[Letter to a Christian Nation; by Sam Harris; Knopf, NY; 2006; ISBN 0-307-26577-3]
Sam Harris became well-known a couple of years ago following the publication of his first book The End of Faith (TEOF), his politically incorrect critique of all religions. Letter to a Christian Nation (LATCN) is more like an appendix to TEOF. Both books have provoked multitudes of the religious, particularly Christians, into expected militant disapproval. Large numbers of the beatific faithful have expressed desires to do to Harris those physical things so popular in the koran and bible.
Writes Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation (LTACN),
Since the publication of my first book...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 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.
Harris begins LTACN by inferring parallels between Islam and Christianity and ends by merging the parallels into an identity of fundamentals that they share that make them so alike.
Explaining why he wrote LTACN, Harris states he is responding to many arguments that Christian puts forward to defend their beliefs.
- The primary purpose of the 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...[LTACN], I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.
- ...I engage Christianity at its most divisive, injurious, and retrograde.
While "objective Christians" might be hard to find, they are the audience Harris seeks to reach with LTACN, to combat the destructiveness of religion.
Among developed nations, America stands alone in these [primitive, irrational, religious] convictions. Our country now appears, at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one's friends.
LTACN is far less detailed than TEOF, but it offers some compelling arguments. Here is one. Harris first prepares the case:
- Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling...
- Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not.
- But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this.
- Muslims are simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated. This is perfectly apparent to anyone who has not anesthetized himself with the dogma of Islam.
Then, he thrusts his argument home:
- The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims.
- Isn't it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn't it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near-perfect barrier to honest inquiry?
- Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity.
Why are the religious so deaf-dumb-and-blind regarding their faith and their fundamental conflict with reality, truth, and life? Harris notes that religious people replace truth, thought, and logical argumentation with illogical dogma, then close their minds. They overdose themselves with evasion--the refusal to deal with facts as facts.
Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us unwillingly to criticize ideas that are increasingly maladaptive and patently ridiculous. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves--repeatedly and at the hightest levels of discourse--about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality. Our competing religious certainties are impeding the emergence of a viable, global civilization. Religious faith--faith that there is a God who cares what name He is called, faith that Jesus is coming back to earth, faith that Muslim martyrs go straight to Paradise--is on the wrong side of an escalating war of ideas.
LTACN is a short book of some 100, easy to read pages. Harris packs a lot into a few pages, and he concludes with a sobering paragraph:
This letter is the product of failure--the failure of the many 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 religious certainties of our public figures--failures great and small that have kept almost every society on this earth muddling over God and despising those who muddle differently.
Harris' arguments lead inexorably to his conclusion that, were America to perish from jihad, it would because of its religionists, particularly its Christians. Because Islam disguises itself as a religion, it exploits the profound weaknesses Christians have about being able to be objective about religion. As a result, Christians falter and fail when trying to oppose Islam and its jihad because Islam is a religion. This is the same process that journalists, academics, politicians and bureaucrats of the left have employed for 80+ years to refuse to condemn communism, particularly that of the USSR.
Harris has much of great value to present in both of his books. However, he makes two, serious errors, both of which are philosophical and central to his theses. Dedicated religionists may not notice them because they share them. What is so ironic about these weaknesses is that Harris is himself a philosopher (Stanford).
Both are errors of ethics. In The End of Faith, he infers that there is no objective morality (error one). Morality to him is a subjective choice between that of religionists' morality versus his. What is so amazing (and Harris does not see this) is that his and religionists' morality AT ROOT are the same (error two).
Self-sacrificial service to others, with the alleviation of human suffering, a la leftist social justice, is Harris' moral standard of value, in contrast to religionists' dogma. He does not define or elaborate what he means by human suffering; he seems to assume that such will be obvious to anyone. Perhaps what constitutes human suffering is obvious, but it is not a standard of morality.
To the religionist, morality is self-sacrificial service to others. What is obvious is that Harris' morality is the same as the religionists at the level of fundamental principles.
In fact, ethics can be objective, and a proper, pro-human ethics is objective. This is no secret. An objective morality is man-centered and looks to provide man with the principles for his to develop his fullest potential. Harris's ethics reduces man to an undefined suffering blob.Harris is either oblivious, or his apparent unawareness is, in fact, an example of his own evasion.
Nevertheless, LTACN provides plenty of value. Just one example An example is the point Harris makes about atheism. He states, very correctly, that atheism is not a religion, a philosophy, or a movement. Atheism upholds that there is no evidence whatsoever for a god or God or gods, thus "a"-"the"-"ism." It is up to religionists to provide evidence to support their claims for a god, not up to the atheists to support some illogical claim to prove that there is not a god. In fact, a term such as "atheism" is really absurd and compares with confabulated neologisms like "non-astrologer" and "non-alchemist."
Harris is right when he states that atheism "...is simply an admission of the obvious."