"[Since the publication of my book The end of faith, t]housands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ's love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse."--P. vii.
I would recommend that everyone in the US over the age of 16 read this book, but I'm sure (judging from how infrequently it's been checked out of my town library) that they won't.
I'm not sure that his goal, to eradicate religion, is possible. In spite of his assertions, and some of what I have experienced, I'm not even sure it is desirable. A vast improvement in ecumenical relations would be the death of fundamentalism. If even that is accomplished, the world would be a better place.
My only objection to the book is the unfounded assumptions that Harris often makes. One example is the behavior of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. He claims that chimpanzees follow some of the same moral codes that humans do. He even suggests that they object to murder. In fact, chimpanzees sometimes make war on other bands of chimpanzees, not to mention the males that have recently come into power in a band usually kill all of the infants in order to impregnate the females with their own offspring.
Another uncomfortable assumption that he makes is that Muslims in general are violent and wish to take over the world. That seems to be a bit much. There is good and bad in every religion.
That having been said, Harris' book should be taken seriously by believers and non-believers alike.
I easily identify with Harris' method of reasoning here, but it's taken me years to understand that true believers simply see the world differently and their discussions on religion are overwhelmingly couched in feeling, not logic. This doesn't presume they're not reasonable (though Harris probably disagrees) and it's definitely not a question of intelligence. Where I see a convincing argument, they may see uncompromising hostility. When it's explained to me that a sunset is evidence of God's love, I shake my head at the non sequitur, but likewise, my demonstrations of the logical absurdities of Christianity may produce equally baffling head-shakes in return.
The strongest statement in Letter to a Christian Nation comes right at the beginning where Harris sets up the either/or proposition of belief. Either some or all of Christianity's supernatural claims are true, or they're not. It's intellectually dishonest to be inclusive here. One group is going to be really right; the other really wrong.
So far, so Archonis (sorry Archie). Harris, though reaching the same conclusions with regards to Islam as many of those on the right-wing of US politics and thought, does so from a different perspective; Islam is at fault in the same way that all religion is, whether that be the radicalising Islam of the east, or the fundamentalising Christianity of his native America. Harris’ war is not against Islamism, or Islam – it is against all religion, regardless of its form. Religion, Harris fervently believes, is what will destroy us all unless we rise above it.
Letter to a Christian Nation is Harris’ epistle to that proportion of his fellow US citizens – about 150 million of them he reckons – who he classes as the fundamental Christian Right. It is a letter in which he puts forward his case against Christianity initially, and then more broadly, religion in all its forms (with a specific section cataloguing the particular dangers he believes Islam poses). His arguments are not new; he does not say anything that has not been said in similar ways many times before – the usual litany of Biblical errors, contradictions and claims to absolute morality. His intent is simply to succinctly convey all the reasons he believes religious faith to be not only wrong, but dangerous.
As such, I can’t see Harris’ slim book achieving its desired effect. To those, like me, who share many of his beliefs, it is preaching to the converted; to those he seeks to persuade, it is simply arguments they have heard before and been unswayed by. He specifically does not set out to sway the moderately religious, who seem the only real target for what he is arguing – but to them too, this will be nothing original.
The book is a briefer version of Dawkins’ The God Delusion from last year, and the two share much (Dawkins writes the book’s introduction, and The God Delusion is the first book cited in the bibliography). As with Dawkins’ book, Harris is relentless in his belief that all religion is inherently dangerous, a view which places him both in simultaneous agreement and disagreement with the Christian Right, who are all too happy to share with him a certain knowledge that all Islam is dangerous, but rail against him when he cites Christianity for exactly the same thing.
Harris’ main failing, like Dawkins, is that he often over-eggs his argument, slipping from calm and tempered argument into an archly manipulative turn of phrase that irritates more than it persuades. In doing so, he is usually simply reflecting the tone of his opponents back onto them, but it does him no favours to stoop to their level.
Clear and concise, it is unlikely to sway any true-believers and will only reinforce those of an anti-religious bent.
Overall, a good book to add to one's shelf for the more rational/anti-religious readers.
I'm an atheist who used to be a fundamentalist Christian. Part of me agreed with much of what was said in this book. But, there is a part of me that began to play the devil's advocate. For example, when Mr. Harris began discussing why those areas of the United States that tend to be the most religious also tend to have more crime, I was thinking back to my college psychology days about how correlations do not prove causation.
All in all, it's an interesting little book, but it could have been better.
I agree that fundamentalist religious furor, whether Christian, Muslim, or something else, does seem to deny many objective facts about the world in favor of a first century understanding of the world we live in now. For instance, the casual belief that slave ownership is universal is not, in fact, a facet of our world. Nor should we base our actions upon that.
Much to think about - I will get his other book.
Lovely. This Goodreads critic of the book is critical of the author for accusing his opponents of "claiming to know what truth and reality are better than anyone else" and claiming to be "speaking solidly from the standpoint of reason" and therefore as "a reasonable man, then, he should have recognized" ... THE TRUTH! Which in the eye of this Goodreads critic, typical of so many self righteous reviewers of this book, is the teachings of CHRISTIANITY and while criticizing Harris of "claiming to know ... truth and reality," and of polarizing people by pushing his agenda, this reviewers seems completely guilty of the accusations thrown at the author!!! If I may borrow and rebrand, to to speak, from this reviewer, so "typical" of Christian thought! I do not claim to know the truth, but theists do, and, to paraphrase Hitchens, exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. Just because Harris points out some of the seemingly inherent flaws within Christianity, the people who claim HE polarizes then polarize some more in attacking him for pointing out the obvious to most non-Christians, theists of other faiths, and freethinkers around the country. This reviewer epitomizes what he accuses Harris of doing and in so doing, justifies Harris's contentions. If it weren't so tragic, the irony would be too funny.
Not the absolute best book I've read, but pretty solid, in my opinion. And in the opinion or many others, though you can't tell from all of the attacks from so many of the Christians reviewing this book. I guess it's hard to face accusations that don't jibe with your belief system when the accusations hurt or insult, even if there may very well be legitimacy to them... Recommended to all.
I did not find it to be smart. At all. It features the philosophical points I worked through when I was twelve. It also includes a lack of understanding of history and human nature.
It was also poorly argued.
Two personal notes;
a)I laughed when The Iliad and The Odyssey were nominated as religious texts. That is an excusable mistake, but not from anyone who is college educated.
b)His pedestrian use of the word myth and its variations upset me to no end. Again, this guy is college educated.
After reading it/ listening to it, I understand better why Dawkins’ tone in God’s Delusion is so militant I think. Both he and Harris seem to think that we shouldn’t be tolerant towards intolerant people. They see believers and especially religious fundamentalists from any religion, and especially Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, as intolerant to such an extent as to pose danger to peace and to society.
Read in July, 2007