I just read Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. I thought I should, as it was more or less addressed to me. Not that this in itself means anything, as I either shred or ignore much mail sent my way. However, the idea that anyone would spend $16.95 to read a letter addressed to them made me quite curious, to see if it was worth it. So, rather than buying a copy of my own, I snagged it from our local library.
First of all, I want to say that I do have a certain amount of compassion for Mr. Harris; after he wrote his book, The End of Faith (which is still on my reading list), he apparently got deluged in hate mail from people calling themselves Christians. I say “calling themselves Christians,” based on 1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If I were Sam Harris in this situation, I would tend to think that these hate letters confirmed my conclusions, and this would justify my charging $16.95 for this very short, little book which could be read in 30 minutes. And, whether he makes any sense or not, I’m guessing he made a fair amount of cash for what appears to be a weekend’s work, which should help him to feel better. (I’m a bit jealous, actually; perhaps I should write a similar “letter to a Christian nation” from a Christian’s point of view… hmm… I started out joking, but I’m starting to think it’s a great idea….).
So, Harris’ first point is made, and it’s valid. Many Christians are jerks who don’t act like they’ve ever read – or at least believed – the Bible. The New Testament is clear what a Christian should look like, or at least try to look like. It’s a shame, but it’s true: some of the worst advertisements for Christianity are people who say they’re Christians but don’t have a clue what that actually means.
However, the rest of Harris’ book is, for the most part, pure nonsense. As it’s a letter, he’s under no obligation to be accurate, logical or coherent. (Again, this would be the perfect book for me to copy…) He uses as many logical fallacies as I’ve ever seen in 90-some tiny pages, and it would be a great exercise to go through the book and analyze it from this perspective. Perhaps the most glaring example of faulty logic is to use various specific groups to make general attacks (which he does admit to, to some extent). He shotguns Christians, sometimes referring to fundamentalists, sometimes to Catholics, and so on. This lets him bounce around, blasting away, without ever actually making an accurate shot. For fellow atheists and other non-believers, its all good fun, as they say. However, it means Christians will be generally dismissive of what he has to say.
There are a number of things he alleges, such as conservatives wanting to “preserve cervical cancer as an incentive toward abstinence” that is simply ludicrous; someone might have made such a stupid statement, but this is not typical Christianity. He really should have taken the time to mention names, if he’s going to toss out bizarre examples like this.
A few other statements I noted:
- “Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world.” Now I don’t know what he means to prove here, but atheism certainly is a worldview, and it definitely has an influence on how you’d live your life.
- He alleges that “we know on the basis of textual evidence” that the New Testament writers wrote in such a way to fulfill prophecies of the Old Testament. He can believe this fairy tale if he wants, but it’s simply not the case.
- He states that if the Bible actually had prophecy, it would predict something like the internet. This shows how clueless he is about the Bible; even clear-thinking atheists could see past this.
- He also makes the case that science “represents our best efforts to know what is true about the world.” and says “The core of science … is intellectual honesty.” From what I’ve seen of the more vocal anti-God scientists, I would have to conclude that I haven’t seen much in the way of real science from them…
His letter is full of ranting and hand-waving with very little in the way of logic or reason. He also manages to really offend Muslims, which probably got his name added to a list that also includes George Bush and Salman Rushdie. Of course, I have to say that I would agree with some of his statements there.
He does start his conclusion rather well: “One of the greatest challenges facing civilization … is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns – about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering – in ways that are not flagrantly irrational.” However, he then proceeds to talk about his desire to see religion eradicated from the world. It would seem that Sam Harris has a lot to learn about how to actually communicating with people he disagrees with.
Now, perhaps it’s time to start writing my own letter …
Apparently $16.95 is the going rate for public letters… 😉
This does sound interesting… I’ll have to find some unpublished reviews to see what other people are saying about it.
A response to Mr. Harris’ atheistic religious tract has been written. It is entitled “Letter from a Christian Citizen” by Douglas Wilson. Go to http://www.americanvision.org to read comments on Pastor Wilson’s book and to order your own copy.
aw… that was going to be the first line of my letter… 😉
Actually, the first clue that Mr. Harris is clueless is that he addressed the letter to a nonexistent nation.