Additional Thoughts on ‘Letter to a Christian Nation’

I have received some thoughtful comments on my book review of Letter to A Christian Nation by Sam Harris.  This post is in response to those comments.

First, pascalsview is all about Pascal’s view– it is a personal blog driven by "feelings" and "opinions".  That is why I started this blog two years ago and why I write it. Everything I have to say in this Internet forum, by design, is driven by my feelings.

Second, I do believe Sam Harris is insightful, and, as a rational human being myself, I agree with much of what he writes.  But, unlike Sam, I do believe in God.  This does not disqualify me from rational discourse, nor does atheism disqualify Sam Harris from participating in a discussion on religion.  But I believe Harris overreaches because, in my view, he could make his points effectively without being disrespectful and insulting to people who believe in God and religion but aren’t religious fundamentalists.  What do I mean by this?

For example, I do not think it is necessary for Harris to describe the Catholic Church as "..the very institution that has produced and sheltered an elite army of child-molesters…"  That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that there are many priests who are child molesters.  In fact, the Church has been plagued with plenty of other ethical problems for centuries– read William Manchester’s outstanding A World Lit Only by Fire to learn of papal sponsored orgies at the Vatican with the participation of nuns and priests during the Middle Ages. 

In my opinion, Harris makes the same point over and over again, which feels like "shrieking" to me, without moving toward a solution that could work in the real world.  The underlying issue that links religion with fanaticism and dogmatic denial of the obvious has everything to do with the use of ideology by elites to wield power over the masses.  The works of philosophers from Machiavelli to Nietzsche to Marx clearly link religious dogma to the wielding of power.  Religion has been used for subjugation for thousands of years.  Even a casual observer can recognize that innumerable crimes against humanity have been done in God’s name.

I believe that it is worth encouraging people of faith who are not fanatics to take the center of power away from fanatics within their own faith.  I believe that, though very challenging, this may be more feasible and less of a stretch than asking people to renounce their religions, which are an important source of values and identity for most human beings, in the name of reconciling the many contradictions of faith.

By stirring the pot with his own fiery rhetoric, this may be exactly what Sam Harris is doing.  It certainly has gotten an interesting dialogue going, and my posts on Sam Harris have been the most widely read posts in the history of my blog to date. 

For that, I thank Sam and my readers, and I thank the commenters for their thoughtful opinions. 


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