Patricia O'Sullivan's Reviews > Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
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's review
Jan 29, 2012

really liked it
Read in January, 2012

Though Sam Harris does not go beyond the arguments of Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion or Christopher Hitchens in God is Not Great, he says it in a very American way: briefly, straight-forward, and slightly in-your-face.

Because of his brevity, Harris's arguments against religious extremism, religious moderates, and religion's hampering of science are not as fully laid out as they should be. On the other hand, the little book is like a toe in the water for those not ready to commit to reading the tomes of Harris's British friends. Letter to a Christian Nation is a quick, easy read that might lead someone to investigate the books he lists on the final page.

What I found most unsettling, consequently most enjoyable, among Harris's criticisms of religion were his questions to liberal and moderate people of faith. He seems to have more respect for extremists who at least take the dogmas and scriptural injunctions of their religion seriously. But liberals and moderates, who operate in a sort of whitewashed version of religion, a Tom Sawyer without references to slavery or racism, are liars on two fronts. They reject the teachings of their religion they find distasteful while still supporting the institutions that promote those teachings. At the same time, they have adopted humanist ethics and a scientific outlook on the world while maintaining the importance of religious faith. They may even defend their own and others' faiths against humanist attacks in a mealy-mouthed "Well, if that's what they believe who are we to say it's wrong?" manner. In sum, liberal and moderate people of faith betray both religion and humanism. They stand for both sides and, according to Harris, this means they stand for nothing. They are dangerous even, because they put a false face of reason onto what is the epitome of non-reason.
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