Sam Harris says:
I do not deny that there is something at the core of the religious experience that is worth understanding. I do not even deny that there is something there worthy of our devotion. But devotion to it does not entail false claims to knowledge, nor does it require that we indulge our cultural/familial/emotional biases in an unscientific way. The glass can get very clean-not sterile perhaps, not entirely without structure, not contingency-free, but cleaner than many people are ready to allow. One need not believe anything on insufficient evidence to experience the “ecstasies of Teresa” (or those of Rumi, for that matter). And those of us with the benefit of a 21st century education can be more parsimonious in drawing conclusions about the cosmos on the basis of such ecstasy. Indeed, I think we must be, lest our attachment to the language of our ancestors keep their ignorance alive in our own time.
Harris has been criticized by some secularists for his less than skeptical and critical attitude toward Eastern mysticism and supernaturalism which does not owe its existence to the followers of the One True God. But the reality is that I do not believe that Harris is an atheist in the way I am. I am a “cold atheist,” dead to the touch of religion or its attractions. I am not engaged in the world of humanity in the same way, and I do not exhibit the passion for my fellow man that Harris does, for if there is one thing that we know of him it is that he cares. And I believe his caring has driven him to a deep detestation of the myth of God, the father who has fled from our universe and gives us no succor but promises which remain unfulfilled. Evangelical Christians often say that their aggression in preaching their “Good News” is from love and altruism intent, would you not give a drowning man a helping hand and pull him up so that he could grasp at the glory of everlasting life? On a deep psychological level Sam Harris is, I believe, no different, he sees humanity drowning in false belief and he must witness. But do not confuse this for a coldness to religion and God, it is hot rage which motivates him, and Harris’ openness to Eastern mysticism suggest that he still seeks a way to save humanity from the drowning oblivion of materialistic naturalism.