>Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled: The End of Faith, Chapters 3 and 4

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I’m continuing my posts about Sam Harris’ book, The End of Faith. You can read my first two posts, about Chapter 1 here, and Chapter 2 here. I welcome comments… just click on “Comments” at the end of this post to publish a comment. If you don’t have a Google or blogger account, it only takes a few minutes to set one up. If you prefer to comment privately, please send me an email at susanmaryecushman@yahoo.com.

Chapter 3: In the Shadow of God

In this chapter, Harris takes us on a harrowing ride through one of the most terrible times in the history of the Catholic Church: the Inquisition. Notice that I say, the Catholic Church. And while I have Catholic friends that I love, I just want to point out that the Orthodox Church wasn’t responsible for the Inquisition, and the reader must understand that I write from my vantage point as an Orthodox Christian.

The Inquisition happened after the Great Schism (1054) – the event that separated the Western (Catholic) Church from the East (Orthodox). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Orthodox Christians throughout history have never committed atrocities against their fellow man. But Harris isn’t addressing the Orthodox in this Chapter. He’s addressing the Roman Catholic Church. The Inquisition began in 1184, 130 years after the Catholic Church separated itself from the rest of Christendom. Since I am not a Roman Catholic, I am not in a position to judge the actions of their Church, or really to answer Harris’ accusations. But in the interest of a continuing dialogue about this book, I’ll select a few quotes and try to respond:

The question of how the church managed to transform Jesus’ principal message of loving one’s neighbor and turning the other cheek into a doctrine of murder and rapine seems to promise a harrowing mystery; but it is no mystery at all. Apart from the Bible’s heterogeneity and outright self-contradiction, allowing it to justify diverse and irreconcilable aims, the culprit is clearly the doctrine of faith itself. Whenever a man imagines that he need only believe the truth of a proposition, without evidence—that unbelievers will go to hell, that Jews drink the blood of infants—he becomes capable of anything.

He’s referring in the last line to the practice known as “blood libel”… a belief that Jews require the blood of Christians for some of their rituals. I’m on unfamiliar ground here, but I completely disagree with his statement that Anti-Semitism is intrinsic to both Christianity and Islam…. (he deals with Islam in Chapter 4). And that Whatever the context, the hatred of Jews remains a product of faith, Christian, Muslim, as well as Jewish.

As well as Jewish? Jews hating Jews? I don’t get that, but again I disagree that hatred of Jews, or any people, is a “product of faith.” Hatred is a product of our sinful fallen nature. All of us, no matter what our religious preference, are capable and guilty of hatred at some point in our lives. Well, except maybe for some of the Saints who managed to escape this terrible vice.

Harris includes the Jews in his assault:

Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its literalism, and as at odds with the civilizing insights of modernity as any other religion. Jewish settlers, by exercising their “Freedom of belief” on contested land, are now one of the principal obstacles to peace in the Middle East. They will be a direct cause of war between Islam and the West should one ever erupt over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Again, I’m no expert on foreign affairs or the Middle East. But my opinion is that if what Harris predicts in the statement above happens, that it will be the result of sin, of fallen human nature (on all sides) and not the result of faith.

Harris takes us on a rabbit trail in the middle of Chapter 3, concerning the virginity of the Mother of God:

Mary’s virginity has always been suggestive of God’s attitude towards sex; it is intrinsically sinful, being the mechanism through which original sin was bequeathed to the generations after Adam. It would appear that Western civilization has endured two millennia of consecrated sexual neurosis simply because the authors of Matthew and Luke could not read Hebrew.

(He’s referring here to Luke and Matthew’s Gospels, in which they insist that Mary conceived as a virgin.) I’m confused as to why Harris interjected this section. In my ignorance I can’t see its relevance to his proposition. But since he brought it up, I will say that the Orthodox Church does not embrace this concept about sex at all. If Western civilization has “endured two millennia of consecrated sexual neurosis” it’s not the fault of the Church or of the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Again, it’s the result of our fallen humanity.
Harris deals with the Holocaust in this chapter, claiming that the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, it was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.

Again, I would point out that Harris’ definition of “medieval Christianity” does not include the Orthodox Church, but the Roman Catholic Church. Here’s a sample:

But the truly sinister complicity of the church came in its willingness to open its genealogical records to the Nazis and thereby enable them to trace the extent of a person’s Jewish ancestry. A historian of the Catholic Church, Guenther Lewy, has written:

“The cooperation of the [Catholic] Church in this matter continued right through the war years, when the price of being Jewish was no longer dismissal from a government job and loss of livelihood, but deportation and outright physical destruction.”

If the Catholic Church did aid in this terrible action, I am grieved, but again, that fact does not negate the goodness of God or the efficacy of faith.

At the end of this chapter, Harris’ drew some conclusions:

My purpose in this chapter has been to intimate, in as concise a manner as possible, some of the terrible consequences that have arisen, logically and inevitably, out of Christian faith…. The history of Christianity is principally a story of mankind’s misery and ignorance rather than of its requited love of God.

Perhaps the history of Christianity is both. But again, Harris begins with man, rather than with God. The Orthodox faith begins with God, and declares that the God who created man also redeems him.

Harris introduces the next chapter:

While Christianity has few living inquisitors today, Islam has many. In the next chapter we will see that in our opposition to the worldview of Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and fourteenth century hordes are pouring into our world. Unfortunately they are now armed with twenty-first-century weapons.

Harris might be right about this. Lord have mercy on us all.

Chapter 4: The Problem with Islam

Harris makes his views pretty clear here:

We are at war with Islam…. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran, and further elaborated in the literature of the hadith….

Harris spends 44 pages on Islam. On its fringe groups, its extremists and moderates and fundamentalists. It’s confusing, and yes it’s scary. He even pulls in Noah Chomsky, the author of a book called 9-11, in which he states that “the U.S. itself is a leading terrorist state.”

Harris says that what we need to counter Chomsky’s arguments is “the perfect weapon.” And that we need to use that weapon to create what he calls a “civil society.” Although he doesn’t get into the how of his plan in this chapter, he hints at the need for the U.S. to establish a “world government,” that might not be a democracy, but might work best as a “benign dictatorship.” I got chills as I read his words (and yes, I lost some more sleep last night) because they have a ring of anti-Christ to them. And no, I don’t know how he proposes this world government to come about, although he hints at it in the last paragraph of Chapter 4:

To achieve the necessary economic leverage, so that we stand a chance of waging this war of ideas by peaceful means, the development of alternative energy technologies should become the object of a new Manhattan Project. There are, needless to say, sufficient economic and environmental justifications for doing this, but there are political ones as well. It oil were to become worthless, the dysfunction of the most prominent Muslim societies would suddenly grow as conspicuous as the sun. Muslims might then come to see the wisdom of moderating their thinking on a wide variety of subjects. Otherwise, we will be obliged to protect our interests in the world with force—continually. In this case, it seems all but certain that our newspapers will begin to read more and more like the book of Revelation.

Harris’ last statement might not be too far from the mark. God revealed those truths about the end times to the Holy Apostle John in the cave on the island of Patmos, Greece, where St. John wrote the Book of the Apocalypse, of Revelation. I saw the place where he heard God’s voice in that cave when I visited Patmos this past October, and my faith was enlarged by that pilgrimage.

And I’m finding comfort at this moment in a very different but interesting place. One day this week I was in my car and turned on the Sean Hannity radio show. A conservative caller to the show was panicky about the possibility of a liberal ending up in the White House. Now I don’t agree with everything Hannity, or any political analysis or politician, for that matter, has to say. I haven’t decided who to vote for two days from now. But I loved his response to this caller. It’s his trademark: “Let not your heart be troubled.” Life in these United States will continue as people struggle to find the truth in all areas of life.

It reminded me of something a dear friend said to me during a visit on Friday. The friend said, “I’m happy. I’ve decided to be happy.” We talked about what that meant. It’s not a passive resignation to things going on in the world. It’s not a decision to bury our heads in the sand and not work for things that we care about. But it’s also not a decision to allow our circumstances, and those in the world at large, to determine our state of mind, heart and soul. This friend is an Orthodox Christian. He understands that God’s Kingdom is not of this world.

As I continue to read Harris’ book and discuss it with another friend, the one who asked me read it, the one who has embraced it with so much enthusiasm, I’ll read it with faith in the God who said those favorite words of Hannity’s: “Let not your heart be troubled.”

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