I finally finished Sam Harris’ latest book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Harris is one of the smartest guys out there talking about religion and spirituality and his attacks on the major religions from an atheistic standpoint can be viewed on any number of youtube clips. I have to confess that I wish there were a bit less sarcasm from his followers, and from Harris himself, less chortling and chuckling over how ignorant he thinks his opponents are, but at least he’s not as bad as Christopher Hitchens whose disciples seem to delight in nothing so much as a snide comment designed to humiliate.
Harris continues his attack on organized religion in this book, but also points out the weakness in the arguments of his fellow atheists: they don’t seem to understand spirituality. He writes toward the end of the book:
“Spirituality remains the great hole in secularism, humanism, rationalism, atheism and all other defensive postures that reasonable men and women strike in the presence of unreasonable faith. … Until we can talk about spirituality in rational terms—acknowledging the validity of self-transcendence—our world will remain shattered by dogmatism.
This book has been my attempt to begin such a conversation.”
And that is what my book Seven Sacraments for Everyone is also trying to do, but from a different angle. Self-transcendence, getting away from the ego, is attainable through these seven human experiences, all of which bring us closer to other human beings and that is the same thing as becoming closer to whatever we mean by the Divine. If we all would recognize that, perhaps there might be a path to greater peace.
Harris’s main point is that we all need to do more meditating and less arguing about what God wants us to do. I’m all for that, since there’s so much difference of opinion on the subject of what God wants us to do. There’s not much chance there will ever be agreement on God’s commandments to us, but there is agreement on some universal transcendent experiences apart from meditation. If we could only grasp them, elusive though they may be, they would provide a certain guide to the meaning of life. From the way people are leaving traditional churches, it would seem that many are in the market for this idea. The Nones are multiplying and I would predict that even among Muslims, the Nones are going to make serious inroads in the near future as the full horror of the death and destruction carried out in the name of Islam becomes clearer.