Thursday, October 26, 2006

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

I took some time off this evening to read the latest book by Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. At 96 pages (soaking wet), I was able to read it this evening and fit in some family time in the form of Star Wars Battlefront with my son, and dinner out with my wife; in other words, no blogging, but lots of family time.

It's late here on the west coast now, the family is asleep, and I feel the need to write about this extraordinary little book. Let's start with a look at what another reader has to say:

Sam Harris fearlessly describes a moral and intellectual emergency precipitated by religious fantasies–misguided beliefs that create suffering, that rationalize violence, that have endangered our nation and our future. His argument for the morality, the honesty, and the humility of atheism is galvanizing. It is a relief that someone has spoken so frankly, with such passion yet such rationality. Now when the subject arises, as it inevitably does, I can simply say: Read Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation.”

Source: Letter to a Christian Nation: Books: Sam Harris

It is hard to compete with reviews like this. I don't have the big words necessary to write a compelling review. I can tell you why I like the book though. It is an honest and straightforward confrontation with religion that will make honest people stop and think. Maybe, just maybe, the relentless logic of Harris's argument will reach the moderate religious audience it is meant for. This thought gives me hope.

Many of these arguments have been around awhile, some have been updated to reflect current circumstance. All are devastating. I need to think long and hard about if I agree with Harris on his position that we must move past religion. I have always felt that religious belief is ones own business.

I've been accused of being evangelical, but the truth is, I am not evangelical about atheism, not even with my own children. I have always held that it is better to teach a child to think and then allow the to make their own choices about what to believe. It seems only fair. To do otherwise would turn me into the Evangelical nutballs who I despise.

Harris's book is written for moderate Christians, yet it also calls out to Atheists to confront religion and the religious. To stand on the sidelines when the fate of civilization is at stake seems irresponsible. Yet, this call lacks authenticity. Harris's reliance on the either/or argument structure does not allow for the gray areas where most of us live. I'm all for calling Christians to account, but telling a person what to believe is wrong.

I recommend the book. It is a good read and easy to digest in one sitting. I doubt that the faithful will be swayed by Harris's arguments. However, those who are not as confident in their faith may well find the book a powerful motivator for Atheism. The arguments make sense. I've used many of them over the years - mostly in defense of my atheism. I have never talked another person out of their faith, nor would I want that responsibility.

I can see copies of this book making its way into a few Christmas stockings this year. I have so many Christian friends (and so few atheist friends), it seems only natural to spread the word in a non-evangelical kind of secular gift giving way. Know what I mean?

I'll write an in-dept review in a few days. I need to think about these concepts more.

***updated 10/27/06

Other Reviews:


Nandes said...

This book sits on my shelf and taunts me every night while I'm still working on The God Delusion.

I love that amazon was selling them as a combo pack for like $40 Canadian.

Kyle Foley said...

i saw sam on cspan, his arguments are not very effective, we all know religion, like love, has a darkside

Mojoey said...

Kyle - I am curious. What was it about his arguments that seemed ineffective?

I'm torn really - I know the dark side of religion. But, I also know wonder well adjusted people who thrive within their religious communities. I have trouble with the all religion is bad religion approach Harris uses because he seems to only focus on the dark side.

Hallq said...

I'm not sure why you linked to the one negative review at the bottom--some of what Harris says is debatable, but that particular review regugitates misleading anti-evolution nonsense.

Mojoey said...

Hallq - I actually did it on purpose. I've been accused of being one-sided too many times to count. So I found one fundie nutball with a negative review and linked him.

Anonymous said...

You may be interested in a new book that has just been published in response to Sam Harris. It is entitled "Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter Point" by RC Metcalf. It is available through Amazon and B&N or through the author's website at Please let others know about this important work!