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The Laughing Jesus:
Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom

by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy
Harmony, 2005

The End of Faith:
Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

by Sam Harris
Norton, 2004

review by John Tintera

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 counterparts.

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.

For 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 humanity.

While 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.

Harris 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,

Given 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 identities.

While 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.

They 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 the episode.

Readers 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.

©2006 John Tintera

The Laughing Jesus
To purchase a copy of THE LAUGHING JESUS, visit amazon.com.



The End of Faith
To purchase a copy of THE END OF FAITH, visit amazon.com. These links are provided as a service to explorefaith.org visitors and registered users.


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