Friday, September 28, 2007

Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation is a book written by Sam Harris, a self proclaimed atheist. It seems to be a manifesto for the secularists of the 21st century. By advocating the end of organized religions and faiths across the world, Harris believes the world will ultimately see peace and atheism prevail. He pointedly makes claims at the various contradictions seen in diverse faith groups. He specifically directs this book toward the Christian population in America. By challenging the Christian majority in America, he attacks them by making statements about their stances on social and political issues including war, abortion, morality, and AIDS. He then goes on to popularly common Christian beliefs such as Hell, young earth, Biblical Inerrancy, creationism, The Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ, and so on. Undoubtedly, many people of faith would be outraged by this writing. Yet Harris takes aim at any religion, blaming them for the spread of ignorance, belief in eschatological events, and the supernatural among many other issues relating to religion.

With his barrage of attacks targeted at the multiple faith groups, Harris lays out some questions deserving of a well-thought-out response. For example, he makes some strong points regarding the stance on abortion and affirms that Christians spend excessive amounts of time and energy trying to abolish it when there is genocide happening today in Africa. He continuously criticizes the Christian stance on contraceptives in Africa, a place where missionaries preach and teach against it in a time of overwhelming population and AIDS issues. Although his comments on abortion and contraceptives may have some value, his argument loses a fair amount of ground when he discusses stem cell research. Currently the study of the human embryo is at such an infantile stage we aren’t sure what it will lead to. Harris confronts Christians on an issue that most of the world is still weary and ignorant of, not taking into consideration scientists may learn it is a bad thing. Nevertheless, he makes some valid points regarding religious identities in the world and it would be a dishonest analysis of this letter if one were to say Harris’ argument didn’t have some truth to it, regardless of his rants.

His insight to the Muslim agenda for world domination by the sword, as it has been historically and still is today, has some validity to it. Harris states, “The earth is now home to about 1.4 billion Muslims, many of whom believe that one day you and I will either convert to Islam, live in subjugation to a Muslim caliphate, or be put to death for our unbelief.” p. 83 Undoubtedly, Islam is a rapidly growing religion throughout many parts of the world. There is growing concern throughout Europe on how they will deal with the fundamentalist Islamic’s who have brought into their midst the practice of martyrdom, particularly in France and England. Since the beginning of writing this paper there have been three attempted terrorist attacks on the United Kingdom. Thankfully they were thwarted off by observant police officers who noticed a smoking car parked on the side of the road. Sadly, a terrorist attack was committed on the Glasgow Airport in Scotland where a car engulfed in flames was driven into a building. It is a situation very difficult to eradicate. What Harris fails to do in his analysis of the Muslim faith is to lay out a course of action to effectively deal with these challenges. However, Harris does effectively communicate the heart and motive Islam has in our world. He says, “The idea that Islam is a ‘peaceful religion hijacked by extremists’ is a fantasy, and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge. Harris’ thoughts on Islam leave both the secular and religious reader, wondering what could be done. In the end it seems like Harris is another dumbfounded reporter of what everyone already knows.

He goes on to make some of the traditional atheist arguments regarding Christianity, but fails to present sufficient evidence for them. For example, he misses the intended target with his statements regarding the virgin conception. This is undoubtedly a pillar of the Christian faith that Harris is keenly aware of. It is one of the chief arguments in Harris’s Letter formulated to dissolve the beliefs in the Christian doctrines throughout the world.

Harris argues of the falsity of the virgin conception by addressing the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 7:14. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Before we look at this passage it must be noted that from 80c.e, most Christian assemblies have taught that Mary was a virgin at the time of Christ’s conception. What Harris says in regards to the meaning of the word virgin, pronounced almah, is that the original meaning is “young woman,” not virgin. This is commonly held to be accurate, but Hebrew scholars do tell us the word almah does not strictly mean virgin, but a young woman of marriageable age as well. Additionally, just because Isaiah calls her a young woman doesn’t mean she is not a virgin. Young woman and non-virgin are not synonymous terms.

In the conclusion of Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, he acknowledges the positive changes which occur in the lives of people when they accept Christ. However, staying true to his form he equates these experiences to those of a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. Harris believes these experiences are nothing more than misinterpretations about the nature of reality and have nothing whatsoever to do with science or our universe. He calls these experiences “…a biological phenomenon, religion is the product of cognitive processes that have deep roots in our evolutionary past.” To Harris’ dismay, however, many believers, specifically Christian, have faith not because of a “cognitive process” but because of revelation and having witnessed the transforming power of Christ in our world. In other words, there is empirical evidence proving the miracle-working power of Christ. Additionally, many people are Christian not because of an emotional experience, but because of an over abundance of historical proof of Jesus’ virgin birth.

It is highly probable that Letter to a Christian Nation will impact the way many people think about faith around the world. Harris is another voice speaking out against religious fanaticism and it is much needed in today’s world. History has shown us that we cannot sit idly on the sidelines keeping silent. Islam is a growing threat and one can only hope this book persuades some governments to some form of diplomatic action. Although Harris did not give an accurate definition of Christianity, his questions should resonate deep within their hearts causing them to think about their actions. Stances on political and moral issues have been commonplace in the Christian world when Christians should be known for their “love for one another.”

Harris’ book is not a threat to religious organizations. Rather, it is a wake up call. The Christians of America need to work on representing Jesus to a world devoid of accurate understanding of His teachings. This book serves as a launching point for them to do so. Harris is just one of millions who have an inaccurate understanding of Christianity. He has put the questions out there for Christians to answer and now is the time for them to step forward. Although this book may hurt deeply, it is also a very powerful tool in helping the world see how atheists and secularists view the world. Sam Harris has undoubtedly made an impact. Whether this impact is negative or positive I have not quite decided yet. Regardless, the fact is he has made an impact. I would challenge anyone to read this book with an open mind, and prepare yourself to have your worldview challenged.

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