Sam Harris responds to Karen Armstrong
I heard Armstrong on NPR a month or two ago, when she was promoting her newest book. Her general point seems to be that we shouldn't judge religion by the actions of the forceful, the fundamentalist, or the martyrs but rather by who she thinks is a more appropriate sample. During the interview she admitted that she had no specific faith of her own--she is part of no organized religion--but believes that people should believe in something, no matter what it is.
So I guess she's a Pastafarian? I dunno. Sam Harris is kind of a dick to her, but when most of her statements about atheists boil down to, "They're rude, they ignore my biases, and they should all shut up" I don't exactly blame him.
Click through for her response as well.
Armstrong assures us that because religion has existed for millennia, it is here to stay. Of course, the same could be said about a preoccupation with witchcraft, which has also been a cultural universal. The belief in the curative powers of human flesh is still widespread in Africa, as it used to be in the West. It is said that "mummy paint" (a salve made from ground mummy parts) was applied to Lincoln's wounds as he lay dying.
This is now good for a laugh. But in Kenya elderly men and women are still burned alive for casting malicious spells. In Angola, unlucky boys and girls have been blinded, injected with battery acid, and killed outright in an effort to purge them of demons. In Tanzania, there is a growing criminal trade in the body parts of albino human beings -- as it is widely believed that their flesh has magical properties.
I hope that Armstrong will soon apply her capacious understanding of human nature to these phenomena. Then we will learn that though witchcraft has occasionally been entangled with political injustice, an "inadequate understanding" of demonology and sympathetic magic was really to blame.
People will torture their children with battery acid from time to time anyway -- and who among us hasn't wanted to kill and eat an albino? I sincerely hope that my "new atheist" colleagues are not so naive as to imagine that actual belief in magic might be the issue here. After all, it would be absurd to criticize witchcraft as unscientific, as this would ignore the primordial division between mythos and logos. Let me see if I have this straight: Belief in demons, the evil eye, and the medicinal value of a cannibal feast are perversions of the real witchcraft - -which is drenched with meaning, intrinsically wholesome, integral to our humanity, and here to stay. Do I have that right?