Watch: Sam Harris on the ‘Banality of Evil’ in Relation to Religious Violence
Atheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris said Wednesday night that religion could make acts of psychopathic evil seem rational and even moral.
“What I would argue is that there are actually cultures which are — for all intents and purposes — psychopathic, in which you can put perfectly normal individuals, people who are neurologically intact, who don’t have any of the anatomical problems of psychopaths, but put them into a system of poorly aligned incentives and bad ideas and they essentially act like psychopaths,” Harris told stand-up comedian and MMA commentator Joe Rogan.
“How did the Holocaust occur?” he continued “It is not that there were hundreds of thousands of psychopaths eager to collaborate in the destruction of a people. There were a lot of normal people who given the requisite ideas and the requisite incentives and the ability… to dehumanize the Other, just saw no problem. They could burn people in gas chambers by day, and go home and shed a tear over Wagner at night, and play with their own kids, and that [moral disjunction] never had to be inspected.”
“Normal people are capable of terrible things and in the context of certain religious ideas, I think it becomes quite rational to perpetrate evil,” he concluded.
Harris appeared to be referencing “the banality of evil,” an idea first proposed by German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt.