Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom
by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy
End of Faith:
Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
by Sam Harris
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris writes that the political
commentators who called the suicide bombers of September 11th cowards
got it wrong; in fact, they were men of perfect faith.
In remarkably similar terms, Harris’s views parallel those
of The Laughing Jesus authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.
They similarly claim that, despite what moderate Muslims say, suicidal
jihad (i.e. martyrdom) is a perfectly reasonable interpretation
and clearly sanctioned mandate of the Koran.
While this may affirm the beliefs of some Christians and Jews in
the West, what may surprise them is the authors’ strong conviction
that all religions that base themselves on sacred scripture are
prone to the same world-hating destructiveness as their Islamic
In their attempts to dismantle the Bible’s “sacredness,”
both books summarize arguments of contemporary scholarship that
deny the historical existence of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. They
also remind us that it wasn’t so long ago that, for example,
the Christians of Europe kept Jews in ghettos and denied them basic
rights, all for allegedly killing Jesus.
these authors, the time has come for ordinary Jews, Christians,
and Muslims to own up to the violence sanctioned (if not outrightly
enjoined) in our holy books and choke off the dogmas
that hold adherence in one religion higher than that of our common
both books have as their starting point the horrors of 9/11 and
perfectly credible reminders about the damage that will be inflicted
once jihadists obtain weapons of mass destruction, they differ as
to their suggested remedies. For Sam Harris, religious faith is
a weed growing in the garden of human reason. Beautifully written
and passionately argued, his book is the outcry of a committed humanist
disgusted and horrified by the thought that at any moment a person
of faith will in all probability destroy millions of people and
take down an entire city.
has his sights on the die-hard adherents of fundamentalism, but,
in fact, his strongest criticism is leveled against so-called “moderate”
practitioners of religion. This group, he argues, is just as dangerous
as fundamentalists because by standing up for religious tolerance,
they are handcuffing liberal nations from taking the necessary steps
to combat militant Islam. He writes,
the link between belief and action [i.e. the suicide bombing
of infidels], it is clear that we can no more tolerate a diversity
of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology
and basic hygiene...Given the power of our technology [e.g.
atomic and biological weapons], we can see at a glance that
aspiring martyrs will not make good neighbors in the future.
We have simply lost the right to our myths and to our mythic
Sam Harris is filled with passionate intensity, Freke & Gandy
are a good deal more playful (and less fearful of the future) than
their counterpart. The target of their book is also much more limited.
They wish to see the establishment of Gnostic Christianity as the
predominant mode of Christian worship and expression. According
to them, the Gnostics, who allegorized the events of the life of
Christ were the original Christians and were pushed out by “literalists”
who took the birth, life, and death of Jesus as historical facts.
state (somewhat convincingly) that Paul of Tarsus was actually a
Gnostic Christian and that his writings were later interpolated
with literalist fictions by anti-Gnostic sectarians. As
for the title, “The Laughing Jesus” is a Gnostic version
of the Crucifixion whereby Jesus comes down from the cross and laughs
at the suffering that (only) appears to be happening to him. The
message that “death is safe” is the true meaning of
of these two books, especially those that currently adhere to a
system of religious belief, will be encouraged to, at the very least,
question the ways in which their religious tradition has perpetrated
violence in the past. Sam Harris’s chapter on the Catholic
Inquisition is particularly conscience-searing in that the same
attitudes against heresy and infidelity that are held by many Muslim
fundamentalists today were part of European culture as recently
as 200 years ago. And while Harris’s call for religious moderates
to take a stand against immoderate Islam might seem too drastic
a move for many liberals, his distinctive point of view deserves
a hearing by all committed practitioners of scripture-based religion.
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