Disclaimer #1: This book was written by a gentleman who does not believe in God, nor in free will. His perspective is both enlightening and potentially damaging to those who wish to hold tight to an exclusively religious worldview. To be frank: straight up avoid this book if you think people can only live by a moral code given by a higher power; nothing he writes will make sense to you.
Disclaimer #2: Lo and Behold, I am not a Christian. I mean, I was raised Catholic and some would argue that that means I am still Catholic, no matter my beliefs (See clip below! Starts at 0.33 seconds) BUT yeah, I’m no longer rocking the faith so much. I still respect all that I grew up with, wear a rosary, know to genuflect before entering a pew, practice Lent, etc. I simply don’t believe the whole of the fundamentals anymore and have thus sought, rather desperately, to find a core of morals by which to live. This review will no doubt reflect this.
As is my custom, I shall highlight thoughts about this work via carefully chosen excerpts! And thus we begin with:
“Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me.”
What a clever and quick way to express a disbelief in free will. Even after reading, and begrudgingly agreeing with, Sam Harris’ Free Will, it’s still deeply unsettling to believe all of my actions solely the consequence of forces beyond my conscious control. If giving up on religion was liberating in that it freed me from the bonds of a higher judgmental authority, then giving up the belief in free will has or would shackle me to a new master in the form of biology. I wish his argument was easier to dismiss.
“Just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, we will see that there is no such thing as Christian or Muslim morality.”
I think it sad that this is something that needs to be explicitly stated. Why can’t people accept good behavior, as such, in itself, without adding an explanation of cause? Especially when they assume a divine cause. This is another example of God, be it the God of the Christians, Muslims, and Jews, or a separate entity, getting all of the credit for the good, and never the condemnation for the bad.
When someone acts poorly, it is polite to blame the individual, not the religion that molded their values, and yet, when that same individual acts well, or rather in a way that is universally accepted as well, then suddenly, it’s all beyond that person, and about his/her God and religious upbringing. What an illogical double standard.
“We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us.”
Examples: Well, cancer sure as Hell comes to mind. Aging, violence, irrational fear, tribalism. All natural, all terrible.
You know, and that’s what Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape is all about for me: what comes to mind. He has continued in his track record of causing deep meaningful thoughts, for which I am grateful. I love Harris; I may not agree with everything he says, but most everything he says causes me to think about where I stand and what I can agree with. Four stars!
PS: If you wish to know more about the specific morals he puts forth as holding value, you’ll simply have to read the book. No spoilers!