Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Letter to A Christian Nation

Letter To A Christian Nation is the latest bestseller by Sam Harris.
This week it is No 14 on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Review
"We all know about good things that have been derived from bad ideas. Modern religions serve many social goods such as health care for the poor. The problem is that is also services many reprehensible ideas. Harris blows the whistle, pointing out the religions of the world are based on human generated vengeful stories. Read this book and you decide your stance for the future." – Michael S. Gazzaniga, Director of the Sage Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Ethical Brain

"Sam Harris fearlessly describes a moral and intellectual emergency precipitated by religious fantasies–misguided beliefs that create suffering, that rationalize violence, that have endangered our nation and our future. His argument for the morality, the honesty, and the humility of atheism is galvanizing. It is a relief that someone has spoken so frankly, with such passion yet such rationality. Now when the subject arises, as it inevitably does, I can simply say: Read Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation." – Janna Levin, Columbia University, author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines

"I can't sign my name to this blurb. As a New York Times best selling author of books about business, my career will evaporate if I endorse a book that challenges the deeply held superstitions and bigotry of the masses. That's exactly why you should (no, you must) read this angry and honest book right away. As long as science and rational thought are under attack by the misguided yet pious majority, our nation is in jeopardy. I'm scared. You should be too. Please buy two, one for you and one for a friend you care about." –Unsigned, New York Times best selling author-- What would you live your life if you knew you would die one day? ", Letter to a Christian Nation." – Janna Levin, Columbia University, author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines

"I can't sign my name to this blurb. As a New York Times best selling author of books about business, my career will evaporate if I endorse a book that challenges the deeply held superstitions and bigotry of the masses. That's exactly why you should (no, you must) read this angry and honest book right away. As long as science and rational thought are under attack by the misguided yet pious majority, our nation is in jeopardy. I'm scared. You should be too. Please buy two, one for you and one for a friend you care about." – Unsigned, New York Times best selling author
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Letter to a Christian Nation

By Sam Harris

You believe that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only those who place their faith in Jesus will find salvation after death. As a Christian, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think they are true.

Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn't. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6), or he does not.

We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe that all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so. If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in "eternal fire" (Matthew 25:41).

If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way. I admit this without a single caveat. The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.

Of course, there are Christians who do not agree with either of us. There are Christians who consider other faiths to be equally valid paths to salvation. There are Christians who have no fear of hell and who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. These Christians often describe themselves as "religious liberals" or "religious moderates."

From their point of view, you and I have both misunderstood what it means to be a person of faith. There is, we are assured, a vast and beautiful terrain between atheism and religious fundamentalism that generations of thoughtful Christians have quietly explored. According to liberals and moderates, faith is about mystery, and meaning, and community, and love. People make religion out of the full fabric of their lives, not out of mere beliefs.

Here, we need only observe that the issue is both simpler and more urgent than liberals and moderates generally admit. Either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it isn't. Either Christ was divine, or he was not. If the Bible is an ordinary book, and Christ an ordinary man, the basic doctrine of Christianity is false. So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose.

Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible's account of itself.

There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from the point of view of Islam, proves that he was the most recent Prophet of God. Muhammad also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believes otherwise will spend eternity in hell. Muslims are certain that Muhammad's opinion on this subject, as on all others, is infallible.

Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated.

Isn't it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn't it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near perfect barrier to honest inquiry?
Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.


TEN BOOKS I RECOMMEND
1. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
2. Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett
3. Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman
4. Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg
5. The End of Days by Gershom Gorenberg
6. Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby
7. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay
8. Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
9. God, the Devil, and Darwin by Niall Shanks
10. Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you aware you've infringed the copyright of the author by copying/posting his book online? I strongly suggest you remove it if you have any respect for him.

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