No God but God / A review (III)

A continuation

4.Impartiality of the author to a religion, cult or sect:
Unfortunately, Aslan failed in this area as well, his partiality to Mohammad, to his tradition (although he denied that) and to Islam, specifically to Shiite Sufism (Erfan) was obvious to the highest degree.
Idealizing Muhammad:
In his words:“It is a wonder, some would say a miracle – that the same man, who had been forced to sneak out of his bed out of home under cover of night to join the seventy or so followers anxiously awaiting for him in a foreign land hundred of miles away, would, in a few short years, return to his city of birth, but in full light of day, with ten thousand men trailing peacefully behind him; and the same people who once tried to murder him in his sleep would instead offer him both security and the keys to Ka’ba unconditionally and without a fight, like a consecrated sacrifice.”
The only wonder I see in this event is that Muhammad was a skilled tactician, and a witted military leader. He was a warlord. He did not leave any of his opponents in Medina, and he raised terror in the Arabian Peninsula. History portrays other warlords like Hitler. And although Hitler used religion to annihilate Jews when he justified his fight for the German people and against Jews by using Biblical reasoning (this was clear in one of his speeches where he said, “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”) Yet, Hitler did not claim to be a messenger of God, nor drew upon mysterious forces to be at his side in his battles, and that’s why his ideology did not withstand time, and people eventually knew his real motives. While Muhammad was much smarter, he became a model to follow by some orthodox Moslems of today. His effect is palpable especially on the Moslem Brotherhood Group, who followed his steps to the letter (Sayid Cotb, Alzawahiri, Ben Laden and Khumaini as well as Hasan Nasrulla are good examples). Aslant also idealized Mohammad’s tradition when he said,” to further his egalitarian ideals, Muhammad equalized the blood-worth of every member of his community, so that no longer could one life be considered more or less valuable than another.” This practice was not new in the pre-Islamic society of the Arab Peninsula. “An eye for an eye” or the law of retribution was practiced long before Muhammad, and it is true that there were some who broke this law, but they were minorities, and the fact that the social structure was divide into tribes that were not controlled by a single power contributed to this. So we can’t claim that this law came with Muhammad.
Aslan also paraded Muhammad’s intentions in outlawing usury, as if that was an honorary act. He mentioned that the reason for instituting that law was to eventually free the society from slavery. In the pre-Islamic society, people who did not have enough money to pay their debts, Aslan said, were forced into slavery until the full debt was paid. History tells us that this act did not stop slavery, nor people could stop usury. Banks of today cannot function without usury under the label “interest”. Even Moslems themselves had to waver this law, in the Islamic banks of today, by only changing the word “usury” to “Morabaha”, which in reality is just a deception. Mohammad had the power to abolished slavery instead of just regulating it later on if that was his origional intention, but he couldn’t have done that. Booties of his wars consisted of Sabaya (women prisoners) and slaves; they were a huge incentive (especially women) for his warriors, and abolishing slavery was not compatible with his dream of expansion. That dream which became official when Muhammad got the power in Yathrib. In Aslan’s words, “ the dramatic success of the Ummah in Yathrib had convinced Muhammad that God was calling him to be more than a warner to his “tribe and close kin”(12:221:107) and the messenger “to all of humanity”(12:104-81:27).”
On the other hand, Islam was never egalitarian when it came to women’s rights, as Aslan struggled to convey. About the law of inheritance Aslan said, “While the exact changes Muhammad made to this tradition (women’s inheritance) are far too complex to discuss here, it is sufficient to note that women in the Ummah were, for the first time, given the right to keep their dowries.”
How could Aslan make this claim when Khadeeja, the prophet’s wife inherited her first husband? If we don’t have enough information about the pre-Islamic society, that does not make Khadeeja’s case an exception. Nor it gives us the liability to assume that she was. Khadeeja inherited her husband and was free to practice her own business, and atop of that, hired Muhammad to conduct that business, and by no means she was an exception. And if there were women who still practiced business and had social activities at the time of Muhammad and Khulafa Alrashideen, it was because that was the remnant of the pre-Islamic social and economic affairs. With Islam’s system in role assignment to genders, that encouraged the dependency of women on men, businesswomen in the Islamic societies became the exception over time, and not the norm. (I will get back to this point in the conclusion).
As for polygamy, Islam prohibited it when it came to women only. Polygamy was permitted in the pre-Islamic society for both genders. And children usually took the mother’s name since “linage was passed primarily by women” and not by men. As for men, it only limited the number of wives to four per man, and did not limit owning concubines. And reinterpreting the words of Quran to prove that Muhammad prohibited polygamy for men, as Aslan did, remains to be only an individual’s interpretation that is not accepted unanimously by Ulam (Ijma).

To be continued

No God but God / A review (II)

A continuation

3. Logical and objective analysis according to chronological events:
As I mentioned in the last post, Aslan’s objective in his book was “an argument for reform”. To do so, he first presented the pre-Islamic history, and then he drew a biography of Muhammad portraying him as a messenger of peace, and trying to prove that Muhammad’s message was an egalitarian one. Then he presented contemporary Islamic history, for comparison reasons to show how Muhammad’s message was distorted with time. He specifically attacked traditional Moslems (of both Sunni and Shiite factions) , claiming that they were the main reason why Islam took a diversion from its origional message until it reached the flinty Islam that is spreading today. But unfortunately, his efforts gave exactly the opposite message he was trying to convey. Aslan stance was often more defensive than logical, and he wasn’t able to provide enough evidence for his claims.

First of all, Asaln, stretched himself too often to compare Islam to other religions in order to make a point. “Like great Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Jacob; like the prophet Moses and Hosea; like the Israelite kings Saul, David, and Solomon; and like nearly all of the Christian/Byzantine and Zoroastrian/Sasanian monarchs, all Shaykhs of Arabia – Mohammad included – had multiple wives, multiple concubines, or both.” This reminded me of my own children when they were kids, when one of them did something that he wasn’t supposed to do; he’d rationalize his action by pointing a finger at his brother, and saying, “he did the same”. And although this is expected from children of young age; but I did not expect this from a learned scholar like Aslan. If someone else committed a wrong act, that does not make the act right. The God of Muhammad was precise in Quran to the minutest details, he even instructed Muhammad to marry his adopted son’s wife; Zaynab Bint Jahsh, which was not such an important issue compared to polygamy and keeping concubines. Even his wife Aisha mocked him by saying “your God is quick to provide for your desires”. This God did not bother to stop polygamy, nor to abolish slavery because that was not to the prophet’s desires! Not to mention that by marrying his adopted son’s wife, the most inhumane act of “outlawing adoption in Islam” was instituted. But that did not seem to bother Aslan, all what he wanted to prove was that there was nothing wrong with what Muhammad did, and that other prophets did the same.

Second, Aslan struggled too hard to show that Muhammad neither was an expansionist, nor his message was political, as is understood by contemporary traditional Moslems. In fact, he even posited that Islam is egalitarian by nature, ignoring the quotes of Quran that discriminates between genders, and failing to provide historical evidences to his claims. He attempted to alienate Islam from politics, denying the fact that Islam is a totalitarian and a complete system, with laws, social system, economic rules, as well as its own method of theocratic government was in vain, he even slipped more than once when he proved the opposite, “ As shaykh of Ummah, it was Muhammad’s responsibility to forge links within and beyond his community through the only means at his disposal: marriage.” Why would someone forge links with other tribes if the purpose was not political?
Even when he touched the issue of slavery in Mecca, Aslan tried to portray it as a well-intentioned move toward social reform and not a political revolution on Quraysh, “this (slavery issue) was a radical message, one that had never been heard before in Mecca. Muhammad was not yet establishing a new religion; he was calling for sweeping social reform.” And in my opinion, this is an underestimation of the prophet’s ingenuity. The consecutive events of Muhammad’s life show that he had other priorities in mind. One was to bribe the slaves into following him for the false hope of freedom, which he never granted by abolishing slavery when he had power. And the other was to strike an arrow at the heart of Quraysh economy.
Slaves were considered a vital force on which Qurysh economy depended, especially at the pilgrimage period of the year. Not to mention the two-times a year, trade caravan trips to the North and to the South, which without the slaves could have collapsed. Quraysh didn’t care about their slave’s religions, or cared if they followed any prophet. Nor they cared about prophets, prophets at those times were dime-a-dozen, and Mecca was a pluralistic society; anyone was free to worship the God or Gods of his liking. In fact, Qurysh’s main resource depended on Ka’ba and its pilgrims who came from all over Arabian Peninsula to worship diverse Gods, all collected in Ka’ba. But Mohammad’s aim was total political control directed to a “universal Islamic rule” as the traditionalist Sayed Kutb of the Moslem Brothers said, and not just a social reform. Slaves and women in Islam were used and abused as political tools, or military incentives. War Sabayas (women slaves) whose husbands, brothers and fathers were killed in cold blood were distributed among the warriors. Muhammad even married Rayhana Bint Zaid right after slaughtering her husband with the 700 Jews of Bano Qurayza. And what was worse; is when Aslan justified what Muhammad did to Bano Qrayza by using quotes of apologetics like Karen Armstrong’s “normal reaction for treason”. That was a very cheap trick. May be Aslan thought by doing so he’d shoot a fish in a barrel, forgetting that Muhammad was the intruder who fought the Jews of Yathrib with their very means of living which he, himself confirmed when he said that Muhammad, “eradicated their (Jews) economical monopoly over Medina and greatly reduced their wealth.” And also forgetting that all what Muhammad wanted from those Jews was conversion, if they had done that, none of the 700 Jews would have been brutally slaughtered. Shouldn’t this incident at least give some indication of Muhammad’s goals? And the message of Muhammad was never egalitarian; his traditions are filled with examples to show that individual’s feelings and rights are trivialities when it comes to the benefit of the whole nation. No human being in the history of the world had come up with such a wit to enforced conversion by military as well as other tactics but Muhammad. In this respect he could be rated as ingenious warlord, but not humane and definitely not a messenger of a peaceful religion that Aslan was struggling to present.
Now going back to politics, Muhammad first used economic pressures on both his opponents, Quraysh and the Jews of Yathrib. Then he used force. As Muhammad got stronger in Yathrib, especially after his victory in Badr, his real motive started to materialize when he formalized the constitution of Medina, forcing the Jews who did not want a part in his fights to protect Moslems. Muhammad was an outsider who fought them in their own resources, how did he expect their loyalty? No wonder the Jews never ceased to betray him! But their betrayal was not the reason why Muhammad annihilated the Jews from Medina, Muhammad could not tolerate any other religion, he wanted Islam to be the greatest empire on earth, like Alexander the Great’s or other great empires of his time, only his dream was much bigger; he wanted an Islamic dominion of the world . He also was a great visionary at that when he drew a long-term plan for Islam expansion, by forbidding Moslem women’s marriage to non-Muslims unless they converted, for according to Islamic dogmas, children follow their father’s religion. Not to mention the financial pressures he exerted on Thimmis (Christians and Jews), which I will come back to later. No wonder why Islam is becoming the fastest growing religion in the world today with such a coning tactics. Enforced conversion does not only mean using the sword, I’m sure Aslan realizes that.
As for the egalitarian and pluralistic Islamic state of Andalusia (Spain), which Aslan and other apologetics are so proud to present as the real Islam, there was nothing Islamic in the Spain of the “711 AD until 1492 AD”. Abd al-Rahman Aldakhil; the one who was responsible for the civilized Islamic states of Spain was the descendent of Bano Ummayah. More accurately from the same tribe that descended from Abu Sufyan and Hind who never believed in Islam, but were forced to accept it at the Opening, or peaceful conquering of Mecca by the Muslims. And their ruling system was more of a Monarchy than Islamic. Civilization prospered in that society because it was closer to secularism and pluralism than the Islamic system of Muhammad.
Aslan did not even hesitate to twist facts when he talked about Aisha’s age at marriage: “and while Muhammad’s union with a nine-year-old girl may be shocking to our modern sensibilities, his betrothal to Aisha was just that: a betrothal. Aisha did not consummate until after reaching the age of puberty.” I really don’t know what Aslan meant by the age of puberty. There is a tradition on the tongue of Aisha herself saying that she was betrothed at six. And when she became nine, while playing on her swing, her mother took her to the prophet to be wedded. Is nine considered the age of puberty?
In another part of the book, Aslan said:” Quran- a message of revolutionary social egalitarianism must be separated from the cultural prejudices of the seventh century Arabia” . Quran was revealed, and taught to be recited in Arabic language. Any translation of the Quran to another language is considered an interpretation. That’s why when Islam spread among the non-Arabic speaking nations it was mandatory for them to learn Arabic. And language is a part of culture just as religion, so I don’t see how Aslan is proposing to take Quran out of its culture. Besides, Aslan himself admitted that the revelation received by Muhammad could have been some kind of conscious awaking or enlightenment. Where would this enlightenment come from, if not from the culture that planted its first seed? Quran is by no means egalitarian, it’s a system of life that spouses specific coded rules, and spiritual rituals are only one part of that system. A real Moslem is the one who takes the whole system, not only the parts that appeal to him. Therefore, Quran’s capability to be adopted anywhere, does not mean that one could alter its verses, but rather change the culture of that place to fit the verses. Exactly how it’s done in the West with Muslim communities. When people migrate, they take their culture of dress code, language and morals, of which all are elements of that religion, with them.
Moreover, Aslan gave excuses to the raids on Mecca’s caravans after Muhammad settled in Yathrib, and gave it legitimacy, ” in pre-Islamic Arabia caravan raiding was a legitimate means for small clans to benefit from the wealth of larger ones.” How more pathetic this statement could be, to be connected to a prophet that was calling for morals? Muhammad was respected in Mecca before Islam, and was dubbed Alameen, a word that describes a person whom one can entrust money, property, even family. Stealing is not a trait of Alameen (the trustworthy). And caravan raiding was never legitimate, trustworthiness and honesty in the old Arabia was considered an honor Arabs prided themselves for, all their pre-Islamic poetries attest to that. Otherwise, why would Quraysh be bothered to go on wars with Muhammad after the raids?
There is a proverb by Machiavelli, “the ends justify the means.” And Muhammad’s goal at that time was to take his revenge from Quraysh for kicking him out of Mecca, and also to accommodate his followers, especially the Mohajireen (the ones who migrated from Mecca). He also needed to strengthen himself as a warlord. And by doing so he set a model to follow, especially to those traditional religious leaders of today like Hamas who do not believe in democracy, yet they participate in it, for the end always justifies the means.

These were just few examples to show how Aslan, like other Moslems, never analyze Islamic history with common sense, nor portray Muhammad’s biography based on those events, but rather are directed by their partialities, which will be the theme of the evaluation on my next post.
I wonder if Aslan was analyzing the actions of someone else, would he have perceived the events through the same lens? I doubt it. And therefore I do not give him any point on his analysis, for I found it directive and not objective.

To be continued

No God but God / A Review

No God but God by Reza Aslan
I have stopped reading books about Islam and its history written by Moslems long back. And the reason was that I knew beforehand that most of them are biased, repetitive, long and full of forgeries. And in most cases one book is just a copy-paste of another. I’d rather spend my time on some books that add to my knowledge. And I wouldn’t have picked this book if it wasn’t for a commentator (Angilo) who insisted that this book is different. And different, in a way it was. But before going into the details of the review, let me give a general description of the book. This book was published in 2005, and the author is Riza Aslan. An American of an Iranian origin who fled Iran’s Islamic revolution of the late seventies with his family, when he was of a very young age. The book is of 266 pages and it is very nicely packaged, hard copy. The objective of the book, as the author declared, was an attempt on his part to reform the traditional beliefs of Islam by presenting its history and analyzing its main characters. In his own words: “ this book is an argument for reform”. Aslan had studied religion at Harvard Santa Clara University, and the University of California at Santa Barbra California. He holds an MFA in fiction from the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he was also visiting assistant professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.
It’s been a while now since I finished reading the book. And to be honest with you, I did not know how to rate it. And to be fair to the book and to my readers, I listed some points upon which I could rely on in my evaluation.
These points are:

  1. Honesty in presenting the Islamic history (2 points).
  2. The author’s literal ability to convey the message (2 points).
  3. Logical and objective analysis according to chronological events (2 points).
  4. Impartiality of the author to a religion, cult or sect (2 points).
  5. Logical conclusions, and the ability of the author to convince the reader with his ideology (2 points)

And to be able to do that without causing any misunderstanding, I may need to write a book, but I thought that the time spent in this evaluation is well worth it since it may have an impact on the majority of his readers, provided that I summarize as much as I can and present my views in a series of six or seven posts. This way, the reader will have enough time to throughly contemplate on each point and enrich it with valuable discussions. I may not participate in those discussions since my ideas will be presented in each post, but if a point needed more clarification, I will definitely provide it.
Now let’s start with point number one;

1. Honesty in portraying Islamic history:

To be frank, I was shocked by the author’s extreme honesty in presenting Islamic history, especially the part concerning Mohammad’s life in the pre-Islamic society as well as his mastery in presenting contemporary Islamic history with high precision and without forgery, all backed with genuine, diverse sources. And although this should have been expected from someone who studied religion in a secular country like the States, but I have read for other Moslem authors who lived most of their lives in the secular West and still found them not to be honest. Alsan, for example, did not deny the fact that the boy Mohammad of the Quraysh tribe adhered to his forefather’s religion of idolatry, not like many Moslems who deny this fact and claim that he never worshiped an idol. After all, Mohammad was like any normal child who inherited his parent’s religion. He never claimed to be different or supernatural, despite the effort made by some Moslems to portray him as flawless. The prophet was not illiterate, he was exposed to the Jewish culture of the area, Aslan said, and he must have even known Aramaic language. Which I agree with completely. But unfortunately, Aslan fell (may be unintentionally) in the same trap of idealizing Muhammad, when he analyzed the Islamic events after revelation. But nevertheless I would give him a full two point on this part, at least I know he was honest.

2. The author’s literal ability to convey the message:

Aslan’s ability in writing was also so appealing and appeasing. Each chapter started with more of a prose than an introduction, as if a director preparing the scene to engulf the reader within the historical context and make him live the events instead of just reading about them. Most history books, especially the ones written by Moslems, usually list events, fill them with praise words and in the process miss the linking between those events. Aslan’s specialty was in digging those missing links and fastening the chain of events strongly together for a better understanding. His skills in story telling, I have to acknowledge, is superb and very unique and original. He is a natural writer of fiction, and I would give him the full two points for his superb skills, no doubt.

To be continued

Religiosity Versus Secularism in Politics

The infidel Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his 20 years campaign on global warming, and before that he won the Oscar for his environmental documentary, and this is what he promised:

“Gore plans to donate his half of the $1.5 million prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that is devoted to changing public opinion worldwide about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.” More here

Although many Democrats urged Al Gore to run for presidency, he made it clear that he has no intentions at all. His mission, he said, was not directed towards political gains, but rather, towards spreading a spiritual message to all humanity.
Now he’s in the United Nations perusing a mandate on climatic emergency.

Isn’t it odd that the so called peace loving religions compete to destroy earth, while secularists campaign to save it?

On a somewhat related news:
Ramzi Ahmed Yousef denounces Islam and embraces Christianity!

اصحاب العقول في راحه

Three Dawn Songs in Summer by Robert Hass
The first long shadow in the fields
Are like mortal difficulty.
The first birdsong is not like that at all.

The light in the summer is very young and wholly unsupervised.
No one has made it sit down to breakfast.
It’s the first one up, the first one out.

Because he has opened his eyes, he must be light.
And she, sleeping beside him, must be the visible,
One ringlet of hair curled about her ear.
Into which he whispers, “Wake up!”
“Wake up!” he whispers.

Happy Birthday Sweethearts

Few weeks ago was my twin’s birthday, and what could be better than giving them a birthday gift of entertainment fit for grownups but a trip to the city that does not go to sleep


The trip was more than 9 hours drive, but the road was smooth for most of the distance and filled with beautiful sceneries.





The Stratosphere hotel was also a treat for a good deal, there was no need to go outside when the hotel had everything one needs just in the lobby.


And the real treat was

mamma.jpg in Mandalay Bay Hoteldsc02792.jpg


More pictures from the magnificent city

dsc02795.jpg and dsc02788.jpg and dsc02813.jpg

dsc02819.jpg and dsc02766.jpg

dsc02799.jpg and dsc02814.jpg and dsc02772.jpg

Click on the pics for a better view

Only one setback was that I had to drive back at 3AM the same day we attended the play to catch up with other errands we had back in Mountain View. It wasn’t as bad as I thought though, the highways were mostly empty and I slept like a baby as soon as I got back home.
This trip officially ended my summer vacation, this summer was full of excitements for me, family and friends came at different times and filled my time as well as my apartment, we took short trips together and had lots of fun, and now that everyone is gone I feel melancholic, I already miss them so much. Life here is nice, the weather is beautiful, but it was much nicer with loved ones around.
This occasion also coincides with my blog that I started three years back with blogspot, and exactly one year back with wordpress. Remember when I wrote about the time for change? Well September always brings changes, and always to the better. There is a major change in my life of which its first threads are beginning to materialize, not time to talk about it though, but I will soon enough.
Happy birthday sweethearts and may you always have better times in future.


Does Islam Accept Reform?

Sacred scriptures that were written centuries back have their own special places in the hearts of their believers. Whether they were divine revelations or written as traditions of famous figures and prophets or philosophers. They provide codes of behaviors and rites that most can take as guidelines. They also codify morals relative to a specific culture. Codes of morals for the Hindus, for example, differ from those for Moslems. But nevertheless, most of them contain universal moral codes. They retain their holiness for many reasons; most important reason is that they were the codes of the ancestors. Primitive cultures did not have those literal codes, but still they adhered to the ways of the ancestors that were verbally transmitted from generation to generation. It aided them to face mysteries in life, as it aided modern religion believers. The only difference is that as religion evolved, it got more complex with time. In a nutshell: those scriptures, figures and rituals became a symbol for the believer.
It is also common and healthy to change some codes from generation to generation through interpretation, so long that the basics were intact. It was done throughout history with all religions. But that does pertain some dangers. Some interpretations might develop into creating sects or cults. More interpretations, or reinterpretations are also needed to comply with the needs of each new generation as per time and locations. A new generation usually follows the interpretations of his parents, adhering to their sources, but when the location changes, say someone who lived in the Middle East and his children were raised in the United States, he’d have to comply with the new rules of that place, and therefore be more flexible in his interpretations. Even if the location stayed the same, the world is getting smaller, and humans are getting smarter, each one of us would eventually develop his or her own interpretations according to what makes things more logical to ones specific logic. They may not even realize that that’s what they’re doing.
Fundamentals refuse any interpretations but the original ones, taken from famous figures in history where religion was at its purest. Fundamentalism is derived from the word fundamental, which means basics. Moslem fundamentals, for example, believe that Quran is a set of instructions on life given by the almighty, ordained from all eternity as the final and the ultimate truth for all human beings. This group considers any deviation from the fundamentals of Islam deprives it from its essence in the belief that it is the words of the divine, and therefore it becomes a human intervention and an assault on the fixed dogma. Fundamentalism can take many shapes; Wahabis for example, who take their traditions from the prophet and his following khaleefats, call the Shiites Khawarij; a word indicating the ones who went astray from the ways of God. Shiite on the other hand, who take their traditions from the prophet’s linage with a strong belief that their philosophy is the continuation of the divine revelation, and hence consider Sunnis Nawasib which means the ones who carry hate for the prophet’s linage, descending from Ali, the prophet’s cousin. Both sects claim that they have preserved the basics of Islam, and that their differences are minor, yet wars between them never ceased since the prophet’s death until today.
This was an example of the old dispute concerning different interpretations regardless of the hidden political agendas. Of which it’s implication is still evident in Iraq and Palestine.
Modern thinkers, peace loving individuals of both sects may not pay these differences any attention, but no doubt when a member of each sect meets with the other, each is sure that he’s from the salvation group and the other is destined to be burned in hell.
Yet interpretation is not a rigid phenomenon as I mentioned before, new interpreters like Amro Khalid who addresses the new generation and gives Islam a new look, is also faced with a lot of criticism from both sects. Some even consider him an apostate. And his likes are many, especially in the West, who have been bitten by the old interpretations and trying desperately to modernize Islam.
But could Islam be modernized?
Let’s look at history:
Sikhism began as Hindu reform under centuries of Moslem rule in north India; a religion that began in the fifteenth century AD with the teachings of Nanak and nine successive gurus. Its message is the one of compromise between Hinduism and Islam. And although today Sikhism is the fifth growing religion in the world, it was never digested; neither by Hindus nor by Moslems. Moreover, it was fought by both religions in fierce battles.
Modern Moslem reformers who work on the philosophy of compromising between civil human laws orchestrated by the secular West and Islam, most probably would face the same fate.
Mainstream Moslems would never accept their reform. Quran had described those who take part of their religion and leave the other part as Monafiqeen, i.e. the hypocrites. And It described them in a whole Soorah with the same labeling as:
[1] When the Hypocrites come to thee, they say, “We bear witness that thou art indeed the Messenger of Allah.” Yea, Allah knoweth that thou art indeed His Messenger, and Allah beareth witness that the Hypocrites are indeed liars.

[2] They have made their oaths a screen (for their misdeeds): thus they obstruct (men) from the Path of Allah: truly evil are their deeds.

[3] That is because they believed, then they rejected Faith: so a seal was set on their hearts: therefore they understand not.

[4] When thou lookest at them, their exteriors please thee; and when they speak, thou listenest to their words. They are as (worthless as hollow) pieces of timber propped up, (unable to stand on their own). They think that every cry is against them. They are the enemies; so beware of them. The curse of Allah be on them! How are they deluded (away from the Truth)!

Now should we expect after that, that the mainstream Moslems would take any modern interpretations? Would the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran abide to modernization?
There is a saying that goes:

هذا حلم ابليس بالجنه

i.e. this would be Satan’s dream in heaven.
Like any other religion, Islam does not accept reform. Christianity had gone through seas of blood to achieve reform in the past. And although it had come a long way, there are still many fundamental Christian sects who oppose reform and want to stick to the literal interpretation of the bible.
Religion is part of human evolution, it was accepted by our ancestors in the past, albeit with bloodshed. Time has changed, with centuries of human development, nothing can be found in religions that the people of the twenty first centuries can’t find in civil laws that started with Hammurabi, and ended with reason against faith. Humans can’t just go in circles and not learn from history; circles would only take us to the beginning point, right were we first started, humans are destined to move on. That past has to be acknowledge as part of our history, and there is no escape from the bottleneck except divorcing religion for good. Science proves everyday that religion is nothing but myths. It may have not proved the existence of a creator, even the ultimate nonexistence is solely based on logic that may have different arguments from both sides, but religion is something totally different. And it is a pity to destroy our planet earth with a mere belief in a symbol. Religion has done too much harm to humans, and all indications point that this is the time to ask rational questions, and demand religion to step aside.
An Update: meet Greydon Square

Why Women are More Pious than Men?

It was puzzling for most of us to see that the hardliners of the last elections for the parliament were mostly backed by women. Those hardliners that made it explicitly clear in the past that they do not approve of women’s political rights. It is also more puzzling that when some voices rise against women discrimination in Islam, the first to roar against them are women themselves. Defending Islam and its role in preserving women dignity. Anyone who reads Shareea can see how Islam treats women as half citizens. It decrees to them a share of half their inheritance in comparison to their male siblings. Their testimony in courts are equal to half of that of a male. They have no right to disobey their husbands except when the husbands go astray from God’s ways. They are not allowed to leave their homes without their husband’s permission. Even then, there are certain places that they can go to and others that they can’t. They are not even allowed to open the door for their husband’s male friends, nor talk to them when the husbands are absent. Some traditions also forbid women assuming high posts in leadership or in jurisdiction. Men are allowed to beat their wives for reform purposes as long as they do not leave a mark on their bodies. Even the incentives in Hereafter are not equal when it comes to genders. Islam treats women as inferior beings, they are labeled as aowrah. In looking up the word in the dictionary, it says; “genital parts”. All parts of women are her genital parts, they are the main cause of the first sin; her body is aowrah, her voice is aowrah, even her name is aowrah. When a woman is raped, most probably it’s her fault for showing her ornaments in the first place.
Looking into Islamic history; it was the second Pledge of Alaqaba, where seventy-three men and two women converted to Islam that sparked the first expansion of Islam. The prophet of Islam knew the importance of women in manipulating the minds, even if they, themselves, did not assume high positions in their Simi-primitive societies.
There is an Arabic proverb that says:

الام مدرسه، اذا اعددتها اعددت شعبا طيب الاعراق

The translation (not literal): the mother is like a school, when well prepared; a whole nation of solid genuine race is produced.
Pay attention that the simile here is not only to a school, but also to a tree. The roots have to be well established, and deeply identified with the tribe. Women are the concrete bases, and Islam did not leave any door open for women to be independent citizens. Their limited roles in the society is not much different than Hindu castes, where each level of citizens has its proper position that should not be rebelled against, nor it is permitted for the citizens belonging to a lower caste to better their position even with higher education. This matter is explicitly sacred .
But why should women accept this? Or more importantly; why should they vigorously defend Islam to the point that some argue that women are the main causes of their own miseries?
This trait is not only found in Moslem women, most male dominated societies also exhibit the same phenomena. Again looking back in human history, we find that the most religious citizens were the poorest and the slaves.

What do these share in common with women?

The more oppressed are the citizens the more they exhibit religious tendencies. And the more religious is a woman, the more she believe in her inadequacy and self-worth compared to that of a man. This element which is clearly shown in religious women’s discriminative behavior towards their male and female offspring.
The poor, the slave and women were all subjected to unjust treatments, and their only salvation is through religion. Religion gives them a sense of identity, a sense of belonging to a tribe, and it dismisses the sense of estrangement that they feel. Religion also provides a sense of a wishful equality in Hereafter, the thing they are utterly missing in their unjust reality.

In his book “In the Presence of Mystery”, Michael Horace Barnes said:
“The importance of achieving a meaningful identity is most visible where it is most difficult. Most of us grow into our identities with a vague sense that we are what people are supposed to be like; but we all have some doubts, some problems with who we are. Many people live an even more socially and psychologically marginal existence. Living on the margins of society, as it were, they may look to the numinous powers for a sense of personal significance…the unusual cases demand our attention, but it is the everyday patterns that are most important. The set of beliefs we take for granted about our human identity have the strongest effect on us precisely because we do not tend to question them. Our ordinary beliefs about childhood and adulthood, male and female, what is natural and what is unnatural, are the beliefs that make us who we are. To repeat, throughout human history, religious traditions have been the respiratory and support of these patterns of identity”

Moslem women do not hesitate to enslave themselves behind heavy veils even during the hottest months of desert summer. They willingly accept the slavery to their husbands for the sake of pleasing Allah, and not disobeying His orders. And the prophet used this very intelligently; a great deal of Quran verses he recited when he settled in Medina, addressed women to insure their specific position in the society. More of those also appeared in his tradition. A set of moral codes of behavior of a good person, is provided to make women value their adherence to mainstream beliefs more important than their personal rights. Any diversion from those dogmas are considered an unforgivable sin. Women should be punished first by the society, and then Hereafter. No wonder they are the first to bury their own personal rights, and vote for religious figures who insure their injustice.

The Problem with Atheism

This is a message to all atheists by Sam Harris, best-selling author of Letter to a Christian Nation “On Faith” (2005), which won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction and has been translated into many foreign languages.
This is a transcript of Sam’s recent (controversial) speech at the Atheist Alliance Conference, which is available on the Washington Post/ Newsweek, it can be read here.
I thought of copy pasting the entire article since most of the articles on Newsweek can only be obtained in a span of one week.
This article does not only contain issues for atheists to consider, it also helps them understand some of the problems that most of the atheists or skeptics face. When I say that I am a skeptic, yet spiritual, people tend to get confused, since they consider spirituality and mysticism akin to religious beliefs, or the belief of the unknown, which most of us try to dismiss. I for one never doubted that science has the answers to may questions in my mind, and I am positive that it will have more answers in the future. Yet, I do not underestimate the power of the mind. Meditation is a part of my everyday routine. Meditation is for my well-being and my balanced life, it has nothing to do with my dismissal of the supernatural. Enjoy

The Problem with Atheism

(This is an edited transcript of a talk given at the Atheist Alliance conference in Washington D.C. on September 28th, 2007)

To begin, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge just how strange it is that a meeting like this is even necessary. The year is 2007, and we have all taken time out of our busy lives, and many of us have traveled considerable distance, so that we can strategize about how best to live in a world in which most people believe in an imaginary God. America is now a nation of 300 million people, wielding more influence than any people in human history, and yet this influence is being steadily corrupted, and is surely waning, because 240 million of these people apparently believe that Jesus will return someday and orchestrate the end of the world with his magic powers.

Of course, we may well wonder whether as many people believe these things as say they do. I know that Christopher [Hitchens] and Richard [Dawkins] are rather optimistic that our opinion polls are out of register with what people actually believe in the privacy of their own minds. But there is no question that most of our neighbors reliably profess that they believe these things, and such professions themselves have had a disastrous affect on our political discourse, on our public policy, on the teaching of science, and on our reputation in the world. And even if only a third or a quarter of our neighbors believe what most profess, it seems to me that we still have a problem worth worrying about.

Now, it is not often that I find myself in a room full of people who are more or less guaranteed to agree with me on the subject of religion. In thinking about what I could say to you all tonight, it seemed to me that I have a choice between throwing red meat to the lions of atheism or moving the conversation into areas where we actually might not agree. I’ve decided, at some risk to your mood, to take the second approach and to say a few things that might prove controversial in this context.

Given the absence of evidence for God, and the stupidity and suffering that still thrives under the mantle of religion, declaring oneself an “atheist” would seem the only appropriate response. And it is the stance that many of us have proudly and publicly adopted. Tonight, I’d like to try to make the case, that our use of this label is a mistake—and a mistake of some consequence.

My concern with the use of the term “atheism” is both philosophical and strategic. I’m speaking from a somewhat unusual and perhaps paradoxical position because, while I am now one of the public voices of atheism, I never thought of myself as an atheist before being inducted to speak as one. I didn’t even use the term in The End of Faith, which remains my most substantial criticism of religion. And, as I argued briefly in Letter to a Christian Nation, I think that “atheist” is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people “non-astrologers.” All we need are words like “reason” and “evidence” and “common sense” and “bullshit” to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.

If the comparison with astrology seems too facile, consider the problem of racism. Racism was about as intractable a social problem as we have ever had in this country. We are talking about deeply held convictions. I’m sure you have all seen the photos of lynchings in the first half of the 20th century—where seemingly whole towns in the South, thousands of men, women and children—bankers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, church elders, newspaper editors, policemen, even the occasional Senator and Congressman—turned out as though for a carnival to watch some young man or woman be tortured to death and then strung up on a tree or lamppost for all to see.

Seeing the pictures of these people in their Sunday best, having arranged themselves for a postcard photo under a dangling, and lacerated, and often partially cremated person, is one thing, but realize that these genteel people, who were otherwise quite normal, we must presume—though unfailing religious—often took souvenirs of the body home to show their friends—teeth, ears, fingers, knee caps, internal organs—and sometimes displayed them at their places of business.

Of course, I’m not saying that racism is no longer a problem in this country, but anyone who thinks that the problem is as bad as it ever was has simply forgotten, or has never learned, how bad, in fact, it was.

So, we can now ask, how have people of good will and common sense gone about combating racism? There was a civil rights movement, of course. The KKK was gradually battered to the fringes of society. There have been important and, I think, irrevocable changes in the way we talk about race—our major newspapers no longer publish flagrantly racist articles and editorials as they did less than a century ago—but, ask yourself, how many people have had to identify themselves as “non-racists” to participate in this process? Is there a “non-racist alliance” somewhere for me to join?

Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn’t really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves.

Another problem is that in accepting a label, particularly the label of “atheist,” it seems to me that we are consenting to be viewed as a cranky sub-culture. We are consenting to be viewed as a marginal interest group that meets in hotel ballrooms. I’m not saying that meetings like this aren’t important. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was important. But I am saying that as a matter of philosophy we are guilty of confusion, and as a matter of strategy, we have walked into a trap. It is a trap that has been, in many cases, deliberately set for us. And we have jumped into it with both feet.

While it is an honor to find myself continually assailed with Dan [Dennett], Richard [Dawkins], and Christopher [Hitchens] as though we were a single person with four heads, this whole notion of the “new atheists” or “militant atheists” has been used to keep our criticism of religion at arm’s length, and has allowed people to dismiss our arguments without meeting the burden of actually answering them. And while our books have gotten a fair amount of notice, I think this whole conversation about the conflict between faith and reason, and religion and science, has been, and will continue to be, successfully marginalized under the banner of atheism.

So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

Now, it just so happens that religion has more than its fair share of bad ideas. And it remains the only system of thought, where the process of maintaining bad ideas in perpetual immunity from criticism is considered a sacred act. This is the act of faith. And I remain convinced that religious faith is one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised. So we will, inevitably, continue to criticize religious thinking. But we should not define ourselves and name ourselves in opposition to such thinking.

So what does this all mean in practical terms, apart from Margaret Downey having to change her letterhead? Well, rather than declare ourselves “atheists” in opposition to all religion, I think we should do nothing more than advocate reason and intellectual honesty—and where this advocacy causes us to collide with religion, as it inevitably will, we should observe that the points of impact are always with specific religious beliefs—not with religion in general. There is no religion in general.

The problem is that the concept of atheism imposes upon us a false burden of remaining fixated on people’s beliefs about God and remaining even-handed in our treatment of religion. But we shouldn’t be fixated, and we shouldn’t be even-handed. In fact, we should be quick to point out the differences among religions, for two reasons:

First, these differences make all religions look contingent, and therefore silly. Consider the unique features of Mormonism, which may have some relevance in the next Presidential election. Mormonism, it seems to me, is—objectively—just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. It has to be: because it is Christianity plus some very stupid ideas. For instance, the Mormons think Jesus is going to return to earth and administer his Thousand years of Peace, at least part of the time, from the state of Missouri. Why does this make Mormonism less likely to be true than Christianity? Because whatever probability you assign to Jesus’ coming back, you have to assign a lesser probability to his coming back and keeping a summer home in Jackson County, Missouri. If Mitt Romney wants to be the next President of the United States, he should be made to feel the burden of our incredulity. We can make common cause with our Christian brothers and sisters on this point. Just what does the man believe? The world should know. And it is almost guaranteed to be embarrassing even to most people who believe in the biblical God.

The second reason to be attentive to the differences among the world’s religions is that these differences are actually a matter of life and death. There are very few of us who lie awake at night worrying about the Amish. This is not an accident. While I have no doubt that the Amish are mistreating their children, by not educating them adequately, they are not likely to hijack aircraft and fly them into buildings. But consider how we, as atheists, tend to talk about Islam. Christians often complain that atheists, and the secular world generally, balance every criticism of Muslim extremism with a mention of Christian extremism. The usual approach is to say that they have their jihadists, and we have people who kill abortion doctors. Our Christian neighbors, even the craziest of them, are right to be outraged by this pretense of even-handedness, because the truth is that Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery, than Christianity has been for a very, very long time. And the world must wake up to this fact. Muslims themselves must wake up to this fact. And they can.

You might remember that Thomas Friedman recently wrote an op-ed from Iraq, reporting that some Sunni militias are now fighting jihadists alongside American troops. When Friedman asked one Sunni militant why he was doing this, he said that he had recently watched a member of al-Qaeda decapitate an 8-year-old girl. This persuaded him that the American Crusader forces were the lesser of two evils.

Okay, so even some Sunni militants can discern the boundary between ordinary crazy Islam, and the utterly crazy, once it is drawn in the spilled blood of little girls. This is a basis for hope, of sorts. But we have to be honest—unremittingly honest—about what is on the other side of that line. This is what we and the rest of the civilized, and the semi-civilized world, are up against: utter religious lunacy and barbarism in the name of Islam—with, I’m unhappy to say, some mainstream theology to back it up.
To be even-handed when talking about the problem of Islam is to misconstrue the problem. The refrain, “all religions have their extremists,” is bullshit—and it is putting the West to sleep. All religions don’t have these extremists. Some religions have never had these extremists. And in the Muslim world, support for extremism is not extreme in the sense of being rare. A recent poll showed that about a third of young British Muslims want to live under sharia law and believe that apostates should be killed for leaving the faith. These are British Muslims. Sixty-eight percent of British Muslims feel that their neighbors who insult Islam should be arrested and prosecuted, and seventy-eight percent think that the Danish cartoonists should be brought to justice. These people don’t have a clue about what constitutes a civil society. Reports of this kind coming out of the Muslim communities living in the West should worry us, before anything else about religion worries us.

Atheism is too blunt an instrument to use at moments like this. It’s as though we have a landscape of human ignorance and bewilderment—with peaks and valleys and local attractors—and the concept of atheism causes us to fixate one part of this landscape, the part related to theistic religion, and then just flattens it. Because to be consistent as atheists we must oppose, or seem to oppose, all faith claims equally. This is a waste of precious time and energy, and it squanders the trust of people who would otherwise agree with us on specific issues.

I’m not at all suggesting that we leave people’s core religious beliefs, or faith itself, unscathed—I’m still the kind of person who writes articles with rather sweeping titles like “Science must destroy religion”—but it seems to me that we should never lose sight of useful and important distinctions.

Another problem with calling ourselves “atheists” is that every religious person thinks he has a knockdown argument against atheism. We’ve all heard these arguments, and we are going to keep hearing them as long as we insist upon calling ourselves “atheists. Arguments like: atheists can’t prove that God doesn’t exist; atheists are claiming to know there is no God, and this is the most arrogant claim of all. As Rick Warren put it, when he and I debated for Newsweek—a reasonable man like himself “doesn’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” The idea that the universe could arise without a creator is, on his account, the most extravagant faith claim of all.

Of course, as an argument for the truth of any specific religious doctrine, this is a travesty. And we all know what to do in this situation: We have Russell’s teapot, and thousands of dead gods, and now a flying spaghetti monster, the nonexistence of which also cannot be proven, and yet belief in these things is acknowledged to be ridiculous by everyone. The problem is, we have to keep having this same argument, over and over again, and the argument is being generated to a significant degree, if not entirely, over our use of the term “atheism.”
So too with the “greatest crimes of the 20th century” argument. How many times are we going to have to counter the charge that Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot represent the endgame of atheism? I’ve got news for you, this meme is not going away. I argued against it in The End of Faith, and it was immediately thrown back at me in reviews of the book as though I had never mentioned it. So I tackled it again in the afterword to the paperback edition of The End of Faith; but this had no effect whatsoever; so at the risk of boring everyone, I brought it up again in Letter to a Christian Nation; and Richard did the same in The God Delusion; and Christopher took a mighty swing at it in God is Not Great. I can assure you that this bogus argument will be with us for as long as people label themselves “atheists.” And it really convinces religious people. It convinces moderates and liberals. It even convinces the occasional atheist.

Why should we fall into this trap? Why should we stand obediently in the space provided, in the space carved out by the conceptual scheme of theistic religion? It’s as though, before the debate even begins, our opponents draw the chalk-outline of a dead man on the sidewalk, and we just walk up and lie down in it.

Instead of doing this, consider what would happen if we simply used words like “reason” and “evidence.” What is the argument against reason? It’s true that a few people will bite the bullet here and argue that reason is itself a problem, that the Enlightenment was a failed project, etc. But the truth is that there are very few people, even among religious fundamentalists, who will happily admit to being enemies of reason. In fact, fundamentalists tend to think they are champions of reason and that they have very good reasons for believing in God. Nobody wants to believe things on bad evidence. The desire to know what is actually going on in world is very difficult to argue with. In so far as we represent that desire, we become difficult to argue with. And this desire is not reducible to an interest group. It’s not a club or an affiliation, and I think trying to make it one diminishes its power.

The last problem with atheism I’d like to talk about relates to the some of the experiences that lie at the core of many religious traditions, though perhaps not all, and which are testified to, with greater or lesser clarity in the world’s “spiritual” and “mystical” literature.
Those of you who have read The End of Faith, know that I don’t entirely line up with Dan, Richard, and Christopher in my treatment of these things. So I think I should take a little time to discuss this. While I always use terms like “spiritual” and “mystical” in scare quotes, and take some pains to denude them of metaphysics, the email I receive from my brothers and sisters in arms suggests that many of you find my interest in these topics problematic.

First, let me describe the general phenomenon I’m referring to. Here’s what happens, in the generic case: a person, in whatever culture he finds himself, begins to notice that life is difficult. He observes that even in the best of times—no one close to him has died, he’s healthy, there are no hostile armies massing in the distance, the fridge is stocked with beer, the weather is just so—even when things are as good as they can be, he notices that at the level of his moment to moment experience, at the level of his attention, he is perpetually on the move, seeking happiness and finding only temporary relief from his search.

We’ve all noticed this. We seek pleasant sights, and sounds, and tastes, and sensations, and attitudes. We satisfy our intellectual curiosities, and our desire for friendship and romance. We become connoisseurs of art and music and film—but our pleasures are, by their very nature, fleeting. And we can do nothing more than merely reiterate them as often as we are able.

If we enjoy some great professional success, our feelings of accomplishment remain vivid and intoxicating for about an hour, or maybe a day, but then people will begin to ask us “So, what are you going to do next? Don’t you have anything else in the pipeline?” Steve Jobs releases the IPhone, and I’m sure it wasn’t twenty minutes before someone asked, “when are you going to make this thing smaller?” Notice that very few people at this juncture, no matter what they’ve accomplished, say, “I’m done. I’ve met all my goals. Now I’m just going to stay here eat ice cream until I die in front of you.”

Even when everything has gone as well as it can go, the search for happiness continues, the effort required to keep doubt and dissatisfaction and boredom at bay continues, moment to moment. If nothing else, the reality of death and the experience of losing loved ones punctures even the most gratifying and well-ordered life.

In this context, certain people have traditionally wondered whether a deeper form of well-being exists. Is there, in other words, a form of happiness that is not contingent upon our merely reiterating our pleasures and successes and avoiding our pains. Is there a form of happiness that is not dependent upon having one’s favorite food always available to be placed on one’s tongue or having all one’s friends and loved ones within arm’s reach, or having good books to read, or having something to look forward to on the weekend? Is it possible to be utterly happy before anything happens, before one’s desires get gratified, in spite of life’s inevitable difficulties, in the very midst of physical pain, old age, disease, and death?

This question, I think, lies at the periphery of everyone’s consciousness. We are all, in some sense, living our answer to it—and many of us are living as though the answer is “no.” No, there is nothing more profound that repeating one’s pleasures and avoiding one’s pains; there is nothing more profound that seeking satisfaction, both sensory and intellectual. Many of us seem think that all we can do is just keep our foot on the gas until we run out of road.

But certain people, for whatever reason, are led to suspect that there is more to human experience than this. In fact, many of them are led to suspect this by religion—by the claims of people like the Buddha or Jesus or some other celebrated religious figures. And such a person may begin to practice various disciplines of attention—often called “meditation” or “contemplation”—as a means of examining his moment to moment experience closely enough to see if a deeper basis of well-being is there to be found.

Such a person might even hole himself up in a cave, or in a monastery, for months or years at a time to facilitate this process. Why would somebody do this? Well, it amounts to a very simple experiment. Here’s the logic of it: if there is a form of psychological well-being that isn’t contingent upon merely repeating one’s pleasures, then this happiness should be available even when all the obvious sources of pleasure and satisfaction have been removed. If it exists at all, this happiness should be available to a person who has renounced all her material possessions, and declined to marry her high school sweetheart, and gone off to a cave or to some other spot that would seem profoundly uncongenial to the satisfaction of ordinary desires and aspirations.

One clue as to how daunting most people would find such a project is the fact that solitary confinement—which is essentially what we are talking about—is considered a punishment even inside a prison. Even when cooped up with homicidal maniacs and rapists, most people still prefer the company of others to spending any significant amount of time alone in a box.

And yet, for thousands of years, contemplatives have claimed to find extraordinary depths of psychological well-being while spending vast stretches of time in total isolation. It seems to me that, as rational people, whether we call ourselves “atheists” or not, we have a choice to make in how we view this whole enterprise. Either the contemplative literature is a mere catalogue of religious delusion, deliberate fraud, and psychopathology, or people have been having interesting and even normative experiences under the name of “spirituality” and “mysticism” for millennia.

Now let me just assert, on the basis of my own study and experience, that there is no question in my mind that people have improved their emotional lives, and their self-understanding, and their ethical intuitions, and have even had important insights about the nature of subjectivity itself through a variety of traditional practices like meditation.

Leaving aside all the metaphysics and mythology and mumbo jumbo, what contemplatives and mystics over the millennia claim to have discovered is that there is an alternative to merely living at the mercy of the next neurotic thought that comes careening into consciousness. There is an alternative to being continuously spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves.

Most us think that if a person is walking down the street talking to himself—that is, not able to censor himself in front of other people—he’s probably mentally ill. But if we talk to ourselves all day long silently—thinking, thinking, thinking, rehearsing prior conversations, thinking about what we said, what we didn’t say, what we should have said, jabbering on to ourselves about what we hope is going to happen, what just happened, what almost happened, what should have happened, what may yet happen—but we just know enough to just keep this conversation private, this is perfectly normal. This is perfectly compatible with sanity. Well, this is not what the experience of millions of contemplatives suggests.

Of course, I am by no means denying the importance of thinking. There is no question that linguistic thought is indispensable for us. It is, in large part, what makes us human. It is the fabric of almost all culture and every social relationship. Needless to say, it is the basis of all science. And it is surely responsible for much rudimentary cognition—for integrating beliefs, planning, explicit learning, moral reasoning, and many other mental capacities. Even talking to oneself out loud may occasionally serve a useful function.

From the point of view of our contemplative traditions, however—to boil them all down to a cartoon version, that ignores the rather esoteric disputes among them—our habitual identification with discursive thought, our failure moment to moment to recognize thoughts as thoughts, is a primary source of human suffering. And when a person breaks this spell, an extraordinary kind of relief is available.

But the problem with a contemplative claim of this sort is that you can’t borrow someone else’s contemplative tools to test it. The problem is that to test such a claim—indeed, to even appreciate how distracted we tend to be in the first place, we have to build our own contemplative tools. Imagine where astronomy would be if everyone had to build his own telescope before he could even begin to see if astronomy was a legitimate enterprise. It wouldn’t make the sky any less worthy of investigation, but it would make it immensely more difficult for us to establish astronomy as a science.

To judge the empirical claims of contemplatives, you have to build your own telescope. Judging their metaphysical claims is another matter: many of these can be dismissed as bad science or bad philosophy by merely thinking about them. But to judge whether certain experiences are possible—and if possible, desirable—we have to be able to use our attention in the requisite ways. We have to be able to break our identification with discursive thought, if only for a few moments. This can take a tremendous amount of work. And it is not work that our culture knows much about.

One problem with atheism as a category of thought, is that it seems more or less synonymous with not being interested in what someone like the Buddha or Jesus may have actually experienced. In fact, many atheists reject such experiences out of hand, as either impossible, or if possible, not worth wanting. Another common mistake is to imagine that such experiences are necessarily equivalent to states of mind with which many of us are already familiar—the feeling of scientific awe, or ordinary states of aesthetic appreciation, artistic inspiration, etc.

As someone who has made his own modest efforts in this area, let me assure you, that when a person goes into solitude and trains himself in meditation for 15 or 18 hours a day, for months or years at a time, in silence, doing nothing else—not talking, not reading, not writing—just making a sustained moment to moment effort to merely observe the contents of consciousness and to not get lost in thought, he experiences things that most scientists and artists are not likely to have experienced, unless they have made precisely the same efforts at introspection. And these experiences have a lot to say about the plasticity of the human mind and about the possibilities of human happiness.
So, apart from just commending these phenomena to your attention, I’d like to point out that, as atheists, our neglect of this area of human experience puts us at a rhetorical disadvantage. Because millions of people have had these experiences, and many millions more have had glimmers of them, and we, as atheists, ignore such phenomena, almost in principle, because of their religious associations—and yet these experiences often constitute the most important and transformative moments in a person’s life. Not recognizing that such experiences are possible or important can make us appear less wise even than our craziest religious opponents.

My concern is that atheism can easily become the position of not being interested in certain possibilities in principle. I don’t know if our universe is, as JBS Haldane said, “not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.” But I am sure that it is stranger than we, as “atheists,” tend to represent while advocating atheism. As “atheists” we give others, and even ourselves, the sense that we are well on our way toward purging the universe of mystery. As advocates of reason, we know that mystery is going to be with us for a very long time. Indeed, there are good reasons to believe that mystery is ineradicable from our circumstance, because however much we know, it seems like there will always be brute facts that we cannot account for but which we must rely upon to explain everything else. This may be a problem for epistemology but it is not a problem for human life and for human solidarity. It does not rob our lives of meaning. And it is not a barrier to human happiness.

We are faced, however, with the challenge of communicating this view to others. We are faced with the monumental task of persuading a myth-infatuated world that love and curiosity are sufficient, and that we need not console or frighten ourselves or our children with Iron Age fairy tales. I don’t think there is a more important intellectual struggle to win; it has to be fought from a hundred sides, all at once, and continuously; but it seems to me that there is no reason for us to fight in well-ordered ranks, like the red coats of Atheism.

Finally, I think it’s useful to envision what victory will look like. Again, the analogy with racism seems instructive to me. What will victory against racism look like, should that happy day ever dawn? It certainly won’t be a world in which a majority of people profess that they are “nonracist.” Most likely, it will be a world in which the very concept of separate races has lost its meaning.

We will have won this war of ideas against religion when atheism is scarcely intelligible as a concept. We will simply find ourselves in a world in which people cease to praise one another for pretending to know things they do not know. This is certainly a future worth fighting for. It may be the only future compatible with our long-term survival as a species. But the only path between now and then, that I can see, is for us to be rigorously honest in the present. It seems to me that intellectual honesty is now, and will always be, deeper and more durable, and more easily spread, than “atheism.”

An Update
Due to the length of the article, I’m posting Sam Harris’s speech at Aspen Ideas Festival, which I found in youtube. The subject of this article is mentioned partly in the fourth video, and entirely in the fifth.