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USC Off the Beaten Path: The Search for Spirituality

Interview with an Atheist

Author Sam Harris, an outspoken critic of religion, explains how it's possible to be an 'atheist' and be spiritual too
By Jessica Roberts, Chantal Allan, Alison Brody, Nick Street, June 19, 2007

Atheists may be among the most misunderstood categories of religions identification. Sam Harris criticizes religion, but also explains why he meditates and why he doesn't even call himself an "atheist" at all.

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and one of the most outspoken critics of organized religion, is also a regular meditator.

His advocacy of consciousness-expanding practices stripped of their religious trappings makes him an ideal representative of the demographic cohort called the "nones" — a diverse group of "spiritual but not religious" Americans 30 million strong and growing, who describe their religious affiliation as "none of the above."

In his interview with USC's News21 fellows, Harris highlights his arguments against organized religion:

• What does it mean to be a spiritual nonbeliever

• The public-relations problems that accompany the word "atheist"

• The connection between violence and politicized religion

• His hopes that scientific truth may some day replace supernaturalism as the foundation of human culture.

Controversy has often accompanied Harris as his commentary on organized religion identifies the negative potential in blind faith and the danger of joining what he calls "Iron Age" ideas with nuclear technologies.

The most dangerous thing about religious beliefs, he says, is that they are not open to discussion or challenge — they are the views that remain "off the table in the conversation."

Harris explains that atheism is not a good term because it requires defining oneself in opposition to an arbitrary group. He also touches on the potential to improve human happiness through training, without relying in any way on religious beliefs.

Q&A with Sam Harris

The author of The End of Faith tackles the top issues facing "spiritual but not religious" Americans:

Question: Why do you so strongly oppose mixing religion and politics?
Question: What could be more powerful than religion?
Question: You don't call yourself an atheist. Why not?
Question: Why do you say traditional religions are problematic in the world today?
Question: Where do science and spirituality intersect?

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