Monday, October 25, 2010

Sam Harris

This weekend I presented “Science & Spirituality” at the Women & Spirituality conference in Mankato, MN and just now I saw my points repeated in Newsweek.
Lisa Miller quotes Sam Harris, the hero of atheists, who, she says, “shuns the label” of "atheist." For good reason.
Sam Harris believes in God and expresses his beliefs in language similar to mine. I can’t say I’m surprised because I often agree with atheists who distinguish spirituality from religion. I'm struck by the words of Harris that could be mine:
We can live moral and spiritual lives without religion.
See my blogposts indexed under “Spirituality free of religion.”

For Harris, the answer to the question “Do you believe in God?” depends on what you mean by “God.” Find this exact point in my post Does God exist? Wrong question!
Harris doesn’t believe in “a supernatural power.” I concur in my post God is not supernatural.
Harris doesn’t believe in “a personal deity who hears prayers.” I quote Einstein, who said,
I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals or would sit in judgment on creatures of His own creation.
These words of Harris express recurrent themes of mine:
Mystery is ineradicable . . . There will always be brute facts that we cannot account for but which . . . explain everything else.

Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.
Harris has “a real problem” with the word “God.” In my book, blog, and presentations, I use many alternatives. I’m confident Harris and other atheists who espouse spirituality would accept my list of God-synonyms:
Infinity, Source, Eternity, Being, Void, Mystery, Energy, Force, Consciousness, Creativity, Spirit, The Within, The All
Religious people should thank atheists like Harris who make valuable contributions in the current debates about spiritual reality. Both atheists and religious people would be surprised by how much common ground they share if they studied each others’ most thoughtful statements and paid less attention to the most contentious ones.

Sam Harris and atheist author of The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, André Comte-Sponville, reject the same god, the same idol, that I do. Without putting it so bluntly, I think many theologians privately also reject this idol worshipped in the Mass, the archaic language of which comes from Hellenistic liturgies.

We have dialogues and cooperation between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Buddhists, between Christians and Muslims. Why not have dialogues between Christians and atheists? Both sides would be surprised to find much common ground.
What Christians could surrender, should surrender, is language that sounds like idol-worship, “ONLY-son-of-God” and the like. And, of course, the exclusively male imagery. All the “He who” stuff. It wouldn’t be hard to do, and it would gentle the popular, collective mind toward a more inclusive idea of the spiritual reality we call “God”—correcting the Great Guy in the Sky image that Buddhist Christian John Butt referenced at St. John's while explaining Buddhist a-theism.

I’d like to attend liturgies without hearing the irritating "Lord" and “Father” repeated umpteen times. Again I quote Christian speaker Maxine Moe:
If we feel we MUST call God by only male names we have broken the first commandment.
I'm perfectly aware of the Vatican's pressure to move ever farther backward into a tiny corner of religious correctness. Where can we find clerics with the courage to resist? Roy Bourgeois provides a model.

1 comment:

Jack Richter said...

As a self idnetifying atheist, I would like you to know I appreciate your words on this blog, Jeanette. Keep up the good work! :)