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Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)

by Sam Harris

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3,025853,117 (3.94)73
"[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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Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
Once again, Sam Harris steps up to the plate as one of the strongest atheist authors of our time. Skillfully responding to the criticism his first book gathered, Harris carefully deconstructs the beliefs of fundamentalist organized religions, especially Christianity. Supporting nearly every claim with excerpts from the Bible itself, Sam Harris manages to be almost conversational in his writing; it is supposed to be a "letter," after all.

Letter to a Christian Nation is concise, sometimes humorous, sometimes ominous. It should be a breath of fresh air to any atheists, and if anyone religious is brave enough to pick it up and mull over its contents, more power to them. ( )
  booksong | Mar 18, 2020 |
Harris has written several works of which this is the first that I have read. I have other books yet to be read. His name is usually included in the group of current skeptics and atheists foremost among western academics and journalists. The others would be: Dennett, Dawkins, Singer, Russell, and Hitchens. Harris lists 10 works at the end of the letter for further reading on the topic This Letter was published in 2006.
The Letter is more of an essay in length, but essays no longer have cache as provocative statements. Open letters still connote a sense of moral urgency and this is what Harris tries to bring in this work. This “letter” is published as a book on anti-fundamentalist/anti-conservative politics by the publisher. The author attacks fundamentalism, generally, as a straw-man to put his rationalist arguments on display. He finds his own arguments infallible although strangely unpersuasive at his final Conclusion. He gives reason why he thinks this is so.

This “letter” is more of an angry diatribe against religion, using fundamentalist Christianity as the imaginary if fantastical object of derision. Harris only settles on a target of Christianity when it suits his needs. Sometimes it is Roman Catholicism, sometimes Baptists, and sometimes even Muslims (whom he considers Fundamentalists). His arguments being situational, make them difficult for the new reader to see his real concerns but he does reveal them over the span of the Letter.
Harris spends a lot of time arguing atheism but at the end he only wants greater rationality in public discourse and less mythology (his definition of all religion).
To a person educated in the Judeo-Christian tradition of liberal arts, Harris’s arguments are patently absurd. If someone was educated in the current university or high school systems that person would be easily swayed by his persuasive appeals to emotion over reason. Again, Harris says he wants more reason in all societies but his mode of being in the public realm is wrapped in sheer emotion. His arguments are usually based on his discomfort.
His final words are these, “This Letter is the product of failure—the failure of many of the brilliant attacks upon religion that preceded it, the failure of our schools to announce the death of God in a way that each generation can understand, the failure of the media to criticize the abject certainties of our public figures—failures great and small that have kept almost every society on this earth muddling over God and the despising those who muddle differently.”
There are many past and ancient arguments rolled up here for people to examine. Others have argued theologically critical ideas more thoroughly, but Harris, in his careless and emotional way, gives us Twitter versions take little time to read and even less to refute. In the Afterward to the reprinted edition he quotes Mother Teresa describing her spiritual struggles as more accurately run-of-the-mill depression. That would be a typical ad hominum argument against Mother Teresa that would be dismissed as illogical by a normal person. To Harris, this is bright shining rationality. This is the type of consideration readers would assess when evaluating his ideas and emotional perspective.
I found this book personally funny (I love to read about arguments for the existence of God or against his existence) but I would probably still use it for discussing ideas among people learning about criticisms of religion and the Catholic Church in general. I would never have them read the entire Letter but only certain short passages since people do hear things said to them which are similar to the shallow misrepresentations Harris feels confident to make. People interested in becoming Catholic do have basic questions which need to voiced and responded to as a matter of internal spiritual dialogue.
  sacredheart25 | Mar 11, 2020 |
Whether a reader is devout, wavering on a border, or an atheist, only a fanatic could not be persuaded
into examining the foundations and history of his or her faith
by the unremitting analysis, argument, and attacks that Sam Harris has delivered in his Letter.

Not only Christians, but Jewish and Islamic people are addressed and found deeply wanting.

What is missing, for both current and previous religious people, is the author's deeper understanding of both the role of Hope and that of Second Nature.

For many religious believers, without a creator or higher power, there is only THIS, with no Hope for eternal life,
redemption and forgiveness from sins, and Divine Protection to come soon.

With Second Nature, for those raised in a religion based on its Good Things - love, music, songs, prayers,
community, peace passing all understanding, casseroles, safety, comfort, and help when sick, dying, or mourning -
there is no Union of Concerned Atheists to turn to. ( )
  m.belljackson | Oct 3, 2019 |
Very well done. If I hadn't been reading it in a library I would have been cheering. The only problem I see in this book is that it is really short. Though I suppose with the title it would make sense for it to be rather short. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
It's Sam Harris, so you know what you're getting. This slim tome is like a Cliff's Notes covering all of his main talking points. I used to admire this guy when I was a militant atheist, but now I find him quite tedious. His liberal viewpoint gets hilariously exposed when he tries to roast conservative white people on pg. 44-45, implying their states commit tons of crime: "If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and societal health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don't. Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76 percent are in red states, 24 percent in blue states. In fact, three of the five most dangerous cities in the United States are in the pious state of Texas. The twelve states with the highest rates of burglary are red." So, let's take the red (conservative) state of Louisiana as an example. 98% of the homicides in 60% black, ultra-liberal New Orleans and 50% black, ultra-liberal Baton Rouge are committed by people of... guess which skin color. According to the great mind of Sam Harris, that reflects badly on the entire state of Louisiana, which is majority white, peaceful, and non-liberal. Of course, he won't point out to you the demographics of those three unnamed cities in Texas; he just wants to be able to insult the entire state for being "pious." And no, he never mentions skin color, but those of his ethno-religious background are always trying to undermine and upset white people. And yes, I'm still an atheist, but I dislike nonsensical attacks on entire states. Luckily he partially makes up for this by going very hard on Islam near the end of the book. Then again, go look at the title of the book and tell me which religion(s) you see listed in it. He uses a slavery-endorsing passage from "the Bible" to try to humiliate Christians, but there's one problem: It comes from the Book of Leviticus, which is part of the Old Testament (Jewish Bible), which is probably the most vile and violent book ever written. Of course, this book is published by a Jewish-run publishing house, but I digress. The most obnoxious line in the book is in a section about souls, on pg. 31: "Your beliefs about the human soul are, at this very moment, prolonging the scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings."
  YESterNOw | Nov 7, 2018 |
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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.
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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