Talk:Letter to a Christian Nation

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External links[edit]

I saw that a minor link I added was removed, I am very new to wikipedia and therefore I am sorry if I have done something against the general wikiquette. I read up on the rules, but I have yet to stumble on a sufficient reason for the removal of the link. I linked to a piece critical of Sam Harris book 'Letter to a Christian Nation'. It is the case that critiques of the book exists, this is a simple fact and one could amply put in the responses to the book from the ones that he addresses. It is not a matter of viewpoint that these responses exists. So my questions are these, exactly what is a personal opinion piece? Should responses to the book be included in this article? If yes, then how can the responses to the book be included in this article? 17:05, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Thank you for your query. The link you provided is essentially a private website. It is therefore liable to be insufficiently authoritative, accurate, stable, or accountable. Laurence Boyce 17:31, 7 January 2007 (UTC)
Thank you for informing me, I will remember this in the future and I understand why it was removed. 17:53, 7 January 2007 (UTC)


iirc harris doesn't argue that there is no "development of a vaccine for the human papilloma virus" but that there is a usable vaccine which isn't used. 18:46, 21 January 2007 (UTC)

Critical link re-inserted[edit]

I re-inserted the link to a detailed critique of this book by a well known Internet apologist. As it stands, there is no balance to the article. I also note the double standards of people whinging that an article on a Christian apologist is POV unless it has an extensive Criticism section, but then removing any criticism of atheist apologists. 08:48, 7 February 2007 (UTC)

Thanks. Your link is inappropriate for the reasons outlined above. Laurence Boyce 10:26, 7 February 2007 (UTC)
You're wrong. It is a link to the website of a tax-exempt apologetics ministry. And you have not demonstrated any actual mistakes in the critique, but the critique certainly shows up the atrocious arguments of Harris. NPOV requires that criticism be included if the subject is controversial. 02:03, 8 February 2007 (UTC)
I'm going to use the same criteria I use for other sites when there is little completion to pick from; if the critical site basically starts with ad hominum attacks or tries to belittle the contribution e.g. "For you see, it is my policy as a defender of the Christian faith to ignore those who show little or no interest in presenting a fair, accurate, and above all informed critique of Christianity." (Quoting the site linked at [1] then I feel that it is only fair to take them at their word and also show little interest.
Find a better link that shows more interest. Ttiotsw 02:36, 8 February 2007 (UTC)
This link shows from scholarly sources how Harris no expertise in what he is writing about, with factual reasons to do with history and exegesis. E.g.
large text dump deleted (possible copyvio, definite irrelevancy) --Quiddity 02:50, 13 February 2007 (UTC)
But censoring criticisms of misotheists is par for the course. 02:04, 13 February 2007 (UTC)
The arguments aren't in question. The problem is, it's vitriolic and non-notable. If every private website with an angry opinion got to link their site at a wikipedia article, they'd overwhelm the article text.
If the angry rant is ever (non-vanity) published, or even just referred to at length in a notable place, then it can be mentioned and/or linked to. Until then, it's just a series of angry, unanswered letters, at a private website. --Quiddity 02:46, 13 February 2007 (UTC)
The aforementioned site "" as well as other sites like it currently appear in the external links of Jesus as myth. Shawnc 19:03, 21 February 2007 (UTC)

Morality from the Old Testament[edit]

I haven't read Harris's book, but from what I know, it's a broad response to several letters he's received from Christians to a previous book he wrote. The example of morality from the Old Testament is a little ambiguous to me; is Harris actually arguing that the Old Testament is advocating the stoning of non virgin brides in modern times (which it doesn't), or is he saying that he has received letters from Christians that believe this? The quote is unclear, and I'd love it if somebody who has the book can provide a little more context around the quote. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 24 September 2007
I commend you on admitting that you have yet to read this book and would suggest that you may want to put off adding comments regarding content to this section until you have. As for the Old Testament's views on morality I only spent 12 years studying the thing and never came accross the section explaining how the rules it states don't apply to 'Modern Times'. Ericpol (talk) 04:31, 4 July 2008 (UTC)

Ericpol, maybe you should read the book of Galatians? I have read this book by Harris (although I struggle to call it a book, as it is extremely short and really is of little substance). I recall that the author had very little focus on, or comprehension of New Testament teaching and the fact that the vast majority of Christians believe that only in Christ is the fullness of God revealed. Most Christians believe that the Mosaic Law is subordinate in importance to the teaching of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Harris loves to take certain Mosaic law quotations out of historical context. He seems not to have any comprehension of the reality of ancient human history, and the fact that at the time the Mosaic Law was given it was truly revolutionary in terms of various issues relating to social justice - for example the concept that "the punishment should fit the crime" - as in an eye for an eye, property protection and rights, the requirement for due evidence in legal proceedings, fair treatment of immigrants etc etc. And imagine what a wonderful place the world would be like if the year of Jubilee was actually observed! What if one of the main points of the Genesis Creation Account was to teach us that all humans are made in the image of God and therefore all life is worthy of reverent respect? And on and on. It should be no surprise that in the very different ancient historical setting of Hebrew times there will be things that are (extremely) hard for us to understand. In fact the irony is that, like it or not, Harris' own worldview is shaped by the superior Christian Ethic that comes through the teachings of Christ and so it is not surprising that certain Old Testament quotes appear harsh to him. He does not understand that the revelation of God through scripture was progressive up until the time of Christ. And, he gives no room for the possibility that some of the terrible things that have occurred in human history (and through the church) could be due to the fact that Christians have erred in their interpretation of Scripture. Juddo (talk) 12:11, 15 May 2010 (UTC)

"Christians have erred in their interpretation of Scripture." Scripture was written by people who had a wholesale ignorance about the world around them. the least educated amongst us knows volumes more about the world, health, medicine, and the solar system than all the bible writers put together. There is not a Christian in the world who can prove that their interpretation is more accurate than their neighbor's. Thus it begs the question, why try? There is no moral lesson or practical advice given in the bible that any reasonable person could not think up all by themselves. Blaming Christians for not interpreting scripture is a cop out and an attempt to cloak the reality that the bible is incoherent gibberish. And as the second commenter suggested, no where in the OT does it say "in the year 2010 you should stop stoning wives who lied about their virginity to death and instead just give them a stern scolding". Nope, the believer in the bible is still obliged by God to kill their own wife if she lied about her virginity. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:06, 21 September 2010 (UTC)

The contributor above seems to be suffering from a good case of Harris like bitterness and resentment... certainly technology and understanding of geography etc has moved on but has the base of human nature changed? With the likes of the Internet and Wikipedia, anyone who can drive a mouse, can now participate in finding evidence for that which they choose to believe, but the fact remains... "The fool has said in his heart... "there is no God" (Juddo (talk) 09:38, 10 October 2010 (UTC))

Fair use rationale for Image:Letter to a Christian Nation.jpg[edit]

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Image:Letter to a Christian Nation.jpg is being used on this article. I notice the image page specifies that the image is being used under fair use but there is no explanation or rationale as to why its use in this Wikipedia article constitutes fair use. In addition to the boilerplate fair use template, you must also write out on the image description page a specific explanation or rationale for why using this image in each article is consistent with fair use.

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BetacommandBot (talk) 07:03, 1 January 2008 (UTC)

Yes check.svg Done--Svetovid (talk) 11:12, 1 January 2008 (UTC)

Killing in the name of...[edit]

-The full quote that Madeleine Bunting refers to is:

The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total. For every emotion that you are capable of feeling, there is surely a belief that could invoke it in a matter of moments. Consider the following proposition:

Your daughter is being slowly tortured in an English jail.

What is it that stands between you and the absolute panic that such a proposition would loose in the mind and body of a person who believed it? Perhaps you do not have a daughter, or you know her to be safely at home, or you believe that English jailors are renowned for their congeniality. Whatever the reason, the door to belief has not yet swung upon its hinges.

The link between belief and behaviour raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas. (The End of Faith, p52-53.)

-It provides a deeper understanding of what Harris was actually saying. Of course, since it is a little wordy there is not much opportunity to let the full context of the quote be understood by people reading this page so I guess this particular critic has won. Ninahexan (talk) 05:48, 27 February 2009 (UTC)


Harris doesn't ever say his position is specifically utilitarian in the book. I don't think he even mentions the word, though I do recall there was a footnote in End of Faith where he says that his position, while appearing utilitarian, is not exactly and he has some vague ideas about mixing utilitarian and deontological theory (I'm not sure if he has ever expounded upon this). Being concerned about happiness and suffering is necessary but not sufficient for being a utilitarian, and I don't think we should be slapping that label on Harris if he doesn't endorse it himself. Richard001 (talk) 02:29, 9 September 2009 (UTC)

Edited to more accurately reflect the philosophical position taken by Harris. The quotation is a paraphrasal of the principle of hedonism, adopted by the utilitarians. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:57, 15 November 2009 (UTC)
Hedonism has a pejorative connotation here. Under the circumstances, it's best to avoid synthesis altogether, and I have edited it accordingly. --Tryptofish (talk) 19:38, 15 November 2009 (UTC)
'Moral hedonism' then or a paraphrasal? It is the philosophically accurate term. Shouldn't the responsibility of Wikipedia be towards 'getting it right' rather than worrying about how people will mistakenly and self-servingly reinterpret content? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:21, 16 November 2009 (UTC)
Rather, the responsibility in this case is to obey WP:SYNTH. If Harris uses a term to describe his philosophy, we can quote that, with adequate sourcing. If not, we should steer clear of taking it on ourselves to decide what category to put him in. --Tryptofish (talk) 17:38, 16 November 2009 (UTC)
This isn't like the UN example though. The quotation is an unambiguous restatement of the principle of hedonism, in the same way that the subsequent quotation just is an unambiguous restatement of the 'problem of evil' -- even though Harris doesn't categorize his argument as such (he uses the language of theodicy). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:21, 16 November 2009 (UTC)
Per the lead sentence of hedonism, it seems to me that your statement that it "is an unambiguous restatement" is, to say the least, subjective. There is simply no need. --Tryptofish (talk) 18:27, 16 November 2009 (UTC)

Hi guys - lets not get too hung up on labeling oneself with philosophical accuracy - after all, any self respecting person that calls themselves an "atheist" would realize that their position is totally untenable when taking the strict term at hand... The word atheist of course coming from the root, a - from alpha - negative - no. And theist - God. Literally meaning “No God” or stating the position that "there is no God".... now it is clearly not possible to prove the non existence of anything in the absolute (unless one has infinite knowledge of the universe - for instance I would need to have absolute knowledge off all things to categorically say there is no such thing a black rock with pink dots on it). Even Bertrand Russell the famous “atheist” did a quick two step on this issue in his debate with Father Copleston (refer Bertrand Russell: 1948 BBC Radio Debate on the Existence of God The more accurate label for one to take is that of “agnostic” – Lit, No Knowing… that is, there can be no knowing if God is real, or I don't think that the existence of God can be proven one way or the other or, being evern more frank the really honest way to describe oneself would be "I choose not to believe in God".. etc etc. Juddo (talk) 12:55, 15 May 2010 (UTC)

National Review?[edit]

Can the National Review even be considered objective or reputable enough to be mentioned in the reception? It's about as respected as World Net Daily, and I don't think anyone would dare source anything on wikipedia from such a ridiculous source. I guess my point is - regardless of what the quality of the book was, the review would have been negative, anyway, coming from such a blatantly partisan, fundamentalist Christian publication. (talk) 07:19, 11 October 2009 (UTC)

Recently, I added more positive reviews, because it looked like the section was written with an anti-Harris POV. On the other hand, it is appropriate to include responses by critics, and Michael Novak seems to have sufficient status as a spokesperson for that point of view. If critics tend to be partisan, well, that's the way it is, and we can let readers assess that for themselves. --Tryptofish (talk) 17:23, 11 October 2009 (UTC)
I don't want the National Review comment removed, but the article would benefit from mentioning that NR is heavily POV, and is aligned with the Christian Right, as per the WP article. (talk) 01:25, 27 March 2010 (UTC)
I'd like to see the Michael Novak sentence begin a new paragraph because the sentence before talks to non-religious critics of Harris and it is implied that Novak is one of these.Michaelecyr (talk) 13:37, 18 April 2010 (UTC)
I don't see it as implying that, because the paragraph is about critics generally, but I don't object strongly to a paragraph break. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:06, 18 April 2010 (UTC)

Both National Review and Novak are profoundly Catholic so I think the reader should be informed. At least when Buckley was running the show NR had a substantial Catholic undercurrent. I think Novak's criticism should be included (I mean, why not, he's notable and hated the book) but we should inform the reader that both are steeped heavy in Catholicism. Novak's "review" reads more like an angry screed which underscores the need to inform the reader. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:20, 21 September 2010 (UTC)

To add more, Novak makes a nice living off of Catholicism, so he has a big dog in this race. His Catholicism is central to him being noteworthy, so we are obligated to clearly indicate this fact. His "review" is really a predictable reflex from someone who's religion was exposed and spanked publicly in Harris' book. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:35, 21 September 2010 (UTC)

Primary sources?[edit]

I think the following line should be replaced or augmented by the actual statements cited by Steinfels, instead of just Steinfels' conclusion, which in itself is opinion and not fact; i.e., it is an opinion about others' opinions as opposed to "facts" of their opinions and therefore not primary.

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."[10]

Michaelecyr (talk) 13:37, 18 April 2010 (UTC)

I checked the link, and the page quotes Steinfels accurately, and the quote is relevant to this page. The quote is attributed to Steinfels, so I don't think there is any problem. This is what a notable source (The New York Times) said, and WP is not taking a position of agreeing or disagreeing with it. There would be nothing wrong with adding more sources. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:12, 18 April 2010 (UTC)

this "review" is really confusing, or it was to me when I read it. We have a guy saying non-religionists are critical of the book, yet he does not name any of them or mention what they say. This is pure "so and so did not like his book and so and so is not religious" Well big whup. I mean really, can you think of anything less helpful or non-illustrative. It reads like literary back biting. Without adding a lot more to it I see no value whatsoever in this quote. As a reader I was very disappointed in it and questioned the value. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:45, 21 September 2010 (UTC)

We can do better than this[edit]

this critical reception portion is as big as the entire narrative. And most of the "reviews" in that section border on useless. I am all for a critical review section and I always read these on any article, but that section should appear minor in comparison to the actual article, yes? Unless we are proposing the critical reaction is more noteworthy than the book. The "reviews" shown suggest otherwise. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:56, 21 September 2010 (UTC)

And read David Klinghoffer's review. Is there anything less useful than his comments? What is he saying? I get it that he's noteworthy, but do his comments have any value at all? I'm grasping at straws here. I think we should either double the size of the article or cut half of the critical section so there is some balance. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:02, 21 September 2010 (UTC)

Well, in my opinion, if one takes the lead, synopsis, and the parts of the critical reception section that deal with favorable reception, as a group, then the parts of the critical reception section that are unfavorable seem to be reasonably in balance, in terms of WP:NPOV. I don't think that we should downplay reactions from notable critics simply because some editors don't like them. It might indeed make sense to build up the synopsis (which is kind of a quotefarm) and positive critical reception, though. I'm leaving your edits about Novak, by the way, but I think they are borderline candidates for reversion, depending upon what other editors think. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:39, 21 September 2010 (UTC)
I'll try again. I am not saying the pro verso con in the criticism section is out of balance, and I do not care really about those being equal. It is the size of that section in comparison to the content about the book which seems out of balance.
The critical reception section is about as large as the article about the book. That seems inappropriate, even for a controversial book. Although as a reader who is genuinely interested in this subject, I find some of the criticisms utterly unhelpful and useless, as they seem to say nothing of value to the article, and some are incoherent. Fine. I am not advocating we get rid of them. Criticism sections are important to any good article and in my opinion they are vital to a controversial subject. it's too bad we cannot find more illuminating ones for this article and instead we include incoherent commentary and angry screeds that do not help out understanding of the book or why the critics don't like it, but oh well. My primary concern is that this is supposed to be an article about a book, the criticism section almost dwarfs the section dedicated to the actual book. I am not a writer so I cannot help enlarge the article, but someone else could. If the article about the book is not expanded then we might consider trimming some of the more obvious useless pieces in the criticism section to add some sort of balance.
And I would hope the fact that Novak is a leading Catholic writer/theologian/philosopher would not be hidden from the reader. If we are going to publish his nasty little screed, and that is ALL Novak's "criticism" is as it does not shed any light on the book and makes no attempt to actually criticize the ideas in the book, it read much more like character assassination, then we are obligated to inform the reader of Novak's obvious bias. Now that I have identified him as a Catholic the reader will understand why Novak's comments are so utterly caustic and corrosive and have nothing to do with the ideas presented in the book: Novak is a Catholic who is really pissed off at Harris. I hope this fact will also encourage the reader to click on the link Novak's article and learn more about him as well. I think that is the goal of an encyclopedia, to encourage scholarship and understanding. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:31, 22 September 2010 (UTC)
One more thing, in spite of me thinking Novak's criticism is corrosive and unscholarly, I think that one above all other is important to this article. So don't take my critical comments about what he wrote to mean I think it has no place in the article. It does. In fact if you remove ANY commentary I would suggest not removing his. His commentary is very illustrative but probably not for the reasons he meant. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:36, 22 September 2010 (UTC)


Most of the "positive" reviews quoted under "Critical Reception" are not from critics and are not reviews. The quotes from Penrose, Levin & Morris are blurbs, solicited from pals and cronies by the author or his agent or publisher prior to publication and used as part of the book's promotional campaign. And, in fact, all three quotes are drawn from the author's own website, not an independent journal, magazine or newspaper. It doesn't get much more POV than that. Cloonmore (talk) 01:39, 6 March 2014 (UTC)

I reverted you, but of course this is still open to discussion. It seems to me that the persons involved are all notable, and consequently their opinions are significant. WP:NPOV requires us to present both "sides", and that includes the "side" that supports the book. Although they are not book reviews, they do reflect how the intellectual community received the book. --Tryptofish (talk) 00:11, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
We have to present the author's cronies' side? As selected, trimmed and presented by the publisher? Please show me where in WP:NPOV that's required! In any event, at least we agree that their not book reviews and, therefore, shouldn't be included under "Critical Reception." Perhaps a new section is needed. I would propose, "Shills' Reception". Cloonmore (talk) 00:31, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
No need for sarcasm, please. I'm trying to discuss this seriously with you. --Tryptofish (talk) 00:38, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
What makes you think I'm not serious? Cloonmore (talk) 01:56, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
I think you are serious. I also think you were unhelpfully sarcastic. --Tryptofish (talk) 23:07, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
I accept your deletion of the word "critical" from the caption "reception" as a good faith effort, but I'm afraid it won't do. Per WP:BOOKS, the Reviews/Criticism/Reception section should "include facts (with a cited source), and the opinions of notable people that have been published in some form. The section should be reserved for critical analysis of the book by notable, published critics. no personal opinions, views i.e. a subjective book review." The blurbs are, at best, subjective reviews, not published critical analyses. As a compromise to removing them from the article, I suggest they be moved to a new section re "Publication", which would include publishing details and clearly identify these blurbs for what they are. Cloonmore (talk) 03:35, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
I went and looked at WP:BOOKS, to see exactly how they put it. Here is what, exactly, it says:
Publication — detail the book's publication. This can include information regarding the publisher or imprint, when it was released, how the book was promoted (book tour, speaking engagements, published excerpts, etc.), formats (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, ebook, etc.), cover art, translations into other languages, or other details.
Reception — quote the opinions of book reviewers. This section should contain a balanced reflection of the reviews. Providing balance is sometimes difficult because some reviews are more critical than others; some reviews may simply state "this book is great" while others may provide detailed analysis about what made the book good/bad. Because this section involves opinions it should be heavy with quotes and citiations.
It seems to me that the Publication section, although including promotion, does not include notable expert opinions. In contrast, people like Penrose, Levin, and Morris fit within the Reception section. The material is not, it seems to me, stuff that is akin to "this book is great". On the other hand, I think it's important to consider how deleting or relocating the material would affect the requirement for a "balanced reflection", which of course comes directly from WP:NPOV.
Would it help to open an RfC, in order to get opinions from more editors than just the two of us? --Tryptofish (talk) 23:07, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
But we are in agreement that the blurbs are not book reviews, so it's clear in the language you quote above that they don't belong in the Reception section, "balanced" or not. OTOH, the Publication section would include "promotion," which is precisely what Penrose, Levin & Morris are engaged in on behalf of the publisher and author, even if they are "notable experts" on the subject of the book (which I seriously doubt). BTW, I drew the quotes in my previous comment from the Article Template tab. Cloonmore (talk) 00:02, 8 March 2014 (UTC)
I think we just don't agree on the key points of this argument, and it would be best to get more opinions. I'm about to log off for now, but if nothing further turns up by the time I come back tomorrow, I'll start an RfC. --Tryptofish (talk) 00:14, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── A blurb isn't acceptable for reception because it's a primary source, published as part of the book, and/or issued by the publisher along with the book. If you wouldn't cite "9 out of 10 doctors recommend Colgate" in its commercial, you shouldn't cite book blurbs. Cite the actual study or the actual review if it exists. --— Rhododendrites talk |  18:36, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

I said I wanted other editor opinions, and I got one, so I'm going to stand by my word. I've self-reverted, thus removing the three blurbs in question. However, I believe that, in turn, creates a new problem if the edit stands (something I do not take for granted). We now have a serious imbalance between positive and negative reviews. I would rather not resolve it by deleting negative reviews, so I hope that we can find some positive reviews that are independent of Harris' book. (Alternatively, we could simply combine the positive and negative sections into a single section, although I would consider that fix more cosmetic than substantive.) --Tryptofish (talk) 22:01, 8 March 2014 (UTC)