Sam Harris goes after Chris Hedges as another religious liberal who is busy shielding religion from criticism. Hedges mind you is the author of a book that labels the religious right as fascistic. Sounds critical to me.
"Real religion has nothing to do with superstition, irrational beliefs, or tribalism." says Hedges. Harris rejects the claim given the great amount of superstition and tribalism we find in the world today and he accuses Hedges of sidestepping this.
But Hedges is not describing majority expressions of religion. Instead he focuses on "real religion". Such a religion widens our loyalties. God is the God of the world, not just one group. It calls for the highest reflection because it's object is one which calls out the highest in us.
But Harris replies it's a dodge because he's going after what most people follow. And he trots out poll numbers on several beliefs he finds fantastic. But why judge religion solely on the most crass examples of it. Of course why judge it by the best it can offer either?
I can see that, if we reflect on the best and the worst of it, we might find that religion is neither a poison that ruins everything nor is it the savior of humanity. It's made up of a mix, most people in it neither angelic or demonic, rational or irrational, but a mixture.
Of course one could say that of atheists as well. Looking for the best or the worst and judging it accordingly is a dead end. But there may be resources in a number of religious systems, systems of thought that together might be applied to the problems of human life.
Which is why prematurely shutting down one side, is neither liberal or rational. If we decide before hand that thousands of years of thought and practice must be ignored or never looked at, we're not engaging in the sort of free thought that the times require of us.
I wonder how irrational the bulk of religion is, as practiced by most of us; ie the religion of the churches, synagogues, mosques, and covens. Are they really drenched in irrational beliefs? I doubt so. Maybe the articulation of certain beliefs don't stand up to scrutiny.
But there is a difference between our language and the referent to such language. Maybe God language is not well conceived but that doesn't mean that belief in God must be irrational, including for those not in a position to articulate their beliefs well.
And it wouldn't be irrational if such beliefs really do make sense out of the world. Ancestor worship; given our dependence on those before us, how irrational is such a practice? God saving us; given the transformations we've seen in people, is such a belief out of bounds?
Maybe we would or wouldn't use the same language to describe such things, but it doesn't mean that the person using such language must be irrational, given what function such language could serve in making sense of their own experiences.
And Harris has noted, the role of experience legitimates some religious language. In the case of meditation he makes such an allowance even though for some reason he rules it out for prayer. Maybe not rational, but it suggests which prejudices govern Harris.