Bela's Reviews > Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
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Aug 17, 2011

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I am not a religious person. I believe there is a god, but that I control my own actions and fate. My friend, growing up in a strong Catholic family, has been battling between believing in the faith she grew up in, heading down the road of another faith, or not believing in a god at all. She recommended this book to me and it opened my eyes to the world of atheism. Sam Harris, the author and an atheist, addresses this book to extreme Christians in response to another book he wrote, The End of Faith. I haven’t read it, but basically he speaks about the end of Christianity, which obviously makes a lot of people upset. Even though this book is only about 100 pages, it took me about a week to read because the idea of atheism is a lot to take in. Sam Harris makes a lot of good points about religion in general, but he also makes some points that make me question his motives and his theory.

The main point that I agree with, and I guess many atheists believe, is that people do not need religion to be moral and benevolent. Growing up in a religious Hindu family, we were taught that Hanuman showed us loyalty and love through his relationship with Ram, that even though Krishna was a mischievous as a child, he matured and became a good man, that Ganesh was so devoted to protecting his mother, his head was chopped off trying to save her. I now do not believe these Gods to be real, but their stories did still teach very valuable lessons to me as a child about being a good and loving person. Maturing, however, made me realized that I didn’t need those stories or religion to tell me that being a good person and helping people was the right thing to do. I could just look at the amazing people in my life and learn from their examples of selflessness, love, care, and compassion. God didn’t tell people to be nice to each other; it is human nature to have compassion for your fellow man.

Another point that I definitely agree with is that religion causes a lot of problems. If we’ve ever discussed religion, you’ve heard me say this: because we are a Christian nation, we practice the act of “converting” people, not just to Christianity, but also to democracy. As a nation, we fail to realize that converting countries and people to what we think is best government and religion is not always what is actually best for that country or its people. The government may have good intentions, but the fact that they don’t find anything wrong in pushing democracy to everyone stems from the principal that Christians don’t find anything wrong in pushing their religion on people. Yes, they are doing it because they think they are giving people a better life, but in reality, their lives could be just fine without an outsider persuading them otherwise. Take China for example: an “evil” communist nation with a stellar economy. They don’t need anyone to tell them how to run their country, they are doing just fine on their own.

There are several other ideas that Harris brings up, all valid points: like how 2000 years ago people needed religion because they didn’t have an explanation for a phenomenon like the sun, or cure for diseases. But after we do understand the sun is a star and modern medicine has been able to cure so many diseases that plagued our history, what reason is there to believe in god for those things? Atheists rely more on things they can physically see and depend on the hard facts of science for answers to the unknown. I’m down with that, however, Harris then goes on to say that we should not believe there is a god because of the bad things that happen in our history; that if there truly were a god, there wouldn’t be things such as tsunamis, earthquakes, 9/11, etc. If there was a god, he would never do things to cause us pain and suffering. Now, that, I do not agree with.

I think when you go through a dark period of time, you come out a stronger person. When I lost people I loved, I started to question the existence of God and why he would put people through so much pain. It took me a while, but I realized it happened and everyone came out of it a as stronger person. Sure, it still hurts to know they are gone, but I think going through an experience like that for me, personally, was important to understanding the value of life. And I also feel like when you go through a hard time and reach out to God, it makes you feel better. I think of God as a friend, not as someone who can change my life, but someone who I can talk to when I can’t talk to anyone else. I don’t think he causes evil and causes good, I think he just watches over us. Besides, Harris forgets that SCIENCE can explain things like earthquakes and tsunamis, so he can’t really blame God for those, right? Also 9/11 was caused by terrorists who hated America and wanted it to suffer. Can’t blame God for that either.

Another thing I didn’t value from this book was his focus on Islam and demeaning the religion more than any other. Americans aren’t very fond of Muslims because of whatever the media has put out there to sway the general public’s opinion on an entire group of people, but I think Harris took advantage of that to appeal to Christians, which I didn’t like. Every religion has their extremists, and I think he should have done a better job of making sure he wasn’t being biased towards just one. Outside of that, his slander on Mother Theresa (yeah, he goes there), his extremely negative choices of verses from the Bibles and half assed statistics really weaken his argument that there is no god.

I wouldn't recommend this book if you are closed minded about religion, but if you’re willing to open your world to a new way of thinking, this book does the trick.
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