Atheism is supposed to be nothing more than a lack of God belief. But if we consider the empirical evidence – focusing on what leading atheists claim and do – that’s just a dictionary definition that is rapidly becoming an anachronism. A religious dimension to atheism is clearly emerging before our eyes. And this can be seen by focusing on one of the most popular lead atheists – Sam Harris.
Claire Hoffman wrote an interesting article about Sam Harris entitled, Sam Harris is Still Railing Against Religion. Let’s consider some excerpts.
Although Harris regards Waking Up, in part, as a “seeker’s memoir,” he shares little about his life in the book. It’s a somewhat clinical treatise on what he knows and thinks about religion, consciousness, spiritual traditions, and meditation. I wonder whether Waking Up might be found in the self-help aisle. “There’s definitely a self-help component to it,” he says over his pot of coffee. “I’m giving people an experiment to try in their own lives. But you don’t usually find in the self-help section the level of intellectual hairsplitting and science and philosophy that’s in this book and all my other books. I would be disappointed and annoyed if it were categorized as a self-help book instead of nonfiction.”
LOL. So Harris thinks his self-help book is somehow special and different because it has crossed some mysterious threshold of “intellectual hairsplitting and science and philosophy.” Really?
It gets better.
I ask him why he doesn’t like the self-help categorization, and his tone sharpens. “There’s an impression that those books are—rightly or wrongly—intellectually insubstantial,” he says. “And that’s often borne out. I’m interested in making a strong intellectual case to people skeptical of the whole enterprise. If it were in the self-help section of the bookstore, that is a section of the store that most serious people don’t wander into because they expect to find pabulum there.”
Harris wants people to view him as super smart and his books as “intellectually substantial.” This is significant. For someone selling spirituality, and who has practiced meditation for decades, he seems remarkably invested in his own self image. Sam’s reaction is evidence – evidence that his whole meditation/spirituality message is bullshit. He should not care if his book is categorized as “self-help” and sits on the shelf next to Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle. It would be his way to help and reach others. Instead, his preoccupation with self, and the need to be perceived as some super smart intelletual, takes precedence. The man who teaches we have no self clearly worships his own self.
At this point I start laughing. Which, I should note, I immediately feel bad about. It is unprofessional and rude and intolerant of his beliefs, such as they are. But I find his contempt to be over-the-top.
Why are you laughing? he asks me. Well, I guess, the snobbery, I reply, already regretting where we’re headed. It turns out that snobbery versus elitism is one of the topics he’s written about and—no surprise—he has strong opinions. “There are tarot cards next to legitimate manuals on how to practice meditation next to theosophy,” he says, picking up steam. “It’s not snobbery to make those distinctions. There’s a huge percentage of Americans who have no interest in science. The fact is that New Age literature is bursting with pseudoscience and wishful thinking and sheer fantasy and intellectual frauds. It’s intellectual poison, much of it. When you have somebody writing about quantum mechanics and healing your body, you know you’ve opened the wrong door into the mansion of understanding.”
In other words, while there are all those other fraudulent forms of spirituality out there, Sam Harris is selling the One True form of Spirituality. And that others might confuse Sam’s True Spirituality with the frauds and fantasies causes Sam, who is deeply invested in Self, to become annoyed and agitated.
Sam better get used to people laughing at him.
Snobbery, Harris says, is a “pejorative” word. “Snobbery is a bad thing. Snobbery is a failure to connect with the hopes and sufferings and efforts of other people,” he says. He wants me to know he’s not failing to connect. “I can finally take the time to put forth the positive case for the contemplative life because I’ve spent so much time criticizing the dogmas of religion. You can’t rush into talking about the virtues of Buddhist meditation without saying that we are paying a huge price for blithely accepting religious sectarianism.”
So Sam is trying to “connect with the hopes and sufferings and efforts of other people” by selling them religion – “the virtues of Buddhist meditation.” Thanks to Sam for admitting he is selling Buddhist meditation.
He’s also embarking on a multicity lecture tour this month, where—for $219—participants can learn the mindfulness techniques that Harris claims to have released from their religious bondage.
For only $219, Sam will teach you “mindfulness techniques.” I suppose that’s a bargain compared to the $85 a month you have to pay to be part of Richard Dawkins’ circle.
Anyway, be sure to read the last part of the interview, where Harris lashes out at the Hoffman for being an agnostic. From what I have seen, atheist spirituality seems to be associated with greed, arrogance, and dogmatism.