I have read this book a couple of times now, usually in January as it is a healthy reminder of why it is so important to defend belief based on evidence rather than faith, and why we should be challenging the religiously moderate around us.
I have already reviewed two other books by Sam Harris on this blog. ‘The End of Faith’ & ‘The Moral Landscape’, both of which I found extremely enjoyable and interesting. Mr Harris has a strong ability to explain to religiously pious people why the beliefs they hold sacred are dangerous. As he does so he also covers an array of questions that someone is likely to ask or retort with, making you as the reader realise that he really is thinking along the same wavelengths as people who hold a faith-based belief system think.
Far too often I have read or heard religiously minded people tell me that atheists don’t understand religious arguments because they are unable to come down from their ivory towers and see the world as a faith-based person sees it. Mr Harris kicks that can down the road as he argues his case against faith as a determining factor for the decisions that we daily make within the world around us.
Sitting at about 1.4 hours of reading time, this book is very easy to fly through and enjoy. Its structure is that of a letter, there are no chapters but there are sections and segments with various headings throughout covering a wide range of topics.
As usual, I am going to share some of the quotes with you soon, but before I get there, I think it’s important to explain the style of this book.
It isn’t meant to be a watertight argument against religion, what is it meant to be is a wakeup call to religious moderates within America (and any other people groups that fit the profile). It’s written to enrage, shake and call into question the fundamental truth claims that people make, without ever calling for evidence or stopping to look at the reality of the world around them. It’s meant to make people stop, realise they do of course hold a belief that they have no evidence for and then ask, ‘what else do I hold as true without having evidence for’.
I don’t know if anyone would ever turn their back on the faith they hold after reading this book. But when I first read it, I was trying to hold onto my faith and it was defiantly a step along the path to realising that the God I worshipped was in my heart and head, but not in my reality. It’s going to rial people and it is going to make people feel uncomfortable, but that’s such an important part of being mentally rigorous with the truth claims we make about the world around us.
We need to be challenged and we need to face the other side of the court from time to time to see what is coming our way and to see if our beliefs still hold up given the evidence and arguments that assail them. I realised mine did not and then I began to realise I no longer believed in God… but you have read and will read more about that another time.
All quotes are taken from: Harris, Sam. Letter To A Christian Nation. Transworld. Kindle Edition.
‘Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible. It is impossible to behave this way by adhering to the principles of Jainism. How, then, can you argue that the Bible provides the clearest statement of morality the world has ever seen?’
Here’s the kicker, Jainism started 7th-5th BCE. Yup, that’s well before the Old Testament was written and centuries before the New Testament was collated. We don’t stop to educate ourselves very often, but there have been other cultures and people groups, completely unrelated to the Abrahamic religious groups who had more moral commandments far before the Abrahamic religions groups even began to collate their ideas and put them onto scrolls.
‘It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Hurricane Katrina struck shared your belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while Katrina laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Do you have the courage to admit the obvious? These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.’
Damn, that’s brutal, but maybe it’ll wake someone up.
‘OVER 99 PERCENT of the species that ever walked, flew, or slithered upon this earth are now extinct. This fact alone appears to rule out intelligent design. When we look at the natural world, we see extraordinary complexity, but we do not see optimal design. We see redundancy, regressions, and unnecessary complications; we see bewildering inefficiencies that result in suffering and death. We see flightless birds and snakes with pelvises. We see species of fish, salamanders, and crustaceans that have nonfunctional eyes, because they continued to evolve in darkness for millions of years. We see whales that produce teeth during fetal development, only to reabsorb them as adults. Such features of our world are utterly mysterious if God created all species of life on earth “intelligently”; none of them are perplexing in light of evolution.’
For me, this is one of the strongest arguments against the existence of a deity. I refuse – point blank fucking refuse – to believe in a God who personally loves me and did that ^ to bring about the time and place that I now find myself in. If He is real, He is an ass hole.
I won’t spend any more time sharing my highlights of this book. But I will encourage you to read it, being religious or not this book has something to say to everyone.
_End of Blog Blurb_
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.
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Farewell For Now – When Belief Dies
- Farewell For Now
- When Belief Dies #100 – 'Psychedelics, Philosophy & God' with Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes
- When Belief Dies #99 – 'Open and Relational Theology' with Thomas Jay Oord
- When Belief Dies #98 – 'The Take Over' with Daniel Kelly & Roger Bretherton
- When Belief Dies #97 – 'The End?' with Daniel Kelly