Friday, June 5, 2009

"Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris

Having read "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins about a year ago, I was interested in this very tiny book when it came across the front desk at work. Would it be possible, I wondered, for an author to make basically the same argument that Dawkins made in so few pages? Would this author do a better job of it, i.e. not alienate the very audience he sought to persuade?

The answer is pretty much yes. Harris isn't saying anything new here, but he does take a different approach than Dawkins, which I frankly appreciated. I had really wanted to be able to recommend the full-length book by the scientist, but after slogging my way through it, I was so put off by his heavy-handed, and ironically, holier-than-thou approach that I knew I'd never tell anyone to read that book. This slim volume by Harris, however, just might fit the bill for those interested in the argument "Is there a God, and if so, do we still need to believe in him in the 21st century?"

I thought Harris was much more even-handed in his approach to the argument and also much more respectful of the very Christians he's trying to reach. I also thought that it was smart to write it as a "letter" - this should only take an hour or two to read, no more than that, which also means that he doesn't beat the topic to death. He makes his point, backs it up with several examples, and concludes the letter in a respectful, succinct manner. I very much liked some of his examples of why he's an atheist, too; at one point he reminds us that it wasn't all that long ago that humans believed in gods such as Zeus and Poseidon. Of course, if you admit to still believing in those gods in today's modern world, you're considered a kook. He wonders if someday we won't look back on this time and shake our heads at all the people that continued to believe in a god, be it God, Allah, Buddah, etc. He's not shy about casting doubt on all organized religions, and he also points out that Christians tend to be very intolerant of others' religious beliefs, not a very "christian" attitude in his opinion.

Overall, it's a good little book, one that will definitely make one think. Will it change any one's mind? That I doubt. People tend to believe what they want to believe, regardless of the proof or lack thereof to the actual validity of that belief. I think it would take a personal conversion of sorts, lots of them, before the world changed enough to please Harris.

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