Thursday, October 19, 2006

Letter to a Christian Nation

I'm partway through the God Delusion, and Dawkins references this book, so I realized I had forgotten to write up my thoughts about Sam Harris' book.

Well, where to begin? Most of the people that most need to read this book probably won't, but the author has put out a great book that should be read. I think I read almost all of this book over a lunch break, so it won't take too long to get through. This book is written as a reaction to all the letters that came in as a result of Sam Harris' The End of Faith, and the two books are probably best read together.

Sam Harris makes a very powerful argument against Christianity having anything to do with morality. I wish there was a survey available for this, but I'd venture a significant amount of Americans believe they are somehow related, or worse, that the ONLY way a person can be moral is to be a Christian. I've always been very puzzled by that narrowminded notion, especially when the people who hold that notion even attend or attended university, where theoretically, they would at least have an intro to ethics course, either in frosh year or in college prep courses in high school. I guess I almost expect that from people who are barely literate. I actually had a roommate who I'd jokingly spar with in my junior year - he literally thought that if people didn't believe in god, what would keep them from killing, raping, looting and what have you. I suspect that this idea perpetuates because Christianity is specifically designed to deflect any notions that conflict with it, or worse, designed to make believers never venture very far in their inquiries - I mean, there is that whole Tree of Knowledge mythology planted right at the beginning of their text to drive home the point that knowledge is bad.

Well, one argument is to take a look at those areas that are most fervently Christian - the South. If Christianity had any influence on actual morality, you'd expect those areas to be socially healthy. Problem is, that isn't the case. Violence is much higher in the South. I forget actual numbers so you'll have to read the book. :)

There are at least two other arguments and I cannot remember if the author uses those as well. One is to look at whole countries - countries that are more agnostic/atheist tend to be better off. Another is that one can look at the self-identification of religiosity of prison inmates. If atheists are really immoral, you'd expect to find more representation of atheists in jail than in the general population. The exact opposite is true.

What I most like about what Sam Harris is saying is that the religious moderates have something to answer for, too. The fact that they pick and choose what to believe and what to take is allegory is great - however, they have to own up to the fact that buried within those texts are horrible, awful things that some of their flock do believe and do take literally, and that is a danger to the world. Right now the en vogue thing to do is to point at Islam and talk about how much more Christianity has "progressed". The problem is, the texts have not changed and are unlikely to change, always leaving the door open to fundamentalists cropping up and doing evil things in the name of Christianity. As an example, moderates cannot really argue effectively with those Baptists saying "God hates fags" - those Baptists are reading the same texts and it's right there in the texts. Of course, God also hates people who eat lobster.

And one of my favorite talking points that both Harris and Dawkins use - virtually everyone is an unbeliever, except many have made one exception. Christians are atheists when it comes to Zeus, Athena, Baal, Thor, Brahma, etc. In fact Dawkins used this same talking point on the Daily Show, saying atheists just go one god more in their unbelief.

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