms is reasonable, even required.

There is a very practical real life example that shows that there is a big problem when rights, absolute as beliefs and protected so long as they pose no danger become increasingly less absolute as they can reasonably be suspected to diminish or destroy other peoples' rights. Turkey. Algeria would, however, show that the protection of some rights against this kind of thing pose other problems of a very serious nature.

Anonymous said...

Well, now I've read the section (as quoted at a load of bright) and I haven't changed my mind.
Harris says some ideas are so dangerous it's justified to kill people just for having them (well, for believing such propositions, to use his terms).
He follows up with - people may be justified in killing in self defense.
Well, that justification is in the self defense. It has nothing to do with the motivation of the aggressor. The self defense justification exists independent of the belief of the aggressor.

The aggression may be a direct result of the belief, but as I tried to point out earlier, one can have the belief and be completely incapable of acting on it, yet Harris would justify killing that person - perhaps because he could spread the belief to someone who could act.

His example of a dangerous belief for which killing the believer is OK is the fundimental Islamic hatred of the West.
Imagine prisoners a Gitmo.
Guard: do you believe the Quran makes it good to kill Americans?
Prisoner: yes
*blam* you're dead.
Imagine a hospital for paraplegics.
Doctor: do you believe the Quran makes it good to kill Americans?
Patient: yes
*blam* you're dead.

Can ideas/beliefs be dangerous? yes. Is the solution killing the believers merely for their belief? no.

Harris is engaging in his own sort of hate mongering. He's making an incredibly inflamatory statement just to get a reaction, then trying to give himself an out that is not at all convincing.
He's also included a logical fallicy.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


A part of Harris' context is the statement, If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.

My suspicion is that the prisoner at Gitmo and the paraplegic are individuals for whom the qualifier "if they cannot be captured," does not apply, so the justification for killing them does not exist.

You justify killing them on the basis that they might spread the belief to others. However, that is your argument, not Harris'. Harris makes no such claim. Harris explicitly limits his discussion to people who, on the basis of a belief, are making active plans to do harm.

Speaking to another person (and trying to convince them) may result in harm, but it is not actively planning to cause harm.

You can say that the "if they cannot be captured" makes no sense if the we look only at killing people because of their beliefs. However, this is just another way of saying that the sentence in context has a different meaning than the sentence taken out of context. It is the sentence in context that determines its meaning. And the sentence in context has these qualifiers of a direct link between belief and action and "if they cannot be captured."

Eliminating these elements, because they give a different meaning to the phrase than it would have if it was stripped of its context, is exactly backwards.

I have accused Harris of hate-mongering in other areas. But this is not one of them.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


All I need to do is take everything you just wrote and say, "I don't believe any of that. I believe that I I not only have a right to put my beliefs into practice, but that it would be wrong not to. You can tell me that I have no right to put these beliefs into practice, but now you are talking nonsense. These are beliefs about what I may put into practice. You are telling me that I am not allowed to have these beliefs about what I may put into practice, but that I must accept your beliefs about what I may put into practice."

Anonymous said...

The problem with that argument is you are putting words in Harris' mouth.
He said it may be ethical to kill people "for believing" not for acting on those beliefs. So, just having the belief is sufficient to justify killing them. (inflamatory statement)

He then explains (context) that if such people cannot be captured then killing them in self defense could be justified. He's presented 2 alternatives: capture or kill.
The logical fallicy is that he has an unstated major premise. He assumes all people who have those beliefs will act on them.
So, if you accept his premise that anyone who believes extraordinayr violent acts (as opposed to ordinary ones, whatever that means) against us are justified will act on them, then his argument holds together.

So, it comes across (and so far nothing has indicated this isn't his meaning) that people who have such beliefs should be imprisoned or killed before they can act on the beliefs, because of course, having those beliefs is equal to acting on them.

My earlier examples would fall into the captured category.
Everyone else having those beliefs but not acting on them should be rounded up and put in camps so that they won't hurt us.
He is arguing justification for preemptive war.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but find fault with both sides. Upon carefully reading the passage, it's obvious that what Harris means is that one is justified in defending themselves by taking preemptive action if a threat is proven and imminent. The comment posted on A Loard of Bright was

"Just imagine that we had a time machine, and therefore the ability to travel back to September 10, 2001 and slip cyanide into the drinks of the terrorists who attacked America, thus preventing the disaster and saving thousands of lives. How many children would keep their mothers and fathers? Whether you would or not, please realise that this is the point Harris is making."

So it is reasonable to say someone who misquotes Harris in this way is being dishonest and promoting bigotry.

On the other hand, in the same what that Bunting and others quoting Harris are guilty of intellectual recklessness by not excersicing due diligence to make sure they weren't misrepresenting him to a hostile audience, Harris is also guilty of intellectual recklessness by so "carelessly" choosing his words.

Without careful reading and the sort of clarification given above, it is extremely easy to see this as saying exactly what it says - some beliefs are worthy of death at face value, even without an imminent threat. That is what a quick and plain reading of his words say. Not even the following and preceeding paragraphs clarify what he actually means - they only justify what it sounds like he's saying. I have a very hard time believing that someone like Harris accidentally composed a passage that sounds like it is calling fundamentalist religion a dire, imminent threat, and recommending violence as the answer. Not only that - even if he wrote this in carelessness, it was intellectually reckless of someone in his influencial position not to quickly check his work and ask himself "Could an emotional and passionate supporter of mine easily missinterpret this as a call for violence against his neighbor?" He was NOT securing his intellectual load in the manner a morale person would.

The correct course of action for Bunting and others who despise Harris would be to point THIS out, not to propigate fear and loathing by perpetuating his mistake. The correct course of action for us atheists would be - in my opinion - to condem both the propagandists and Harris for their intellectual recklessness, and to distance ourselves from his words. "Those are not my beliefs."

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Actually, I am saying that Harris is talking about instances of killing in self defense - which means there must be an action.

In this discussion, he wants to stress that there is an intimate connection between belief and action. This is what the section of the book in which this quote is taken from is all about - that it is nonsense to talk about a person believing something but not acting on that belief. If you believe something - truly believe it - then your actions MUST reflect that belief.

So, often, when you kill somebody in self-defense, what you are often doing is killing him because of his beliefs. If he had different beliefs, he would not have been attacking you, and self-defense would not have been necessary.

You could say that you are killing him because of his actions. However, because of the close connection between beliefs and actions, he could not have acted any other way unless he had different beliefs.

This "unstated major premise" that you are assigning to Harris is not there. You are inserting it, and then basing your criticism on this insertion. Harris is not implicitly saying that everybody who has a belief will act on it. He is explicitly saying that every intentional action is an expression of what the agent believes - so that when he attacks (making self-defense necessary), then this too is an expression of his beliefs.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I believe that your statement about Harris' obligation to write so as not to be misinterpreted is impossible in practice.

I guarantee you that, in the context of this blog, anybody who wants to will be able to find dozens of statements that can be lifted out of context and misinterpreted. To insist that it is a moral failing on my part if even one statement shows up in this blog that can be lifted out of context and misrepresented is to insist on the impossible - the only way I can do that would be to quit writing entirely.

[Note: Part of my day job is writing training manuals and instructions. One thing is clear - it is entirely impossible to write a set of instructions that everybody will understand. Writing something that a malicious person could not misinterpret is simply impossible. Blaming the author for a malicious misinterpretation is, in fact, an instance of blaming the victim - like saying that a rape victim deserved to be raped because of how she was dressed.]

Whenever a reader looks at a piece of text, all he sees are markings on a page. The reader assigns those meanings to the symbols. For any set of symbols, there is an infinite number of possible meanings. It is the reader's obligation (not the writer's) to pick the meaning that is most accurate.

Furthermore, there are millions of potential readers out there, and no two of them speak exactly the same language. There is no way that a writer can avoid all potential misinterpretations.

A "quick and plain" interpretation of the statement out of context might have the meaning you say it does. However, that is the clue that the reader now needs to look a little more closely to see what is actually being said - particularly when the reader is going to represent the author's view to a third party. This is when the obligation to interpret the author correctly is particularly accute.

olvlzl said...

All I need to do is take everything you just wrote and say, "I don't believe any of that. I believe that I I not only have a right to put my beliefs into practice, but that it would be wrong not to.

You could say that. But there is an essential difference between that position (which I hope you don't hold) and the one I do. Mine takes into account that people believe within themselves. They can hold a belief without ever even expressing it or expressing it only to people who welcome hearing it. One acts in the world that includes other people, an act is effective, that effectiveness is an objective aspect of the universe. If the act harms someone else, depriving them of rights they possess then not only is that a violation of the other's rights but it invites actions by that other person in defense of their rights and, sadly, retaliation. You would certainly find it made a difference if you were the one who was harmed by the acts but not harmed by the belief in the absence of the acts.

If you can't see that makes a difference I'm at a loss for more words.

Anonymous said...

<< A "quick and plain" interpretation of the statement out of context might have the meaning you say it does. However, that is the clue that the reader now needs to look a little more closely to see what is actually being said - particularly when the reader is going to represent the author's view to a third party. This is when the obligation to interpret the author correctly is particularly accute. >>

I agree completely, and those who misrepresent the message of a third party should be condemned. They have an obligation to be more carefull than usual, and make sure they are not spreading lies.

But I still think Harris was acting irresponsibly, at least from the excerpt given. Perhaps in the broader context of the whole book or the whole chapter it would be clearer what he means to say. I trying to avoid blaming the victem here. However someone with a passionate following really shouldn't publish a work that contains something that sounds like a justification of violence for having the "wrong" beliefs.

I realize this isn't what he meant, but I feel that a *reasonable* reading can easily come to that conclusion. Not just the misinterpretations of the malicious. If someone said "We should kill all the money-grubbing, murdering, hatefull Jews" it would be very hard for him to defend himself by saying "I only advocate the killing of those specific Jews who are hateful and money-grubbing and murderers! Surely no one can disagree with that! Any person with those qualities should be killed or captured, Jewish or not!". This may be accurate, and may even be what he said, but even a reasonable reading by an honest person can easily come to the conclusion that he is stating that all Jews share those qualities, and all Jews should be killed. I'm not saying every writer must gaurd everything they say from any possible misinterpretation by the malicious. But some care should be taken not to make such statements when they can be reasonable interpretted as such.

Also, because I am uncomfortable critisizing those I admire, I would like to add I love your blog and read it daily. :) A minor disagreement over a post would never get me to stop endorsing Desire Utilitarianism, or visiting this site.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the premise was not unstated, but simply was not in the quote as presented on either site. It sounds from what you say that what I called an unstated major premise is in fact the topic of the chapter from which the quote was lifted.
You said "he wants to stress that there is an intimate connection between belief and action."
That was nowhere stated in the section quoted. That is the unstated premise.
You then paraphrased it thus: "If you believe something - truly believe it - then your actions MUST reflect that belief."

So, if there is truly no distinction between belief and action, then perhaps his argument holds up.
You defend Harris by saying the expression of a belief that permits the use of deadly force and that expression is how to determine belief.
But then you can only tell someone's belief from his actions and we are back to square one: judging based on actions.

1- is there action without belief? The position expressed is no.
2- is there belief without action?
Well, there's the rub.
If there is belief without action then there is no justification "to kill people for believing."
So Harris must be saying there is no belief without action.

I am not convinced that there is no belief without action.
Harris must be.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alonzo,

You write: His account would apply, for example, to a case where a neighbor of mine took seriously the commandment that those who work on the Sabbath shall be put to death. Noting that I publish blog entries every day of the week and deciding that this constitutes work, he decides that I must be put to death. While I am sitting on my patio working on my next post, he comes over with a machete in order to execute God’s will.

Why do I think you think with your loins? Me, me, me?

Because your arguements do not find context.
Humans that kill out of their own singluar volition are murderers. Those who do it for socialist or religious ideology are terrorists, those who do it for upholding the Rule of Law are Peace Keepers. People who kill to remain free are those to protect their loved ones, not for themselves.

If you live in a country where certain practices are not tollerated execise some self-restraint.

It appears that the propagandists for anti-atheist bigotry have found a weapon...

How femme is that?

Religion should be a religion-of-one. But most hypnotised people like Ethical Athiests claim to seek out to belong to, and identify with, one group or another. And by those standards of 'norms' their convolute logic twists into a kinda liberated reasoning. But it's just another trip of self-seeking justification.

Atheism, x-uality or Utilitarianism of any desire is just an illusion.
we are individuals held up by conscience. You know if you are a prisoner of involutary volitions. You know if you've treated people judgementally. This arguementing of liberated ethics is really smoke and mirrors for a baser emptiness crying out to be agreed with. The Invalid Pretender to be validated.

Say you don't know. Then get on with your life.

I could live in a country where they said don't work on the Sabbath, don't drink alcohol, and don't sodimize your neighbour. Could you?

Ah... see... this has never been an arguement about Atheism but a front window hiding the arguement for the ethics of freedom to do whatever you like... without conscience.

For no two people can ever really get it together. They may call themselves "soul mates" for a time, but they then get to realize it was never the case and drift apart to try again. "No one really understands me" - they yearn for approval and support.

To be in denial to yourself is fine. That's called self-abuse. To do unto other's is called mutual abuse.

Marriage is a hell, something to be worked at. Two selfish people becoming unselfish stripping themselves bare to one another. A Homosexual cannot do that, for they would become unHomosexual. For a heterosexual marriage causes partners to become unheterosexual. Can you see the release to consciousness when the monotony of sex dies? No, you want to be a Higher Priest with newer and newer revelations exclusive for yourself like Mohammed did. That man pushed back the boundaries of lustful sex written and unwritten. He was one of your own.

The state of families belies the state of the nation. For in a Democracy they can only vote their demented sibblings into power.

Yes, I say that all value consists of relationships between states of affairs and desires.

I say get you values from intuition within and not the "state of affairs" without.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, the dishonesty is in claiming that a quotation justifying killing a person for belief is really about defending oneself against behavior. Just another postmodern who believes anything goes...

Alonzo Fyfe said...


My guess is that you did not follow the link to the context for the original quote. If you had, then you would note that it was Harris was, in fact, talking about defending oneself against behavior - behavior that, in turn, is the only behavior that certain beliefs would allow.

Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.

However, the facts seem not to be relevant to certain people. If a misinterpretation of the facts appear to support somebody's hate. then they will insist on a misinterpretation of the facts.