James's Reviews > Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
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's review
Mar 03, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: character-studies, culture-and-politics, history, gender-issues, relationships, psychology, general-science-math-technology, spirituality-and-or-religion, mythology
Recommended for: Anyone interested in religion's impact on society
Read in February, 2008

Wow! Concentrated essence of critique. This book is passionate, and tightly reasoned and put together. It catalogues some of the problems organized religions have inflicted on humanity, past and present, ranging from causing division, hatred and war to putting the brakes on truly free scientific and intellectual inquiry.

Harris takes a number of common arguments in favor of the existence of God and/or the validity of various bodies or tenets of dogma, and shows that under logical consideration they just don't stand up. As in his book The End of Faith, he argues that even though liberal and moderate religious communities may not advocate actions that hurt society or other individuals, by providing religiosity with a cloak of respectability they create a niche, immune to logic, where fundamentalists can operate, whereas if all human movements were expected to meet the test of providing some objective evidence to support their beliefs, they'd have nowhere to go. For that matter, he classes totalitarian political systems that aren't overtly religious, such as fascism or communism, as being similar to religion in that dogma is held higher than rational questioning and following the rules is more important than relieving human (or animal) suffering.

For myself, I differ with Harris in that although I do not subscribe to any organized religion I am not an atheist; but I believe his criticisms of religion are valid and agree that spiritual belief systems should be able to stand up to the same kind of analysis as any other belief systems.

Together with his other book, The End of Faith, this is must reading for anyone exploring spiritual questions.
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03/04 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I don't think faith has to defend anything. I really don't. Religious institutions, yes. Faith, no. I question why this urge to insist that religion meet a criteria other demand?

Good review though, so I voted.

James I tend to subscribe to the "I know something's there, but don't presume to think I fully understand (or even could fully understand) its nature" school.

The critiques of religion that I've read have all been in response to situations in which people took their faith and used it as a license to abuse others or lord it over them. As the T-shirt says, you know someone's god is man-made when that god hates all the same people they do.

The dilemma of religion seems to be that no matter how good the intentions when people create one as a way to try to achieve a more spiritually positive life, it degenerates into a power structure that usually corrupts whoever is in charge. The only exceptions I've seen personally are the Quakers; the ones I met were very egalitarian and no one was on a power trip - one UU congregation I joined for a while was the same way, but in the next place I lived, the UU church there was so busy being armpit-deep in politics they didn't have time for anything else. The other exception is outside of religion per se - the 12 Step programs have managed to avoid the corruption of power and the atherosclerosis of bureaucracy for almost 75 years now, because no one is in charge so there's no power by which they would be corrupted - sometimes old-timers do get on their high horses and start delivering judgments from on high, but when they do those groups generally dry up and blow away - people just go elsewhere.

message 3: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Mcandrew Good discussion. I believe we must live our questions. The real purpose of life is found in human relationships.

Hamad This is an excellent review, Sir. Can I share it please?

message 5: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda Jane Awesome Review James. You have certainly piqued my interest. I definitely need to read some of Harris's work!

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