Book Review: Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

This is a very quick read! There is no reason why anyone couldn’t tear through this in a couple of evenings. Turn off the television!  Read more...

Read the opening “Note to the Reader” as a non-believer and you will already wonder how anybody can continue to believe in a higher power. You won’t be laughing at the ridiculous things Sam points out so quickly, though. He sets a dry tone from the start. I hope you pick up on his serious demeanor and understand that we are not just surrounded by those living in a fantasy world, we are governed by them. This is bad. This is trouble on the horizon. Read on...

The very first thing Sam lays out in his letter is that the Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t. He lays down this undeniable point that both sides can agree upon. Next, he points out that Christians view Muslims the way that atheists view all religions. Christians know that Muslims can’t prove that their beliefs are valid, so Christians do not consider those beliefs valid. Atheists view Christians as being unable to prove that their beliefs are valid, so atheists do not consider those beliefs valid. I will certainly be presenting this the next time I get in a conversation with a religious person who can’t understand my point of view!

Christians believe that Jesus and Christianity are the greatest sources of human goodness, love, compassion, and selflessness. Sam offers many short examples that other, and often older, religions offer the same teachings without the “celebrations of violence that we find throughout the Old and New Testaments.” The best example is him pointing out that the entire civilized world considers slavery wrong. I will insert that we consider it so wrong that we do not even put criminals to good use, we instead pay for them to remain unproductive. But the Bible clearly expects Christians to keep slaves. Remember the very first point Sam makes? The Bible is either the word of God or it isn’t. Well, how can so many people, many of which are Christians, be against slavery. God must be wrong, or God must not be real. He certainly isn’t being taken to heart by those who profess to follow his word.

Sam next beats up on the Ten Commandments. Most of us have this idea of the Ten Commandments as the rules that make people good to each other. The first four “rules” have nothing to do with morality. In my eyes, they have more to do with a vain individual demanding respect because he knows he has done nothing to earn it. The truly moral of the commandments kind of make you want to say, “well, duh.” We don’t need religion in order to be good to each other!

Crap, I am only 1/3 of the way through re-reading this to do the book review, and I can tell my review is going to be nearly 1/3rd of the length of the book! Too long. I am going to continue to read it a second time, but I am going to stop the specific review/report process here and hope that others decide to point out their favorite arguments. This book lends itself to a group of people reading a “chapter” at a time and discussing. Every chapter has something that I want to point out or expound upon. I am going to hope that nobody gets into a debate after reading this book, because I just don’t understand how anyone can consider all of Sam Harris’ points wrong. If even some of them are right, doesn’t that throw a doubt into the validity of Christianity? Is someone going to pick out one point that they can dispute with the typical, religious, circular arguments, yet ignore the rest? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is, yes, someone will.

A quick note now that I am through it a second time... I know people that laugh at the ridiculous things believers ignore to maintain their faith. They poke fun at the contradictions and hypocrisy of the “religious.” Maybe this is because all they can do is laugh. I do it to an extent. There is a lot of comedic value in religion, and a discussion about this book could turn into a fun-fest. It is time to get serious. The message of the book is that religion is very dangerous, and it is causing millions to suffer and die TODAY. It is hard for Christians to admit that their religion is responsible for terrible atrocities in days past. Reading this book points out that their religion is responsible for blocking technology that would save millions of people from death and suffering. .. this is happening TODAY. It points out that their religion has skewed moral priorities that, while fighting for unborn babies that might have a soul, ignore (and perpetuate) the real, physical, undeniable suffering and death of their fellow man happening in front of their faces. The fantasy world they base their values on should no longer be applied to real-world solutions, or used to block real-world solutions.

Beyond the book...

I used to contemplate how the universe could continue on and be infinite. Our minds are not trained to think about this. Everything we know has a measure. If the universe is not infinite, what contains it? What contains the thing that contains our universe? So on and so on until I felt dizzy trying to get my head around it. I have the same mental problems when contemplating our existence. My head can’t wrap around a reason for me or us to be conscious, to be here. Then I have had a few experiences with loss. The teacher that made a big difference in my life dying so young. My uncle, such a fun and interesting guy, dying before his time. My brother dying way too young. I am an atheist. I do not believe these people have gone anywhere special, I believe they are just gone. Well, I believe that when I am not emotional. When I am emotional about it, again, I can’t get my head around the fact that these people, so full of life and so influential, are no longer here. I equate this to a sci-fi movie where the robot or computer says, “does not compute.” Or the good guy feeds the bad electronic being contradictory or philosophical information until the circuits fry.

Where am I going with this? We, as humans, do not like to feel helpless, out of control, or without answers. The idea of creationism conveniently removes the desire to understand or know “why.” God created the universe, so don’t you worry about the particulars. God created us in his image and we are here because of him, so don’t worry about the particulars. God wanted my favorite teacher, my uncle, and my brother by his side, so don’t think that they are just “no more.” You don’t have to worry that they suddenly ceased to be and there isn’t anything you can do about it. There still isn’t anything you can do about it, but they are in a better place, so be happy. God is the wicked witch and we have found ourselves in a field of poppies... time to wake up!

Christianity is like believing in Santa Claus until you die. Be good or you get a lump of coal from Santa... I, as your parent may not be able to keep you in line, but Santa knows all and he won’t reward you if you are bad. Can you imagine having to be good or Santa will send you to hell? And, don’t stop believing in Santa, or you won’t be saved! Don’t take Santa’s name in vain! It’s all a fairy tale that was taken too seriously.

                Consider the following:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.

The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.

The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been around here.

What if parents told children a story about a god that had great powers and must be obeyed and that this god was the reason for everything, so don’t ask your parents questions they can’t answer? Parents do this type of thing all the time... give bullshit answers to shut a kid up and avoid telling them something they won’t understand or aren’t ready to hear yet. Or to comfort them about life’s hardships. Now the parents are gone, but they never told the kid’s that these things weren’t true. The kid’s tell their kid’s the same things because it is what they know. After a couple hundred years this is going to be a part of culture.

Innate compassion, intelligence, and curiosity are a painful, confusing combination, and answers and comforts to the most difficult things would surely be welcome and not questioned, especially way-back-when during a time of scientific absence or infancy.


Wed, 01/28/2009 - 7:23am

I love it. I love this whole thing, from the beginning to the end. The whole monkey thing is the final straw that made me have to comment.  All very true, what if........ What if it is all a lie, or fable, or urban legend, etc.  What a tale we humans have told! You (from your review and comments)  have been able to make me consider, that a "God" maybe really could be non-existent. But, I also worry that he could exist. And I understand how mankind has come to believe in this whole thing. I still do not believe that Brad is gone. I still look at his picture and see this whole thing, like something I am supposed to fix. I fix everything, or in time, it fixes itself. That is just the way it goes. Right now, Heather is in the latest Heather mess, and I am trying to fix it. My brain will NOT compute that Brad is gone, it is not possible. I can say the words, but my insides turn into Mexican jumping beans and my head says it is impossible. It really is a pretty fascinating thing to hear an actual battle in my head. I can actually hear it, and then when I get to the part where my brain says it is not possible for him to be dead, then I truly actually can feel my body transform itself to feel like he is just in St. Louis or something and not close and we have not spoken for a long long time. That is something I felt a lot, because we would go two years sometimes and not talk. But now when I look at his picture, just over the last couple of weeks, I feel this panic inside of me. A panic that I have not fixed the problem and I have to figure out how.  Mankind, needs to believe that there is somewhere else. That there is someone looking out for us. The weak people need something in their life to look to for strength. I am still on the fence, not of belief and disbelief really, but the fence of I know and I don't know. I really have a hard time believing in things I cannot see. I have a bad habit of wanting to believe in things, really wanting to believe, but constantly looking for proof. I am fascinated with Ghosts, I will say I believe they exist, but I will never fully believe, until I get my own proof. But then when I get my proof, over time I start to discount it and need more. That is where I think a person needs a weekly visit to church. If I went to regular "ghost" seminars or something, I would get bits and pieces of proof, and it would be easier to believe. Ok, now I am rambling. Last comment, I tend to want, (want being the key word) want to believe that there is somewhere wonderful Brad is, and all of the others I/we have lost. I so don't want his mind to stop, his heart to stop, his everything to stop already. I so need to know he might be able to see and hear what we do. That maybe he gets a chance to have true peace, peace that he is able to feel.

Well, when I said last comment, I really thought it was the last one.

I am glad, I chose to read this review. I cannot even say, why I chose to read it. But now, I want to read the book. What’s interesting, is that I am kind of afraid to read it. What if it makes me more of a disbeliever?  What if. That feeling, for me is scary. What if there is no God and there is no more fence for me to sit on? Everything I might  believe in (if I would get off the fence) could be gone. Okay, sounds like another book. But it is interesting to see the fear of losing that thought that maybe there is a God.  I will not even get into the whole infinite universe thing, that truly does “short circuit” my brain. OW! Here it comes, gotta change the subject