January 5, 2018
What qualifies Sam Harris to attack Christianity and all religions so vehemently? Has he read the entire Bible or the entire Koran? Has he truly researched what he is attacking? Sam Harris’ purpose in writing his novel Letter to a Christian Nation is to arm secularists who believe religion should be kept private. Sam Harris is determined to disprove Christianity and what it stands for by pointing out its faults and by taking the Bible literally. After examining the novel, it becomes clear that he does not consider the context of the scriptures, and he also does not provide adequate proof for his arguments. He aims to reach many or even all Christians in America, but the problem is that many Christians will not read his book. This is not only because they disagree or think that arguing against him is pointless, but because the way he presents his argument is by adamantly throwing facts at his audience in an arrogant and close-minded manner. It comes across like he is yelling at his audience. He alleges that Christians are intolerant, and therefore people against Christianity should be intolerant to religion. Sam Harris’ thesis is that Christianity is detrimental to society socially, economically, environmentally, and geopolitically and will not provide an enduring future. Sam Harris does not adequately develop his thesis or achieve his stated purpose because he misquotes scripture, inadequately provides evidence, contradicts himself, and uses faulty logic.
Throughout the text, Sam Harris continually misquotes scripture. He takes verses out of context. For example, Harris argues that the Bible states that every man is free to sell his daughter into sexual slavery. He argues this by quoting Exodus 21: 7-11:
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt faithlessly with her…
However, this passage does not condone selling your daughter into slavery, but says that if it happens that the person must treat the daughter well. In addition, Harris argues that God condones slavery because scripture instructs man on how to live if you are slave. He quotes 1 Timothy 6:1-4, which refers to the way a slave should treat their master. Verse one says, “Let all who are under the yoke slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed.” However, he takes this verse completely out of historical context. In those times a slave was different from what Harris thinks of. He is referencing slavery from the past few centuries, not the slavery that was taking place when this scripture was written. Harris regards slaves as being treated like a piece of “farm equipment” rather than a human being. He completely fails to understand the historical context. In the first century slavery was a choice. In fact, slavery was not based on nationality or race. People would go into slavery in order to provide for their family or to have all their needs met. Even professionals such as doctors and lawyers in the New Testament times would chose to become a slave (Kaiser, David’s, Brauch). God was not making an allowance for slavery, but instructing slaves to treat their masters with honor and respect. Harris clearly takes scripture out of context.
Not only does Harris misquote scripture, but he does not provide adequate or enough evidence to prove his point. He finds a passage in the Bible that he considers to be morally detestable, and then he just retells the passage in such a way as to indicate that it is so horrendous that all by itself it is enough proof to convince his audience. He does not feel the need to provide any evidence. For instance, Harris points out that Leviticus 20:9 claims that God instructs parents that if their children are disobedient or talk back they should kill them. This is all he states. He provides no evidence or context as to why the Levitical laws were written or why he believes that this law still applies today. In addition, Harris makes truth claims without any evidence. He simply states his opinion as truth. He makes a statement without backing it up. For example, he says, “The truth is that no one how or why the universe came into being” (Harris 73). He makes a truth claim that the Bible is incorrect about creation, and yet he gives no evidence to support this. He says “Any honest reading of the biblical account of creation suggests that God created all plants and animals as we now see them. There is no doubt that the Bible is wrong about this.” The mere fact that he says this does not make it true or prove anything. Furthermore, Harris mentions that “(e)ven if a belief in God had a reliable, positive effect upon human behavior, this would not offer a reason to believe in God” (46). This does not make sense. It seems that he is so blinded by his hate for religion that he is not even willing to consider the reliable and positive effects it has. The behavior of a true believer is the evidence that God is working in and through him or her. Harris makes many claims, but he fails to back them up with any substantial evidence.
On top of the lack of evidence, Sam Harris contradicts himself many times throughout the novel. To begin with he argues that correlation data does not prove anything, and then he goes on to use correlation data to prove his points. He does this in regard to crime. He states:
Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality – belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God; each factor may enable the other; or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief Leaving aside the issue of cause and effect, however, these statistics prove that atheism is compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that widespread belief in God does not ensure a society’s health.
He starts out by saying we cannot use correlation data to say that crime is caused by religion or vice versa, but then he uses the statistics, which is data, to prove his point. Moreover, Harris gives many Bible verses to prove his outrageous claims that the Bible is fallible, and then he follows this by writing “people have been cherry-picking the Bible for millennia to justify their every impulse, moral and otherwise” (18). He just cherry-picked Bible verses prior to making this statement. This is clearly a contradiction. Sam Harris is definitely contradicting himself in his work.
Finally, Harris uses faulty logic. Harris declares that “(a)theism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious” (51). Webster’s dictionary defines philosophy as “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.” Atheism is defined as a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a God or any gods. Therefore, atheism is a philosophy. Harris is unmistakably presenting his rational investigation of what is true. Harris also insists that it is not a worldview. This is absurd! Clearly, this entire novel is his view of the world. Additionally, Harris says that there is objective morality, but that science does not have “a final understanding of morality…” This means that the standard for morality is not definite which makes it subjective. Morality is left up to each individual and is not objective at all. This means that Harris cannot determine what is right or wrong for mankind. Harris has no definite standard of morality which diminishes his argument. Faulty logic combined with misquoted scripture, inadequate evidence, and contradictions severely diminish Sam Harris’ credibility in his novel Letter to a Christian Nation.