Letter to a Christian nation

by Sam Harris

Hardcover, 2006




New York : Knopf, 2006.


"[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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member clamairy
While agreeing with everything Sam Harris said in this book I kept thinking "He has to find a nicer way to say this stuff." I wouldn't say he's strident, just blunt. And the people who need to hear his message the most are the ones who will be offended right out of the gate and stick their fingers in their ears.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member SwitchKnitter
I love this little book. I want to make every close-minded Christian bigot I know read it. I want to hand out copies at the ultra-religious clinic I go to for my car accident injuries. It's really quite lovely. Short, written in easy-to-understand language, and very straightforward about why religion is a bad idea. Great stuff.… (more)
LibraryThing member GaylesStuff
I enjoyed reading this book, although I'm afraid that the people who really need to read it won't touch it. However, it does help the non-religious by providing suggestions on how to argue with people who think that all Americans should follow the fundamentalist path. I suspect that, even though it is written to convince the religious, the people who pick it up will be those who agree with Harris already. On the other hand, since he is responding to those who objected to his first book, he might have an audience there.
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.
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LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
I love this little book. I'm not sure whether it was this one, or Harris' more in-depth End of Faith—probably a combination of the two—that pissed off the devout, attracted new fans and rocketed him to stardom.

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.
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LibraryThing member Ravenclaw79
A smart, straightforward argument laying out the harm that religion does to society.
LibraryThing member Peppuzzo
Sam Harris tries to explain to US why betraying the separation between state and religion, one of modern democracy fundaments, will bring only misery and how there is no substantial difference in the absurdities of Christanity, Judaism and Islam.
LibraryThing member BooksCatsEtc
Fascinating book, very uncompromising which perhaps works against its stated goal of getting believers to recognize the absurdity of their beliefs. Also, I think there's a problem with Harris not offering believers something to replace the beliefs he (and I) would like to drop-kick into oblivion. The mysteries and glories of science simply aren't going to do anything for a lot of these people -- I've had more than a few religious friends and relatives tell me that science "isn't enough", that it's cold and impersonal and uninspiring. It's a serious roadblock to a worldview defined by rationality and reality.… (more)
LibraryThing member jimocracy
Harris' message was succinctly put and although I didn't agree with everything he said, I appreciate his candor and methodology. I'm not so sure that Christians would be so receptive to this "letter" but someone with even a little intestinal fortitude and personal integrity would have to at least reevaluate their believes.
LibraryThing member MikeFarquhar
Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, is a book written by a man who believes that we are at war. Harris has been one of the most notable liberal voices calling for an absolute response by the West to the crisis precipitated by Islamist terrorism, which he believes is an inevitable function of Islam as a religion.

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.
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LibraryThing member bingereader
Better than his End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation presents a well written argument against religion.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member mybucketlistofbooks
Sam Harris is an excellent writer; clear and concise without being condescending. This book is more than just an argument against religion, it is also a plea to judge the claims made by religion about the universe and our place in it, using the same standards of proof we expect from every other discipline. As with other books advocating reason over religion if you are an atheist you will find plenty of ammo here to bolster you arguments, if you are questioning your faith you will find a lot here to think about, and if you are secure in your faith there is nothing here to be afraid of.… (more)
LibraryThing member Moriquen
This is a great book! I loved it. It has clarified some things for me and even though Harris and I may disagree on some small subjects, the logic is perfect. I would (and will) recommend this book to anyone!
LibraryThing member schatzi
This book is short and to the point, and most people will either love it or hate it, depending on their religion (or lack of).

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.
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LibraryThing member Jiraiya
A novella length book from Sam Harris about religion feels slightly short and I wish it were longer. Like all the books from the author I've read, the information is deceptively easy and maybe too simple looking. For that or some unknown reason, I've always regretted forgetting most of the deliciously pertinent and insightful tidbits that are up for offer for the open minded. I want to remember those facts because what I do remember makes a better, prettier, less ignorant, happier, and more illuminated state for the sentience that dwells in my mind. Imagine how happy I'd be if I remembered most things from Letter To A Christian Nation. The book is meant for both adults and children, provided they have curiosity and are not anchored by dogmatic training. It doesn't use big words, or swear words, there's no sex, but an adult will immediately classify the book as not middle grade or Young Adult. There are no fairies, no magic, no escapism, no allegory, yet a child or a teenager will immediately think - I assume - that this is a book meant for him or her. This book is the product of a modern and relevant and gifted teacher. These are rare, and I can pay Sam Harris no bigger compliment.… (more)
LibraryThing member EowynA
The author is clearly answering the reaction he received as a result of the publication of his previous book, "The End of Faith." This slim volume takes on the people for whom the entirety of the Bible is the literal word of the Christian God. It is one side of an argument in which he quotes part of the Bible and then rebuts it. I found myself cheering him on at many of his points, and would like to read a more positive, less reactive, discussion of ethics.

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.
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LibraryThing member EAG
I was mightily impressed by The End of Faith but kept passing up opportunities to get this slim follow-up book, figuring he’d said it all the first time round. Letter to a Christian Nation is limited in scope but still packs a mighty punch. Fashioned as a series of rebuttals to the most vehement and fundamental of religious believers, Harris’ original arguments have been honed into short, sharp shocks made all the more powerful because of the bluntness of his prose. This should be mandatory, not just recommended, reading for all.… (more)
LibraryThing member JoshuaMichail
In 'Letter to a Christian Nation' Sam Harris articulately rebuts common and popular arguments for Christianity in American culture and politics. It is a short and easy read which tackles the self-righteous attitudes of many of America's Christians -- particularly of the Evangelical stripe. Harris frames the book, as the title suggests, as a letter written to, and addressing, America's conservative Christians. This book is a response to criticism from conservative American Christians regarding a previous book Harris had written. I recommend 'Letter to a Christian Nation".… (more)
LibraryThing member haig51
I champion Harris' intentions in writing this book, but I fear, as with most other anti-religious books, that the target audience will be left unmoved. In this short polemic, Harris' cross-hairs are set upon the god-fearing Christian majority of the USA. He thoughtfully rebukes, one by one, most of the controversial political and moral issues under debate which are profoundly influenced by the Christian right in this country. It is a handy little manifesto to reference when debating others, but I doubt its efficacy in influencing those who matter most.… (more)
LibraryThing member sblake
There are arguments both for an against. This is a poorly constructed argument with abuilt in contradiction in its structure - how can one defend atheism and then attack openly islam in such a way. perhaps Sam harris needs to learn to argue more thoroughly..
LibraryThing member ksmyth
Somehow less than I hoped it would be. Though Harris's tone is not angry, and he does focus on the intrusion of religion on science and science education, it is clearly a statement that it is not possible to have a foot in both camps. Somehow I don't think that will work. Clearly intended as a message to the Christian Right, it serves as a slap at all monotheistic believers.… (more)
LibraryThing member scottcholstad
"What is interesting about this book, as in most atheist thought, is that in lambasting fundamentalist institutional religious dogma, the author ends up doing exactly what he accuses his opponents of: polarizing, claiming to know what truth and reality are better than anyone else, and pushing moderates into extremism. He claims, as all atheists do, to be speaking solidly from the standpoint of reason. As a reasonable man, then, he should have recognized..."

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.
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LibraryThing member M.Campanella
This book, as its author, preaches to the choir. Christians wont read it, and those that do wont get it. The positive reviews this gets are likely from those who already agree with Sam Harris.
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.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
The Letter is a rebuttal to all the angry e-mails and letters from believers Harris got after publishing The End of Faith. He argues that belief in God is a folly to be put together with other delusions, myths, and fables that doesn’t stand to reason either from a logical or scientific point of view. He examines if religious people have higher moral standards by quoting statistics in many areas and comes to conclusion that, if anything, atheists, or non-religious people and societies which can be described as secular have a much better humanitarian and moral track. He does it extremely clearly and very convincingly. Harris advocates abolishing religion, without abolishing prayer and spiritual experience, which he feels we need, but do not need any gods to partake in them. Very interesting, extremely logical and well argued.
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.
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LibraryThing member Clif
The main thing I remember from this book is the author's criticism of moderate and liberal Christians for providing cover for the religious extremest. The truth of this charge does cause me to reflect a bit since I consider myself to be a liberal Christian. However, I conjecture that removal of the moderate option would result in the unintended consequence in increasing the number of religious extremest. The more moderate religious groups can provide a refuge for the extremest who grow weary ...more The main thing I remember from this book is the author's criticism of moderate and liberal Christians for providing cover for the religious extremest. The truth of this charge does cause me to reflect a bit since I consider myself to be a liberal Christian. However, I conjecture that removal of the moderate option would result in the unintended consequence in increasing the number of religious extremest. The more moderate religious groups can provide a refuge for the extremest who grow weary of their positions. I elaborate more on my beliefs in my review of Dawkin's The God Delusion.

Read in July, 2007
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
I agree with everything he says, but I expected his arguments to be more artful. Instead, it's a sledgehammer approach.



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