Letter to a Christian Nation
|Letter to a Christian Nation|
|Publisher||Knopf (hardcover), Vintage (paperback)|
|Publication date||September 19, 2006 (hardcover), January 8, 2008 (paperback)|
|Media type||Hardcover, paperback|
|Pages||96 (hardcover), 144 (paperback)|
|LC Classification||BR516. H255 2006|
|Preceded by||The End of Faith|
|Followed by||The Moral Landscape|
Letter to a Christian Nation is a book by Sam Harris, written in response to feedback he received following the publication of his first book The End of Faith. The book is written in the form of an open letter to a Christian in the United States. Harris states that his aim is "to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms." The book was released in September 2006. In October it entered the New York Times Best Seller list at number seven.
The underlying premise Harris takes is one of utilitarianism. He states:
"Questions about Morality are questions about happiness and suffering."
Harris addresses his arguments to members of the conservative Christian Right in America. In answer to their appeal to the Bible on questions of morality, he points to selected items from the Old Testament Mosaic law, (death for adultery, homosexuality, disobedience to parents etc.), and contrasts this with, for example, the complete non-violence of Jainism. Harris argues that the reliance on dogma can create a false morality, which is divorced from the reality of human suffering and the efforts to alleviate it; thus religious objections stand in the way of condom use, stem cell research, abortion, and the use of a new vaccine for the human papilloma virus.
|“||We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God’s teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).||”|
Harris also addresses the problem of evil—the difficulty in believing in a good God who allows disasters like Hurricane Katrina—and the conflict between religion and science. A 2005 Gallup poll suggested that 53% of Americans are creationists, so Harris spends some time arguing for evolution and against the notion of Intelligent Design.
|“||Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue.||”|
Harris considers the variety of religions in the world, citing a religious basis for many ethnic and inter-communal conflicts. Contrary to those who advocate religious tolerance, mutual respect, and interfaith dialogue, Harris contends that such values only make it more difficult to criticize faith-based extremism. While holding that spiritual experiences can be valuable and life-affirming—he expends considerable space in The End of Faith in arguing that they are necessary—Harris rejects their link to religious beliefs. He argues that religion may have served some useful purpose for humanity in the past, but that it is now the greatest impediment to building a "global civilization."
The Washington Post reported in 2006 that Letter stimulated both strong positive and strong negative reactions, attracting both a large audience and strong counter-reactions from religious scholars. The Post said the book "doesn't drill many new theological wells," but that Harris "might be the first man to be anointed 'Hot Atheist' in Rolling Stone magazine." Sir Roger Penrose wrote: "Sam Harris's elegant little book is most refreshing and a wonderful source of ammunition for those who, like me, hold to no religious doctrine. Yet I have some sympathy also with those who might be worried by his uncompromising stance. Read it and form your own view, but do not ignore its message." Desmond Morris commented positively that "Sam Harris is a brave, intelligent, clear-sighted author whose brilliant essay should be read by every adult who has ever believed that a religious faith can solve the world's problems." Janna Levin agreed: "Sam Harris fearlessly describes a moral and intellectual emergency precipitated by religious fantasies. 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." Jamie Doward of The Observer said Harris "wastes no time taking on his enemy - Christian fundamentalism of the sort that influences President George W. Bush."
Writing in an editorial in The Seattle Times, Intelligent Design proponent David Klinghoffer said that Letter to a Christian Nation and Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion were the top two bestselling religious books. However, he went on to say that ". . . Dawkins and Harris seem unfamiliar with religious tradition as biblical monotheists know it from personal experience and deep study. Frankly, the success of the new atheist faith would be hard to imagine without today's soaring levels of societal religious illiteracy." Writing in The Observer, Stephanie Merritt described Harris as providing "concise anti-religious apologetics," but said that "[h]e does not seem to comprehend the mindset of those he addresses." In The New York Times, Peter Steinfels wrote that Harris's Letter and Dawkins's The God Delusion were receiving criticism "not primarily, it should be pointed out, from the pious, which would hardly be noteworthy, but from avowed atheists as well as scientists and philosophers writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books, not known as cells in the vast God-fearing conspiracy." Michael Novak, a Catholic philosopher, wrote in National Review, a conservative and pro-Catholic magazine, that "[t]he letter that Harris claims is intended for a Christian nation is in fact wholly uninterested in Christianity on any level, is hugely ignorant, and essentially represents his own love letter to himself, on account of his being superior to the stupid citizens among whom he lives." The New Criterion described Letter as condescending, saying "Harris is too choked on bile, or at best incredulity ('we stand dumbstruck by you,' he says, italics and all) to admit that his addressees are worth speaking with. This is in part because his chosen antagonist is 'Christianity at its most divisive, injurious, and retrograde' even though it's questionable whether anything was ever accomplished by attacking a system at its most 'retrograde.' " Publishers Weekly characterized Letter as "sometimes simplistic and misguided." The review elaborates that "Harris overstates his case by misunderstanding religious faith, as when he makes the audaciously naïve statement that 'mysticism is a rational enterprise; religion is not.' "
The following books have been written in response to Letter to a Christian Nation:
- Aikman, David (April 2008). The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness. Tyndale House. ISBN 978-1-4143-1708-3.
- Leahy, Michael Patrick. Letter to an Atheist
- McDurmon, Joel. The Return of the Village Atheist, ISBN 978-0-915815-68-5
- Metcalf, R.C.. Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter Point, ISBN 978-0-595-43264-6
- Wilson, Douglas. Letter from a Christian Citizen
- Zacharias, Ravi. The End of Reason
- "Best Sellers – Hardcover Nonfiction". New York Times. October 8, 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-21.
- page 8; Letter to a Christian Nation
- "Letter To A Christian Nation: Quotes". Random House Inc. Retrieved 2007-02-21.
- Foust, Michael (October 19, 2005). "Gallup poll latest to show Americans reject secular evolution". Baptist Press. Retrieved 2007-02-21.
- David Segal, "Atheist Evangelist In His Bully Pulpit, Sam Harris Devoutly Believes That Religion Is the Root of All Evil," The Washington Post, October 26, 2006; C01
- Letter to A Christian Nation Retrieved on 2009-8-15.
- Jamie Doward "Atheists top book charts by deconstructing God," The Observer, October 29, 2006
- David Klinghoffer "Prophets of the new atheism," The Seattle Times, April 6, 2007
- Stephanie Merritt, "Better God-fearing than sneering," The Observer, May 6, 2007
- Peter Steinfels, "Books on Atheism Are Raising Hackles in Unlikely Places," The New York Times, March 3, 2007
- Michael Novak, "National Review: 'Lonely Atheists of the Global Village'," BOOK REVIEWS, National Review, March 19, 2007
- Hal Johnson, "The bland inquisitor: On Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation," The New Criterion, December 2006
- "New in Religion: Anti-Religion". 10 July 2006. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
- Aikman, David (April 2008). The Delusion of Disbelief. Tyndale House. Retrieved 2009-02-13.