Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Letter to a Christian Nation

Hey, I read another book. I'm gettin' downright wormy with this effort.

I recently finished Sam Harris' very little tome Letter to a Christian Nation In around 90 pages Harris more or less distills much of his work in his previous book, The End of Faith.

It is written, as the title suggests, as a letter to American christians; written in earnest, in dismay, in anger and with a sense of urgency. He shares the fear I harbour that between radicals in both the christian and muslim camps, we may well find ourselves hurled headlong into armageddon as their respective god's warriors.

After the publication of The End of Faith, Harris apparently received literally thousands of letters and e-mails, mainly from christians chastising him for his atheism. Many were threatening (god would be proud.) It seems likely that Harris would never have endeavored to write either of these books if he did believe in god.

Beginning with a 'Note to the Reader' Harris states his purpose in writing his second book "is to arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian Right." He "set(s) out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most commited forms." He ends the 'Note' thus: "Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious (Harris' italics.) The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency."

Harris begins his "letter" by launching into the bible debunking claims that it portrays a loving, forgiving god citing numerous passages, which expose an overly righteous and vengeful lord of lords who finds no end of transgressions for which death is the only proper punishment, and which he metes out with great regularity. Harris notes a number of instances wherein god and his only begotten son condone slavery and admonish slaves for not being properly servile. The so called "golden rule," which Harris accepts as having merit, but notes that the "rule" is found in its essence in any number of other religious traditions, some far older than judaism or christianity.

I find myself wanting to quote him line by line. But I will curb my enthusiasm. (And keep in mind that I am a quintessentially lazy old fart.) Suffice it to say that throughout the book, Harris debunks much of the bible as a source of moral living and a portrayal of a loving, all forgiving god. He blasts christians for their stand against abortion and any form of contraception, even in areas plagued by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. He lambasts the Bush administration for its withholding funding to these areas of the world if they even mention contraception or abortion as a viable alternative. Harris finds it maddeningly ironic that it is so often self-proclaimed religious people who fail as humanitarians.

Harris does not spare muslims in lite of their continuing violence against pretty much everybody, even each other. In The End of Faith Harris takes 3 or 4 pages to cite the numerous calls to violence and murder found in the Quran.

As I noted above, "Letter" has an angry feel to it. One can imagine Harris becoming incensed at the tone of the angry and threatening e-mails and letters he received and heatedly proceeding to plunk out this little book in response. But, as I also stated, the book is written with a sense of urgency. Harris is aware and alarmed at the prospect of a world careening toward a conflagration which could literally cost millions of lives, could render significant portions of the world uninhabitable, and set civilization back, perhaps, centuries.

Anyone who believes that such a war would be glorious has no idea what it would be like to live with the reality of violent death and destruction in our own backyards. (Admittedly, I don't either, but I don't find the prospect alluring.) Other than the attacks on Pearl Harbor and of course those on 9/11, those of us living in the US and Canada have never experienced war on our home front.(I know, we here in the US had our Civil War, but unless I'm mistaken, none of us were alive back then.) If I believed in a god, I'd say we were blessed. But those days could be coming to an end. Millions of people in other parts of the world live day to day with the constant threat of death by any number of means - shooting, various and sundry finely honed torture techniques, beheading, and a myriad of things that go boom. We can't imagine that. I can't imagine that. The stakes are high. Perhaps the highest.

Give either or both of Sam Harris' books a read. You'll be disturbed you did.



Zoe said...

We start nuking one another & that will give new meaning to the term "Global Warming."


Terry S said...

Followed by a beautiful, snowy nuclear winter.