Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bill Maher Interviews "New Atheist" Sam Harris

I hadn't read/heard much of Sam Harris before watching this interview on Bill Maher's Real Time. Harris' book The End of Faith helped launch "New Atheism" movement... without even using the word "atheism." I enjoyed this Real Time segment and was impressed with Harris.

At the beginning of the interview, Harris says that atheism "has no content." I like how Harris is using the word to mean simply not embracing beliefs based on faith without evidence. He explains that we no more need to learn atheism than we need to learn how to be a non-astrologer.

I've watched a number of videos by fellow New Atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is more like a bomb-throwing evangelist for The Cause. This is less in tune with my own attitude. Theists make "God" and then believe in him, while Atheists (using the non-Harris definition) make God and then dis-believe in him. I'm more interested in the option of not making God.

That being said, Dawkins is insightful and entertaining. (A British accent adds fun to just about any lecture.) His site includes fine clips from his talk and Q&A at UC Berkeley. Here's a shorter clip of Dawkins from a Q&A at a college in Virginia:

(My two previous blog postings about Dawkins and Atheism, from last year, are here and here.)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Why live in this world?

A few years back I watched a typically brilliant HBO documentary about heroin users. One addict was interviewed who said that she intended to kick the habit someday, and really thought she was capable of doing so. She had one great worry and fear, though, and expressed it something like this: "If I didn't have to go out and find my fix... what would I do every day?"

Zen Master Seung Sahn would always ask, "Why do you eat every day?" The underlying meaning is, "Why do you live in this world?" Bringing up the question is a way to clarify life-direction. The Zen Master would say that a clear direction is one that's not just "for me."

Traditionally, Buddhism was practiced by monks. They separated themselves from society, and practiced non-attachment to I/my/me-thinking. When there isn't clinging to "I," then life is moment-to-moment; whatever you're doing, just do it.

For lay Buddhists in the modern age, the teaching adds more emphasis on compassion. We don't separate from society; we're constantly dealing with one relationship or another. A not-only-for-myself direction arises from wondering how to help others, whatever beings I'm connected to, whoever appears in front of me just now.

One virtue of the Buddhist goal of "saving all beings from suffering"... is that it takes infinite time to achieve. We thus won't have to deal with the horrifying possibility of actually getting what we want most. The following video clip brings up this issue in all its profundity:

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Watch what moves (click on image to enlarge):