Sam Harris Does It Again
Posted October 15, 2010
Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape
Free Press: 2010, 304pp. ISBN 1439171211
Sam Harris has done it again. Years ago when I glanced at his bestselling The End of Faith at Borders, I just happened to open to his section on mysticism. There in a few paragraphs he differentiated mysticism from religion: Religion is a belief/faith, and mysticism is rational. I appreciated what he was trying to say, but really, Sam, mysticism is transrational. It picks up where good reasoning leaves off. In other words it takes us above reasoning, unlike mere belief, which can often take us below the realm of reason into the serendipitous superstitious.
Harris is a rational mystic in belief but not in experience. He does not believe in the metaphysical claims of the mystics, but he can't help but acknowledge that he believes that their experience of expanded consciousness and contentment — bliss — is desirable and that such a belief is reasonable. After all, it is indeed rational to rise above or at least go somewhere that greed, envy, lust and the like — animality — are not in the dictionary.
Dare not call this realm spirituality. Doing so found Harris backtracking to remain credible in the realm of reasoning where he resides — the circle of samsara, not nirvana.
What has Harris done again? Well, in those few paragraphs of The End of Faith, Harris shot himself in the foot: mysticism is the heart of religion. It is where religion is supposed to take us and where it has taken quite a few influential people — Christ, Krishna, Francis, Sankara, Ramana, Rumi, Chaitanya and the like. You cannot embrace one and entirely reject the other. Surely religion can at times not lead to mysticism, and some religions reject it altogether, but any theologian knows that this is but the abuse of religion. In The End of Faith Harris shot himself in the foot. In his latest book, The Moral Landscape, he shot himself in the head.
Imagine men and women in white coats deciding for us whether or not we are happy. Welcome to Harris's world, where meaning is derived from measurement. The moral relativity of postmodernism is empty, but Sam's dark world of ultimately and absolutely meaningless measured meaning is full of it.
Harris suggests that we accomplish the reconciliation of measurement and meaning by deriving all meaning from measurement and objectifying the subjective — a hideous idea that only at best seems to make sense if consciousness is reduced to matter, at which point nothing matters in any absolute sense. But that's Sam's faith.