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The Wages of Sin (Chapter Four) 
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Post The Wages of Sin (Chapter Four)
While Christianity doesn't present the immediate threat that Islam currently does, religion--which of course means Christianity in the U.S.--has a strongly negative effect on public policy in the country. Much of this effect has to do with empowering government to punish the private acts of its citizens. This is Harris' major topic in the chapter. His argument seems to be essentially libertarian. The government doesn't have the right to tell citizens what they can and cannot do when the behaviors in question harm nobody except possibly the individual engaging in them--and often not even him. This extension of government into private lives is done not to amass power for its own sake but out of regard for what God wants from us. Needless to say, Harris doesn't consider that motive to be any more enlightened. He says that the whole idea of victimless crimes is the notion of sin in different clothing.

Harris makes me think of the enduring paradox that conservatives, who don't want government intrusion into our lives, would still favor it to keep people from acting in ways that God disapproves of. Drug laws are a prime example, as well, of course, as laws about sex and pornography. Drug laws, especially, are responsible for a huge waste of resources that could be put to use combating more serious threats, such as terrorism.

"There are other sources of irrationality, of course, but none of them have been celebrated for their role in shaping public policy. Supreme Court justices are not in the habit of praising our nation for its reliance on astrology, or for its wealth of UFO sightings, or for exemplifying the various reasoning biases that psychologists have have found to be more or less endemic to our species" (164). 'Nuff said, there.

"And yet, religious faith obscures uncertainly where uncertainty manifestly exists" (165). Exactly!

Another main topic for Harris is the political/religious coalition impeding the use of stem cells in medicine (now, happily, largely remedied by the new administration). The public itself is at fault here for not understanding enough of the facts to know that scaremongering is going on. If this research were better understood, the public wouldn't object to it any more than they do to organ donation.

Harris does note that there are secular arguments that can be made for or against issues like stem cells and capital punishment. I think that is important to say.


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Sun Nov 28, 2010 11:27 am
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Post Re: The Wages of Sin (Chapter Four)
I finished the book yesterday and I'll just post some general thoughts here. Sorry I haven't been very conversational.

It is scary when you see how close we veer towards theocracy. Johnson and Interbane posted videos of John Shimkus, of Illinois, who dismissed the dangers of climate change by quoting Genesis 8:22: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” And we have Sarah Palin who said in response to the Gulf oil spill that we should "seek divine intervention as man's efforts have been futile." The problem, of course, is when our elected officials invoke an invisible being who lives in the sky, pretty much anything goes. There is a very definite pressure on our electorate to cater to the fundamentalist and I think it is a serious problem.

In this chapter, Harris made a great argument for the legalization of marijuana, however, he's reaching that our drug laws can be blamed on the Christian faith. Also, a lot of our sodomy laws are leftover from the old days, and I'm not aware that any are actually enforced. True, our congressman and senators are spineless for not taking the antiquated laws off the books.

Harris points out that prohibition was spearheaded by a Christian group, but I question whether the impetus to pass the law was very religious. Is there a scriptural basis against drinking? I think Prohibition was just plain misguided, but it was probably more political than religious.

I'll just leave off with a broad brush stroke in that this is an excellent book through Ch. 4, but the final few chapters don't add much to Harris' overall argument. It's all interesting though.


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Mon Nov 29, 2010 11:58 am
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Post Re: The Wages of Sin (Chapter Four)
geo wrote:
Harris points out that prohibition was spearheaded by a Christian group, but I question whether the impetus to pass the law was very religious. Is there a scriptural basis against drinking? I think Prohibition was just plain misguided, but it was probably more political than religious.


I don't know the history in detail, but I thought it was commonly accepted that Prohibition had religious motivations



Mon Nov 29, 2010 6:44 pm
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Post Re: The Wages of Sin (Chapter Four)
I don't much about Prohibition either. But check this out:

http://memory.loc.gov/learn///features/ ... rohib.html

The temperance movement certainly had a religious element, but so did just about everything in those days. I read on another site that drinking was considered a huge social problem in those days. Liquor was believed to be a great destroyer of men and women and families.

Something that shocked me was that the U.S. government, frustrated by its lack of success with Prohibition, actually started poisoning liquor, knowing full well that people would die from drinking it.

Wikipedia: "The prohibition, or "dry", movement began in the 1840s, spearheaded by pietistic religious denominations, especially the Methodists. The late 19th century saw the temperance movement broaden its focus from abstinence to all behavior and institutions related to alcohol consumption. Preachers such as Reverend Mark A. Matthews linked liquor-dispensing saloons with prostitution."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibitio ... ted_States


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Post Re: The Wages of Sin (Chapter Four)
Harris says that the notion of sin results in laws punishing victimless crimes. That's how he makes the direct link between Christianity and laws against drugs, certain forms of sex, some scientific research, etc. He isn't exactly accurate here, because religious sin also involves acts that have victims, but it's also true that many people think primarily of this private behavior when they think of sin.

This matter of attributing bad initiatives to religion is a tricky one, though. If we look at the history of alcohol consumption in the U.S., we might agree with those temperance people, who were religious like almost everyone else, that simply from a public health standpoint, drinking was out of control. I'd also be surprised if people's main objection to drug use turned out to have a religious base. Prohibition turned out to be a very bad idea, and drug laws may be worse that the alternative as well, but I agree with geo that there doesn't seem to be a smoking gun there. Weren't religious groups also significantly involved in anti-slavery? That might be a piece of evidence that even though religion is involved, the taint of faith isn't necessarily.


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No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream--alone.

Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Tue Nov 30, 2010 12:09 am
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