Steve's Reviews > Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
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it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, atheism, favorites
Recommended for: People who appreciate critical analysis of religion

I agree with other reviewers that there are no new or surprising arguments here. He goes over ground which is thoroughly familiar to those who think critically of religion. What makes the book so worthwhile is not, therefore, any (ahem) great revelations.

What I found thrilling about this book, as an atheist of 50 years, was the startling, forceful simplicity, directness, beauty, and artistry with which he made his points. Consider one quote: "If the Bible is an ordinary book, and Christ an ordinary man, the history of Christian theology is the story of bookish men parsing a collective delusion."

Beautiful. Just beautiful. Took my breath away. There are similar sparkling passages throughout the book. I'll read it again, for the sheer pleasure of the writing.
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Quotes Steve Liked

Sam Harris
“The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn't. Religion is one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“Is is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver-lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves - socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the US government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religion dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“The moral truth here is obvious: anyone who feels that the interests of a blastocyst just might supersede the interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral sense blinded by religious metaphysics.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“Recently , crowds of thousands gathered throughout the Muslim world - burning European embassies, issuing threats, taking hostages, even killing people - in protest over twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper. When was the last atheist riot?”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“You are using your own moral intuitions to authenticate the wisdom of the Bible - and then, in the next moment, you assert that we human beings cannot possibly rely upon our own intuitions to rightly guide us in the world.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“We can either have a twenty-first-century conversation about morality and the human well-being - a conversation in which we avail ourselves of all scientific insights and philosophical arguments that have accumulated in the last two thousand years of human discourse - or we can confine ourselves to a first-century conversation as it is preserved in the Bible.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“In fact, "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“Religious moderation is the direct result of taking scripture less and less seriously. So why not take it less seriously still? Why not admit the the Bible is merely a collection of imperfect books written by highly fallible human beings.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: 'Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.' Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral - that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend more "moral" energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembered, in this context, that when a person's brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst.

Perhaps you think that the crucial difference between a fly and a human blastocyst is to be found in the latter's potential to become a fully developed human being. But almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering. Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“The truth, however, is that the conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“The core of science is not controlled experiment or mathetical modeling; it is intellectual honesty. It is time we acknowledge a basic feature of human discourse: when considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn't.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“An average Christian, in an average church, listen to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse -- and there have been some extraordinary arrogant scientists.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“Everyone who has eyes to see can see that if the God of Abraham exists, He is an utter psychopath--and the God of Nature too. If you can't see these things just by looking, you have simply closed your eyes to the realities of our world.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, 'atheism' is a term that should not even exist. No one needs to identify himself as a 'non-astrologer' or a 'non-alchemist.' We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. If our concern is about suffering in this universe, it is rather obvious that we should be more concerned about killing flies than about killing three-day-old human embryos… Many people will argue that the difference between a fly and a three-day-old human embryo is that a three-day-old human embryo is a potential human being. Every cell in your body, given the right manipulations, every cell with a nucleus is now a potential human being. Every time you scratch your nose, you’ve committed a holocaust of potential human beings… Let’s say we grant it that every three-day-old human embryo has a soul worthy of our moral concern. First of all, embryos at this stage can split into identical twins. Is this a case of one soul splitting into two souls? Embryos at this stage can fuse into a chimera. What has happened to the extra human soul in such a case? This is intellectually indefensible, but it’s morally indefensible given that these notions really are prolonging scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings, and because of the respect we accord religious faith, we can’t have this dialogue in the way that we should. I submit to you that if you think the interests of a three-day-old blastocyst trump the interests of a little girl with spinal cord injuries or a person with full-body burns, your moral intuitions have been obscured by religious metaphysics.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris
“While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about. It is telling that this aura of nobility extends only to those faiths that still have many subscribers. Anyone caught worshipping Poseidon, even at sea, will be thought insane.”
Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation


Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
November 5, 2007 – Shelved
November 5, 2007 – Shelved as: non-fiction
March 3, 2009 – Shelved as: atheism
April 11, 2013 – Shelved as: favorites

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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Architeacher This book is both elegant and eloquent in its simplicity. I don't often have an opportunity to say "succinct," but this is one of them.


message 2: by Chelsea (new) - added it

Chelsea I couldn't agree more! Wonderful review.


Luffy Pretty neat review. I myself found the ideas new.


Last Book Read : The God Delusion. My Review.


Steve Thanks, Luffy. I see that you are from Mauritius. I have a shirt from there. Plus, one of the Patrick O'Brian books was set there. Otherwise, it's a little dot on the globe to this westerner. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7...


Luffy Of course, it's a very small country. But we get by. I have the book you mentioned, haven't yet read it. Thanks for the like!


Derek Hill Agreed. His succinct prose while being very clear in his points made it an enjoyable read.


message 7: by Jen Lewis (new) - added it

Jen Lewis lppp


message 8: by Jen Lewis (new) - added it

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