In a comment thread over at the TM-Free Blog, where I’m a contributor, a reader recently quoted Sam Harris, from his book, “The End of Faith:”

“A nuclear war between India and Pakistan seems almost inevitable, given what most Indians and Pakistanis believe about the afterlife.”

Quite possibly the scariest thing I have ever read.

That’s because Harris wants you to be scared. It sells his books.

The problem I have with Harris is certainly not his atheism (which I share). The problem is that he can write most of a book that I would otherwise largely agree with, and then come along and play the American exceptionalist game, which is just a slightly modified rehash of imperialistic, colonial rhetoric in which those brown savages elsewhere on the planet must be tamed and placed under an appropriate boot heel. He used similar tactics in the one book of his that I read, “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

Equating the governments of India and Pakistan with rioting mobs there is part of the slight-of-hand Harris uses. I find it disgusting.

Worse, Harris ignores the plain fact that his own country, the United States, has done very much the same thing, if not much worse given the comparative scale: armed itself with nuclear weapons enough to wipe out the planet several times over, in an “arms race” and “cold war” with the Soviets that in the end was rather pointless as it became a race to see whose system would be bankrupted first. With all those decades filled with militant rhetoric, “mutually assured destruction” and incidents like the Cuban missile crisis (how well is that history taught to young people today?), nuclear war was not inevitable as we’re still able to sit here and talk about it.

He also ignores the obvious, that for eight years the U.S. President was largely beholden to religious interests, largely of the Pentecostal signs and wonders and prophecy variety, while controlling some thousands of nuclear weapons that could have been accurately delivered on a few minutes’ notice. A portion of that arsenal still exists and is still very much active, and the same is true of that of the former Soviet Union.

For all the rhetoric and hardware, in reality the “inevitability” of nuclear war is not as great as Harris would like us to believe, regardless of the religiosity of those in power, perhaps because the tendency toward suicidal action is really not that great. The big problem, as I see it, is the slow grinding away at knowledge and education by the actions of religious groups over time, which is a process that’s well under way here in the United States. Harris would do better to address that immediate problem rather than manufacture and/or exaggerate external threats to the U.S. in the same way religious factions regularly do here. He should also be wary of always taking the statements of those he considers adversaries at face value.

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