Yesterday, I sat down and read Letter to A Christian Nation by Sam Harris. Basically, it is his response to all of the hate mail he received from Christians after publishing his last book (The End of Faith). Although I’m sure not many Christians will read this book (and even Mr. Harris recognizes this), we should…because it is written to us. We should not be afraid to read books by people who hold a completely different viewpoint than us, and we should not write hate mail to them in response.
Mr. Harris makes some very good and important observations:
1) He begins with pointing out the fact that he, an atheist, and conservative Christians actually have some things in common. We both agree that either we are right or he is right…but we can’t both be right. He is correct in pointing out that if we truly believe what our religion says, it leaves no room for us to allow for another way. He is critical of moderate and liberal Christians and their acceptance of all religions as acceptable paths to God.
2) He later points out that inter-faith efforts are pointless, since none of them(who truly believe in the tenets of their faith) are going to compromise on certain points of their ideology and values, and our core beliefs are not compatible.
3) That as Christians, we are sometimes so caught up in our “Christian values” and protecting them that we overlook the reality of suffering in our world. We focus on protecting ourselves even at the expense of the suffering of others.
On the whole, I agree with these observations. I don’t agree with all of Mr. Harris’ application of those observations, but I agree with the underlying point he is trying to make.
However, for such a seemingly intellectual man, I am surprised at the number of generalizations and definitive (always/never) statements that he makes without substantial facts to back them up. I had the overall sense that he was one of those people who is passionate about his beliefs and will argue all day over them, but that he is only using arguments and points that he has heard someone else use. His book does not lead me to believe he has done any real, objective, in-depth research himself. Sure he quotes some surveys, but he has clearly picked the quotes to support his opinions, not formed his opinions based upon the data.
Whether you agree with it or not, Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ provides an excellent model for how to approach something like Christianity. If you don’t trust Mr. Strobel, you could in the least follow his example (meaning, his approach) and conduct your own research. If I could encourage Mr. Harris to do anything, it would be to embark upon a research project like that. I’m not saying I think it would cause him to convert to Christianity, but I believe it would change his perspective on some of the issues he addresses.
The underlying issue that surfaces in Mr. Harris’s book is the problem that most atheist seem to have: reconciling the concept of a loving, all-powerful God with the existence of suffering in the world. I agree this is a tough issue to face, but not one that is insurmountable. I also am pondering something my pastor mentioned to me tonight: that the issue atheists need to resolve is the existence of pleasure in the world. Why would it exist if we have merely evolved? Pleasure does not fit into the model of “survival of the fittest” and adapting to survive. And where would a desire for meaning and purpose in life come from, if not from a creator?
Anyway, this book offers some good insights and things for Christians to consider – about what we believe, how we behave and how we interact with the world. However, it is greatly lacking in any concrete, compelling reason to agree with Mr. Harris’s assertion.