In Sam Harris's blog he writes

Most of us have been around this block often enough to know that many “former atheists”—like Francis Collins—spent so long on the brink of faith, and yearned for its emotional consolations with such vampiric intensity, that the slightest breeze would send them spinning into the abyss.

I pride myself in usually being able to understand Mr Harris's writings, but the word "vampiric" was new to me (indeed, the spell checker underscores it in red here on english.SE). Looking it up in a dictionary, it is defined (naturally enough) as "pertaining to vampires." But that hardly helps give it meaning to me in the present context.

  • It indeed just means "like a vampire". The reader is expected to fill in the rest of the simple metaphor: that vampires are intense creatures. Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 0:32
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    @MarkBeadles: Perhaps so, but I wonder if it somehow also carries a connotation of feeding off of others, perhaps through an emotional neediness or something.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 0:41
  • @J.R. Sure, I can see it being read that way, but that is still a normal reading of the meaning "like a vampire". Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 0:44
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    @MarkBeadles: True. I wanted to make mention of it, though, because, up until now, there had been plenty of references to "intensity," but not much about other vampiric qualities.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 0:46
  • I guess that I, having missed the Twilight saga, am lacking in what "simple" attributes vampires have these days.
    – Fixee
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 5:23

3 Answers 3


It's an extra emphasis on "intensity". Vampires are, after all, intense individuals.

I doubt you'll find a definition of "vampiric" anywhere that includes this; it's certainly an artistic flourish. It is augmented by the other-worldliness overlap that religious faith and the supernatural share.


The metaphor seems much more complete than just emphasizing intensity.

Vampires are outcasts, alienated from the living because of their status. They linger at the fringe of living society and need to feed off that society to survive. They are both attracted to the living and despise or disdain them. They approach the living but are often rebuffed and sent reeling into the night or into an altered state (as a bat, a wolf).

The author is talking about the behavior of an atheist before he is reclaimed to the fold.

Like a vampire, the atheist is an outcast to believing society. However, the atheist is, in part, defined by that society, lingering at the edge (spent so long on the brink of faith), was attracted to the benefits of the believers (yearned for its emotional consolations) and was so intense, but fragile, that any challenge would drive them off (the slightest breeze would send them spinning into the abyss).

It is pretty graphic in its analogy.


Harris scorns religious belief: faith is an "abyss" into which “former atheists” are easily precipitated because they were never authentic atheists, merely alienated religious, eager to return to the faith. The tenor of the vampire image is that yearning for the “emotional consolations” of religion is an irresistible and perverted desire, like the vampire’s hunger for blood. Harris might, without mixing his metaphors any more ludicrously, have written “crackhead intensity” or “the intensity of an alcoholic temporarily on the wagon”, but . . .

"Vampiric intensity" is apparently a modestly popular catchphrase within the narrow confines of fanfiction (mostly about vampires), movie reviews (of romantic actors) and bad poetry (about nothing readily discernible). Googling the phrase with -"Sam Harris" yields 186 results, and eliminating duplicates yields (I think) 40.

Makes you wonder what Sam Harris reads for light entertainment.

All of these are dated 2004 or later, but there is one earlier use, from a 1997 Time review:

Gently, lovingly, at other times with parasitic intention or vampiric intensity, men have turned to women for inspiration. F. Scott Fitzgerald had Zelda, Rodin had Camille Claudel, Picasso had a distaff palette; and Bob Dylan, one of the most intriguing, important, irascible figures in rock, had whom? On Time Out of Mind, his first CD of new, self-penned material in seven years and his most consistently rewarding album since the '70s, Dylan seems to be haunted by an imaginary, unnamed muse who has come and gone, leaving him loveless and listless,...

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    I don't really think 40 instances in all the webpages indexed by Google really qualifies as "popular". FWIW, there are 4 instances in Google Books as well. But there are 28 instances of "sleepy rage", and many thousands of "sleep furiously", so that doesn't tell us much. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 23:40
  • The four books like Gothics to me. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 23:54
  • Perhaps a more relevant comparison might be to "bucolic intensity", which manages twice as many hits in Google Books. Despite the fact that I at least find it almost impossible to conjoin the meanings of those two words, whereas I don't have a problem with the idea that vampires can be "intense". Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 0:07
  • @FumbleFingers In Google I get only 24 hits on "bucolic intensity", of which 5 are the same quote from an Amazon customer review of "Jaws", 3 are the same Percy Grainger quote about the alto clarinet, 3 are about 19th-c music, and the rest are garbage. In Google Books I get 7 hits, of which 5 are the Grainger quote again; leaving one about D.H.Lawrence and one about Etruscan art. 7 actual instances, all from arts criticism. Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 3:34
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    I never really disagreed with anything you'd said apart from the implication that vampiric intensity was "popular". And in light of your edit downgrading it to "modestly popular", I'm now quite happy to upvote the answer anyway. Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 13:33

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