As I have done more in-depth reading in the Atheist corpus I have discovered major differences between the modern rationalists (as they like to be called) and the elder members of their cohort. The younger generation is consumed with the rant at the expense of careful argumentation. Their approach is scattered, throwing out this and that in an attempt to create a blizzard of thoughts and words so impenetrable that it is impossible to refute them. An interesting exercise is to read non-professional reviews of the literature such as what one might find on Amazon and read the glowing paeans highlighting the lucid arguments and the irrefutable ideas of the author and then wonder what book these readers have read. Many of them read like freshman essays attempting to expound on the student’s first exposure to Nietchze; they appear to have read the book but do not have a sufficient grasp of the philosophy—or religion in the case of this book—to be able to critique beyond simple praise. They like it but don’t know why they like it.
L’enfant terrible Sam Harris offers nothing in his execrable little pamphlet that furthers the Atheist cult. That this book sold numerous copies is not surprising as it perfectly fits the currently acceptable cultural intolerance of Christian belief. As is the script for the new Atheists, Christians are caricatured as irrational, sexually repressed yokels unable to process any thought beyond the flannel-graph images of the animals marching two by two into Noah’s Ark. The reader is given an early glimpse into Harris’ logical approach just a few pages in when he says “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.” (p. 4) Let’s see:
P1: I reject Christianity continually and publically
P2: It doesn’t worry me in the least
C: Your reasons for being a Christian are inadequate
How does this work in support of the remaining pages of the book? That he does not believe in the tenets or evidence provided in support of Christianity is sufficient for a Christian to doubt the truth and reality of the living God and the sacrifice of Christ? I will try the same exercise:
P1: I do not like Brussels Sprouts and will tell everyone who listens (even though there is sufficient proof of their nutritious nature)
P2: That this might hurt my mother’s feelings doesn’t worry me in the least (because she is the only person I know who likes them)
C: No one should eat or even see Brussels Sprouts
Harris believes himself to be serious minded yet his approach to the topic at hand is cavalier and simply caustic. He is an angry man and attempts over and over to portray Christians in the same light. Harris hopes that by shouting relentlessly and not giving his opponents an opportunity to interject that he can make his point and somehow walk away victorious. For example, his handling of scripture is to pick a handful of particularly violent passages out of the Bible and then present them as the whole of scripture. The first thing that a freshman bible student is taught in hermeneutics is how to properly handle the texts and the primary rule is context, context, and context. Harris pulls out a trio of passages that he says direct parents to kill their disobedient teenagers. Neither a biblical scholar nor a Hebrew linguist, Harris attempts to make these verses stand alone which they do not. He does not delve into the semantic ranges of the English words he reads and their source in the original languages. He does not place the scriptures in context, immediate or larger. He does nothing except say ‘see, the bible says kill your kids. Let’s get rid of religion!’ Irresponsible at best, a failing grade in any religious studies class at worst.
Harris does not move much beyond this approach throughout the entire book. His tools are mockery and hyperbole which excite the Atheist community but simply look childish and silly when read by the educated and astute Christian. Sam would like a world free from all religion where each accidental creation is free to make his or her own morality. When my moral system interferes with his life in that world, Sam would happily agree that we can both be right and simply suffer the consequences without complaint. Mr. Harris attempts over and over to portray God and those who believe in Him as evil and the source of the problems of the world. I suggest that he look in the mirror. He and I are the source of the problems in the world. The free will that God has imbued his creatures with allows that we can choose to believe in Him or hate him as Mr. Harris does. Choices have consequences.
3 thoughts on “Letter to a Christian Nation from Sam Harris”
I agree that Harris’ book is weak.
I did find a lot more logic and reason in this one however:
50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God, by Guy Harrison
I do also have to add that your line:
“The free will that God has imbued his creatures with….”
is fatally flawed, in that you are giving characteristics to an unproven premise. Very bad form.
Here, I’ll give an example:
“The Flying Spaghetti Monster thinks that you need to eat more of his body”
All well and fine, but it is my job to show evidence of the FSM before making up stories about “him”.
The fact remains, there is no evidence for a god (unless the definition of evidence is corrupted beyond all recognition…)
I’ll check the Harrison book.
You may be right that my objectivity slipped. As to your statement in closing that “the fact remains, there is no evidence for god”, I’ve got to say you are incorrect.
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