Has Sam Harris, neuroscientist and philosopher committed a grievous error in his book?

"Seeing their atheist leader crank out a whole book about his “spirituality” has set off some non-theistic allies who feel such language is a slippery slope to the supernatural while some say he’s selling religion short by stealing its ideas. But some non-theists are loving the new side of Harris, even seeing something of a spiritual guide in a writer usually known as a professional contrarian" Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post.

Ms Boorstein is talking about the fact that in Sam's latest book, "Waking Up," he's advocating spirituality, albeit using the word in a non religious way. However the religious community feel he has hijacked the word. Do you think Harris should use the word spiritual, in a secular way, or is it a religious term connected to the supernatural?  Has Sam committed a grievous error?
PS I love that term "professional contrarian." Christopher Hitchens was definitely one!

Best Answers

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    Accepted Answer
    Well, although no one has any exclusive claim to the word "spiritual," the definition has, admittedly been stretched in recent times from its original meaning. But this is not to say that modern usage is wrong. "Spirituality" in its original usage was solely connected to ecclesiastical law...in fact, it was the church that coined the word. But...that was 600 years ago and the word "spiritual" has evolved into the much broader meaning of "relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit." "Spirit" in turn can mean "the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person" or "the activating or essential principle influencing a person." 

    So if one derives the word "spirituality" from the quality of being spiritual, then Harris' use the word is perfectly legitimate.
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  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
    Accepted Answer
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Accepted Answer
    The Celts believed that everything had a spirit, some they named gods, and their beliefs predate Christian ones by many 1000s of years. Christianity is a relatively recent religion compared to many. (And Christians 'borrowed' a lot of myths and beliefs from competing or previous religions.)

Answers

  • Skoob_ymSkoob_ym Teacher
    edited October 2018
    I'd comment, but if I did I'd go too far, so I'll quit while I'm ahead. Suffice it to say that I find Mr. Harris ... amusing.
  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
    Wow Skoob amusing!!! 
  • It is not that S. Harris as a military atheist should not talk about spirituality; it is another evidence of the surrender of atheism to the theism. It happens all the time. To support a desire to preserve the sense of human life he makes an effort to borrow values that cannot be rooted in the material world but can be just declared with ideals in mind.  One of other interesting examples: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville


  • It is not that S. Harris as a military atheist should not talk about spirituality; it is another evidence of the surrender of atheism to the theism. It happens all the time.

    It does? In many civilised countries it's just the opposite. Unbiased education often kills off religion. But I have never heard of Sam Harris, and just now visiting is website, he simply seems to be another person selling products.

    https://shop.samharris.org/

    But what has he got to do with "military?"

    To support a desire to preserve the sense of human life he makes an effort to borrow values that cannot be rooted in the material world but can be just declared with ideals in mind.

    And hard to prove.

      One of other interesting examples: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville

    Atheism is just a label coined by religious bodies, and they make it sound like a dirty word, like Infidel. I am not religious, but I don't call myself anything.

  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
    I'm surprised you have never heard of Sam Harris Kevin. He is one of the famous "Four Horsemen" of the scientific world. 

    "ABOUT THE FOUR HORSEMEN

    In 2007, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett filmed a landmark discussion about modern atheism. The video went viral. Now in print for the first time, the transcript of their conversation is illuminated by new essays from three of the original participants and an introduction by Stephen Fry.

    At the dawn of the new atheist movement, the thinkers who became known as “the four horsemen,” the heralds of religion’s unraveling—Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett—sat down together over cocktails. What followed was a rigorous, pathbreaking, and enthralling exchange, which has been viewed millions of times since it aired. This is intellectual inquiry at its best: exhilarating, funny, and unpredictable, sincere and probing, reminding us just how varied and colorful the threads of modern atheism are.

    Here is the transcript of that conversation, in print for the first time, augmented by material from the living participants: Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. These new essays, introduced by a sparkling foreword from Stephen Fry, mark the evolution of their thinking and highlight particularly resonant aspects of this epic exchange. Each of these men contends with the most fundamental questions of human existence as they challenge one another to articulate their own stance on god and religion, cultural criticism, spirituality, debate with people of faith, and work to articulate the path to a truly ethical life."

    Another favourite of mine is Lawrence Krauss.
  • Most of the writings of the so-called four horsemen -- Well, if one has already read C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and Matthew Henry, the horsemen will suddenly seem headless.
  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
    edited November 2018
     I really like C.S. Lewis' children's stories. I have bought the whole Narnia series for my grandchild. I know the Lion in Lewis' Narnia series represents Jesus, but they are great stories and can be read at any level. I read The Lion , the Witch and the Wardrobe for an assignment in English. As an adult one realises that the Lion signifies Jesus but I don't think many children would. 
  • I know of Dawkins because he is very famous and has also featured a lot on UK TV. I have never heard of the others, then again, I am not good at recalling names. It's not what I bother to read, though. I don't need telling what to think  :)
  • Most of the writings of the so-called four horsemen -- Well, if one has already read C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and Matthew Henry, the horsemen will suddenly seem headless.

    I have not read them, so what do you mean? (I have seen Narnia as a TV series and then as films, though, but not Father Brown.)

    The Lion could be any saviour.

  • Larika said:
     I really like C.S. Lewis' children's stories. I have bought the whole Narnia series for my grandchild. I know the Lion in Lewis' Narnia series represents Jesus, but they are great stories and can be read at any level. I read The Lion , the Witch and the Wardrobe for an assignment in English. As an adult one realises that the Lion signifies Jesus but I don't think many children would. 
    My favorites of his fiction are the space trilogy and The Screwtape Letters, though everything he's written is very much worth reading, or even studying. Till We Have Faces is a story that even a curmudgeon like Kevin might enjoy, but don't tell him I said that.

    I often think that That Hideous Strength could be made into a Hollywood blockbuster of a movie, if it were done right and the effects used carefully.
  • Most of the writings of the so-called four horsemen -- Well, if one has already read C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and Matthew Henry, the horsemen will suddenly seem headless.

    I have not read them, so what do you mean? (I have seen Narnia as a TV series and then as films, though, but not Father Brown.)

    The Lion could be any saviour.

    I mean that the intellectual level of the three named in my post will cause the so-called horsemen to seem vapid and insipid by comparison. A moment's carefully reading of Screwtape will quickly put paid to Blind Watchmakers.

    Father Brown is not Chesterton's best work by far, though Brown is well worth reading. One might note that he comes to conclusions through logic and reflection. The books far outshine the TV series. The Innocence of Father Brown is a good place to start, though The Everlasting Man will teach you far more.

    Narnia, also, while instructive and a great read, is but a light-hearted introduction to books like God in the Dock, or Mere Christianity, Perelandra, or Surprised by Joy.

    Matthew Henry's best and most famous work is his commentary.

    The lion could only be any savior if all saviors were to visit the Stone Table, and by that visit, break it. I do not think that many would do so.
  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
    edited November 2018
    Frantically looks up curmudgeon.
  • My favorites of his fiction are the space trilogy and The Screwtape Letters, though everything he's written is very much worth reading,

    Old SF can be amusing, as they try to foresee the future.

     or even studying.

    Study for why? Just read and enjoy.

     Till We Have Faces is a story that even a curmudgeon like Kevin might enjoy, but don't tell him I said that.

    Is that not a reboot of some old Greek story? But I think I will read the eight Terry Brooks novels I have just bought. A bargain at £2.

    I often think that That Hideous Strength could be made into a Hollywood blockbuster of a movie, if it were done right and the effects used carefully.

    It would have to be updated, and that would ruin it.

  •  you think he's a crusty, bad-tempered old man

    I have no idea why he would think that. I am just being English.


  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
    edited November 2018
    Kevin I think your remark "the lion could be any saviour" is maybe how many children would see Aslan. However like Skoob said the breaking of the Stone tablet and the resurrection of Aslan show Lewis represented the lion as Christ in Narnia. Susan and Lucy stay with Aslan's (the lion) dead body all night. In the morning, they hear a great cracking noise, and are astounded to see the Stone Table broken. Aslan has disappeared. Suddenly Susan and Lucy hear Aslan's voice from behind. Aslan has risen from the dead. In the story Aslan sacrifices his life for Edmund. However it is mainly a story of good and evil and as I said I think this is how the children, to whom I've spoken, interpret the book.
  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
     You may think of Kevin as a " a crusty bad-tempered old man" Skoob,  but he has a good sense of humour.
    https://curmudgeon-at-large.com/about/
  • It was an attempt to tempt him to expand his horizons.
  • Kevin I think your remark "the lion could be any saviour" is maybe how many children would see Aslan.

    Or just view him as some kind of immortal legendary creature who seems to pop up at random in the 'nick of time.'

    However like Skoob said the breaking of the Stone tablet and the resurrection of Aslan show Lewis represented the lion as Christ in Narnia. Susan and Lucy stay with Aslan's (the lion) dead body all night. In the morning, they hear a great cracking noise, and are astounded to see the Stone Table broken. Aslan has disappeared. Suddenly Susan and Lucy hear Aslan's voice from behind. Aslan has risen from the dead.

    Was all of that in the TV series and films or just the books?

     In the story Aslan sacrifices his life for Edmund. However it is mainly a story of good and evil and as I said I think this is how the children, to whom I've spoken, interpret the book.

    Quite so. Only people with a religious upbringing would view it as being based on Jesus.

  • It was an attempt to tempt him to expand his horizons.

    Yet another insult about someone you know nothing about? I could do the same, but I don't ...

  • LarikaLarika Bibliophile
    edited November 2018
    Was it an insult Kevin or just "tongue in cheek" to someone Skoob likes but sometimes gets exasperated with?
  •   As I said in a previous posting, because it's just text, there's no real way to know in what tone it is said (and why emoticons were invented) so it's best to leave personal remarks out of postings, and I doubt your last statement. :p
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