Whenever I read these kinds of books or articles, I’m never quite sure what exactly it is I am looking for, but I always end up not getting it. Where Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great relentlessly mocked the absurdity of religious belief, Letter to a Christian Nation is an in-your-face repudiation of religious views, particularly that of christians. Rather than mockery, Harris wields disgust, anger and indignation. Ultimately it’s not a way to
cure faith. Rather it’s another attempt to both bolster the spirits of atheists as well as put believers on notice that a less tolerant strand of atheism may be ascendant.
Harris’ polemic makes the following points:
- The bible is not very wise and is pretty hard to justify as a moral compass on it’s own.
- Alleviation of human suffering is the basis for real morality. Concern over whether people have sex does not alleviate suffering.
- We don’t need god to motivate us to alleviate suffering.
- Atheists are no more good or evil than religious people. Famous atheist despots aren’t always quite as atheist as claimed either.
- The concept of
good, even if attributed to the bible, ultimately comes down to people deciding what is good. We decide individual acts are good, or we decide the bible is good, but it is a human choice as to what is good.
- God is either not omnipotent and omniscient, or god is evil. Assuming he exists, that is.
- The bible sucks at prescience. It even gets basic math wrong and contradicts itself in other places. Hard to be literal truth with that.
- Science and religion don’t cover separate spheres, except perhaps in extremely esoteric questions like
what is the purpose of everything?
- Creationism and intelligent design? Get real.
- Lots of fighting is generally over a religious component.
Conclusion according to Harris, we can do without religion in general and christianity in particular. I tend to agree. But then, that’s the point of the book, to speak to fellow travelers and bolster their resolve.
The primary purpose of this book is to arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian Right.
In other words, this isn’t going to convince anyone. It’s talking points for the already converted.
I’m already converted, sort of. I tend to float in a nebulous circle from atheist to agnostic to deist. While I do appreciate the talking points, I don’t have a lot of interest in arguing with or convincing christians they are wrong. I’d love to, if I thought I could. But most people can’t be convinced they are wrong, particularly christians about their core beliefs. They don’t operate on evidence, they operate on faith which denies evidence. Perhaps inroads could be made, but not with confrontational polemic.
Not very satisfying, though Harris did what he set out to do.
Other blogged reviews:
Title: Letter to a Christian Nation
Author: Sam Harris
Cover creator: Carol Devine Carson (designer)
Imprint / publisher: Alfred A. Knopf / Random House
Length: 96 p.
Publication date: October 2006
Subject: Christianity and politics — United States
Subject: Church and state — United States
Subject: Fundamentalism — United States
Subject: Religious right — United States
Subject: Christian conservatism — United States
LC classification: BR516 .H255 2006