Is Sam Harris Lying?

Mike Dobbins has a thought-provoking article about Sam Harris and his new book. Here are a few excerpts:

The “unfortunate associations” Harris refers to are the very pillars of spirituality which make the word meaningful to the millions of non-religious and spiritual people, like myself, who use it. By rejecting the modern definition of spirituality that may include a higher mystical force or power, reference to a soul, or something that transcends the material world, Harris strips the word of all present day significance. In its place, he substitutes a diminutive definition based strictly on etymology. In other words, an Iron age definition only a handful of people use or are even aware exists.

An Iron Age definition. Nice! Does Sam insist on Iron Age definitions for all our words? So why does he insist on using an Iron Age definition in this case?

Apparently, Harris is looking to get a slice of the $10 billion dollar a year self-help industry. The cover of his book has a dreamy new-age design depicting a face made out of fluffy white clouds and a picturesque blue sky. The title and subtitle Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion are direct appeals to individuals looking for a manual for spiritual improvement. More tellingly perhaps is Harris’ recent name dropping of famous self-help gurus when discussing his book. Deepak Chopra and Eckart Tolle have recently been praised and scrutinized in his blogs and he pretentiously says his book is “Eckart Tolle for Smart People.”

Well, that would explain his decision to use such a misleading Iron Age definition.

As Sam Harris said in his book Lying, “I came away convinced that lying, even about the smallest matters, needlessly damages personal relationships and public trust.” I couldn’t agree with you more Sam. I hope you will repair the damage.

Another example of Gnu Atheist Hypocrisy?

Author’s Note: I emailed Sam Harris through his website to see if he would like to read this article before it was published and comment or clarify and received no response.

I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell ya.

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7 Responses to Is Sam Harris Lying?

  1. TFBW says:

    What exactly is the definition of “spirituality” that Harris is using? He makes a fuss over how the word “comes from the Latin spiritus, which in turn is a translation of the Greek pneuma, meaning ‘breath,’” but he doesn’t explain how this is relevant to his usage. I seriously doubt that his book is a guide to breathing without religion. And what’s this guff about the word becoming “bound up with notions of immaterial souls, supernatural beings, ghosts, etc.” around the 13th century? Doesn’t Paul go on at some length about “pneuma” in the context of supernatural beings and the resurrected body in 1 Corinthians 15?

  2. Joshua says:

    Indeed. Throughout the gospels, pneuma is used of a particular class of being, as “evil spirits” or “unclean spirits,” who speak, act, enter, manipulate, and exit human beings….

    Pneuma also clearly refers to a disembodied, non-physical being, probably even of a specific person (i. e., a ghost), in Luke 24:37 & 39.

    Once again, it’s these guys who have faith in PBog’s sense, pretending to know what they don’t know….

  3. TFBW says:

    Right, and that usage of “pneuma” is hardly obscure, so he’s either lying about history to suit his agenda, or speaking with an air of authority when he’s inexcusably ignorant. In the former alternative, I include the possibility that he’s somehow “technically” telling the truth, based on some highly-strained interpretation of things. Caveat emptor, folks — is this the kind of behaviour you want in a self-help guru?

  4. Dhay says:

    Perhaps this identification of “breath => pneuma => spiritus => spirituality” is nothing more profound than an oblique claim that the Buddhist meditation practice of counting breaths – which Harris teaches in his blogs – is actually the very essence of spirituality.

    Probably not, for when I looked in Sam Harris’ 2012 blog entitled, “In Defense of “Spiritual””, a blog entry announcing the problems he expects to arise when he uses the term “spiritual” in his “Waking Up”, I found at the end that he dismisses using “the even more problematic “mystical””, “the more restrictive “contemplative”” and any “pretentious and annoying” neologisms. Harris says, ”I appear to have no choice: “Spiritual” it is,” because – and I think he here gives a de facto definition of how he intends to use the word, “spiritual” – :

    …there seems to be no other term with which to discuss the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness—through meditation, psychedelics, or other means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness.

    Note that Harris refers not to overcoming actual separateness, but to overcoming feelings of separateness. What Harris doesn’t tell us here is, feelings of separateness from what? – Feelings of separateness from each other? From God? From Cosmic Consciousness? From my True Nature (whatever that is)?

    Personally, I just hug the wife; but that doesn’t conform to Harris’ insistence that “spirituality” refers to non-ordinary states of consciousness.

    This arrogant re-definition of a commonly-used word substitutes quite nicely into a passage from Lewis Carroll’s second Alice tale, “Through the Looking-Glass”:

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘spiritual,’ ” Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness by inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness!’ ”

    “But ‘spiritual’ doesn’t mean ‘the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness by inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness’,” Alice objected.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

  5. Ray P says:

    Quoting the christian bible to explain something outside of the bible is going to stir more confusing and spread more non-sense. If one can’t see how mean, ignorant, and non-sensical the bible is one’s intuitions on common sense are hopelessly lost. I blame one’s brainwashing as a child into a christian beliefs as the cause, not a lack of individual effort to be good.

    I am more likely to believe a UFO is in my backyard than Sam is lying.

  6. TFBW says:

    It doesn’t really matter what you or anyone else thinks about the Bible as a book, Ray. The point is that the New Testament uses the word “pneuma” in a way that Sam Harris says it wasn’t used until the 13th century. As such, he’s either woefully ignorant, or deliberately lying. If you prefer the former alternative, then you’re welcome to it: I’m not committed to one or the other.

  7. Dhay says:

    Ray P > “I am more likely to believe a UFO is in my backyard than Sam is lying.”

    If you read Sam Harris’ Footnote #5 to his recently updated “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” blog, you will find that if you take DMT, which a careful reading shows Harris reckons is the only one of the four psychedelics that he mentions (“psilocybin, LSD, DMT, and mescaline”) that can be claimed to be safe — though Harris is at pains, under the guise of criticising its illegality, to make plain that it, too, is illegal — you are almost certain to believe a UFO is in your backyard.

    The whole blog — and presumably the drugs chapter in “Waking Up” likewise — is written with legal deniability in mind, so that when the legal letters roll in to say that someone’s teenager or spouse now has mental problems because of psychedelics Harris strongly recommended they take — and Harris makes plain that some of the “some people” for whom psychedelics are “indispensable” will thereafter have permanent mental problems — Harris’ lawyers can point to the text and plausibly claim that all the problems were made plain, that the sufferer’s inferences were misunderstandings.

    Study the blog carefully, or you will be one of the gullible people he takes in; then ask yourself, “Would I buy a used car from this man?”

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