Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Book Review: Letter to a Christian Nation (2006).

Despite the title, Sam Harris' book isn't really directed to Christians or even an apocryphal Christian nation. It's targets are essentially two concentric circles on a bulls-eye relief.

The larger target--the outside ring--is essentially all those holding deistic belief. This is a classic agnostic or atheistic debating trick--raise the level of abstraction so that each religion is somehow responsible for all. My proof? Harris spends considerable pages disparaging Islam in his indictment of Christianity (pp. 83-87.)

Nevertheless, Harris is correct to link the two religions in this respect: both incorporate the view that a deity created the heavens and earth. This link exposes Harris' larger objective--to contend for evolution as the origin of humankind (not just microevolution within species).

In this regard, Harris reserves his sharpest criticism for the intelligent design (ID) crowd. Harris writes: "If our worldview were put to a vote, notions of 'intelligent design' would defeat the science of biology by nearly three to one. This is troubling, as nature offers no compelling evidence for an intelligent designer and countless examples of unintelligent design." (p. x; italicization in original; bolding supplied.)

I've learned in the legal arena that when an attorney states a sweeping proposition so confidently he or she is actually covering something not so settled (a similar example is when an attorney or judge asserts something is "clear" when its clarity approximates mud's.)

Harris' other target is the "Christian Right," as if that equates or defines Christianity. "The beliefs of conservative Christians now exert an extraordinary influence over our national discourse--in our courts, in our schools, and in every branch of government...." (p. ix.) Harris continues: "I have little doubt that liberals and moderates find the eerie certainties of the Christian Right to be as troubling as I do." (p. ix.) Even if true (which is debatable) how does political affiliation or action undermine the truth of any religious belief?

It's odd that Harris engages in the very "eerie certainties" for which he rejects religious conservatives. Example: "The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply the admission of the obvious." (p. 51; emphasis added.)

So, reduced to its essence, Harris disagrees with those who reject complete evolutionistic belief and who are actively conservative in the political culture. Neither compels the proverbial baby to be discarded with the bathwater.

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