Good presentation by Sam Harris, a compelling speaker, and a book out called The End of Faith. I can't decide what I think about his message, which is utterly dismissive of religion. I think his basic message is that the idea of "tolerance" has effectively made it taboo to challenge people's religious beliefs, or to discuss the idea that some religions are better (in terms of the health and welfare of their believers, their impact on human life, etc.) than others. He argues that this is nonsense, and that we can and must challenge religion. He says that belief not rooted in reason has no place in our society.
What's hard for me is that I buy what he's saying, and yet I yearn for faith and I don't want that yearning to be stupid. I don't have faith; I haven't found an organization that resonates. But I find ritual and reverence and mystery beautiful and moving in a way that reason and logic aren't. I admire people who make a regular, social, public commitment to make time to think about magic and mystery and how to be a better human being, what lasts when we're gone. Isn't that what religion is? I know it's been warped and there are a lot of lousy manifestations. I haven't found a faith that makes sense to me. The practices of Buddhism come the closest. Yet I admire people who believe, who have found homes in religion, who have people they come together with to meditate, to find sacred, to examine the way they live, and to make a renewed vow to do better. I envy them. Is there room in Sam Harris's world for this kind of beauty, for the yearning in my heart to find balance, peace, kindness, majesty, reverence? I'll have to read the book. (Well, first, I'll talk to him at dinner.)
PS. My dad, seated beside me, is photographing the conference at a great clip, and uploading his pics to www.flickr.com and to his blog, if you want some images of what's happening. Official conference photos are here.