Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Anne's New and Hot - week 9

Interesting Plane Experience and Sam Harris's Life

So, I was sitting on the airplane reading “Letter to a Christian Nation” and the person next to me kept glancing over. Finally, the person spoke up and asked me if I liked the book and that in their opinion that Sam Harris is a “complete psycho”. I told him that I was reading the book to gain a broader perspective on the debate between creationism and evolution in the United States today, and that I don’t agree with every claim that Harris makes. The man next to me wasn’t too happy even being near close to the book, though and looked pretty uncomfortable. I can see how Harris generates extreme reactions because his writing is also extreme. I was really interested in finding out more about the man, Sam Harris, and how he came to develop such extreme opposition to all religion. The Washington Post Published an interesting article in the wake of an evening debate between Harris and a former priest at the New York Public Library. And in the long article there are brief biographical segments that I found quite intriguing.

Apparently, Sam Harris went to Stanford as an English major, but then dropped out of college, after having a life changing experience after experimenting with MDMA, or ecstasy. He said, “I realized that it was possible to be a human being who wished others well all the time, reflexively.” Harris began to Study Buddhism and Meditation and traveled to Nepal and India. While, there he spent years at a time in seclusion and meditation, like the Buddha himself. He also read hundreds of books on religion. In other words, Harris was as deeply spiritual as one could possibly be, but not necessarily religious. He re-enrolled in Stanford in 1997 to complete a degree in philosophy. During his second phase at Stanford he began writing a lot, leading to his book, “The End of Faith”.

Knowing more about Sam Harris and his background definitely gives Harris more credibility in my mind. He never discounted religion from the start; in fact he became seriously engaged in religious experiences. I still don’t personally agree with all that he says, but knowing a bit more about how Harris came to the conclusions that he did puts his letter in context.

The article also quotes a retired Stanford Professor of religious studies. I found it interesting in light of the opposing view of another Stanford Professor of theoretical physics, Leonard Susskind, whose praise is quoted on the back cover of Harris’s “Letter”.

The Article: “Atheist Evangelist” by: David Segal The Washington Post, October 26, 2006

It can be found here:

1 comment:

chickenpox said...

I agree that knowing that Harris did in fact engage with religion, rather than reject it right away, adds to his credibility. Also, there are so many notable Stanford grads!