I purchased “Letter to a Christian Nation” a few months ago after reading rave reviews by both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Both of these men had also referenced the book (and Harris in general) multiple times in articles and books that I had read. Written as a response to the vehement messages Harris received after the publication of his first book “The End of Faith”, Letter to a Christian Nation rehashes common arguments and points found in many other books on atheism, however it is in the subject of Christian morality that Harris’s work truly excels.
Harris explains the focus on Christianity in the Introduction to the book. After having published “The End of Faith” a few years previously, he had been bombarded with vitriolic messages. Harris notes “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”. As a result Harris sought to address the large Christian faction of his country in an open letter. Harris seeks to respond to many of the arguments that conservative Christians use to defend their beliefs, and address the fact that more than 53% of Americans are creationist and more than half of America believes the young earth theory.
To be honest, a lot of the book is nothing special when compared with previous works by Daniel Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens. It fact much of the book consists of the same arguments and references made by Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens and other prominent atheists. However, where Harris truly leaves the pack behind is his critique of Christian morality. Harris points out that Jesus preached a lot more controversial things than merely the “Golden Rule” and loving ones neighbour, he shows that the bible did little to condemn slavery, and did nothing to tip the scales towards abolition in America, and that the first four “commandments” have nothing to do with morality, and the rest of the commandments are “found in virtually every culture throughout recorded history”. According to Harris: “Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible”.
What really caught my attention, however, was the argument that many Christians have divorced the concept of morality from the idea of lessening pain and suffering. Harris’s argument goes like this: “One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not- that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation. Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral- that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend more “moral” energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year”.
This argument is so new to me, and so powerful, that I am still thinking about it more than a week after finishing the book and moving on. It is a concept that I am sure will change the way I view Christian and acts by Christians in the future. And it is worthwhile purchasing the book just to read this argument and all of its supporting evidence and references.
Knowing full well that a large population will flat out refuse to read this book based on some mixture of conviction and fear, I would still recommend it to anyone. For those of us that already think like Harris, it provides a few unique arguments and against Christianity and especially Christian morality. For those few Christians willing to be brave, it will provide you with the chance to evaluate and challenge your faith from a unique perspective.
Title: Letter to a Christian Nation
Genre: Religion/ Philosophy
Author: Sam Harris
Pages: 116 (Kindle Edition)
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Amazon Price (Kindle): $9.99 (AUD)