Thursday, January 18, 2007

Harris vs. Sullivan Debate

VermontBard, you must have designed this thing yourself! Andrew Sullivan is having an open email debate with Sam Harris on beliefnet. The debate is concerning religious modernism with Sullivan seemingly in defense of it. This is not as hostile as the Dennis Prager fiasco (so far) as both agree on the problem with religious fundamentalism. The opening salvos were not salvos, just clarifications. Sam's second post is clearly argued and beautifully written and I am forced as always to just wholeheartedly agree with him- why not just utterly dispense with Christianity entirely?

If Sullivan is going to try using Christianity as his moral template or his template for universal "mystery", he has to cherry pick to the extreme. After so much cherry picking, at what point does a reasonable person just admit that the entire thing is unnecessary? As Harris points out, they could develop a better spiritual system in the course of an email exchange than the entire bible offers. I just can't see any reason to be a moderate within the "great" religions, and I think it is indefensible. And I think that Sullivan is probably rare amongst the moderates he is defending. His reply post should deliver his best argument to change Harris' mind (and mine).


upinVermont said...


Thanks for catching this!

I agree with you. I think that Harris's response is strong and I myself have never bought into Sullivan's distinctions between moderate and fundamentalist Christians.

What I *do* think Sullivan is good at is describing the intellectual (if it can be called such) underpinnings of the fundamentalist mind-set.

By the way, his attitude about conservatism is strikingly similar to his defense of Chritianity. He cherry picks. He fails to recognize the over-arching cognitive frame that drives conservatism -- in the same sense that he seems to deny the over-arching importance of the scripture to "Christianity".

In his own writigs, he tries dress liberal/progressive ideas in conservative clothes, just as he tries to house secularism within a Christian framework. He doesn't recognize Christianity as being a "package deal". While conservatism isn't a religion, it has never been closer. It is more of a package deal than it ever has been and more so than he admits or realizes.

Aaron said...

"Package deal" is a good way of expressing the state of believing in Christianity. "God is Not a Moderate" is a perfect title for Sam's position.

You know, "authentic" Japanese Zen leaders are disgusted with the watered down version of Zen that was adopted by Americans who are afraid of acknowledging authority, doing real hard-nosed sacraficial work, beaking the ego-illusion etc...

"The way they practice is not Zen" they may say.

In the same light, Sullivan's Christianity is only abstractly related to the religion. Perhaps Andrew Sullivans "Christianity" is far saner than it's origins, but why is it "Christianity" at all, and why do we need the confusion that word brings. Either we don't need the word at all, or Andrew Sullivan calls himself a Christian because he is defending various metaphysical beliefs concerning the personage of Jesus. If he is a Christian for that reason, then he is fair game for all the arguments Sam Harris has to give. If he is a Christian just because he likes some of the good lessons Jesus taught, let it be pointed out that Jesus brought nothing new to earth that I am aware of.