Letter to a Christian Nation


Letter to a Christian Nation

"Letter to a Christian Nation" is a non-fiction book by Sam Harris, written in response to feedback he received following the publication of his first book "The End of Faith". The book is written in the form of an open letter to a Christian. Harris states that his aim is "to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms." The book was released in September 2006. In October it entered the "New York Times" Best Seller list at number seven. [cite web | title = Best Sellers – Hardcover Nonfiction | publisher = New York Times | date = October 8, 2006 | url = http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/08/books/bestseller/1008besthardnonfiction.html | accessdate = 2007-02-21]

ynopsis

Harris addresses his arguments to members of the conservative Christian Right in America. In answer to their appeal to the Bible on all questions of morality, he points to the harsh moral code of the Old Testament (death for adultery, homosexuality, disobedience to parents etc.), and contrasts this with, for example, the complete non-violence of Jainism. Harris argues that the reliance on dogma can create a false morality, which is divorced from the reality of human suffering and the efforts to alleviate it; thus religious objections stand in the way of condom use, stem cell research, abortion, and the use of a promising new vaccine for the human papilloma virus.

On the intellectual front Harris tackles the problem of evil – the difficulty in believing in a good God who allows disasters like Hurricane Katrina – and the conflict between religion and science. A recent Gallup poll suggested that 53% of Americans are creationists, [cite web | first = Michael | last = Foust | title = Gallup poll latest to show Americans reject secular evolution | publisher = Baptist Press | date = October 19, 2005 | url = http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=21891 | accessdate = 2007-02-21] so Harris spends some time arguing for evolution and against the notion of Intelligent Design.

Harris then widens his argument to consider the variety of religions in the world and their mutual antagonism, drawing attention to the religious basis for many ethnic and inter-communal conflicts. There are those who hope for progress through religious tolerance, mutual respect, and interfaith dialogue, but Harris presents that this only makes it more difficult to criticize faith-based extremism. While admitting that spiritual experiences can be valuable and life-affirming, he is concerned that these should not be linked to religious beliefs. He admits that religion may have served some useful purpose for humanity in the past, but argues that it is now the greatest impediment to building a global civilization.

Critical reception

The Washington Post reported in 2006 that "Letter" stimulated both strong positive and strong negative reactions, attracting both a large audience and strong counter-reactions from religious scholars. The "Post" says the book 'doesn't drill many new theological wells," but says Harris "might be the first man to be anointed 'Hot Atheist' in Rolling Stone magazine." [David Segal, [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/25/AR2006102501998_pf.html "Atheist Evangelist In His Bully Pulpit, Sam Harris Devoutly Believes That Religion Is the Root of All Evil,"] The Washington Post, October 26, 2006; C01]

Jamie Doward of The Observer says Harris "wastes no time taking on his enemy - Christian fundamentalism of the sort that influences President George W Bush." [Jamie Doward [ "Atheists top book charts by deconstructing God," The Oberver, October 29, 2006] Writing in an editorial in the The Seattle Times, David Klinghoffer says that "Letter to a Christian Nation" and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion were the top two bestselling religious books. However, he goes on to say that ". . . Dawkins and Harris seem unfamiliar with religious tradition as biblical monotheists know it from personal experience and deep study. Frankly, the success of the new atheist faith would be hard to imagine without today's soaring levels of societal religious illiteracy." [David Klinghoffer [http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2003653502_klinghoffer06.html "Prophets of the new atheism,"] The Seattle Times, April 6, 2007]

Writing in The Observer, Stephanie Merritt describes Harris as providing "concise anti-religious apologetics," but says that " [h] e does not seem to comprehend the mindset of those he addresses." [Stephanie Merritt, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/may/06/society "Better God-fearing than sneering,"] The Observer, May 6, 2007] In The New York Times, Peter Steinfels writes that Harris' "Letter" and Dawkins "The God Delusion" were receiving criticism "not primarily, it should be pointed out, from the pious, which would hardly be noteworthy, but from avowed atheists as well as scientists and philosophers writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, not known as cells in the vast God-fearing conspiracy." [Peter Steinfels, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/03/books/03beliefs.html?ei=5087%0A&em=&en=f49f4e9d6fc540b4&ex=1173070800&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1172932384-YOYjG2MS7tceZ476iJyLNg "Books on Atheism Are Raising Hackles in Unlikely Places,"] The New York Times, March 3, 2007] Michael Novak writes in National Review that " [t] he letter that Harris claims is intended for a Christian nation is in fact wholly uninterested in Christianity on any level, is hugely ignorant, and essentially represents his own love letter to himself, on account of his being superior to the stupid citizens among whom he lives." [Michael Novak, [http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/national-review-lonely-atheists-of-the-global-village/ "National Review: 'Lonely Atheists of the Global Village',"] BOOK REVIEWS, National Review, March 19, 2007] The New Criterion describes "Letter" as condescending, saying "Harris is too choked on bile, or at best incredulity ('we stand dumbstruck by "you",' he says, italics and all) to admit that his addressees are worth speaking with. This is in part because his chosen antagonist is 'Christianity at its most divisive, injurious, and retrograde' even though it's questionable whether anything was ever accomplished by attacking a system at its most 'retrograde.' [Hal Johnson, [http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/the-bland-inquisitor-2550 "The bland inquisitor: On Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation,"] The New Criterion, December 2006] Madeleine Bunting, writing in "The Guardian", quotes Harris as saying "some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them." Bunting comments, " [t] his sounds like exactly the kind of argument put forward by those who ran the Inquisition." [Madeleine Bunting, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/may/07/comment.religion "The New Atheists loathe religion far too much to plausibly challenge it,"] "The Guardian", May 7, 2007]

Response

The following books have been written in response to "Letter to a Christian Nation":

*"Letter from a Christian Citizen" by Douglas Wilson
*"Letter to a Christian Nation: Counterpoint" by R.C. Metcalf
*"Letter to an Atheist" by Michael Patrick Leahy
*"The Return of the Village Atheist" by Joel McDurmon
*"The End of Reason" by Ravi Zacharias

Footnotes

References

* cite book
last = Harris
first = Sam
authorlink = Sam Harris (author)
title = Letter to a Christian Nation
publisher = Random House
date = 2006
pages = pp.112
isbn = 978-0-307-26577-7

External links

* [http://www.randomhouse.com/kvpa/harris Official website]


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