Support Science Not Superstition
| Homepage | Links | Book & TV List | Contact Us | Blog |


Ian Harris

'Honest to God' Atheist

Add a Comment     Send to a Friend

Ian Harris Has Ian Harris found a new way to describe how we should live our lives, a way that rejects God and Religion while at the same time embracing God and Religion? Has he devised a legitimate way that God-fearing Christians can reject God and Christ and yet still be Christians?

No. It's all a scam.

Why is it a scam? It's a scam simply because Ian Harris is attempting to promote a belief that is false. He suffers the delusion that you can remove God, Christ and Religion from Christianity and still be left with Christianity. It's a scam because he tries to convince others to adopt this delusion.

He does this by hijacking legitimate philosophical views, disguising them in confusing religious terms and pretending that they support his view. He creates a fantasy world of contradictions and subterfuge in which he explains that the God he doesn't believe in isn't the same as the God that he does believe in.

Who is Ian Harris?
What is "Honest to God" about?
What does Ian Harris believe?
Mr Harris invents God
Christianity is dead, long live Christianity.


Readers' Comments


Who is Ian Harris?

Ian Harris writes a fortnightly column on religion entitled "Honest to God". The column appears in the Otago Daily Times, the DomPost and possibly other newspapers. Mr Harris lives in Wellington, New Zealand. He is the author of the book: "Creating God, Recreating Christ".

According to the footnote on his first ODT column:

Ian Harris is a journalist and commentator who writes on religion and life for the Dominion Post in Wellington. He is a former assistant editor of The Auckland Star, a former editor of The New Zealand Methodist and a former director of communication for the Presbyterian Church. He helped inaugurate the Sea of Faith Network in New Zealand.
Ian Harris is actually a founding member of both Ephesus and The Sea of Faith Network (NZ).
"The Sea of Faith Network is an association of people who have a common interest in exploring religious thought and expression from a non-dogmatic and human-oriented standpoint."

"Ephesus describes itself as "a group which is exploring new ways of understanding Christian faith in the increasingly secular world of New Zealand in the new millennium".

"Ephesus continues to focus consciously and constructively on the Judaeo-Christian tradition, whereas The Sea of Faith Network likes to cast its net much wider."

What is "Honest to God" about?

Mr Harris writes on religion, mainly the Judaeo-Christian religion. Mr Harris states that:

The emphasis of the column will be on the experience and process of religion, not the defence of doctrines that were forged in other times and places and expressed through world views quite alien to our own.
He certainly doesn't defend the traditional view of religion, challenging many fundamentals of Christianity and the very existence of God. However at the same time he appears to believe in God, religion and supports Christianity. Judging by "Letters to the Editor" his column generates negative comment from both believers and non-believers alike. Why would this be? Why is neither group happy? Just what does Mr Harris believe?

What does Ian Harris believe?

Apart from the first publication, his column always ends with - "Ian Harris is a journalist and commentator". There is no mention that he is a Christian or even religious. However Mr Harris is not writing this column because he is a journalist, he is writing it as a spokesperson for a religious group, Ephesus or The Sea of Faith Network (NZ).

Therefore to really understand his column, it's necessary to understand just what Mr Harris believes, or doesn't believe.

In it's most basic sense we only have two options when it comes to belief, any belief. You are either a believer or a non-believer. Whether it's a belief in fairies, ghosts, giant carrots or as in this case, gods, you either believe in them or you don't.

In this case we're interested in a belief in God or gods. Although not well known, the word we'll start with is "Theist".

A theist is someone who believes in theism, which according to my dictionary is:


"Belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world." [1]

Put simply, a theist is anyone who has a belief in God or gods. A theist is a believer. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews etc are all theists. This is not a familiar term because people normally want to express more than the simple fact that they believe in God, they want you do know exactly what God they believe in, thus they specify Christian or Muslim for example.

Before we go further I better define exactly what that above definition means by the words "God" or "gods".

My dictionary defines God as follows:


  1. A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.
  2. A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality. [1]
So does Mr Harris have a belief in this "God" or does he believe that this "God" is merely an invention of Man?

One of my favourite sayings is, "Man created God in his own image". This is an obvious reversal of the biblical phrase "God created Man in his own image" and implies that not only is God an imaginary figure created by humans, but for our convenience we imagine him with human form and attributes.

Does Mr Harris ever claim that he believes this, that Man created God and not vice versa, that God exists only in our imagination? He most certainly does and on many occasions, as the following quotes from him demonstrate:

I'm suggesting, therefore, that if we want to be honest to God in the world of today's understandings, we should start from the point that it is we who create God, and not the other way round.

[God is usually thought of as] a Being existing objectively in another world that impinges on this one: for me, God is not "real" in that sense.

God is not thought of as a real, objective being somewhere out there, with a mind and life of His [or Her] own

I suggest that in practical human terms, the God who some insist is not created is a God who is created in the mind and imagination

How can we be honest to God today, if we take the view that we create God and not vice versa?

In other words, if we're going to create God in a manner worthy of the name, we'll need to take on board...

So quite clearly and unambiguously, Mr Harris does not believe that God exists as a "real" supernatural being.

So now that we're perfectly clear on what theism and God mean, and whether Mr Harris believes in this God, let's ask if Mr Harris is a theist, someone with a belief in God.

No, quite clearly he's not. Mr Harris is not someone with a belief in God, therefore he is not a theist. He is not a believer.

If he's not a theist, a believer, then what is he? What is the simple term that describes someone without a belief in God?

Surprising as it may seem to many, that term is "atheist". I say surprising because while atheist is a far more familiar term than theist, many use it incorrectly.

You may have noticed that the word atheist is simply "theist" with the letter "a" stuck in front. The prefix "a" means "without" and modifies the word that follows. For example you have "amoral", meaning "without" morals. Remember that theism means "a belief in God", therefore "a-theism" simply means "without a belief in God". Thus a theist is a believer and an atheist is a non-believer. Quite simple really. You only have two options - theist or atheist, believer or non-believer.

As much as many people hate to admit it, Christians especially, all babies are atheists. The same with certain aliens from outer space or some isolated primitive tribe in some rainforest. This is because anyone that has no concept of gods obviously can't have a belief in gods (in the same way that our primitive natives have no concept of Einstein's Theory of Relativity). You can't believe in something that you have no concept of. Thus, if they don't have a belief in god, they're atheists. That's not to say that once you explain the concept of god to them they won't immediately become believers, but until they do, they're atheists. Technically your cat is an atheist.

Since we have already determined that Mr Harris is definitely not a theist, that only leaves one option - he is an atheist. Mr Harris certainly never refers to himself as an atheist, and would quite probably deny that he was one, but his rejection of theism leaves no other conclusion. It's like the phrase "dead or alive" or "a little pregnant". You are either one or the other. Either dead or alive, pregnant or not pregnant, there is no middle option. Mr Harris is not a theist, not a believer.

Therefore Mr Harris is an atheist.

No doubt some will claim that I have given too broad a definition of atheism, one that only appears to provide two options. This is because a large proportion of the population, especially those of a religious persuasion, believe that atheism really means:

"The belief that God or gods do not exist".
It is true that many atheists do have this belief, including myself, but this is merely an extra belief that some atheists hold, not a definition of atheism itself. For example, many scientists are physicists but this doesn't mean that all scientists are physicists. You need to think of atheism as a broad spectrum, with one basic definition applying to all atheists - that is, someone "without a belief in god or gods". At one end of this spectrum are some atheists who have added to this basic view with the positive assertion that "there are no gods". At the other end of this spectrum are atheists who do not make this extra claim. They are known as 'implicit' or 'weak' atheists, those at the other end are known as 'explicit' or 'strong' atheists. And of course you have a big range in between. The same spectrum analogy can of course be applied to theism, with 'weak' theism and 'weak' atheism forming the boundary between the two. A 'weak' theist could be a young child who has been given just the vaguest suggestion of God, believing in God in the same way she believes in the Toothfairy. While every theist from 'weak' to 'strong' believes God does exist (it's their strength of belief that varies), remember though that not every atheist believes that God doesn't exist.

Belief Spectrum

For example babies, aliens, primitive natives etc, anyone that has no concept of gods, are 'weak' atheists. They have no belief in god simply because they have no concept of god. They don't claim God doesn't exist because they have no idea what God is. (Admittedly most primitive natives do have a concept of, and belief in gods. I'm referring to a theoretically possible group of natives.) Move towards the middle of the spectrum and you have atheists who definitely understand the concept of gods but quickly decide that they don't believe in them. They can seldom provide good arguments as to why they don't believe, they simply don't. This is similar to people that don't believe in ESP or those that vote for a particular political party or against genetic engineering but can seldom explain why. At the other end you have the 'strong' atheists, and these are the atheists that many people incorrectly use to define atheism. These are atheists that have seriously considered the arguments and evidence for and against the existence of gods and have decided that, in addition to having no belief in gods, they now also believe that gods do not exist. (Note that they do not say that they can prove that gods do not exist. You can read more on why you can't prove or disprove God in the essay on "Agnostics".)

Many people answer this with the argument that the "belief that God does not exist" is basically the same as "without a belief in God" and I'm merely being pedantic. However it is easy to demonstrate how wrong this view is. Look at the following two statements regarding atheism:

I have a belief that gods do not exist (strong atheism)
I am without a belief in gods (basic atheism)
Now let's put these statements into everyday terms by replacing "gods" with "aliens":
I have a belief that aliens do not exist
I am without a belief in aliens
Many people would state that they're not convinced that aliens exist elsewhere in the universe because they haven't seen any good evidence that they do. At the same time many of these people would add that this doesn't mean they do not exist. They may exist, we just haven't seen them. If they turn up tomorrow I'll start believing in them. This group would subscribe to the second claim: "I am without a belief in aliens (for the moment)". Another group would subscribe to both claims: "I am without a belief in aliens because I believe aliens do not exist". They would claim that we haven't seen any aliens for the simple reason that they don't exist, in the same way that we haven't seen any "real" Easter Bunnies.

So it should be clear that both statements do not imply the same meaning. Thus 'explicit' or 'strong' atheism is merely one type of atheism. Claiming that the belief that "gods do not exist" is the real definition of atheism is as silly as claiming that "belief in Jesus Christ" is the real definition of religion. Others would correctly state that this is only one type of atheism and one type of religion respectively. Unfortunately many people define all atheists as 'strong' atheists and all religious believers as 'Christians'. This is mainly because we only see outspoken people in the media etc. 'Weak' or 'middle-of-the-road' atheists and religious types can never be bothered to speak out on things they know or care little about.

So what can we conclude from this discussion? We've already determined that Mr Harris is an atheist, but where does his view fall on the atheism spectrum?

I've already shown that Mr Harris believes that God is not real, that he was created in the imagination of Man. Thus Mr Harris is without a belief in God, so is at the very least a "weak" atheist.

However it's obvious from Mr Harris' discussion of God that he has a clear concept of God, and that he has researched the arguments for and against his existence and has clearly reached the belief that God does not exist. Thus there is no confusion, Mr Harris is a "strong" atheist.

So, regardless of how you define atheism, the broad "correct" definition or the narrow "popular" definition, Mr Harris is an atheist. End of story.

Or so it should be, but Mr Harris also claims that he does in fact believe in "God", "religion" and "Jesus Christ".

How can this be? Are my previous quotes false or taken out of context? No. Mr Harris creates this apparent paradox by putting forward new definitions of "God" and "religion".

Mr Harris invents God

Many people have invented gods throughout history. According to Dr Michael Shermer, "anthropologists estimate that over the past ten thousand years humans have created roughly ten thousand different religions." [2] Since nearly all of these religions had multiple gods, even assuming an average of 10 gods each means over 100,000 different gods. Some accounts claim that Hinduism alone contains over a million gods. That's a hell of a lot of gods. Although all these religions were different and all had different gods, they all shared one thing, and that was the very concept of "god" and "religion".

So has Mr Harris invented yet another god and yet another religion? No. What Mr Harris has invented is a new "concept" of "God" and "religion". Of course I should be clear here and state that Mr Harris didn't really make up these new concepts or definitions himself. He didn't, but he does support them and continues to promulgate them. He is simply following in the footsteps of the likes of theologian Prof Lloyd Geering, Bishop John Spong, Karen Armstrong and Don Cupitt. To make it easier to read I will continue to refer solely to Mr Harris in this essay but please take it as read that I'm also referring to many other people who have helped create this silly idea.

Before I look at Mr Harris' (et al.) new definition of "God and Religion", it makes sense to first look at what the average man or woman on the street believes these words mean.

I contend that when someone, whether at your door, in a survey or during a dinner conversation, asks if you believe in God, nearly everyone understands the general meaning of this question. Let's look at the dictionary definition again:


  1. A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.
  2. A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality. [1]
This is the general meaning or concept that people think of when the word God is mentioned. They don't confuse God with a brand of car, a European cuisine or a colour. Admittedly most will attempt to further define what they mean by God, but the concept of a supernatural being playing some part in the workings of the universe exists as the basis of most everyone's view of God. A Hindu will say he believes in many gods, as would an ancient Egyptian, a Christian will say they only believe in one personal God and a Deist will say they believe in god, but not a personal god. All different gods in the detail, but basically all supernatural beings.

What about religion then? Let's look at the dictionary definition:


  1. a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
    b. A personal or institutionalised system grounded in such belief and worship.
  2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
  3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
  4. A cause, a principle, or an activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion. [1]
So as with God, religion is also intimately concerned with the supernatural. A belief in supernatural beings (gods) and their connection with the universe.

Admittedly "religion" definition #4 concerning something "pursued with zeal" doesn't concern the supernatural but it also isn't what people would normally select as their definition of religion. Someone may describe an athlete as training for the Olympics with religious devotion, but they would never rephrase this as "The athlete is a very religious person". People do not confuse these two meanings.

Some academics may quibble about these definitions, but rightly or wrongly, this is how the layperson sees God and religion, and Mr Harris targets the layperson.

So let's now look at how Mr Harris portrays his new version of "God" and "religion" in his columns, speeches and book.

First Mr Harris explains what he means when he mentions God:

So when [we] speak of God, [we] are referring to a focus and persuasive influence in [our] lives which has to do with what is ultimate in the values [we] choose to live by, which gives a sense of meaning and purpose, and which provides coherence for [our] whole experience of life. "God" is still the best word to symbolise all that, despite the inevitable confusion with older connotations.
Just what might this sweeping and vague definition mean? First he defines "God" as "the focus and persuasive influence" in your life. Seemingly, whether this influence is Jesus, parents, illegal drugs or a prostitute's persuasive pimp, all these can be referred to as God.

Whether we have good morals or not, "the values [we] choose to live by", even the values Hitler chose to live by, can be referred to as God.

Anything "which gives a sense of meaning and purpose" to our life, such as finding a cure for cancer or plans for world domination or the love of paedophilia, can be referred to as God.

Something that "provides coherence for [our] whole experience of life", such as a loving and caring parent or being born into a fabulously wealthy family, can be referred to as God.

As you can see, almost anything and everything in everyone's life, good or bad, simple or complex, can be referred to as God. Note that nothing in Mr Harris' definition concerns the supernatural, it is all about humans and our natural world. If you live for your cat, your cat is God. If an abusive husband holds a persuasive influence over a woman's life, he is her God. If the one thing that gives meaning and purpose to an atheist's life is convincing others that there is no God, then this atheist believes in God. This new definition of God is so encompassing that it becomes worthless, since at the end of the day, most everyone has a focus and persuasive influence in their lives, we all have values that we choose to live by and have lives that have some sense of meaning and purpose.

So by Mr Harris' definition, God is a part of everyone's life and everyone believes in God. Even the atheists. Yet atheists by their very definition have no belief in God, but according to Mr Harris they do. Obviously Mr Harris' definition is pure nonsense.

What about his new definition of religion, does it make any more sense? In one of his "Honest to God" articles he states:

[Religion is] the impulse in people to find a framework of meaning in life, and to live conscientiously in light of what they decide is of ultimate concern to them. The question of the existence of God may or may not come into that, and so may belief in a supernatural world. But it is possible to be "religious" without either.
Obviously this is just as vague as his God definition. For example, Hitler decided that the extermination of the Jews was of ultimate concern to him and worked conscientiously towards that goal. Thus it would appear that 'religion', this impulse in people, could just as easily be the source of evil as of good, not to mention indifference. No matter how people choose to live their lives, according to Mr Harris this decision, this impulse, can be called their "religion". So everyone has found religion, even the atheists. Note also that Mr Harris uses "God" in the normal, accepted, supernatural sense, seemingly confident in the fact that people will know that he's not using his new invented definition of "God".

Mr Harris continues to explain "religion" with a definition provided by theologian Lloyd Geering:

"[Religion] has to do with attitudes (such as awe and wonder), with qualities (such as love, loyalty and integrity) and with goals." And also, not least, with the interpretation people make of good and evil... [ie] the struggle between good and evil.
So if an atheist astronomer looks at distant galaxy with "awe and wonder", this is because of religion not science. If you murder someone, get away with it and "wonder" why the police never found you, that's a religious feeling.

If you have displayed "qualities such as love, loyalty and integrity" and no doubt the opposite personal traits such as hate etc, you have experienced religion. Surely his "religion" can't just claim the positive personal traits and ignore the negative ones?

Anyone that has "goals", that's mostly everyone, can thank religion. There is no mention that they have to be morally good goals. Planning to steal from your employer is a goal you can set for yourself.

As for "the struggle between good and evil", Mr Harris gives them all a religious dimension. So every war and every crime is religious and even Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Roadrunner is based on a religious theme.

Another quote from Mr Harris provides an even more encompassing definition:

Religion. A good working definition is "a total mode for the interpreting and living of life".
In other words anything, absolutely anything, that happens in your life can be called religion. Everyone is religious. If you don't believe that this is what Mr Harris really means, he follows immediately with:
In that sense, I suppose, we all have something akin to a religion, whether we call it religion or not. It may even be political (such as communism), or environmental, or ethnic, even atheistic. All of these may offer a fundamental reference point and framework, "a total mode ...". That makes all of them religious in [this] sense.

Nazism, communism, economic neo-liberalism and scientism all fit the definition [of a religion.] They may dismiss God-talk but, nevertheless, show many of the central attributes of religion...

One definition of bestiality is "sexual relations between a human and an animal". I'm a human. I like sex. I like animals. By Mr Harris' logic I "show many of the central attributes of" bestiality, therefore I must engage in this act. The fact that I don't demonstrates that Mr Harris' logic is flawed. By removing one crucial attribute, the concept "between", as in sex between human and animal, the concept of bestiality is destroyed. In the same way removing one crucial attribute, the concept of "God", destroys the concept of religion. Claiming that politics or atheism is a religion is as silly as claiming I engage in bestiality simply because I like my cat.

Note that he says "we all have something akin to a religion, whether we call it religion or not" and "That makes all of them religious." As I said, Mr Harris believes we are all religious, whether we realise it or not. He even categorically states that those with atheistic views are religious. This is as silly and as impossible as stating all circles are square.

When we compare the accepted definitions of "God" and "religion" with Mr Harris' new definitions, it's pretty obvious that no one would confuse them, even Mr Harris. And of course they are meant to be different. Mr Harris has rejected the validity behind the accepted dogma of "God" and "religion" and is exploring new ways of looking at life and how we should live it. What people don't understand is why Mr Harris chooses to give his new ideas the names "God" and "religion", especially when he uses both his new definition and the accepted definition interchangeably in his column. It's just a recipe for confusion.

Remember how Mr Harris' concluded his definition of "God":

"God" is still the best word to symbolise all that, despite the inevitable confusion with older connotations.
Rubbish. The concepts he describes in his version of "God" (and "religion") are not new. Personally I would describe them along the lines of relationship matters, ethics and philosophical matters. The best phrase to symbolise all that is perhaps a 'philosophy of life', certainly not "God". He acknowledges that his new definition of God will cause "inevitable confusion", but no doubt knows that confusion was not inevitable, since the use of accepted definitions would not have created this absurd situation.

Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould was talking about a different 'word' when he wrote the following, but it is equally apt in this case:

"a name is obviously ill-chosen if it cannot be used without denying its literal meaning". [3]
As I've said Mr Harris' definition of "God" and "Religion" appears to me to resemble a 'philosophy of life', and if I had to be more specific I'd say it closely resembles "Humanism".

So what is "Humanism"? My dictionary defines it as:


"A system of thought that centres on human beings and their values, capacities, and worth." [1]

A more comprehensive definition is provided by Steven Schafersman who defines humanism as follows:
Humanism is a philosophy, world view, or life stance based on naturalism - the conviction that the universe or nature is all that exists or is real. Naturalistic humanism serves for many humanists some of the psychological and social functions of religion, but without belief in transcendental realms and entities, deities, miracles, life after death, and the supernatural. Humanists seek to understand the universe by using science and its methods of critical inquiry - free inquiry, logical reasoning, empirical evidence, and the skeptical evaluation of conjectures and conclusions - to obtain reliable knowledge. Humanists affirm that humans have the freedom to give meaning, value, and purpose to their lives by their own independent thought, critical inquiry, and responsible, creative activity. Humanists stand for the building of a more humane, just, compassionate, and democratic society using a realistic ethics based upon human reason, experience, and reliable knowledge - an ethics that judges the consequences of human actions by the wellbeing of all life on Earth.
In what ways does Mr Harris' "philosophy of life" (or "God" and "Religion" as he calls it) resemble humanism? What tenets of humanism does he adopt? Well for one he maintains that there is no God and no supernatural realm:
I suggest that in practical human terms, the God who some insist is not created is a God who is created in the mind and imagination

We no longer look to another, supernatural order of being to find the point of our life in this world.

We no longer project everything worthwhile to an origin beyond this world. Along with that comes a revaluing upwards of the life of the here and now.

That this world and this life is all there is:
We try to make sense of life/ purpose/ destiny within this life, because secularisation brings the realisation that this world is probably all there is. This life is not a dress rehearsal for something that lies beyond: fulfilment/ wholeness/ mystery/ salvation all lie here.

We need to create... a religion that is immediate, belief-less, and entirely focussed upon the here and now. (Quote from Don Cupitt)

A rich quality of life in the here and now.

That "humans have the freedom to give meaning, value, and purpose to their lives":
[we] are referring to a focus and persuasive influence in [our] lives which has to do with what is ultimate in the values [we] choose to live by, which gives a sense of meaning and purpose, and which provides coherence for [our] whole experience of life.

shift the focus back from that other, heavenly realm to this world as the place where we have to look for meaning and purpose and value in life.

If secularisation is bringing a new world into being, then finding ways to meet the fundamental needs of the human condition within this new world becomes an urgent task for all who value the spiritual dimension of life (which is, I suggest, the essentially human dimension of life).

progression from the belief in a personal, all-powerful God to the need for humans to take leave of that God so they can take full responsibility for their lives. (Quote from Lloyd Geering)

a world where human beings are freely able to move towards their highest human potential as responsible citizens.

attitudes (such as awe and wonder), with qualities (such as love, loyalty and integrity) and with goals.

That we can understand and improve the world around us by using science:
In other words, if we're going to create God in a manner worthy of the name, we'll need to take on board for faith purposes some of the decisive shifts [ie scientific advances] that have produced the modern world.
That humans have a responsibility to look after the natural world:
The attitude to nature shifts again. Nature's no longer an aspect of a self-contained spirit world... We no longer exploit it hand over fist in the belief that it doesn't matter all that much because it's all going to end one day and salvation lies in another world anyway. Instead, we accept our responsibility as stewards of the natural world, and we live in respectful partnership with it.
So it's pretty obvious that the worldview, the "philosophy of life" expounded by Mr Harris, is none other than "Humanism" relabelled as his new "God and Religion".

Christianity is dead, long live Christianity.

Why the subterfuge, the deception, the confusion? Why doesn't he just call his rejection of God "Atheism" and his new philosophy "Humanism"? Why does he re-label them as the new "God and Religion", the very things he has rejected? Instead of getting rid of churches he wants to create more:

It's important that the new generation of churches should be places where members of the wider community can also engage in this search for integrity, meaning and purpose
Who really knows why he does it, but perhaps we can get a hint by looking at what Mr Harris sees as the future of his movement. Maybe it reveals why this deception, this retention of "God and Religion" is necessary.

Mr Harris believes there are three options for Christians regarding their faith in Christianity:

  1. We can carry on as if the past 400 years haven't happened.
  2. We can give up. Many people have. This has the merit that it's honest...
  3. We can rub our western faith tradition and our secular culture together till currents of energy begin to flow between them. This then becomes a time for exploring and re-interpreting, for finding ways to put our insights into new creeds, liturgies, hymns and prayers still to be written.
Option 3 is the path Mr Harris has chosen. Note that he has rejected option 2, the one which he considers is the "honest" option.

In the book "The Once & Future Faith" other proponents of Mr Harris' worldview stated:

Scientific knowledge has stripped Christianity of the mythical matrix in which the creeds were conceived. The historical study of the Bible and the quest for the historical Jesus have raised the future of the faith to crisis level.
Because of this very real problem they have tried to:
sort through the issues and attempt to form an agenda for the reinvention of Christianity.
Mr Harris supports this theme with:
For my part, I still dream... that our churches will see as their key task for today this challenge to re-imagine their faith tradition in and for this secular age.
Don Cupitt has a book called "Reforming Christianity". Not rejecting but "reforming".

Lloyd Geering in his book "Christianity without God" asks:

"Could Christianity continue to exist without belief in God?..."
He believes it can. Even Mr Harris' own book is entitled: "Creating God, Recreating Christ". He goes to great lengthss to convince us that God and Christ (the divine side of Jesus) didn't exist, yet reckons we should create new versions. Confused?

All these people reject the notion that God really exists or that Jesus was his son or divine. After all, if God doesn't exist how could he have a son? They all reject the very fundamentals of Christianity yet none are willing to reject Christianity outright. They just want to "reinvent it, to reform it, to re-imagine it". They have convinced us that God is imaginary yet now they want us to "re-imagine" his replacement.

So why isn't Mr Harris prepared to let go of Christianity and God? Why isn't he prepared to let go of words like "faith, religion, Christ, son of God, creeds, liturgies, hymns and prayers", all words with an intimate connection with God and the supernatural? In one column he offered reasons why some people have left their church while others stay:

  1. Many have given up on their churches for reasons of personal integrity.
  2. Some hang on by their fingernails and increasingly wonder why.
  3. Others... stay on board by putting what they hear through their own filters to make it acceptable.
  4. Others feel, perfectly legitimately, that the sense of community they find in their churches is too valuable to give up on.
Obviously reason #1 doesn't apply to Mr Harris, he hasn't given up on his church. However the other reasons all apply:
He will know at some level that he is an atheist with a humanist philosophy and will "increasingly wonder why" he still hangs on by his fingernails.

He puts much of what he hears "through filters to make it acceptable", such as re-labelling "atheism" and "humanism" as "God" and "religion".

With comments like "I would maintain that we've become a faith community out on the margins", he appears to find "the sense of community" in his church "too valuable to give up on." Mr Harris views this stance as "perfectly legitimate" yet goes on elsewhere about integrity. The sign of a true hypocrite. This is like someone who has rejected the evils of racism but still continues to go along to the Ku Klux Klan meetings because of the "sense of community".

Mr Harris is like the classic closet homosexual. He knows that he has an outlook that's different, indeed diametrically opposed to those in his immediate community, but beyond making hints that his views are different, he still isn't prepared to make a clean break. In the USA there are many closet atheists because of the religious atmosphere that exists there, but in NZ it's possibly just the opposite. Many people hide their religious convictions because they fear they may be ridiculed.

It's time to come out of the closet Mr Harris.

Mr Harris continues to point out that God doesn't exist, that religion is based on a fantasy and that Christianity needs to change, to be reinvented, reformed, re-imagined. There comes a time when you have to face the facts, cut your losses and move on.

My girlfriend summed up Mr Harris' attachment to Christianity perfectly with the saying: "If the horse is dead, you get off".

Mr Harris has had the vet in, sought a second and third opinion, the flies are starting to gather and his horse "Christianity" is starting to smell something awful, but he still won't get off.


So what have we discovered? We've determined that Ian Harris is an atheist. That is, not only does he have no belief in God, he believes that God does not exist. We've learnt that the philosophy of life Mr Harris has adopted is a form of humanism. We then found out that Mr Harris has deceptively re-labelled the tenets of humanism as "God and religion". By this sleight of hand he has appeared to link a respectable, intelligent non-religious worldview with Christianity.

An atheist has used humanism to support God and religion, specifically Christianity. The conclusion of that sentence is logically impossible, yet that sums up the purpose of "Honest to God". Mr Harris even demonstrates that he can't see the problem with this by the following quote:

I would cite, for example, the journey of Marian Barnes, an atheist New Zealander whose honesty and integrity led her to affirm "God" (or Godness) while remaining true to her atheism.
Could the Flat Earth Society still exist if all its members were utterly convinced that the Earth was a sphere and not flat? No. They would be classed as hypocrites and their organisation viewed as a farce. Yet Mr Harris is proposing the same arrangement for Christianity.

Mr Harris is an atheist. He has the belief that God, Christ and the supernatural don't exist and could never exist yet spends his days trying to establish a new Christian church based on God, Christ, faith, creeds, liturgies, hymns and prayers. In psychology this is known as "cognitive dissonance", where one's actions conflict with one's beliefs.

Many of us have minor variations of this problem, an example often given is that of someone who is against the slaughter of animals but still eats meat. These people would probably acknowledge that a conflict exists, but they manage to ignore it most of the time. I wonder if Mr Harris has recognised his conflict, and if he has, how he deals with it?


On a personal note, I actually agree with some of what Mr Harris says in his column, apart from obviously when he attempts to tie it into his new religion. The arguments he provides to demolish God, the Bible and religion in general are often very good. An atheist would normally never be accorded the opportunity to present these arguments so in that respect I'm glad his column exists. It's just a shame that after "seeing the light", he turns it off and goes back inside his church.

Authors:   John L. Ateo
Copyright © 2007, by the 'SILLY BELIEFS' website. All rights reserved.

Readers' Comments:    Add a Comment       View Comments


[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition

[2] 'Science Friction', Michael Shermer

[3] 'Bully for Brontosaurus', Stephen Jay Gould

| Homepage | Links | Book & TV List | Top of Page | Blog |
Support Science Not Superstition


Last Updated Jun 2007