Saturday, September 10, 2011

Letter to a Christian Nation

Over the last couple of days I've had the pleasure of reading through Sam Harris' book Letter to a Christian Nation. It was a blazingly fast read, partly because it had only 114 generously-margined pages and partly because I was already familiar with most of the content. For the same reason, though, there's not a whole lot for me to say about it.

While atheists won't find much new in LCN, Christians may be shocked at what they find. Harris jumps efficiently from one topic to the next, making eloquent points about the damage religion has done to the world and dispatching misconceptions about atheism at the same time. I found myself agreeing with most everything Harris said, and his words are so carefully honed that any given sentence could stand on its own as an insightful quote.

I suppose I should cover some of the novel things I did manage to learn from the book. For example:
  • Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin thought heretics should be killed. Augustine merely thought they should be tortured.
  • The Family Research Council opposes a vaccination program for the human papillomavirus because it would remove a deterrent to premarital sex.
  • The Vatican is opposed to condom use even to prevent HIV from spreading between husband and wife.
  • The Vatican perpetuated the myth of blood libel up until 1914.
  • 81% of Hurricane Katrina evacuees said that their experience strengthened their religious faith.
  • Experimenting on a human blastocyst in South Dakota can be punishable with up to 2 years in prison.
Facts like these (and there were many more were these came from) should make the damage religion has caused obvious to all but the most extreme fundamentalists. However, it also concerns me that a few of Harris' statements were quite inaccurate. For example, he says that "If current trends continue, France will be a majority-Muslim country in twenty-five years—and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow." Yet the Pew Forum's projection for 2030 pegs the proportion of Muslims in France at a mere 10.3%. The fact that the global number of Muslims is expected to have doubled from 1990 to 2030 (from 1.1 to 2.2 billion) is alarming enough without stretching the facts as Harris apparently did.

Overall, though, LCN is a much-needed book: one that explains clearly, concisely and unflinchingly what is wrong with religion. Its contents should be eye-opening to those who don't realize that the Bible sanctions slavery and genocide, and that people can be (and usually are) good without God. It may not be news to atheists, but if every religious person were to read this book, I think the world would be a very different place.

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