I loved “Letter to a Christian Nation.” Sam Harris punctures every variety of religious vanity. Though his focus is, obviously, on the follies of Christianity, Harris’ razor-sharp dissection of one religion leaves in shreds every faith-based belief system.
I read nearly all of the 96 pages in one evening. It’s hard to put down this book. I agree with Harris nearly 100%, but even if you don’t—and most Americans won’t—his blunt epigrammatic style will draw you in.
After all, right off the bat Harris establishes some common ground between he and his Christian audience.
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. As a Christian, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think they are true.
Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation, or he does not.
From there, Harris is off and running. Since neither Christianity, nor any other religion or spiritual faith, can prove that it knows the nature of ultimate truth, it isn’t difficult for him to demonstrate the folly of religious certainty.
For Harris, as for me, a scientific approach toward knowing reality is the only sensible way to go.
In the broadest sense, “science” (from the Latin scire, “to know”) represents our best efforts to know what is true about our world…The core of science is not controlled experiment or mathematical modeling; it is intellectual honesty.
It is time we acknowledged a basic feature of human discourse: when considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn’t. Religion is the one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.
I’m proud of my churchlessness. But Harris’ bold defense of truth in the face of religious attempts to substitute faith for facts made me realize how wishy-washy I can be.
I’ll listen to someone’s recitation of their religiosity and think to myself, “That’s bullshit.” Yet I won’t say it. Harris says it. As he should. As we all should.
In his first book, “The End of Faith,” Harris reserves special scorn for religious moderates and liberals. He does the same in “Letter to a Christian Nation.”
I have little doubt that liberals and moderates find the eerie certainties of the Christian Right to be as troubling as I do. It is my hope, however, that they will also begin to see that the respect they demand for their own religious beliefs gives shelter to extremists of all faiths…Even the most progressive faiths lend tacit support to the religious divisions in our world.
If somebody said to me, “Global warming isn’t happening,” I’d reply, “You’re wrong.” I wouldn’t say, “Well, you’re entitled to your belief” because this issue is too important for erroneous ideas to trump the truth.
Yet often I’ll keep my mouth shut when a believer spouts some equally indefensible statement about God, morality, life after death, or such. Partly I’m motivated by a desire not to rock the conversational boat.
But Harris is right: in the past, and to some extent now as well, I’ve held equally indefensible beliefs that I didn’t want others to question. So I’d hold to a policy of mutual assured religious destruction. “You could demolish the arguments I use to defend my faith just as easily as I could destroy yours; so let’s each hold our fire.”
Intellectually dishonest. Yet it worked. The cost of this I’ll scratch your absurdities if you’ll scratch mine is too high to tolerate, though. Personally as well as culturally. Blind belief threatens to tear apart the social fabric. In the United States; in the world.
So each of us needs to suck it up and allow our most cherished spiritual and religious fantasies to be seen for what they are: egotistical attempts at wish-fulfillment. Harris points out that scientists and non-believers are the most humble of humans, while the religious display astounding arrogance.
There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend eternity in hell…An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse—and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.
Read “Letter to a Christian Nation.” Even if you’re not Christian. If you’re a spiritual believer of any stripe, Sam Harris is speaking to you too.