Sam Harris: the Unconverted

Having lived through the Russian Revolution and seen its results two powerful writers wrote brilliant critiques of the entire mode of thought associated with it. Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote WE, a dystopian futuristic novel where the One State had achieved “happiness” by reducing its members to nameless drones. Free will, religion and imagination have been banished and societal problems have been “solved” via extreme rationalism and mathematical equations. Zamyatin’s novel was the progenitor of Brave New World and 1984 but published in 1922. It was immediately banned. Nikolai Berdyaev, with the help of Dostoevsky’s amazing prescience in novels like The Possessed, also understood the dire consequences of the revolution, finding himself exiled about the time of WE’s publication. Two brilliant assertions Berdyaev made, among others, was that without the idea of God there can be no idea of man and every highest good other than God leads murderously to treating men as means to achieving the hoped-for goal – “happiness” included.

Sam Harris rose to fame as one of the self-proclaimed Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens being the other three) AKA as the New Atheists. Embracing the horsemen moniker seems like wearing your nihilism rather too evidently on your sleeve, but Harris was only too happy about it.

Harris has a significant following. He is a determinist, with all the logical paradoxes such a position engenders, and embraces a hyper-rationalism. He has hopes to save the world through “rational” debate and ridding the world of religion. He has found himself in trouble with his liberal brethren by being openly critical of Islam and being willing to talk to Charles Murray of The Bell Curve fame.

Tom Bertonneau recently commented to me that Christianity is engaging in a new revelation; namely the effects of its withdrawal from large sectors of the Western world resulting in the current frenzy of scapegoating and a pervasive dreary nihilism hopefully leading to its future re-embracement. The Russians had a foretaste with the banning of religion after the revolution and the various utopian fantasies that invariably seek to replace Christianity giving writers like Berdyaev and Zamyatin particular perspicuity. These two writers brilliantly anticipated all the main rhetorical and intellectual stances of Sam Harris and others like him, and point out their logical and real-world consequences long before Harris was ever born.

The following article, kindly published by The Sydney Traditionalist, – Sam Harris; the Unconverted outlines the way Berdyaev and Zamyatin anticipate and critique Harris and his ilk.

9 thoughts on “Sam Harris: the Unconverted

  1. Pingback: Sam Harris: the Unconverted | @the_arv

  2. One of the really startling differences that comes out in reading Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and their like, on the one hand, and a writer like Berdyaev on the other is how badly educated the former are, how little they are aware of how little they know, and how simultaneously knowledgeable and humble Berdyaev is. Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett are types. They typify the genuinely modern consciousness, which is a restricted form of consciousness. I would go farther. I would say that the type of consciousness represented by Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett is a consciousness striving mightily to abolish itself. They are anti-human, quite as much as they are anti-God.

  3. Pingback: Sam Harris: the Unconverted | Reaction Times

  4. This is yet another great contribution to our association’s website from the Orthosphere. Thank you all once again for your past and present collaborations with the Sydney Traditionalists!

    A quote which is well worth repeating from this article follows:

    Christians have been and are capable of barbarity but at least in that case their actions contradict their principles. The necessary moral nihilism induced by materialist metaphysics, however, means hoping positivists remain hypocrites. The hypocrisy of a Christian means not living up to an injunction like ‘love your enemy.’ The hypocrisy of a materialist is treating anyone as more than a worthless bunch of atoms.

    This is worth trumpeting from the rooftops, to anyone who is willing to listen. It highlights the fundamental difference between the Christian (transcendent) and secular (material/banal) worldview; it shows just how morally bankrupt post-Enlightenment ideologies are, and how vulnerable to corruption they become, and in due course, susceptible to the very tyranny they purport to oppose.


  5. I have found Sam Harris to be an annoying know it all who lacks faith in what he believes and says. When he published his exchange with Noam Chomsky and made audio recordings about the exchange, the negative characteristics of his personality that I highlighted were on full display. Sam Harris either backtracks from what he says or attacks people by claiming they take his words “out of context”. This is just one example of Sam Harris being less than rational. There are a number of other things in this post that obviously undermine his positions. He should have stayed in his own field.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, James Granger. I find his choice of guests to be a bit frustrating, with one seemingly autistic materialist after another. Clearly I find him to be illogical on several key (to me) topics. My impression is that the “out of context” complaint comes from when he is attacked by SJWs for not toeing the PC party line. For instance, merely having a conversation with Charles Murray caused a lot of fur to fly. I imagine his critics would have a field day with me if I somehow got their attention.

      • I understand and agree that some of the criticism Sam Harris receives originated from not toeing a certain ideological line. My criticism is Harris’s lack of conviction about what he says when his comments receive criticism. The people here at the Orthosphere firmly place their convictions behind what they say and write. If Sam Harris would only do so.

  6. [Addressing the Bolsheviks, their supporters in the Intelligentsia, and all rationalists, utilitarians, and utopians:] “Rarely, all too rarely do people of your type, of your sense of life and your consciousness ponder over the primal wellsprings, over those primal wellsprings of world life, which determine also societal life. Ye do not seek after the meaning of life. Ye seek only the blessings of life. Suchlike direction of your spirit veils away for you the knowledge of the mysteries of life cosmic and life societal. Within the field of your vision falls merely a limited slice of nature and the societal aspect, subjected to rationalization within your impoverished thought. I say – within your thought, since in actuality irrational passions eternally storm about you and there pours forth the darkness of an unfathomable wellspring imperceptible for you. There is indeed a dark, unfathomable wellspring of infinitude within our life and the life of the world. And your judgmental life is powerless to enlighten the dark infinitude surrounding us. Two infinitudes surround us – the upper and the lower, the light and the dark, a good and a bad infinitude. Yet neither of these infinitudes can be grasped by your small ability of reason. For your limited consciousness obtains neither the Divine infinitude, nor the infinitude dark and chaotic. Your consciousness snatches only a limited immediate point of the sphere, subjected to rationalization.”

    Nicolas Berdyaev: The Philosophy of Inequality (1922), Second Letter. (Translated by Father S. Janos)


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