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Sam Harris on Atheism
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He gave one of the more interesting addresses at the recent Atheist Alliance conference in Washington D.C., and said some stuff I'd agree with, and other stuff I wouldn't.

This is the stuff I'd agree with:

Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn't really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as "non-racism" is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves.

In other words, it's a Grade Two sentiment, not Grade One.

That's all good. But then there's this:

So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves "atheists." We should not call ourselves "secularists." We should not call ourselves "humanists," or "secular humanists," or "naturalists," or "skeptics," or "anti-theists," or "rationalists," or "freethinkers," or "brights." We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

What? What's this "under the radar" shit, especially coming from the guy who's publishing, touring, and standing on a podium with a loud microphone. Is Harris planning on ducking out of public life from now on?

I like the bit about destroying bad ideas wherever you find them, but isn't that easier to do if the community is organized and mobilized? This "fade into the masses" bit not only doesn't sound good strategically, it's hypocritical. It reminds me of when Philip asked Christopher Hitchens about ways in which we could organize and he said (in the same answer): 1) We don't need to organize, and 2) By the way, there's an Atheist Alliance meeting in D.C. in a couple of months. Sheesh.

No, we definitely need to organize. Maybe it's not possible, but I think it is. We share a lot of core, common positive values, from scientific traditions to democratic values. Just as any organized group has some variation of ideologies within its ranks, so will people who do not base their value system on supernaturalism. But if we remain fractured and disparate, our power to influence society and policy is diminished. There are simply things that organized blocks of people can do that individuals acting alone cannot.

So Harris is right, and Harris is wrong, but the whole thing is worth a read.

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