The Raving Theist

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Return to Sender

October 27, 2006 | 9 Comments

To whom is Sam Harris mailing his Letter to a Christian Nation? The title suggests that he is attempting to persuade religious believers to change their views, an approach which seems to be confirmed by much of the tone and content of the “letter.” But in the introductory “Note to the Reader,” Harris states:

While this book is intended for people of all faiths, it has been written in the form of a letter to a Christian. In it, I respond to many of the arguments that Christians put forward in defense of their religious beliefs. The primary purpose of the book 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.

Harris concludes that “[i]n this, liberals, moderates, and non-believers can recognize a common cause.”

Now by “secularists,” obviously, Harris doesn’t mean just atheists — it would make little sense to “arm” them with anti-religious arguments that he himself thinks would be unpersuasive to believers. Rather, as he indicates, “secularists” includes “people of all faiths” who believe in church/state separation. But I don’t see how that approach makes much sense either.

First, if Harris is talking about religious arguments, the arguments are the same whether he’s attacking right-wing theology, moderate theology or left-wing theology. So liberals and moderates “armed” with such arguments wouldn’t just be at war with the Right. They’d be arguing against their own beliefs as well. They couldn’t make the arguments while still remaining “people of faith.” Moreover, even if they somehow could, the arguments wouldn’t really constitute ammunition. Harris concedes that they lack any persuasive power against the “opponents on the Christian Right.”

Second, if Harris talking about church/state separation arguments, the arguments are redundant because he’s already defined his audience as people who already believe in it. More importantly, the separation arguments inevitably depend on the anti-religious arguments; if, in fact, the religious claims are true, there’s no reason whatsoever to keep them out of public policy. So once again, Harris is effectively asking liberal and moderate believers to convince the [unconvincible] Right that religion should be kept out of policy because it is false.

The traditional liberal Christian argument for church/state separation is not religious beliefs are unworthy of belief. It’s that the New Testament requires non-interference with politics under the “render-unto-Caesar” theory. But that argument is a scriptural one, one which Harris could hardly advance without abandoning his own beliefs.

Comments

9 Responses to “Return to Sender”

  1. jeffazi
    October 27th, 2006 @ 12:14 pm

    One of the comments was mine. I posted a link to another atheism site I’ve been reading lately. Here it is:

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/

    Jeff

  2. Aaron Kinney
    October 27th, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    Yea I posted a comment in here too. It was a comment critical of RA for this post. Also, in the comment I explained that Sam Haris book is appropriately described as a tool for secularists while being addressed to fundies.

    This is because I am a secularist, I bought the book and read it, and I then gave it to a fundie friend for them to read. They have a lot of new questions in their head as a result.

    I think that Harris latest book is right on the money. It did everything it was meant to do. It is primarily a tool for secularists and it is appropriately addressed to conservatives.

    RA is being rather lame as trying to act moderate. Harris eviscerated moderates rather effectively in his last book, The End of Faith.

    I really wish the comment I originally wrote wasnt gone, for it was much better written than this one Im writing right now. Ugh…

  3. Dr. BDH
    October 27th, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

    The true reason for not establishing a religion in the United States was to avoid persecution of the other religions. That continues to be the primary liberal Christian argument as well as the primary secularist argument. It does not reference scripture and is therefore a point of agreement among liberal believers and nonbelievers.

  4. YAHWEH
    October 30th, 2006 @ 12:16 pm

    “THE FIRST AMENDMENT FORBIDS THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION BECAUSE THE FOUNDERS THOUGHT RELIGIOUS TRUTH WAS UNKNOWABLE AND SO MUST REMAIN AN OPEN QUESTION. BUT THE CONST. GUARANTEES THE ESTABLISHMENT OF REPUBLICAN GOVERNMENTS IN ALL THE THE STATES BECAUSE THE FOUNDERS CONSIDERED THE BEST FORM OF GOVERNMENT A CLOSED QUESTION IN AN OPEN SOCIETY.”

    THUS, IT IS CLEAR THE FOUNDERS CHOSE THEIR WORDS COGENTLY AND SUCCINCTLY; THEY FORBID CONGRESS FROM ESTABLISHING RELIGION; BUT THEY MANDATE CONGRESS TO GUARANTEE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACIES IN ALL THE STATES.

    WHO DOES NOT PELLUCIDLY SEE THAT, BY THE SAME SWIPE OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL QUILL, THE FOUNDERS COULD HAVE MANDATED THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CHRISTIANITY AS THEY DID THE ESTABLISHMENT OF REPUBLICAN GOVERNMENTS IN ALL STATES?

    (ANSWER THE “RABID RELIGIOUS REICH” BLINDED BY THEIR BIBLICAL AND NATIONAL CREATION MYTHS)

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