Obscuranta Hideypants's Reviews > Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
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Oct 02, 2007

bookshelves: readanddisliked
Recommended for: bigots
Read in January, 2006

In his later work, Letter to a Christian Nation, Harris takes up Christianity and the Bible directly. It is notable, however, that Harris never discusses Christians or the “Christian world” with the same language that he directs against Muslims.

There is an incredible level of dishonesty involved here. Even if one were to accept Harris’ premises—that it is primarily religions belief that is responsible for acts of violence—one must, if looking at the situation objectively, conclude that the most dangerous force in the world is the United States, propelled by the Christian fundamentalism that permeates the entire American government, and particularly the Bush administration, which has taken great strides in the direction of theocracy. After all, the number of people killed by the US in the course of the war in Iraq by itself dwarfs the number killed in the attacks of September 11.

This dishonesty is particularly repugnant coming from someone claiming to be a scientist (Harris, according to the biography on the cover of his book, is currently working on a doctorate in neuroscience by “studying the neurological basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty”), as it flagrantly disregards any observance of the scientific method. Harris tends to leave out any evidence that does not lead to the conclusions he prefers to draw.

However, Harris’ principal targets are Muslims, largely because this focus provides a rationale for American foreign policy. In his Letter to a Christian Nation Harris makes statements, to take a couple of examples, that “insofar as there is a crime problem in Western Europe, it is largely the product of immigration. Seventy percent of the inmates of France’s jails, for instance, are Muslims,” he writes (pp. 43-44). Thus we are to conclude that Muslims in France are a bunch of criminals, and Harris says nothing about the repression and racism directed against the Muslim population and encouraged by the French government.

Later we read, “Throughout Europe, Muslim communities often show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet they exploit these values to the utmost, demanding tolerance for their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the religious hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques. Forced marriages, honor killings, punitive gang rapes, and a homicidal loathing of homosexuals are now features of an otherwise secular Europe, courtesy of Islam.” This is just a repetition of the chauvinist and racist ideology of the extreme right in Europe.

A call for reason is indeed needed at this time—perhaps more than ever before—but the tendencies expressed by Harris do not constitute this call.
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message 1: by Scott (new)

Scott That is what you have taken from this book? Racism towards Muslims? There were 110 other pages. I guess you picked something you could argue against and forgot about the rest. Pretty typical.

message 2: by Jefferson (last edited Apr 09, 2008 07:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jefferson Montoya Wow? Really? I have the feeling that you didn't read the whole book. He does, admittedly, point some of his remarks toward the fundamentalist and extremist Muslims. He does so along with the other major religions.

Mr. Harris directly accuses Christianity of crimes as great as any other religion AND he even at some points makes remark that the "feeling" which tells Christians their faith is true is the same "feeling" that tells Muslims their own faith is true. This equating of the validation Muslims feel as just as genuine as what Christians feel seem to me to be anything but him picking on Islam.

Harris attacks Christianity at it's roots, the accuracy of the birth of Jesus in regards to it's being a prophecy fulfilled. At no time does he point out such historically provable flaws in Islam.

His pointing out the influx of Muslims in relation to Europe's crime rates is actually used to show that lack of faith , Atheism, is not the cause of the same downfalls.

Sam Harris points out the worst in RELIGION not just in Islam.

message 3: by Obscuranta (new) - added it

Obscuranta Hideypants One would think, yet in the end he does declare that he "stands with" the Christians, so, what do you make of it? It seems, given his other works, and yes, the other pages of this work, that he is willing to stand with bigots of the "right" type.

Harris also engages in rather inflammatory rhetoric in his other book- The End of Faith, which I started reading with great eagerness- which was quickly extinguished by such crusaderish language as declaring that it may be ethical to kill some people based on what they believe- not what they *do*, but what they believe. His words, not his paraphrasing the beliefs of others.

Religions and religious thought have a lot to answer for- but countering it with such reactionary drivel will not advance the state of humanity.

This is not the first time he has blundered in painting the "Muslim world" with a mal-coloured and broad brush. Indeed, at the Beyond Belief conference he went so far as to declare that no other religion engaged in suicide bombings- neglecting (through ignorance or through selective memory- and it is debateable as to which would be worse) the Kamikazee pilots of WWI (Buddhists), the Palestinian Christians, and other such people.

His insistence that the societal ills which plague the "Muslim world" have no bearing on the actions taken by those affected- that it religion *alone* which accounts for such things as suicide bombing- would be laughable except for the wide and gullible audience he has found for such revisionist views.

His pointing to the influx of Muslims as the cause of Europe's rising crime rates could have easily been replaced by the centuries-long dominance of various Christian churches in the area, but he does not choose to go that way and one must question why. One must also question under what kind of conditions the vast majority of Muslims in Europe live- which is to say, with suspicion and isolation, both economic and social.

Harris also takes Qtabism, which is a very small sect of a very minor movement (population-wise) within the Islamic faith. It is an extreme, and many would say, heretical, belief. Yet Harris paints *all* Muslims as Qtabists.

I am not, for the record, a Muslim. I am an atheist. Which is likely why I find Harris' representation of atheists as being as hateful and potentially dangerous as any religion. Were he even-handed in his analysis of Islam and Christianity, it would be a very different story. He is not. He chooses his targets with a political agenda in mind. This is not objective writing.

NOT ONLY is what he writes distorted on the surface, but in encouraging the views of the "Muslim world" as being frenzied, frothing mad bombers, Harris removes any chance of actually understanding and thereby countering the myths of the religion.

One must actually understand something in order to dispute it. One must merely whip up a mob in order to lynch. Unfortunately, Harris has applied his considerable intellect to the later course. This is hardly ground-breaking, but it remains dangerous.

Jefferson Montoya I have to apologize, I have the book in my hand and I can't find where "in the end" he says that he stands with the Christians. Help me with that?

By the way, weren't Kamikaze pilots Shinto and not Bhuddist?

Is Muqtada al-Sadr practicing Qutbism within his practicing as a Shia? I mean he is Shia and he is following Sayyid Qutb's sort of philosophy to destroy the infidels in the West. Seems like it.

I agree that no one should stir others up against any one other group.

But I still don't see this text as an unfair onslaught to the Muslims. If I could find this alliance you seem to recall in the text between Harris and the Christians I might better understand your point of view.

Lisa While I was disturbed by his vehemence against Islam, his disdain for Christianity IS the vast bulk of the work. I only wish he'd gone after Judaism with the same energy. That got the sacred cow treatment. As somewhat of an insider there, I can say there was plenty of meat for his grinder that he missed.

I don't know the rest of his work, so I'll have to read a little further to see if he is truly unreasonable about Islam, or if it was just the briefness of his treatment in Letter that made it appear so.

message 6: by Ash (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ash @Lisa,

I don't think Judaism got the "sacred cow treatment", I suspect that Harris simply doesn't see it as the threat that Christianity and Islam represents. In America at least, the Jewish community tends to be very pro-social and supportive of a scientific view of the world. No doubt Harris thinks their superstitious beliefs are equally as preposterous as any other, but considering that there are fewer religious Jews than atheists in America, he likely sees that faith as already heading in his preferred direction.

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