I recently subscribed to Newsweek magazine and the top of the cover notes: “Is God Real? Rick Warren & Sam Harris Face Off.” The article was on p.54 (four pages after an article on those Geico cavemen), and it wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
I do not totally buy into the Rick Warren phenomenon (though I do believe that churches and individuals should be purpose driven) and I would, of course, disagree with much of his doctrine and theology, but he seems a decent fellow and sincere about his faith. And Sam Harris is a popular atheist these days (If Dawkins is Evolutionism’s Pope, perhaps he can be a young and promising Cardinal), whose book Letter to a Christian Nation is currently fairly popular (it is my understanding).
I can’t help but note here a quote from a book review by Michael Novak: “The letter that Harris claims is intended for a Christian nation is in fact wholly uninterested in Christianity on any level, is hugely ignorant, and essentially represents his own love letter to himself, on account of his being superior to the stupid citizens among whom he lives.” His review of Harris’ book — as well as Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon and Dawkin’s screed The God Delusion — is available on the American Enterprise Institute’s website, titled “Lonely Atheists of the Global Village.” The section subtitled “My Agno-Theistic Daughter and How She Got That Way” I found particularly interesting. Here’s my favorite paragraph from that section:
She decided that atheism cannot be true, because it is self-contradictory. Moreover, this self-contradiction is willful, and its latent purpose is pathetically transparent. Atheists want all the comforts of the rationality that emanates from rational theism, but without personal indebtedness to any Creator, Governor, Judge. That is why they allow themselves to be rationalists only part of the way down. The alternative makes them very nervous.
But, I have digressed a good bit, haven’t I?
Don’t let Newsweek’s description of the Warren/Harris discussion as a “debate” mislead you. There really seems to be no formal structure to the discussion other than presence of a “moderator” as the source of questions. Sometimes the questions are only directed to one of the two, sometimes to both. But the format is rather free for each to change the subject a bit and redirect the discussion if they so feel the need. At least the exchange seems to be cordial (as edited by Newsweek, perhaps?).
I didn’t find the article particularly enlightening, but at the same time I’ve read a great deal about this sort of stuff and this article had a “same old same old” feel to it. If you’d like to read it yourself, you can find it on the Newsweek website here.
I did find Harris’ discussion of spirituality towards the end of the article interesting, as well as Warren’s evaluation of Harris’ perspective: “You’re more spiritual than you think. You just don’t want a boss. You don’t want a God who tells you what to do.” I don’t think that Harris necessarily backed himself into a corner there (his response: “I don’t want to pretend to be certain about anything I’m not certain about.”), but I do think that Rick Warren is on to something there. And, I note, it fits in very well with the paragraph I quoted above in my digression, which surprises me as much as anyone else, since I generally do these entries without a good deal of pre-planning (generally, my rough drafts are my final drafts…).
In the Bible, Peter prophesied that “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation'” (2 Peter 3:3). I wouldn’t say that Peter had men like Dawkins and Harris exclusively in mind this prophecy — there are just as many “theists” and “Christians” who have forgotten, as well, the promise of His coming. But I wouldn’t kick them out of the club either.