Chapter-by-Chapter thoughts on Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
[Waking Up is available September 9, 2014 in hardcover, for Kindle, and as an audiobook. For more about Sam Harris visit SamHarris.org.]
On the very day I’m writing this, the last installment, Sam Harris’s new book hits bookshelves. I didn’t plan it that way, but it seems appropriate.
Sam Harris is (or ought to be, by now) used to stirring up criticism from fellow travellers for being too far to the right on some social issues (for example) while simultaneously getting hammered by religionists who see him as just another “new” atheist. I am certain this book will be no different.
This book is Harris’s first broad explication of concepts he’s been hinting at since The End of Faith; namely, that the nontheistic community has walled itself off from anything that might have the whiff of religiosity or superstition. Harris believes (and not without some justification) that secularists have avoided and ignored practices like meditation that have a longstanding tradition in the religious world, even though those practices can be shown to have secular and rational applications.
It’s true that many secularists have become stuck in a rut of obsession, railing against all things churchy, and thus have also ceased to grow in their personal philosophies. Some of them have ceased to grow, period. I agree with Harris to the extent that I encourage freethinkers to get back to the roots of that label, to explore the unknown without fear that they’ll be scoffed at or rejected by the mainstream of the Nones. Harris says, “A middle path exists out of making religion out of spiritual life and having no spiritual life at all.” I still think we need to work on some of the semantics: I’m still not sure I grok what Harris means by “spirituality” and “self-transcendence.” But if meditation (in one form or another) leads to better mental health, better lives, and a better understanding of human nature, then I’m all for it.
If this book serves no other purpose than to continue the conversations and explorations surrounding these subjects, it will have been worth Harris’s time to have written it, and worth our time to read it.