Letter to a Christian Nation - by Sam Harris
Unlike Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, Mr. Harris is very direct in his words (and apparent disgust?) towards Christians. This is a little difficult to get through at times but I however, don't fault the message for the tactless ramblings of the messenger. Peel away the delivery and I did find the book containing several points worth pondering.
Much of the book focuses on the Christian view of looking to scripture for moral direction. Mr. Harris argues that the Bible is fraught with passages that are self contradicting, inconsistent, and generally considered (even by Christians) as inappropriate models of behavior (passages concerning how you should treat your slaves, or selling your female daughters into slavery, or the stoning of non-virgins, etc.) His argument stems from his belief that modern Christians cherry-pick what they feel represents the moral passages and ignore the rest. By doing so, Mr. Harris states that Christians are using an internal moral compass outside the bounds of religion to drive knowing right from wrong and it is that compass that points to true north for all of us Christian, Muslim, or otherwise.
Another section of the book focuses on how Christians view that their belief structure is the only one true way to believe. To behave otherwise will doom you to spend eternity in hell. He goes on to describe how other religions believe just as strongly that their beliefs are the only one true path to salvation. He asks, "who is right" and ponders the question, "what real tangible proof does either side have that shows that either side is right or wrong?"
Buried in rambling passages and caustic verse, Mr. Harris poses some deep and interesting questions concerning moral behavior. He questions why the 10 Commandments are so highly regarded as the best summation of good behavior when the Jain's summed it up in one sentence: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill and creature or living being". I found one section particularly thought provoking:
"One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering."
I had to read that two or three times before it really sunk in. In other words, "Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not - that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation." Should more energy be expended to prevent abortion or genocide? Should we expend more energy teaching abstinence or teaching about the use of condoms to prevent AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa?
I recommend reading the book even if you find his delivery a little too pointed, inflammatory, or accusatory. Underneath are a lot of points worth pondering about non-religious ethics as well as your religious beliefs and why you believe them. I plan on reading more of the texts cited at the end of the book and I would be interested in reading items that take a scientific and critical view from the other side of the fence. I have not, however, found a good reference list to choose from. Are there any books that you would recommend for my reading list?