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May 24, 2007


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Hi Ryan!

I agree with your concluding comments. I have a nephew, a fine, deep-thinking college student, who is an avid fan of Sam Harris. As my nephew spews out his own comments along with those of Mr Harris, I find no way to respond. I can only share my own beliefs, but they appear to him to be emotional & without any scientific basis. He "tried religion once", & it led him into depression that required counseling for him to get beyond it.
I have felt empty of ideas to share with him as we talk. Reading your quotes of Chris Hedges, I couldn't come close to saying anything like your first quote, & when I share something like the second quote, it seems to go no deeper than the air in fornt of me. How does one reach our young people?

Max Ward

I too was moved by Chris Hedges essay (that's all I've seen so far of the debate). I was thankful for his skill in sharing his insights. I think he undercut Sam Harris' position skillfully. And I too was saddened by what you accurately describe as "easy caricatures" in the comments to Hedges' article..

I also agree that the Hedges-Harris debate brings up the very issues you, Ryan, and commenter Terri raise. I don't have a clue as to how we might reach "our" young people because they learn to defy ownership. But I can make a pertinent observation. Sam Harris does what he does quite well, but he leaves the telltale tracks of a moral and intellectual lightweight. His success comes from the precision of his marketing. He researched the market and discovered what _they_ wanted to hear. His audience is largely teenagers and young adults (those 18-35 rabid consumers).

So it's not a question of What can we do? or as Terri put it, "How does one reach our young people?" That question was co-opted long ago by the establishment and growth of a culture centered on the capitalists' marketplace that expedites the selling of any and all well-packaged products.

When the only metric is profit the only thing left to do is compete.

-- Max

Ryan Bell

Max, thanks for stopping by. Your comments are most welcome and very thought provoking. I often reflect that the metanarrative of our time is the market and consumer capitalism. But I had never put that together with how we "compete" for our children's (or church's or community's, or whoever's) attention.

What seems so typical of Christians, in response to people like Harris, Dawkins and now, Hitchens, is to enter the debate at their level. Christians will never win a debate about whether there is rational irrefutable evidence for God.

From a philosophical level, I think Michael Polyani is most helpful in explaining how modernity limits truth to certain rational categories and relegates faith to something private and useless and now, with this new chorus of atheists, dangerous in the world. The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin wisely appropriates Polyani for the church's role in a post-Christian society in books like The Gospel in a Pluralist Society and Proper Confidence.

I think Hedges does a good job of reframing the debate, but I think the crowd, as you suggest, was leaning in favor of Harris before the night began. I wish I could have been there but alas, I was at a Dodgers game! :)

Dick Larsen

You know, it seems that the only answer is faith. Faith that if we keep sluffing off the confines of religion and stiving to live the teachings of Jesus, we we really have no need to fear the latest sales pitch. They are only effective and accurate when aimed at the model of religion.


Look what I miss when I don't stop by your blog for awhile. I think by and large Hedges nailed it. As usual he's really got his finger on human nature. Fundamentalist thinkers, be they a Falwell or a Harris, selectively choose which part of human nature to emphasize in their rhetoric, lumping people in binary categories while failing to see the common threads--and thus failing to see where they themselves fit. When we deny the capacity for evil in ourselves we only see it in others, and fail to see both ourselves and our Creator in others.

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  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
    - Martin Luther King, Jr.
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