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Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
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Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)

by Sam Harris

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I suppose this book has been so popular because its shorter than Hitchens or Dawkins' works. Harris brings no new arguments-- he doesn't bring any arguments, really. He claims at one point to be arguing on behalf of thousands of years of science and philosophy but does not cite any of it, particularly philosophy. There have always been philosophical debates about the existence of God, and plenty of philosopher apologists-- Harris is apparently unaware of all of them. As such, he does not argue with thousands of years of philosophers who held a Christian world view, he is only arguing with a caricature of a modern Christian. He apparently is also unfamiliar with logic as the book is filled with contradictions. Harris argues, as Hitchens and Dawkins do, that plenty of atheists are "moral people" who show "compassion" but Harris does not define what morality is. The reader can conclude that Harris himself determines what morality is, or perhaps the 51% majority do? In that sense, Harris makes same mistake as the others-- he has no objective basis on which to make his claims of morality. Christians, on the other hand, make moral claims on the belief that there are absolute truths that are known, one of which being that life is precious because man is created in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect.

Harris, however, opens the book by praising "Christians" who reject absolute truths, which is a major problem for him. Hitchens, for one, rejected liberals or moderates who did not believe in a resurrected Christ who literally lived, taught, died, and was resurrected because that is what the Bible teaches and is the bedrock of orthodox Christianity. Harris basically accepts anyone who marginally believed there may have been a Jesus as a "Christian," which again defies logic. Why hold up as enlightened liberals who reject thousands of years of scholarship and archaeology to reach their own conclusions on who Jesus was based upon their own subjective opinions? It's not clear.

Since Harris alone defines truth in his world view, he can reject as "ignorant" anyone who does not agree with him. He's horrified that the majority of Americans believe in a God, a judgment day, miracles, etc. He does not acklnowledge that thousands of PhD-holding biologists, astrophysicists, anthropologists, etc. are also in this majority and have been for centuries. His preferred method of setting laws and education would be a tyranny of an elect, enlightened few who share his identical ideas. Yet, he calls Christians "intolerant," not realizing that he is also.

Harris is also ignorant of biblical theology. He criticizes his Christian caricatures for taking verses out of context when he is guilty of the same. He is completely ignorant that orthodox Christians, protestant, Catholic, etc., believe that the Old Testament is interpreted through the New, that all of it points to Christ. Therefore, he's completely lost in arguing Christians should follow the laws in Deuteronomy. Like the other new atheists, Harris sees much of the Bible as a prohibition of sexual pleasure-- prudishness for prudishness sake. (He also does not acknowledge that polls repeatedly find married Christians more satisfied with their sexual lives than non-Christians). He does not understand the Gospel, which is tragic.

The book is Hitchens and Dawkins lite, nothing more. The reader should check out Francis Schaeffer's How Then Should We Live for a look at how Western thought, including the humanistic atheism that Harris claims is "truth," developed. It's much better written then this trope and spans centuries of scientific and philosophical thought. I would also recommend William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith, for starters.

It's worth noting that Harris shares a position with many evangelical Christians-- inter-faith dialogue is "useless." Harris writes that many on the Left in the West want to refuse to believe that religious wars happen, when most of the tensions we see around the world revolve around religion: Muslim vs. Buddhist, Christian vs. Muslim, Sunni vs. Shia, etc. Harris opines that it has more to do with religion than simply tribes or cultures. When a person's worldview leads him to conclude that he knows what absolute truth is, then everyone else must be wrong and part of the problem. Harris points to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks as examples of what happens when a group of even well-educated people demonstrate that they "truly believe in a God" and an afterlife. His comments about Islam have drawn criticism from many in America.

Still, Christians would do well to read these kinds of books to see what outsiders think of them and to examine certain statements they make that are problematic. These are the low-hanging fruit that the new atheists latch onto. Harris calls Christians to task-- if we really believe in a God and an afterlife, why don't we live with more conviction? If we believe in a God who is able to work miracles, why do we never pray for an amputee to regrow her limbs? I just wouldn't recommend this one as it's far inferior to Hitchens' God is Not Great. 1 star out of 5. Check out the one-star reviews from atheists. ( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
Harris' message was succinctly put and although I didn't agree with everything he said, I appreciate his candor and methodology. I'm not so sure that Christians would be so receptive to this "letter" but someone with even a little intestinal fortitude and personal integrity would have to at least reevaluate their believes. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
A novella length book from Sam Harris about religion feels slightly short and I wish it were longer. Like all the books from the author I've read, the information is deceptively easy and maybe too simple looking. For that or some unknown reason, I've always regretted forgetting most of the deliciously pertinent and insightful tidbits that are up for offer for the open minded. I want to remember those facts because what I do remember makes a better, prettier, less ignorant, happier, and more illuminated state for the sentience that dwells in my mind. Imagine how happy I'd be if I remembered most things from Letter To A Christian Nation. The book is meant for both adults and children, provided they have curiosity and are not anchored by dogmatic training. It doesn't use big words, or swear words, there's no sex, but an adult will immediately classify the book as not middle grade or Young Adult. There are no fairies, no magic, no escapism, no allegory, yet a child or a teenager will immediately think - I assume - that this is a book meant for him or her. This book is the product of a modern and relevant and gifted teacher. These are rare, and I can pay Sam Harris no bigger compliment. ( )
1 vote Jiraiya | Mar 23, 2015 |
Sam Harris is an excellent writer; clear and concise without being condescending. This book is more than just an argument against religion, it is also a plea to judge the claims made by religion about the universe and our place in it, using the same standards of proof we expect from every other discipline. As with other books advocating reason over religion if you are an atheist you will find plenty of ammo here to bolster you arguments, if you are questioning your faith you will find a lot here to think about, and if you are secure in your faith there is nothing here to be afraid of. ( )
2 vote mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
More direct and blunt even than Dawkins. Sam Harris really calls this country out for it's irrationality. ( )
1 vote brianinseattle | Oct 1, 2014 |
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For my wife
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You believe that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only those who place their faith in Jesus will find salvation after death.
Quotations
Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious
You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently—though isn't it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?
I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.
In fact, "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" of a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more that the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.
If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307265773, Hardcover)

“Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.”

So begins Letter to a Christian Nation



www.samharris.org

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:21 -0400)

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"[Since the publication of my book The end of faith, t]housands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ's love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse."--P. vii.… (more)

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