Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists

By S. T. Joshi | Go to book overview

Sam Harris

Jenin Younes

After nineteen Muslim men hijacked four planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Americans began to contemplate the role of religion in anti-U.S. terrorism. While many believed that the terrorists embraced a warped form of Islam that was not representative of the true religion, or that the attacks were a response to social and economic problems in the Middle East or to U.S. foreign policy in the region, others saw the attacks as a direct result of the religious convictions of the hijackers. Since September 11, Sam Harris has advocated this explanation for the terrorist attacks and in doing so has become one of America’s most prominent critics of religion.

Harris was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1967. His father, now deceased, was a Quaker, and his mother is Jewish, although he describes his upbringing as nonreligious. He dropped out of Stanford when he was nineteen after a life-changing experience with the mind-altering drug MDMA (also known as ecstasy) when he decided to travel the world, studying Buddhism and meditation and reading countless books about religion. He became interested in the philosophy of the mind and in 1997 returned to Stanford and completed a degree in philosophy.

He wrote a number of unpublished works and remained uncritical of religion in general until September 11. The events of that day transformed his perception of religion. As he says, “I could have told you what is wrong with religious dogmatism on September 10th. But after 9/11, I realized the role that religious moderation played in providing cover for fundamentalism” (Segal). On September 12, Harris began writing The End of Faith. By October 2005 his book was number four on the New York Times best seller list, where it remained for thirty-three weeks. It received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction in 2005. The following year, Harris published Letter to a

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Icons of Unbelief: Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1
  • Charles Bradlaugh 9
  • Richard Dawkins 27
  • Daniel C. Dennett 39
  • John Dewey 51
  • Albert Einstein 67
  • The Existentialists 79
  • The Founding Fathers 97
  • Sigmund Freud 125
  • Sam Harris 141
  • Thomas Henry Huxley 153
  • Robert G. Ingersoll 175
  • Paul Kurtz 193
  • Corliss Lamont 211
  • H. P. Lovecraft 223
  • H. L. Mencken 241
  • John Stuart Mill 261
  • Kai Nielsen 279
  • Friedrich Nietzsche 297
  • Madalyn Murray O’Hair 319
  • The Philosophes 335
  • Bertrand Russell 357
  • Carl Sagan 379
  • Leslie Stephen 389
  • Mark Twain 401
  • Gore Vidal 415
  • Voltaire 427
  • General Bibliography 443
  • About the Contributors 449
  • Index 455
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