Review: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. 32

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2014, 237 pages

Spiritual Adventures: Aesthetical, Ethical, and Pharmaceutical

“I am often asked,” Sam Harris writes, “what will replace organized religion.  … Nothing need replace its ludicrous and divisive doctrines … [its] terrifying and debasing fictions. But what about love, compassion, moral goodness and self-transcendence?”

It’s plain enough that love and compassion are felt and valued outside of religious teaching. And many who are not religious value moral goodness, and may even practice it, no more or less than the religious do. But self-transcendence – what is that? And what religion speaks of it?

Sam Harris believes self-transcendence can replace religion as “spiritual” satisfaction; that the achievement of it brings love, compassion – that is to say, feelings of love and compassion – with it. He tells us that he has sought it earnestly throughout his adult life.

“I studied with a wide range of monks, lamas, yogis, and other contemplatives, some of whom had lived for decades in seclusion doing nothing but meditating. In the process, I spent two years on silent retreat myself (in increments of one week to three months), practicing various techniques of meditation for twelve to eighteen hours a day.”

The techniques he practiced were derived in part from Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism, without his accepting any other teachings of those religions. To what end?

His book, he says, is “by turns a seeker’s memoir, an introduction to the brain, a manual of contemplative instruction, and a philosophical unraveling of what most people consider to be the center of their inner lives: the feeling of self we call ‘I’.”  His “purpose in writing this book”, he says, “is to encourage you to investigate certain contemplative insights for yourself.”

As a memoir it is entertaining. Sam Harris’s writing is never dull. Descriptions of revolting things that yogis do and anecdotes of gurus being embarrassed – indulging their desires and appetites against their own teaching – are as amusing to Harris as they are to us (though the skeptical reader may react to them with a touch more Schadenfreude).

As an introduction to the brain it is interesting. From Harris’s biographical note on the cover we learn that he has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, so readers might feel reasonably sure he knows what he’s talking about when he shows us that in this field (as in all?) science discloses more mysteries than it solves; and that it does not solve “the mystery of consciousness” – which is to say, it cannot define what consciousness is.

As a manual of contemplative instruction, it suggests one or two experiments you may try by yourself to bring you to “self-transcendence”. But it advises you to find a master, a teacher, a guru to help you to the goal. This might take a very long time; or, alternatively, a very short time, since different masters teach different approaches. You may never get there at all. But one thing the author is certain of: the goal is worth achieving.

What is the goal? To discover you have no “self”; to find that what you have taken to be your own consciousness is not yours, but that an immeasurable consciousness is out there, pervading the universe, and you are one with it. Discussion of this is the “philosophical unraveling of the feeling of self we call ‘I’.” (His discourse on the non-existence of the self is similar to David Hume’s.) You may also experience intense happiness, a vision of ineffable beauty, and an all-embracing love for humankind – indeed, for everything that is; an understanding, with extraordinary “moral and emotional clarity” that “love is a state of being”, as “mystics and crackpots have advertised through the ages”.

To “cut through the illusion of self” and have “a clearer understanding of the way things are” is what the author means, he says, by “spirituality”. (He notes that some atheists do not like the word. Indeed, I don’t care for it myself. I use the word “spirit” in an adverbial or adjectival sense. I might say: “I do this or that in a spirit of fun”; “I had a spirited reaction to this or that idea”. I do not believe there is such a thing as a “spirit” any more than I believe there is such a thing as a “soul”. But I suspended my disbelief to follow his exposition.)

“Although the claim seems to annoy believers and atheists equally,” Harris writes, “separating spirituality from religion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn” (a point on which I am emphatically in agreement with him) “and yet there is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.”

The understanding that he sought is of a kind that religious contemplatives seek, but it can be sought, he asserts, without the risk of falling into religion.  “I have spent much of my life seeking experiences of the kind that gave rise to the world’s religions,” he writes.  (Transcendental mental experience gave rise only to some of them – Buddhism, for instance.)

His goal is, he says, profound: “The true goal of meditation is more profound than most people realize – and it does, in fact, encompass many of the experiences that traditional mystics claim for themselves. It is quite possible to lose one’s sense of being a separate self and to experience a kind of boundless open awareness – to feel, in other words, at one with the cosmos. This says a lot about the possibilities of human consciousness, but it says nothing about the universe at large.”

He attained this feeling. He felt at one with the cosmos. He lost himself. He felt extraordinary happiness. He felt full of love. If you too want to lose yourself – to escape, as he did, such hampering and destructive burdens of the mind and emotions as anxiety, confusion, discontent, anger – and experience ecstatic feelings, his book might help you do it.

I confess I have no wish whatsoever to lose myself (though I’ve nothing against ecstatic feelings). Is it not the fear of losing oneself that makes one fear death, or being in a coma, or in a permanent vegetative state? (Trying to “find oneself”, or “one’s true self”, is a more commonly announced spiritual quest than losing oneself. Though how does one know which is one’s true self, the one that does the seeking or the one that is sought?) But it can be good to stop thinking about oneself and concentrate on something else. It is easy and common to “lose oneself” in an occupation; learning, working, playing, striving. When our thoughts are engaged in some absorbing activity, we don’t think of asking ourselves if we are happy or not. We may realize later that we had been happy then.

And what about feeling “at one with the cosmos”? Is it worth the vast expense of time and effort, the years of brooding, that the author lavished on the enterprise? He thinks so. I don’t.

The achievement when it comes – the convincing experience of enlightenment – is, he admits, ephemeral. At best, it may last for a few hours. But what if an important insight is achieved, a truth discovered? That would be a lasting gain. What might such a truth be? Might it be, as Harris tells us, an understanding of what consciousness is? An answer to the question that science cannot answer? For such an insight to be a contribution to human knowledge and understanding, it would have to be transmittable to other people; it would have to be put into words. But apparently it cannot be precisely described in words. It remains in the felt knowledge of the one who experiences it, as “truth “ does with Gnostics. For others to know it they too must experience it. It remains private, personal. At most it may bring the contemplative who has made his  “break through” – has achieved ”nirvana” in the language of Buddhism, “satori” in Japanese Zen Buddhism – to try teaching others how to do the same. And he can say that it feels marvelous. But he cannot tell what the “truth” is except in vague suggestive terms. He has learnt it directly, he knows what consciousness is, but he cannot define it for us. The one who experiences ecstatic revelation brings back from his enlightenment nothing but the news that it felt good.

Even the “ludicrous doctrines” of the religions are more interesting. The revelations handed down by the founders and prophets of the so-called “revealed” religions are visions of the past and the future,; messages from speaking gods; moral laws; myths  that incorporate lessons in right behavior. They make great reading. But they are not true. They certainly do not define the nature of consciousness. Neither does Sam Harris.

His book is also a good read. But I was irritated by his message, which I think is quite as dangerous and wicked as any religion, or even more so. “Surely that’s an exaggeration,” you may protest. “Meditation may be a waste of time, but it does no harm.”

I say it is dangerous and wicked because it tells you that there is another way to reach the goal of “self-transcendence”, the accompanying feelings of joy, love and compassion, and even a conviction of gaining revelatory insight. That other way is the ingestion of psychedelic drugs.  The author recommends them even to his own daughters.

I don’t want the law to forbid people to take drugs. But I think they should understand what they are doing to themselves when they swallow mind-altering substances. Even Harris admits that a “bad trip’ can be hell. I’ve known people ask to have a limb cut off, or even to be killed, rather than be forced to swallow lysergic acid (LSD) a second time. LSD literally drives you mad. To take it is to put yourself into a state of clinical psychosis. Some take months to recover from it. Some lose their sanity permanently. Some commit suicide. True, some have told me that the stuff gave them a “good trip”, and I have to believe them; but still it is a state of psychosis. There is no way of knowing in advance what it will do to you, but it will change your mind, and that is harmful. And what would you be doing it for? It can give you nothing to help you live your life. Finding out that you “have no self” as Harris insists is the case, will not banish anxiety, confusion, discontent, disappointment or anger.  We need sanity to deal with our burdens. We need to be sane to survive. And even if it is true that we have no self, that the self is an “illusion”, we have to act as if we have it, as if it is real; and that means that to all intents and purposes we do have a self, and it is real.

Yes, the self desires and suffers. It also triumphs, it laughs. It may want to deny itself, transcend itself, even convince itself that it is an illusion. It may spend years achieving what it calls its own transcendence. But it would be better occupied with cooking the dinner, inventing an app, or writing a book.

Feeling love and compassion may be very pleasant and satisfying for the one who feels them. But pleasant and satisfying to what if not that very self which has come to feel them by being dissolved away? So much time devoted to the self by the self for the self to prove that the self does not exist! The contradictions are stark.

And the exercise is useless to anyone else. So, even without the drugs, it is not morally good. Moral goodness lies not in what one feels but what one does. Love and compassion must surely be demonstrated in works if they are to have any value at all. That is the whole difference between the moral religions of the West and the contemplative religions of the East. Much is said about love-and-compassion in Buddhism, because to feel it – or to acquire a deeper understanding of its value, as an enlightenment-seeker might prefer to put it – is of benefit to the soul of the seeker only, not to others. Judaism teaches  – and taught uniquely among the religions of the ancient world – that justice is the highest value, an impersonal good for everyone. Christianity teaches that love is the highest value, not as an emotion but as an ethical principle directing what you must do – without a guarantee that your doing it will get you to heaven. The Christian doctrine of love contradicts Judaism’s doctrine of justice because, embracing as it does the doer of evil as well as to the doer of good, it is manifestly not just. So yes, they are “divisive doctrines”, but both are concerned with “moral goodness” as no Oriental religion is. On the other hand, Buddhism does not have their “debasing fiction” of a vengeful God, which might be reckoned in its favor.

Finally, I wonder if Harris is deluding himself when he thinks his spiritual exercises are separable from religion? He says that what is to be learnt through meditation or LSD is not about the universe. However, by his own account, the cosmic  consciousness that the successful contemplative discovers when he loses his “self-consciousness” is, he says, universal; it is a fact of existence, a transcendental “truth”.  As such it is surely the same as that numinous “other” reality, beyond this phenomenal world, that Plato taught was “higher” and perfect? In its numinousness, its ineffability, its impersonal vital force, it could be the very same malignant thing that Schopenhauer called Will. And it could even be what many call “God”.  Spirituality and religion ride the same broomstick.

Posted under by Jillian Becker on Monday, August 18, 2014

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This post has 32 comments.

  • Rick Owen

    Interesting. I draw a distinction between mystical worldviews, theistic worldviews, and the atheist worldview–by using the spoon scene from the first Matrix movie. The mystics assert that there is no spoon, that all things are really one, and this their basis for “loving one another” and “being kind to one another” since they believe that you and I and the Beatles are really one and the same Buddha or Krishna consciousness. There is no spoon. It is a kind of metaphysical socialism.

    And against all that you, atheists, and Christians such as myself, stand. We believe that spoons really exist, and none of us are Paul McCartney except Paul McCartney. We both believe in an objective reality, and this is the proper basis for both love and justice, an I-Thou relationship.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see the author of the article discern that love isn’t an emotion–most Christians flunk that one. Yet I disagree that the Christian ethic of love contradicts the Jewish ethic of justice. While forgiveness of those who repent is taught, certainly, love doesn’t rejoice in iniquity, but in the truth. In fact, one might argue that the entire basis of injustice is a lack of love as an ethical principle.

    • I like your first two paragraphs.

      But I question your view that the Christian ethic does not contradict justice. “Resist not evil”? (The Sermon on the Mount, as you know of course.) That is a terrible commandment! “Hate the sin but love the sinner”? The sinner not to be held responsible for the sin he commits? And he’s to be rewarded with love? No justice there. And the forgiveness thing? Forgiving is not just. Turning the other cheek? Not just. Sentimental. And the whole idea of loving everyone is a recipe for hypocrisy. Nobody can.

      I must add that although I praise Judaism for holding justice as its highest value, I do not consider the examples of it given in, say, the Book of Leviticus to be respectable. Some of them are nothing short of absurd.

      • Rick Owen

        Well, “turn the other cheek” is better understood as “don’t escalate the argument.” A momentary outburst of anger isn’t good, but responding with anger isn’t good either. He’s not saying “don’t ever defend yourself.” In fact, later, He advises His disciples to carry a sword with them on their travels so that they ARE able to defend themselves. And sinners are to be held responsible for their sins, in practice–such as a thief must pay back what he’s stolen. But the theology is that being a sinner is like having terminal cancer. It just can’t be removed by taking responsibility for it.

        LOL, this is what I love about atheists. Serious atheists are very challenging, and I’m forced to look at my beliefs and my bible more closely. Awesome. Thank you!

        BTW, I’ll have to check out your book. My avatar, the White Rose, is a reference to the original White Rose Society (Sophie Scholl and company). There is a modern group in San Francisco that bears the name, but they’re pretty socialist, claiming to be anti-fascist–without any clue that term probably doesn’t mean what they think it means.

        • The White Rose people were among the very few who were genuinely anti-Nazi. I’m sure you’re right about the SF group. The most successful trick of the Left was to apply a word (“fascism”) to Nazism that made it seem not to be national socialism.

          As for your interpretations – fair enough. I’ve heard as many as I’ve raised these points with Christians, and they’re all different. And all interesting in their way. You overlook “Resist not evil”.

          • Rick Owen

            lol, that’s because I had to look that up. It’s connected with the “turn the other cheek,” in the same verse. I looked up the Greek, and the word (poneros) has several meanings, but in context could just as well mean annoyances, or something hurtful. It’s not necessarily referring to evil character or a moral vice.

            And this is really and truly difficult. It’s easier if you have a kind of love for the person, even friendship-love. I had an assistant manager at one job who was at his wit’s end with our boss, and when something went wrong one day, he thought I was responsible, and decided to rather vociferously take out his frustrations on me. It was a bit over the top, but I remained calm, because I knew the truth, and trusted that he was a friend. After he ran out of breath, I explained to him what had happened. He was profusely apologetic, and asked why I had let him yell at me like that. I simply said “I thought you needed to.”

            Not that I’m boasting. I can be extremely impatient with people.

            • No. Sorry. Nothing as trivial as that! This “sermon” is held by all Christians to be the moral manifesto of their Teacher. (I give the word a capital out of courtesy to you.) He is talking about evil. My Greek dictionary gives the translation of the word “poneros” (it doesn’t list the exact word in the Greek Matthew, “ponero”, the o being omega) as sly, cunning, WICKED. I trust those King James translators to choose the English word that fitted best with Christian doctrine. What we are talking about here is the essential difference between the old religion that prophesied a messiah and so the one that Christianity claims as its progenitor, and the doctrine which – it is made absolutely clear in the sermon itself – is NEW. “You have heard it said … BUT I SAY UNTO YOU …”. And what is the essential difference? Paul says what it is in Romans. The terrifying justice of the law can be escaped even by him, Paul the sinner, because his redemption has been bought by the sacrifice of “Christ Jesus”. So though Matthew’s “Jesus” (we do not know his real name) says that the law will never pass away (surely a remnant of the sayings of an actual Jewish preacher on whom this figure was based), Paul is insistent that the law has been superseded. The new doctrine is NOT JUSTICE. It is love, it is self-abasement, it is “resist not evil”, it is forgive. There is much more about this in my essays under the title “The Birth and Early History of Christianity” under Pages in our margin.

            • Rick Owen

              LOL, you wouldn’t believe the discussions I’ve had about grace vs law with “torah-keepers,” Christians who believe that everybody is supposed to keep the Law of Moses. Didn’t expect that here at all! But in any case, without going into it too deeply, it’s where the idea of being “born again” of the Spirit comes into play. We could discuss this ’til the cows come home, but it’s way off topic. Yet it’s your blog, so it’s up to you. I’m not picky about others capitalizing His name, but thank you anyways.

              I’ve also dealt with “radical Christians” who really do insist on pacifism and forgiveness in all instances, to the point of insanity. Should we resist Nazis, fascists, Jihadists and a great many other actual, lethal evils? I believe we should. Why would we forgive, wipe the slate clean, those who don’t repent? And “repent” in the Greek means “changing the mind.” And even so, all this isn’t even a matter of public policy, which I think is your other concern here. Various Christians attempt to convince nations to apply what is appropriate to a family to an entire nation as public policy, and we wind up with less liberty. The OT isn’t about establishing a nation, but individuals joining a kind of family. While internal church discipline is gone over numerous times, there’s no talk of social or criminal justice, because it’s not appropriate to the subject.

              As a shallow illustration, I offer the image of a stewardess giving instructions for passengers on what to do in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, and the plane making an emergency landing on water… except they’re all on a bus in the middle of Kansas (or the West Midlands, if you’re British). Or to make a more political joke, it’s like demanding little old nuns have health insurance that covers birth control. Opinions on little old nuns may vary, but not so much the facts.

            • You have wandered so far from the topic, I cannot follow you.

  • I have had to delete the Ron Krumpos comments because they linked to his website. I have left our replies, which may indicate what his comments were about – advocating mysticism. They were not important or interesting enough to cause any regret for their deletion.

  • I have had to delete all comments by Ron Krumpos because they were redirecting … In other words, we have been hacked. So Rom Krumpos is also blacklisted.

  • Don L

    As I begin this comment…I’m wondering why? What do I think I can contribute? Eh…here it goes anyway:

    When I first became aware of philosophy…I understood delving into the subject was of some import but mostly I thought too many waste too much time on the topic. I have attempted to read a few of the popular philosophers: Fromm, Kant and Nietzsche. I never finished reading any of them…useless ideas and a waste of time. Then I was introduced to the novels of Ayn Rand…Boom. What I already believed was confirmed, filled-in and refined.

    But, I don’t see Ayn Rand as philosopher as much as I see her work as the explanation and description of how life IS. Like Austrian economics which is not a theory but, based on 600 years of observation, analysis and thought, a description and explanation of what economics IS.

    Self…what the hell is going on here. If you actually haven’t figured out you have a self…you are you…then you are more damaged than worrying about self. The idea that self is some mystical, external or a has to be found entity is symptomatic of lunacy. Not to be reviewed or analyzed but to be referred to a shrink.

    Drugs…I enjoy them. I exclude the designer chemicals purposefully created to addict the user (not addictive, as such, but LSD is a designer chemical). Yes, thinking offers great reward. So does relaxation and organic, non-addictive, intoxicants, in-all-things-moderation, also offer benefits toward the goal of temporary escape from thinking…after the work is done…work before pleasure.

    And, while under the influence, occasionally (I have found great fun in keeping a yellow pad handy and writing the ‘great’ ideas down) solutions and answers to problems, questions and/or tasks do come to the fore. Would they have come without the drugs? Maybe. Point is, mind-altering (not mind/body damaging – information what drugs are is available) is enjoyable and can be stress relieving toward viewing ‘things’ from a different perspective. Whether drugs or booze…every day and all day usage is life destroying.

    The search for self and drugs…It’s like the guy, one night, finds a drunk looking all around under a street light. The guy asks, “you lose something?”. The drunk slurs, Thyes…I lost my caw phkeys over there”, as he points off into the dark. The guy asks, ” Then why are you looking here?. The drunk replies, nearly loosing his supper,” Behcuzz…
    gulb…dahhh lights better!”

    Wondering about self and searching for one by taking drugs…it’s not about self or drugs. It’s about a feeble person.

    • liz

      Exactly right about Ayn Rand. Her philosophy really just puts objective reality into philosophical terms. The only thing useful about reading previous philosophers is that it helps one to appreciate more how she solved all the “dichotomies” they created.

  • Thank you for your comment, Ron. Why mysticism?

    • Thanks for your answer, Ron. But that’s not the sort of “reason” I was looking for. I cannot think why mysticism is necessary to anyone. Any more than religion. Surely the exploration of our world, human and material, by the powers of the sober, educated, inquiring, critical mind is far more exciting and above all far more rewarding that that vague pap?

      • Yes, Gnosticism. That is the cult of “certain intuitive unmediated knowing”.
        Why, if you are for the irrational, do you not believe in God or gods?
        Nothing is “suprarational”. There is no higher power than that of human consciousness and ratiocination. “Subrational” would be a better description of mysticism and “spirituality”.

      • Don L

        Absolutely! In fact it is the only way. Emotion never determined anything. In fact. I have reasoned, by your posts, your not worthy of the sweat off my _____!

      • You can know immediately and certainly your own feelings and sensations. Your feelings or “intuition” is not a guide to objective truth.
        In any case a dictionary definition of a word does not provide evidence of whether the idea it presents is valid or invalid.

      • What “deserves” your love is up to you. You will love whom you love. Honesty can be objectively ascertained. Feelings about other people’s character traits are notoriously unreliable.

      • Don L

        You’re an idiot. A fully open minded observation! Stoned I would know you as a purblind imbecile. Spiritual knowing…what unadulterated Crap!

      • Don L

        Using reason…one can demonstrate that practice makes perfect. And, when one reads “spiritual knowing”, it doesn’t take conscious effort to know…idiot in the house! Just like sailors tie knots without thinking about it. Prior experience leads to sense of a things. I intuitively know that people who believe as you do are usually dangerous…just like the Ft Hood shooter or the slime bag who decapitated that woman in OK this week. Ethics and morality, being products of reason, escape “spiritual knowers”.

  • Kerry

    This is an excellent review, although I must confess I have not read the book yet. I will add this to my to do list, and can now read with your thoughts in mind. I particularly liked this comment.

    “Finding out that you “have no self” as Harris insists is the case, will not banish anxiety, confusion, discontent, disappointment or anger. We need sanity to deal with our burdens. We need to be sane to survive. And even if it is true that we have no self, that the self is an “illusion”, we have to act as if we have it, as if it is real; and that means that to all intents and purposes we do have a self, and it is real.”

    Having lived in Taiwan for the past 5 years and with a Buddhist-raised lady, I am fairly familiar with the tenets espoused here, and I would suggest that you have succinctly captured what it is they teach.

    Finally, your comment, “The techniques he practiced were derived in part from Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism, without his accepting any other teachings of those religions. To what end?” would be like someone observing fasting during lent without understanding or embracing the larger teachings of catholicism.

    Thanks for pointing me to this post. I will comment again after I have read the book.

    • Kerry: The publishers, Simon & Schuster, sent us an advance copy for review.

      Thank you for your appreciative comments. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts when you have read the book.

  • Andrew M

    Everywhere I’m looking says this book is to come out on September 9th. I’m wondering: did you get a pre-release copy? Either way, the comments below are more a response to this entry than the book itself, since I evidently do not have a copy to read myself.

    I’ll admit my bias now: I’m very excited for this book. Having touched on some of the experiences he’s discussed, however briefly and imperfectly, I’ve been sympathetic to his views on this subject for quite some time. I am eager to see him try convincing the world that “science of spirituality” is not an oxymoron.

    We’ve discussed in private some aspects of drug use, and I have not been shy in airing my views on the subject. We agree that taking LSD should not be a crime, but we disagree in that I consider this action potentially valuable. Certain drugs can be either poisons or medicines for the individual depending on set, setting, and dosage.

    Alcohol causes immense amounts of damage to society by the reckless and violent behavior it promotes, but millions of people still use the substance responsibly to enhance their personal lives. Psychedelic drugs are not chemically toxic or addictive as alcohol can be, and the positive mental changes they induce can lay clear the path towards inventing that app or writing that book. To give just one example, Francis Crick was high on LSD when he discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. I think the power of psychedelics for revelation is directly related to the dissolution or self or ego, and I don’t follow your assertion that you need to assume a sense of self just to cook dinner even if the self does not truly exist.

    I would be remiss not to mention the dangers of these drugs. Psychedelics will certainly be profoundly unsettling to a mind unwilling to challenge its assumptions. Taking any drug without considering your set, setting and dosage is profoundly irresponsible. However, I must stress that this is just as true for LSD or cocaine as it is for caffeine or nicotine. And, of course, forcing anyone to take any drug is assault. (Who in your journeys was being forced to take LSD or any other drug? Peer pressure to take drugs may be strong, but “no” does mean “no”, and violating somebody’s wishes is perfectly justifiable grounds for an arrest and subsequent conviction. Simply encouraging responsible drug use is not a crime in the U.S., and rightly so.)

    I take great issue with your statement that changing your mind is harmful. Indeed, some populations desperately need it. If every adult Muslim living today suddenly experienced a boundless love for non-Muslims, this would (by necessity) shatter their belief in Islam. We would no longer need to fear them randomly attacking us for not accepting this evil ideology, and they would finally be able to accept the values needed to heal their sick society — freedom of speech, women’s rights, and separation of church of state, to name a few. I would see this as a net positive, and in time, the ex-Muslims would too. Absent Islam, we have no reason to be enemies. What does it matter if the ex-Muslims got to this point using MDMA? Indeed, there might be no quicker way to make this happen.

    The ability to change your mind is the only force capable of advancing humanity. Many if not most people do not love themselves enough, feeling enough shame to stop them from achieving their goals. Others love themselves for all the wrong reasons, rendering them psychopaths dangerous to everyone around them. I contend that spiritual practices alone have the power to clear up this mess, opening up both of these types of minds to the self-improvement needed for peaceful coexistence through abandoning their egoistic dogmas and delusions. Far from damaging the ability to administer justice, contemplative behavior will improve our species’ understanding of what constitutes genuine crime and what punishment is appropriate for a given crime. In an era of increasingly powerful violent ideologies armed with nuclear weapons and a distracted, demoralized America whose influential power is fading fast, I see no greater good worth pushing than to heal the scars of humanity’s history.

    • Andrew M – that is one of the most plausible arguments rationalizing the abandonment of reason, sobriety and sanity that I have ever read.

      So taking mind-altering drugs is now the way to Utopia?

      • Andrew M

        Of course not — they can lead to Dystopia as well. It’s up to the user to decide which path to take.

        Educate yourself before partaking. Have a good set and setting. Don’t do too much, and don’t do drugs too often. Drugs are to enhance your life, not to become your life.

        If you are unsure if you are ready to partake in any drug or non-drug experience, abstain. I do think you’ll be missing out, but that’s not my decision to make for anyone but myself.

        I remain steadfast in my belief that a simultaneous worldwide drug experience might be the only thing preventing another bloody world war, but I remain optimistic for alternatives. I’m not a pacifist, so I’ll fight that war on the side of civilization against savagery if push comes to shove. It is worth dying for the chance to live a good life.

        As always, I appreciate having the opportunity to air my thoughts here. Disagreement is the spice of life, and I’m having a good harvest.

        • Andrew M – you and Harris are really just advocating a high.

          The rewards of thinking are much greater.

          • liz

            Well put. Harris is deluding himself.
            The idea of “self transcendence” into a “cosmic consciousness” is an illusion.
            Buddhism teaches it; Christianity teaches to “deny yourself”, sacrifice yourself, and your life in this world for a delusional “union” with God.
            “Spirituality” is as bogus a concept as the “supernatural” – they don’t exist!
            We have a rational mind – that is our “self”.
            All taking drugs does to your mind is cause it to become so dysfunctional that you become delusional.
            Just like the psychotic person, you imagine things and think they are real.
            You imagine that you are “one with the cosmos”, and believe you have actually achieved this oneness. In reality, you’ve only imagined it, and likely destroyed some brain function in the process.

          • Andrew M

            I don’t expect you to ever agree with me on this subject, and that’s fine — I always enjoy a dissenting opinion. However, I see this comment as a crossroads of sorts, because I think the two go hand-in-hand and are not in competition.

            I’ve said enough on the subject as it is, so I’ll leave Carl Sagan to comment on his marijuana use:

            I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for. I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. Because of problems of space, I can’t go into the details of these essays, but from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books..

            This was part of an essay he wrote anonymously during his lifetime.

    • liz

      It’s naive to think that putting Muslims on drugs would cause them to feel “boundless love” for non-Muslims. Jihadists take drugs before murdering people and blowing themselves up – but maybe they feel that “boundless love” as they do it- who knows?
      Supposedly the Manson family, so enlightened by every drug the 60s had to offer, murdered out of love for their victims, too.

      • Andrew M

        Where do you hear that jihadists take drugs before engaging in their murderous rampages? The Koran explicitly forbids خمر (khamr, Arabic word for wine but used to refer to any intoxicating substance in the Koran), so if true, they’re not being very good Muslims. Supporting my point, ISIS was destroying fields of marijuana plants and smashing bottles of alcohol (video).

        A cursory search for “jihadists take drugs before combat” suggests that some of them are taking heroin. Not hard to believe given that it’s Afghanistan’s main industry, but I hope you realize that I don’t consider heroin a valuable substance (and accordingly have never taken it). Moreover, failing to recognize the fundamental biochemical and experiential differences between heroin and MDMA is an act of willful blindness. Further examples of jihadists using drugs (and which drugs) are appreciated.

        I thought I’ve made it clear that the drugs I consider valuable don’t guarantee enlightenment or perverse interpretations of positive emotions. The Aztecs used psychedelics while engaging in blood sacrifices. That being said, they make you consider life from angles that you wouldn’t normally consider. Specifically regarding the Islamic problem, I don’t see any other non-military alternatives have even the slightest chance of working besides a massive drugging of the Muslim population.

        I think we could both agree that raining bombs on Mecca would solve the problem. However, I do dislike war very much and would like not to fight it under any circumstances, but don’t confuse this for a willingness to surrender (which I also thought I had made clear). I readily admit my non-military resolution is a pipe dream, but do you have a better one?

        Here’s a concrete example of a valuable drug that I hope you and anyone else reading will appreciate: many people suffer from an addiction to heroin, cigarettes, or alcohol (the last of which apparently isn’t a drug, but I digress). There is a substance called ibogaine which shows tremendous power in breaking these addictions, almost as though the user never had the addiction in the first place. However, it does so through a 24-hour hallucinatory introspective experience invoking all of the wild ideas I’ve described here and more. Primarily for this reason, it is not available in the United States. Should addicts continue to suffer or use less reliable methods of treatment just because the most effective medicine for their condition makes you trip? I say this is wrong. There is no reason why heroin addicts must go to Mexico (where ibogaine is legal with a doctor’s prescription) just to treat their addiction.

        Last point I want to stress: I am not advocating reckless consumption. As conservatives like to stress, this is entirely a matter of personal responsibility. In the realm of drugs, this means set, setting, and dosage. Doctors are trusted to handle this for us, but I don’t think it needs to be this way for substances that aren’t chemically toxic. I readily admit that the times aren’t ready for what I’m advocating.

        • liz

          You can find several articles with references to jihadists taking drugs on Frontpagemag – “The Islamic paradise of the needle and power”, “ISIS combines drug smuggling with terror attack on Israel”, “A beheading ends all illusions about Islam”, How all Qaida is winning the war on terror”.
          I really don’t think there are any non-military solutions to the Islamic problem at this point, although withdrawing aid from Islamic countries and stopping Muslim immigration would go a long way.

  • liz

    Excellent review! And I totally agree with your take on it, Jillian.
    Sam Harris has his good points as far as debunking religion, but ironically, he apparently still feels a need for it. He’s childishly “chasing rainbows”, and dressing it up in sophisticated language.
    He really needs to just grow up. Sad that he so irresponsibly influences his own children to take dangerous drugs. As a neuroscientist, or even just a sane adult, he should know better.