Harris notes all the wars and atrocities in which religion can be implicated, and then proposes rationality as the solution:
Genocidal projects tend not to reflect the rationality of their perpetrators simply because there are no good reasons to kill peaceful people indiscriminately. [page 79]
As the book's argument evolves, however, Harris comes dangerously close to proposing his own genocidal project against Islamist countries that acquire WMDs.
In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime – as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day – but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. [page 129]
Personally, I don't think this idea is rational at all, but I don't doubt that Harris got here by trying to be rational. Which raises an interesting question: Is trying-to-be-rational always the best way to secure the fruits of rationality?
I'd like to propose an analogy: abstinence-only sex education. Its proponents claim that abstinence is the only 100% effective method of avoiding pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. But, of course, this is only true if you succeed in abstaining. Because the attempt to abstain frequently fails, teens who choose abstinence as their sexual strategy, if I remember correctly, actually are as likely as anybody else to get pregnant and are significantly more likely to catch an STD.
I wonder if the same thing happens with rationality. All kinds of good things follow if a person succeeds at being rational. But abstaining from irrationality is at least as hard as abstaining from sex, and people like Sam Harris frequently wind up rationalizing actions every bit as horrible as those put forward by people who barely value rationality at all. Might not some of them be better served by devoting themselves irrationally to a code that tells them to “love thy neighbor as thyself”?
All things considered, I wonder who gets better results.