Sam Harris at Big Think:
Question: What is religion?
Sam Harris: Well I think we are misled by this very term “religion”. We use that word “religion” as though it meant a distinct thing….as though it meant one phenomenon in human discourse. And there’s really a range of infatuations and practices that go by the name of religion. And therefore many points on this continuum don’t have much in common with others. So if you take a religion like “Jainism” – a religion in India – its core principle is non-violence. Now there is where Gandhi got his conception of non-violence. And the Jains are vegetarian. They have no doctrine of holy war. In fact, they don’t even have a doctrine – a proper doctrine of self-defense. I mean they’re pacifists. They don’t want to hurt a fly. And then on the other end of the continuum, you have something like Islam where it has explicitly a doctrine of holy war, and a notion of….Combat and death, in certain contexts, is actually the highest obligation a religious person can fulfill. So these are both religions. And so religion is a word like “sport”. You have a sport like badminton, and you have a sport like, you know, boxing. They’re not….they’re both sports that, you know, one is much more dangerous. So I’m concerned….I’m obviously more concerned about religions like Islam that….wherein you have this marriage of a variety of spiritual and ethical concerns; but also certain kinds of metaphysical certainties that inspire people to not only die, but to kill others in the process. And you don’t have that in other religions. So I think that we have to be clear about how this term religion can mislead us.