Sunday, January 7, 2007

Letter To A Christian Nation, Sam Harris

Title: Letter To A Christian Nation
Author: Sam Harris
Rating: Great!

This little (91 page) book should be read by everyone. And I mean everyone. Harris clearly and concisely addresses a broad range of concerns about religion that most of us ignore or sidestep. Given he's also the author of The End Of Faith - a book I must go out and purchase - you can guess that his point of view is strongly anti-religion. I say: "more power to him."

Doug reviewed this book as well, and his comments are well thought out (it was that review, in fact, that setup my reading of the book) but I'm not sure I agree with him about the need to avoid provoking the mainstream Christians. If we don't, I don't see how anything changes for the better. Of course, there may be no way to change things for the better in any case. If it can happen, though, it's got to start here at home, in the good old US of A. Our house must be scrupulously in order before we try to lead on this (or any other) issue, and frankly, we're pretty messed up as a nation of late.

Harris is eloquent in his writing, but he holds nothing back. Here's a quote - one of many that strongly resonated with me - as I read this little gem of a book. This comes from page 73:
The truth is that no one knows how or why the universe came into being. It is not clear that we can even speak coherently about the creation of the universe, given that such an event can be conceived only with reference to time, and here we are talking about the birth of space-time itself. Any intellectually honest person will admit that he does not know why the universe exists. Scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point. Religious believers do not. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be appreciated in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while condemning scientists and other non-believers for there intellectual 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.
I wish I could write half as well.

Do yourself a favor: if you are honest about your beliefs and think that religion is correct in any sense, please read this book. You don't have to agree with it in the end, and I'm not asking you to buy it - get it from the library if you can - but please read it. It's a cry for intellectual honesty and reason from all of us. If you don't come away questioning your religious beliefs, at least you'll have spend some time thinking about them in depth, and asking questions about them that might not have occurred to you before. Hopefully you can't be hurt by that bit of introspection.