My “Faith, Politics & Neighbors” reading list is – well – let’s just call it diverse. The librarian is probably really wondering about me. One book on that list that I’ve found fascinating is The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Although the book’s basic thesis is quite hostile to organized religion, many of his points are actually central tenants of those committed to organized religion. Unfathomably, he’d agree with the conservative religious right on many things. More on that later.
One point that resonated with my Village Square take on things is his concept of a “moral community” as a limiter to our ability to bridge divides:
The notion of a moral community resolves many paradoxes of human behavior. How is it, after all, that a Nazi guard could return each day from his labors at the crematoria and be a loving father to his children? The answer is surprisingly straightforward: the Jews he spent the day torturing and killing were not objects of his moral concern. Not only were they outside his moral community; they were antithetical to it. His beliefs about Jews inured him to the natural human sympathies that might have otherwise prevented such behavior.
He continues more controversially and judgmentally, in what is an over-generalization in my mind but many would say is true in some cases:
Unfortunately, religion casts more shadows than light on this terrain. Rather than find real reasons for human solidarity, faith offers us a solidarity born of tribal and tribalizing fictions. As we have seen, religion is one of the great limiters of moral identity, since most believers differentiate themselves, in moral terms, from those who do not share their faith.
I’d argue that religion at its best absolutely does find real reasons for human solidarity, but religion at its worst – in the hands of us fallible humans – can dehumanize and divide.