To prepare for my response to atheist Sam Harris’s $2,000 challenge, I downloaded both the Kindle version of his book and the audio book version which is read by Harris himself. I also downloaded about eight hours worth of Harris’s various talks and lectures. As I listened to the audio book, I began to be more and more aware of bits of Buddhist thought which Harris was sneaking into the text. I found this intriguing, but not necessarily surprising. Most atheists have an affinity for Buddhism as a result of their shared desire to eliminate negative emotions. What did surprise me, however, was the discovery that Harris is a practicing Buddhist.
I made this discovery while listening to a talk that Harris gave at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia. The topic of this talk was “Living in the Now: Death and the Present Moment.” Harris’s goal in this talk seemed to be to teach the atheist community how to deal with the death of Christopher Hitchens, and about half way through the talk, Harris stopped his lecture and led the crowd of more than 4,000 atheists in a session of mindfulness meditation. Then, toward the end of the talk, Harris admitted that he had taken retreats in the past in which he spent weeks and even months practicing Buddhist meditation for up to eighteen hours a day.
With this discovery that Harris is a practicing Buddhist, several pieces of the puzzle that I had constructed of Sam Harris began to fall into place. While reading and listening to Harris’s book, I found myself constantly wondering why an atheist was writing about consciousness and well being. These concepts make no sense in an atheistic worldview, and they are especially senseless when coming from a man who vehemently denies the existence of free will. But as soon as I heard Harris admit to practicing Buddhism, I understood. Harris’s moral landscape is not grounded in science as he claims. It is founded on the Buddhist doctrine of Nirvana. Harris is using atheism to smuggle in his Buddhist faith.
To close this article, let me present a few thoughts on what the Bible says about the use of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is an attempt to eliminate negative emotions by focusing entirely on the present. The goal is to become so “mindful” of your present, physical condition and surroundings that you are able to visualize all thoughts and emotions as intruders into your state of peacefulness and push them out. Those who succeed in this are claimed to have achieved a state of ultimate wisdom, peace and emptiness known as Nirvana.
This form of meditation is completely contradictory to the meditation taught in Scripture. According to the Bible, our meditation should not be a period of focus on our selves but rather a period of intense thought upon the teachings of Scripture. This is stated explicitly in the following passages:
Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
Psalm 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
Psalm 49:3 My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
Psalm 63:6 When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
Psalm 77:12 I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.
Psalm 104:34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.
Psalm 119:15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
Psalm 119:23 Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.
Psalm 119:48 My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.
Psalm 119:78 Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy precepts.
Psalm 119:97 O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
Psalm 119:99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.
Psalm 119:148 Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.
Psalm 143:5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.
I Tmothyi 4:15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)