Sam Harris, founder of the incorrectly named “Reason Project,” author of Letter to a Christian Nation, and scourge of all things and all people religious, has written a screed for Newsweek that demonstrates just how far he is from being an apostle of reason. It focuses on Sarah Palin, and warns against the coming right-wing apocalypse. It’s longish, so I urge you to read it all, but here are some high lowlights:
I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn’t: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with millions of Americans—but we shouldn’t be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either.
Someone should clue Harris into a little secret–most of our presidents have, in some form or another, believed this. Methodist George W. Bush, Southern Baptists Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Episcopalians George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford, Presbyterian Ronald Reagan, Disciple Lyndon Johnson, Catholic John Kennedy: whether they articulted it this way or not, they all on some level or another saw God as overseeing the world. Heck, Abraham Lincoln staked the future of the Union on this conviction. But apparently in Harris’s world, only atheists and agnostics are fit for the presidency. I guess he won’t be voting for Obama and Biden either, huh?
Every detail that has emerged about Palin’s life in Alaska suggests that she is as devout and literal-minded in her Christian dogmatism as any man or woman in the land. Given her long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church, Palin very likely believes that Biblical prophecy is an infallible guide to future events and that we are living in the “end times.” Which is to say she very likely thinks that human history will soon unravel in a foreordained cataclysm of war and bad weather. Undoubtedly Palin believes that this will be a good thing—as all true Christians will be lifted bodily into the sky to make merry with Jesus, while all nonbelievers, Jews, Methodists and other rabble will be punished for eternity in a lake of fire. Like many Pentecostals, Palin may even imagine that she and her fellow parishioners enjoy the power of prophecy themselves.
I believe the proper expression for this passage is “malicious fantasy.” Harris doesn’t actually know any of this about Palin, so he uses weasel words such as “likely” and “suggests.” Well, you know anyone can play that game–I suspect, given what Harris writes in this article, that he burns crosses on his front lawn and eats weasel meat for lunch. But that’s just my suspicion.
You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps.
This is where he’s going to talk about Obama’s long-time affiliation with Jeremiah Wright and Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, right? Wrong:
In the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” “miraculous healings” and “the gift of tongues.” Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin’s spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of “the final generation,” engaged in “spiritual warfare” to purge the earth of “demonic strongholds.” Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: “All options remain on the table”?
Harris seems unwilling to recognize that Palin left the Assemblies of God church because it was “extreme.” Of course, he would consider the Archbishop of Canterbury extreme, because he believes in God, which no rational person can do. The point is that he insists on imputing to her stuff that she walked away from years ago because she disagreed with it. Given this standard of “reason,” we can also assume that Obama believes that the United States government developed the AIDS virus to kill African-Americans, since that’s what the leader of the church he was a member of for 20 years preached. Is that what we want in a president?
Teen pregnancy is a misfortune, plain and simple. At best, it represents bad luck (both for the mother and for the child); at worst, as in the Palins’ case, it is a symptom of religious dogmatism. Governor Palin opposes sex education in schools on religious grounds.
It’s sad when supposedly smart people like Sam Harris demonstrate that they have a hard time reading simple news accounts. Palin does not oppose sex education in public schools. Period. I believe that’s what Al Gore would refer to as an “inconvenient fact.”
There’s more, but most of it isn’t an argument; rather; it’s a fact-free, speculation or fantasy enhanced collection of Sam Harris prejudices projected on to someone about whom he knows even less than what has been in the newspapers. Take the time, if you’re so inclined.
(Hat tip: Hampton.)
UPDATE: It isn’t exactly a response to Harris, but Michael Gerson offers another view of Palin and those supporting her:
Americans who support Palin are not fools, peasants or theocrats. They have reasons, which elites may not agree with, but cannot dismiss. Many are attracted to her because she embodies the values of the American West, which they find superior to the values of coastal elites. This was part of the appeal of Goldwater and Reagan—a log-splitting, range-riding conservatism that emphasizes freedom. (Palin adds moose hunting to the list.) It’s not irrational or simplistic for voters to prefer candidates who reflect their deepest values.
To others Palin represents a different kind of feminism—feminism without liberalism. Many women seem enthusiastic about supporting a woman leader who struggles with the balance of work and family, takes on the old-boy network and yet rejects the agenda of the National Organization for Women. And Palin appeals to many voters as a pro-life symbol, with a family—including a son with Down syndrome—that exemplifies a culture of life. Elites may dismiss this as trivial or backward. But there’s no deeper question of political philosophy than this: whom do we count as a member of the human family and protect as our own? Palin welcomed a disabled child—the kind of child often targeted for elimination through eugenic abortion. It’s not irrational for Americans to support a candidate who is willing to protect the weak.
Harris, like so many of those who have attacked Palin, sneered at her having a Down Syndrome child and being pro-life, for being ordinary, for not being one of the “elite.” Gerson’s response gets it just right, I think.
(Hat tip: Hampton again.)