Letter to a Christian Nation from Sam Harris

image  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.

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Atheist Manifesto by Michel Onfray



Petulant Tirade

imageAny of these terms could have been used in the title of this volume and been more descriptive of its contents. The jacket proclaims the book to be “an international bestseller” and the recipient of the Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year award, but after reading the contents contained within, one is left to wonder why. This pretentious, overwrought volume contains none of the advertised case against monotheism. Instead, the reader is confronted with Onfray’s ponderous use of unsubstantiated straw men to vent his barely contained hatred for the monotheistic faiths.

When making the argument in favor of one position over another, the proponent offers his evidence and demonstrates by reason how this evidence better coheres to reality than that presented in favor of the opposing position. Onfray offers this:

Hatred of intelligence and knowledge … is codified in the books [of the monotheistic faiths.] (77)

Hatred of science. Monotheism does not really like the rational work of scientists. (81)

Monotheisms have no love for intelligence, books, knowledge, science. Preferring the ethereal over the material and the real, they have a strong aversion to man’s instincts and basic drives. (95)

Hatred of women is like a variation on the theme of hatred of intelligence. To which might be added hatred of everything women represent for men: desire, pleasure, life. (101)

The religions of the book detest women. (102)

Jesus’s existence has not been historically established. (115)

The reader might expect a presentation of the evidence in support of the allegations and yet none follows. The trained philosopher Onfray should be aware of the ‘bare assertion’ logical fallacy and the damage that it does to the gravitas of your argument and yet he commits it over and over throughout the book. If the evidence of the monotheists is inconvenient  to his position (e.g. the independent historical records of Jesus apart from the Gospels) he simply dismisses it without providing or at least pointing to the testimony undergirding his stand. By the way, you’ll notice my careful use of citations above so that you, the reader, can determine if I have pulled a reference out of context or to read the surrounding text and determine for yourself if I am wrong. You will not find a single reference throughout the entire text, a deficit especially noticeable when the author when he makes assertions such as the hysteria of Paul (“These are all obvious symptoms of hysteria.” pg 133) and impotence as the source of the theological tenets expounded by the Apostle. Support? Citations? None but we are treated to yet another exclamation point complete with ellipsis to help us catch our breath! (This was true hysteria…a hysterical conversion!” pg 132)

If this were a singular example of the rhetorical style of the Atheist corpus, it could simply be dismissed as the rant that it is. Sadly, the more one reads the literature of the true believers, one finds the style quite common. Sentences are rarely without pejorative adjectives and inconvenient issues are dismissed out of hand. A quick survey of reviews for this book show it receiving glowing praise from the Atheist community. I attribute this to its contribution to the echo chamber in which these arguments foment. Serious scholars should look elsewhere for a coherent discussion.

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