Sunday, March 16, 2008

Atheists 1, Evangelicals 0

An atheistic friend of mine approached me at a coffeehouse the other day and dropped a book on the table that he had just finished. I glanced at the title and read: Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, a New York Times bestselling author.

Harris's primary purpose for this little volume, he says,
"... is to arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian Right.... I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms" (viii, ix).
In Chapter One, Harris sets the stage for his case by pointing out, helpfully, that the Christian he is arguing against believes the teachings of the Bible not because they make him feel good, but because he believes they are true. Furthermore, Harris concedes, if these doctrines are indeed true, then he will spend eternity in hell for rejecting them with contempt and encouraging others to do the same: "If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for nonbelievers like myself."

How's that for honesty?

Before I begin my series of posts interacting with Harris's book, I must point out that this author seems to understand the issues involved in the debate over the Christian faith with more clarity than most evangelicals do. If Christian Smith's study of the religion of American teens is any indication, the adherents of what he calls "moralistic therapeutic deism" would stare blankly through glossed-over eyes at the suggestion that they believe in Christianity "because it is true." Even if "truth" were a valid category to judge a religious faith, it is beside the point, most evangelicals would argue. Jesus makes them happy.

Score 1 for the atheists.