This AlterNet interview with Sam Harris identifies him as a “leading atheist” but the acceptance of authoritative “leadership” is exactly what is wrong with religion and if “leading” is here intended to mean generating new ideas then the word is again inappropriate as nothing he says is new. Personally I find the goal of persuading the religious “of the illegitimacy of their core beliefs” to be desirable, if achievable without undue cost, but to accept Harris’s leadership in that endeavour would be foolhardy as the ammunition and strategy he provides are both defective.
While much of what Harris says is consistent with my own view, I believe that he says it badly – not badly from his own economic point of view perhaps, since generating controversy sells books and establishes a reputation for “leadership”, but certainly badly from the point of view of changing the minds of people who don’t already share his opinions. The view that authoritative religion is, on a net value basis, harmful is one that I share although much of the argument is necessarily hypothetical and so warrants a somewhat more modest presentation. And the view that all religion would be best eliminated is one that needs to be presented with much more subtlety than Harris seems capable of. The defensive reactions, though wrong, are predictable.
Other commenters react to the reactions, and yet others legitimately question the suitability of making Harris’s agenda (and especially his version of it) a priority when there are many economic and social issues on which believers and non-believers can work together.
Commenter ‘pdxlinuxchix’ attributes to Harris a much more palatable position than he actually expresses by saying “What bothers folks about Sam Harris…”
< < ...is that he is breaking the rules. In the West, certainly, there is this tacit agreement that we will not comment about religious belief--provided that one practices a mainstream religion and that one is not an atheist. The ONE metaphysical position that people feel no compunction saying something about is non-theism.... ... Sam Harris, whatever flaws he has in presentation, has the courage to break the rules and start the dialog of saying "if you want your religious beliefs translated to public policy, the rest of us have an obligation to challenge you to demonstrate that your religious beliefs have some kind of high correspondence mapping to the real world". >>
If Harris had confined himself to statements of that sort, then he might have actually persuaded someone.