Sam Harris, a member of the tribe known as “the new atheists,” wishes the headline to this story said something else. How about “Sam Harris Believes in Spirituality,” he suggests over lunch. Or “Sam Harris Believes in ‘God,’ ” with scare quotes?
In any case, Sam Harris—a hero to the growing numbers of Americans who check the atheist box on opinion polls—concedes he believes in something certain people would call “God.” In a related thought, he raises the topic of his next project: a spirituality guide tentatively titled The Illusion of the Self. Based on Harris’s own “spiritual journey,” it will “[celebrate] the spiritual aspect of human existence [and explain] how we can live moral and spiritual lives without religion,” according to a statement from his publisher, Free Press. It’s surprising. One hardly expects Harris, a hyperrational polemicist, to veer into the realm of spiritual self-help.
Spirituality is not a new interest of Harris’s, however. A careful reader will have noticed that though he’s often been lumped together with the rabble-rousers Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens (all are advisers to his nonprofit group Project Reason), and though he continues to insist that religious faith is possibly the most destructive force in the world, he shuns the label “atheist.” Harris places reason at the apex of human abilities and achievement, but he concedes that there’s much that humans may never empirically know—like what happens after death. “Mystery,” he wrote in the concluding chapter of The End of Faith, published in 2004, “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 on to explain everything else.” For his praise of the contemplative experience in The End of Faith, Harris has received criticism from atheists.
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