- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 8, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307278778
- ISBN-13: 978-0307278777
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,163 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Letter to a Christian Nation Paperback – January 8, 2008
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"A breath of fresh fire." —Wall Street Journal“I dare you to read this book...it will not leave you unchanged. Read it if it is the last thing you do.” —Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion“It’s a shame that not everyone in this country will read Sam Harris’ marvelous little book Letter to a Christian Nation. They won’t but they should.” —Leonard Susskind, Felix Bloch Professor in theoretical physics, Stanford University
About the Author
Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times best seller, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, which won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. He is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and has studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of contemplative disciplines, for twenty years. Mr. Harris is now completing a doctorate in neuroscience, studying the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). His work has been discussed in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Economist, and New Scientist, among many other journals, and he has made television appearances on The O'Reilly Factor, Scarborough Country, Faith Under Fire, and Book TV.
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Harris throws down the gauntlet; religious fanaticism stands in the way of scientific advancements and poses a very real threat to our survival. Furthermore, tolerance of religious diversity is often, by nature, false and dangerous. He makes the point that while liberal Christians feign tolerance of other religions, in truth they believe that their own brand of religion is the only path to God and heaven. This hypocrisy is a flimsy veneer over what is really intolerance of other's religious views. So, while they may outwardly purport to support divergent views, when push comes to shove they really believe that those with different religious views will go to hell (or at least not be afforded the same benefits of an everlasting life in paradise). And, while liberal Christians preach tolerance, he suggests that other more strident religions such as Muslims gain strength under the shelter of such tolerance.
Harris makes the point that any good derived from organized religion could stem as well from agnostic altruism. That we are at a balance point in our societal development where we must find ways to support spirituality and benevolence without the need for religious dogma.
I found it an easy and interesting read, and Harris makes blunt, rational and thought-provoking points. I am curious to read some of the numerous rebuttals to Harris' work.
The recent questions these factors beg is now being asked and an increasing number of enlightened people wonder; can Civilization afford to tolerate a culture that analyzes the veracity of everything that effects public policy with the exception of religious beliefs? Can we continue to view religious beliefs as a quaint and harmless legacy of our past or are these primitive beliefs a factor now threatening the moral and technological progress, and even the security of Western Civilization in general and America specifically? Do today's Christian Conservatives want a free and open public debate on the veracity of Christian dogma in the public square or are they merely looking for protection of their ideas by way of increased government power? Would the people who want to promote Christian theology in the public schools and science classrooms also support a critical assessment of the truth of their beliefs in the public schools as well, by way for example, of consideration of Mr. Harris' arguments contained in "Letter to a Christian Nation"?
Mr. Harris makes a clear stand that we cannot afford to protect religious beliefs from criticism: "the primary purpose of this 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" (pg. viii). Mr. Harris clearly believes in a free market of ideas, where no idea should be protected because it's a traditionally popular one, in fact Mr. Harris sees the conflation of our technological prowess at destroying the world and that power being eventually more available and the increasing power fundamentalists are having in the Middle East and America as an "emergency" where we can no longer allow primitive superstitions special protections they are provided in our government or else we risk the self-fulfilling prophecy of ending the world (pg. xii). The seeming contradiction between Mr. Harris assertion "that religion should be kept out of public policy" and protection of free speech is that given the premise of a free market exploration of religious ideas, fundamentalist Christian dogma wouldn't survive the scrutiny, scrutiny that is the topic of this book.
"Letter" is a mere ninety-one page book with more ideas considered, challenged and posited than in many four hundred page books. Its' a fast read and worth reading multiple times, I've read it three times prior to writing this review. Harris also provides further recommended reading that will enlighten readers on the history of American philosophical legacy as it relates to the Constitutional framers' ideals (Jacoby's Freethinkers), the atheist scientists who do believe Science is correct in attacking superstition (Dawkin's "The God Delusion") and an introductory primer on canonical development since Harris accurately assumes most Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians are ignorant on the development of Christian Dogma and its claim to inerrancy (Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus"). Some of the other reading recommendations in my opinion are worthless, while the most important recommendation I would recommend and a source that Harris uses is missing, Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God", probably the best comparative religion book on fundamentalism and why we should fear Christian fundamentalism and not just Islamic fundamentalism.
To the customer reviewers who state that Harris' attacks are stale and previously discredited, please provide one tangible example that you are able to refute, I found rhetorical fallacies substituted for reasoned challenge and not supported with evidence in those reviews, a failure not made by Mr. Harris.
"Letter" is refreshingly frank, mainly because Harris has no qualms about eradicating social niceties where none are deserved. Where Jon Meachum's "American Gospel" goes out of its way to expend words that respectfully discredit ridiculous notions in his "American Gospel", there is no such flotsam and jetsam in Harris' book, ridiculous notions get it right between the eyes, e.g., an intervening God that heals (but for some reason, not amputees), the moral wisdom of a book, the Bible, that condones slavery and promotes authoritarian government rather than the American ideal of freedom through represented government and individual rights. Harris also illuminates the hypocrisy of the notion of an inerrant bible with an all-loving God by publishing text from the Bible that if practiced today, would have you thrown in jail as the lowest scum on earth (the bible's god promoting slavery, killing of your own children for trivial indiscretions, serial killing of innocents including babies, old people, and gays, mistreatment of rape victims, etc.).
I am the rare libertarian who believes religion should be taught in the public schools, but critically where the true history is presented and rebuttals to its theology are also presented. Mr. Harris' book belongs in the public school libraries and if one's faith is truly built on truth rather than wishful and emotional thinking, this book should be debated and considered by all Americans, right down to the high school level. Consider me a big fan of Mr. Harris and the moral courage it takes to talk truth to power.
May-be future generations will look back at this time as a watershed moment, where humanity takes a step further towards enlightenment.