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Letter to a Christian Nation

2007 January 11
by Mike

I know this seems strange, but over the break I’ve been doing some reading of works by atheists. I’m not in the market for conversion. But I also want to hear what’s being said.

There are some resources online, such as “Why Does God Hate Amputees?” There are even videos on YouTube such as this one or this one.

Again, I think it’s obvious that I’m not in agreement with what’s said. But in order to “give a reason for the hope that’s in us,” we need to know what unbelievers are saying. Scripture recognized long ago that the big battle isn’t against atheism but against idolatry (reducing God by trying to find life in someone or something other than God). But still, I’ve wanted to know what voices are out there, rather than just assuming some stereotype.

Last year I read Sam Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, and over the break I added the much shorter Letter to a Christian Nation.

Harris begins by talking about the irony of the Christian assumption that their faith is primarily about love and forgiveness.

“The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents [since the release of The End of Faith] always cite chapter and verse.”

He opens with this honest declaration: “Either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it isn’t. Either Christ was divine, or he was not. . . . So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose.” (I’m reminded here of Pascal’s famous “wager argument”!)

Here is a frontal blow from Harris as he considers how nations of the world are willing to kill each other over their holy books and their confident interpretations:

“The idea that the Bible is a perfect guide to morality is simply astounding, given the contents of the book. Admittedly, God’s counsel to parents is straightforward; whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23:13-14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Mark 7:9-13, and Matthew 15:4-7). We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshipping graven images, practicing sorcery, and a wide variety of other imaginary crimes.”

What about Christianity — as set out in the New Testament?

“If you think that Christianity is the most direct and undefiled expression of love and compassion the world has ever seen, you do not know much about the world’s other religions. Take the religion of Jainism as one example. The Jains preach a doctrine of utter nonviolence. While the Jains believe many improbable things about the universe, they do not believe the sorts of things that lit the fires of the Inquisition. You probably think the Inquisition was a perversion of the ‘true’ spirit of Christianity. Perhaps it was. The problem, however, is that the teachings of the Bible are so muddled and self-contradictory that it was possible for Christians to happily burn heretics alive for five long centuries. It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed outright (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently — though isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?”

Harris is aghast at the way Christians talk about morality — usually about sex — while ignoring the relationship to suffering.

“Relieving suffering seems to rank rather low on your list of priorities. Your principal concern appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery. . . We now have a vaccine for HPV that appears to be safe and effective [in battling cervical cancer]. The vaccine produced 100 percent immunity in the six thousand women who received it as part of a clinical trial. And yet, Christian conservatives in our government have resisted a vaccination program on the grounds that HPV is a valuable impediment to premarital sex. These pious men and women want to preserve cervical cancer as an incentive toward abstinence, even if it sacrifices the lives of thousands of women each year.”

“Kids who are taught abstinence alone are less likely to use contraceptives when they do have sex, as many of them inevitably will. One study found taht teen ‘virginity pledges’ postpone intercourse for eighteen months on average — while, in the meantime, these virgin teens were more likely than their peers to engage in oral and anal sex. American teenagers engage in about as much sex as teenagers in the rest of the developed world, but American girls are four to five times more likely to become pregnant, to have a baby, or to get an abortion. Young Americans are also far more likely to be infected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rate of gonorrhea among American teens is seventy times higher than it is among their peers in the Netherlands and France. The fact that 30 percent of our sex-education programs teach abstinence only (at a cost of more than $200 million a year) surely has something to do with this. The problem is that Christians like yourself are not principally concerned about teen pregnancy and the spread of disease. That is, you are not worried about the suffering caused by sex; you are worried about sex.”

He scoffs at the idea that God answers our prayers:

“While many people of faith seem convinced that prayer can heal a wide variety of illnesses (despite what the best scientific research indicates), it is curious that prayer is only ever believed to work for illnesses and injuries that can be self-limiting. No one, for instance, ever seriously expects that prayer will cause an amputee to regrow a missing limb. Why not? Salamanders manage this routinely, presumably without prayer. If God answers prayer — ever — why wouldn’t he occasionally heal a deserving amputee? And why wouldn’t people of faith expect prayer to work in such cases?”

And he’s unmoved by personal testimonies about changes that have come into people’s lives:

“I have no doubt that your acceptance of Christ coincided with some very positive changes in your life. Perhaps you now love other people in a way that you never imagined possible. You may even experience feelings of bliss while praying. I do not wish to denigrate any of these experiences. I would point out, however, that billions of other human beings, in every time and place, have had similar experiences — but they had them while thinking about Krishna, or Allah, or the Buddha, while making art or music, or while contemplating the beauty of Nature.”

Well, there’s so much I’d like to say in response. When he says that “atheism is not a philosophy . . . it is simply an admission of the obvious,” I think he’s self-deceived. Isn’t that like an overly-confident declaration of being opposed to over-confidence? And when he’s utterly amazed that “80 percent of Katrina’s survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God,” perhaps he should ask if there is more going on in this world than a scientist can test and a rationalist can figure out.

Why does faith flourish in pediatric oncology wings of hospitals? (It’s the question that led Dr. Diane Komp, a pediatric oncologist, back to faith.)

But having said that, I think Harris has done us a favor by writing honestly and clearly about what faith looks like from his perspective. He has pointed out some things that we must face if we’re going to have a voice in this world. I’d love to be in a study group with a bunch of university students working through this. I trust that our faith is not too fragile to face such arguments with compassion and truth.

100 Responses leave one →
  1. January 11, 2007

    Josh,

    Good points, though both of those texts aren’t addressing the faith of Ephesians 2, which was being pointed to earlier. In regards to salvation, my acceptance of God’s saving grace is said to be solely by faith, which is a decision I make in my heart to turn things over to Him and a trust that He’ll take care of it. I can’t earn it, I can’t prove that I’m worthy, I can’t impress God enough with any kind of godly effort. That’s the faith that originates with me in my heart.

    The texts you mentioned do show another, I don’t know if “type” is a good word, but another aspect maybe, of faith. From 1 Cor 12 and Rom 12 it is clear that God gifts “some” with an extraordinary level of faith, a special ability to trust, to see the unseen, a gift from God in order to serve the body in a particular fashion. Praise God we have men and women in our churches who have the “gift of faith” that propels others to bigger, better, and unseen things in God’s kingdom.

    Good discussion, all.

  2. January 11, 2007

    Richard B,

    I want to come to Abilene, if for no other reason, than to meet the man who stood up on this blog and called bullshit exactly what it is.

    I was dating a girl that went to HU. She lived near the MS gulf coast, and after Katrina, didn’t hear from her parents for two weeks. When she called me and told me that she heard from her folks and they were ok, I was relieved. Then she said “and its so obvious that God was protecting our house because so many people were praying for it” (her hosue was the only one in her neighborhood without damage). After the third time she said that, I said, C*****, you probably should be careful who you say that to, because there are plenty of people who prayed just as hard, who’s houses are underwater or completely washed away at this point. Probably someone at your school.

    And that was pretty much the end of the relationship.

    But I see that mentality so much amongst believers, and it saddens me. We’ve lost any ability to think critically, and we are scared to death of anything disproving our faith, so we just ignore it. If you truely have faith, why be scared of science?

  3. January 11, 2007

    I picked up Harris’ book in the Austin airport a few weeks ago and nearly bought it. I think it’s so important that we not only read atheists’ questions for us, but we interact personally with those who do not share even our belief in a deity. This happened (kind of by surprise) to me a few months ago, when an atheist who reads my blog posed several questions for Christians. It was a fascinating dialogue, which you can read here: http://harvestboston.net/20060822/questions-for-christians/. As a result of that dialogue, my friend Ben (who is a church planter in northern New Jersey / NYC) and our atheist friend started an on-going Christian-Atheist dialogue called “philaletheia” (http://philaletheia.thetruthtree.com/ … ”love of truth”) that seeks to get past the militant history between Christians and atheists to a more constructive and loving conversation.

    It’s amazing to an atheist, for instance, to discover that not all American Christians are fans of war who hate gay people and want only to push their religion on anyone who’ll listen. This comes as a genuine surprise to many atheists (as well as non-Christians of all kinds) because unfortunately, they have had only negative experiences with Christians. My conclusion is that few atheists will join the way of Jesus by rational propositions, but maybe — just maybe — a Christian’s conduct and love in such dialogues will show just enough of Jesus to peak their interest.

    On a different note, whoever said that “thinking” and “being a Christian” were mutually exclusive? I agree with Richard and others above who stressed the need for Christians to think long and hard about why they believe what they believe. We also need to take seriously the barriers people have to “believing in God.” That’s a huge step! Some people come to God in a blinding light experience, and others choose the way of the cross more calculatingly and rationally. Both are valid, and I think we see both in Scripture. I’m just afraid I sense some of our tradition’s anti-intellectualism seeping back in, replaced by a happy-clappy cliché that says, “just believe!”

  4. Lurker permalink
    January 11, 2007

    There is a great new blog out there that is trying to have a civil, open discussion about matters of faith between a believer and an atheist. Check it out: http://philaletheia.thetruthtree.com/

  5. January 11, 2007

    AtlantaBob is right, the Time interview he referenced (available here) has Dawkins displaying considerably more “epistemic humility” (thank you Richard B) than usual. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that he is having a face-to-face discussion with a robust Christian intellectual like Francis Collins rather than writing to the masses and trying to sell his wares.

    I’ve been over this about a million times now in my own head. Dawkins, Collins and Harris all have faith (nobody operates without it). If you want to walk away from God, you can come up with many compelling reasons to do so; if you want to believe, there are many compelling reasons to stay.

    The questions then become: which faith do you want? Indeed, which faith will you choose?

    As to why I continue to believe, it is all a very deep mystery to me.

  6. January 11, 2007

    I’ll have a go at answering the closing question: “Why does faith flourish in pediatric oncology wings of hospitals?”

    My view: because there are few things more heartbreaking and distressing than children with potentially terminal illnesses – more to the parents than the children, it seems (if the media portrayal of children with cancer is reliable). Compound that with the uncertain prognoses and the very visible side-effects of treatment e.g. loss of hair, things can indeed look bleak.

    It’s very understandable that people look for comfort and certainty in times of distress. This is also the origin of the saying “there are no atheists in foxholes”: the idea that people turn to religion in times of stress. Comforting as that may be, I think it’s important to recognise that you are “not yourself” in such circumstances: your judgement is impaired.

    With the sincerest sympathy, I would advise those in distress that that is not the time to make life-changing decisions. Instead, I think it’s better to think about the issues and clarify your position while you are best able – when you have time to think, with no pressure or distress. That is: now, not later, it will serve to fortify your personal philosophy against getting bent out of shape when times are difficult.

    We frown on “ambulance-chaser” lawyers who follow accident victims to hospitals, taking advantage of their distress to finagle them in to signing retainers. I take as harsh a view of clerics who offer religious platitudes to those who are affected by illness, injury or other hardships, who prey on immobile patients at their bedsides. To be blunt: they are taking advantage of people in their distress, offering them viral falsehoods in the form of comfort, which they are less able to resist in their weakened states. Vultures! 8)

  7. January 11, 2007

    Martin, it’s not that I don’t think that reason has a place in the life of a Christian. But I do reject the notion that reason must be the first and final arbiter. Does ANYONE live like that? Really? Must we be converted into some sort of Lockean foundationalists, and that before we can come to and stay in Christ?

    When we regard disbelief as the wrong answer to a math question or a puzzle of logic, we have misunderstood both unbelief and our own faith. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe too many Christians don’t take God at his Word when he tells us that unbelievers have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. That is not some innocent inexperience that people can be educated or argued out of. To be without God is to be deprived of the Truth. Why should the church speak and act as though that’s not the real score?

  8. julia permalink
    January 11, 2007

    Kristen, Really – you know a man who has SEEN limbs regrow… REALLY??? Why was it not in the news, in a magazine, on a blog, or documented anywhere? Did you see it, or just hear about it? Please…

  9. January 11, 2007

    All:

    Check out this article http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110009482 Basically, the author says that the new atheism has no new arguments, but they make up for it in mean-spiritedness.

  10. January 11, 2007

    I saw Harris on a TV debate with Hugh Hewitt and Harris did not do very well at all. Perhaps it was the TV lights.

    Brian T. — I know a lot of ministers, and I have never seen one “take advantage” of those who are affected by illness, injury or other hardships. I HAVE seen them sit with them, clean up after them, love them, pray for them, weep with them, and comfort them.

    Vultures??? I think not. That’s offensive.

  11. January 11, 2007

    Mike,
    Good post. We have an atheist coming to our new church plant. He has begun to read a bible and pray. Although he is skeptical I have noticed that he is like many who have been hurt by Christian hypocrisy. He is dating a young girl who has been brought up in the “church.” Thing is, this has challenged her to examine what she believes. Our conversations are on basic apologetics–stuff that led me to Christ. She sees how protected she has been.

    She is also pressured by others in a church. They criticize her for dating him. While it is not always the best thing to date an unbeliever–we look at the potential and how he is moving forward. The key is still relationships. If we demonize “atheists” we will never develop relationships and help them deal with their anger at God and the church.

    Ron Clark
    Portland, OR

  12. Gary H permalink
    January 11, 2007

    I find it interesting that quantum physicists can seriously discuss — in the form of string theory — the reality of an unknown number of “dimensions” that we can’t see or feel or touch, but somehow people who suggest a metaphysical reality are “irrational.”

  13. January 11, 2007

    Mike..if people say to me that they have healed people through prayer then I want to say, Well, what are you doing wasting time here talking to me..there’s alot of children dying of cancer you could be healing as we speak. This subject requires much thought and a lack of understanding on my part. Jesus promises us both suffering and peace and it seems that when I listen to some they seem on fire to alleviate suffering.

  14. LDB permalink
    January 11, 2007

    On Tuesday night, I had the privilege of listening to a preacher named John Bishop. He has an amazing testimony and his ministry is ministering to hurting people because he is one. His “mottos” is “God is always good and God is always right.”

    One thing he said that really stuck with me & presented the scripture in a new light to me was basically that the Bible tells us that we are to give a reason for the HOPE that is within us, not that we are to give a reason of why the circumstances are what they are. I’m so glad God does not need me to be His defender. He also said that he is glad he has a God that is not simple enough to be understood by us!

    I agree!

  15. January 12, 2007

    Sam Harris as a speaker for his views is amazing. I have read The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation as well as have a lecture he gave out in Irvine, California. If I did not believe in God Sam would be my go-to guy for arguments.

    I am encouraged that you are reading him. So many in the Christian community are affraid to delve into ideas and views that don’t exactly jive with what we believe. But I believe an outside look at our faith and how we live can only be helpful in learning how to show Jesus to people around us better.

  16. Amy Boone permalink
    January 12, 2007

    Hey Mike… you said you’d like a forum to discuss these kinds of things with college student? Well, you could audit the class Randy Harris and my dad teach that is a bioethics class. I hear it’s pretty awesome!

  17. January 12, 2007

    I picked up Harris’ book in the Austin airport a few weeks ago and nearly bought it. I think it’s so important that we not only read atheists’ questions for us, but we interact personally with those who do not share our belief in a deity.

    I agree with Richard and others above who stressed the need for Christians to think long and hard about why they believe what they believe. We also need to take seriously the barriers people have to “believing in God.” That’s a huge step! Some people come to God in a blinding light experience, and others choose the way of the cross more calculatingly and rationally. Both are valid, and I think we see both in Scripture. Skeptics don’t want to hear our pre-packaged, Family Christian Stores answers. They scoff at happy-clappy clichés that say things like, “just believe!” or on arguments that create guilt for not blindly believing.

    Take, for example, the e-mail received by the father of a friend of mine from an inquisitive skeptic. It’s very telling, I think, of the wrestling match many people go through to “just believe”:

    If you have the time and the desire, I would like you to answer the question posited in the next paragraph, using your personal beliefs, your understanding of history and the Bible, or anything else you might find useful as a guide. I’m not interested in generalizations or clichés, such as “God works in mysterious ways,” “The Devil makes people think this way,” or “You simply gotta have faith,” but I am interested in thoughtful, reasoned out answers. I’m very familiar with the Jesus story, so that doesn’t need to be reiterated (in fact, since it promises Hell to non-believers, it’s probably not a usable point in answering the question), and I’m also fully versed in the concepts of original sin and sin separating us from God, so please keep those types of answers to a minimum. Also, saying that it is “Not for us to understand” is uninteresting and uninformative, and it misses the point, since understanding is an inherent part of determining one’s views or beliefs. I wrote the question not to be sacrilegious, confrontational, critical, or offensive, but to gain understanding and insight into how fervent, charismatic, unflinching (and presumably intelligent) followers of God can be as such in light of the many atrocities found (and promised) in the Bible. If you want to cite some of the many wonderful things God has done in your life as a part of your answer, that would be fine (and maybe even inspirational J), but please keep in mind that the many stillborns, aborted babies, abused children, burn victims, and others who didn’t or don’t have it as good as you puts a damper in my mind on any feel-good types of stories. The pithier the answer, the better–I’m not looking for bumper sticker slogans. Please send your response in the form of email, since I tend to reason out my thoughts better on “paper” than when speaking to someone over the phone or face to face. Thanks for your time.

    A question regarding the nature of God.

    Let’s take a hypothetical person. Let’s say his only unrepentant sin is the disbelief that Christ is divine or even real. He questions, through rational, God-given thought and reason, the existence of a higher power in general. Otherwise, this is a fine, humanitarian type of person, as evidenced by his good deeds, honesty, love, sympathy, empathy, generosity, etc. Now, let’s take God, who has many of these same traits (love, honesty, etc.), but also has much more, including omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and a perfect understanding of how everything works, where everything has been, and where everything is going. According to the scriptures, God also possesses a number of traits we find distasteful (and even sinful) when encountered in human beings, including jealousy, vengefulness, the desire for unending praise, aloofness (he no longer addresses us directly), a taste for blood (he loved the smell of burnt offerings at one time), and a penchant for exterminating those who don’t believe the right things or behave in the proper manner (witness “Noah’s Ark,” for starters). During these killing sprees, numerous innocents (called “collateral damage” in military vernacular) were put to death, including babies, young children, and those misguided souls who were unfortunate enough to sincerely believe (through societal and familial influence) that pagan gods or idols would somehow make their lives better. God also assured time and again that the countless trillions who are skeptical (or are otherwise out of the loop) abject misery for eternity. So, the aforementioned hypothetical person, encumbered by human frailties and a limited concept of how the world works, is going to Hell for simple, honest disbelief, despite being a wonderful person. While God, on the other hand, who can do anything and knows everything, and is engendered with unfathomable depths of wisdom and love, is to be worshipped unconditionally, despite the many horrors attributed to Him (including the very creation of evil itself). How does this postulate make justifiable sense?

    I would again point people to a site set up by a Christian friend of mine and an atheist fellow following a lengthy dialogue on my blog a few months ago (which generated nearly 100 comments).

    philaletheia [dot] thetruthtree [dot] com

  18. January 12, 2007

    This thread captures a lot of things I’ve been mulling over lately (in fact, it spurred me to finally get around to expounding on them on my own blog). It strikes me as a bit ironic that members of the Christian community often cite various physical “evidences” and personal experiences as logical, nearly irrefutable proof of God, yet we accuse non-believers of being illogical, arrogant God-haters when they hold to “evidences” and experiences they feel support their claims. Although I feel some typical Christian arguments in these matters are valid (and some aren’t), there’s no way to prove in a hardfast, rational, empirical way that we’re right. And, as others have noted, feel-good personal testimonies often carry little weight for skeptics–heck, they sometimes carry very little weight for me. No matter how many physical/logical evidences we can muster, or how many God-touched experiences we have, there comes a point when we have to choose to follow God despite limited knowlege, despite inexplicable sufferings. To me, that’s the essence of faith. Frankly, that doesn’t set well with our Western, Englightenment-washed thinking that demands an understanding of anything and everything. And it’s that demand of understanding that leads some people to attempt to posit explanations for God’s ways (but as LDB noted, God doesn’t ask us to be His defender) that may seem logical at times but are in no way verifiable, and for others to choose to not believe in Him. To add to another of LDB’s thoughts, I genuinely believe that what will bolster our faith the most and will touch the non-believer most powerfully is for us to give a reason for our hope, to proclaim the message of the cross, and to actively live out Christ-centered, service-filled lives.

  19. LDB permalink
    January 12, 2007

    I watched a couple of those YouTube videos about why Christianity is a delusion or what have you. Didn’t shake my faith one bit. Praise God!

    These atheists are foolish…Why don’t they believe like we do? Because they are natural man. Let’s not be surprised when natural men act like natural men…. such were we. Think back on your own conversion experience, especially if you were not raised in the church. Your mind has since been transformed.

    It takes the power of God through the Holy Ghost for a man to be converted, born again, saved (whatever word you like.) Our “logical” arguments aren’t going to convert them. We need to prayerfully minister to these people and be led by the Spirit in all our actions with them.

    For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. -1Cor 1:18

    But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor 2:14

    Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? …And such WERE some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. -1Cor 6:9,11

  20. January 12, 2007

    Of all the great comments on this post, “C” hit the nail on the head.

    The Bible characterizes Christ rejecters as “wicked” and without excuse because they have made a conscious choice to exchange the truth of God for a lie. There are no “honest” unbelievers as they are often portrayed.

    Anyone can come toward the light if he or she chooses, but the Bible makes it crystal clear that people who don’t make that choice because their deeds are evil.

    This issue isn’t nearly as complicated as some of the commenter’s make it.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  21. January 12, 2007

    Royce, while there are certainly people who consciously reject Christ, can you honestly say that all non-believers have done so? I would suggest that some people have rejected Christ because the only view of Christ to which they’ve been exposed has been an overly judgmental, and sometimes compassionless, one acted on by many churches. Furthermore, if someone has never been taught the gospel–has been raised in naturalistic teaching–then perhaps they’ve never recognized a choice exists, although they have a sense that there must be something more to life. That’s why we ought to be active Christ-centered, service-filled children of God that the Spirit may work through us to reach their hearts. If as a Christian I contend that all non-believers are wicked and/or dishonest, then why on earth would they want to hear more about Christ?

  22. January 12, 2007

    I’d add a couple more things to what Jason said, Royce. We must establish what, exactly, unbelievers are “rejecting” (if, indeed, they have conscienciously rejected it … the Bible also uses language of “being asleep” and “waking up” to refer to conversion, so I’m not sure the “wicked” argument gets us anywhere constructive…). Are they rejecting a set of propositions about Jesus? Are they truly rejecting the Living God and His Way? Are they rejecting the church?

    Many times, it’s not cut-and-dry why people aren’t “believers,” and I don’t find it helpful to paint all unbelievers with a broadstroke of “wicked.” Many of us have worked out our faith over many years, beginning in a childhood of seeing the gospel modeled for us. I personally have a new “waking up” experience every couple of months when I read or hear something that sheds new light on some aspect of the gospel. Many of our co-workers, fellow students, or neighbors did not have the experiences we had/have.

    From my experience working and dialoguing with not-yet-Christians, many have never heard the gospel — the freeing, saving gospel of Jesus — without all the crap that we Christians throw into it. Are these folks wicked for having never seen this lived out in an authentic way? I want to be a part of a movement that models the radical, counter-cultural way of Christ, working alongside God as he “puts the world to rights,” and inviting all people — Christians and non-Christians — into that life. I believe that is the freeing Gospel we should preach, not some set of rational propositions that one must ascribe to in order to be “in.”

    (Truth is, I don’t ascribe to some of the traditional propositions of the church…)

  23. Luke permalink
    January 12, 2007

    They’re not the greatest of theologians, but DC Talk stated, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today… is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is simply what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.”

    For those that proclaim to follow the way of the cross to be any more believable perhaps we should first do a little more apologizing than proselytizing or finger wagging.

  24. January 12, 2007

    Royce:

    You said: “The Bible characterizes Christ rejecters as “wicked” and without excuse because they have made a conscious choice to exchange the truth of God for a lie. There are no “honest” unbelievers as they are often portrayed.”

    The sacred texts of other religions say much the same about you and I, since we have rejected the truths found therein. I imagine that fact doesn’t overly concern you. Why, then, should your argument concern someone who doesn’t believe the Bible is authoritative?

    It isn’t complicated at all to say “I am right, all others are wrong, and God is on my side.” That is simple, and utterly ineffective. More grace and peace than that is needed.

  25. January 12, 2007

    No comments on how outlandishly arrogant LDB’s post is?

    Wow.

    Its so easy to see why people are atheists when reading some of these comments. Wicked. Foolish. blah blah blah.

    Can anyone imagine Christ telling people they are stupid because they dont’ believe? Thomas needed proof… he needed to see jesus’s hands and touch his side… but Jesus didn’t call him stupid.

    Sometimes I’m embarrased by the things people say in the name of the Lord.

  26. January 12, 2007

    Richard B

    “…despite our claims to hold the “truth,” we show an astonishing lack of curiosity and critical thinking about our beliefs.”

    Indeed…it is the unscriptural ‘belief’s of Christians which provide most of the grist to the atheist mill.

    The ‘trinity’, ‘immaculate conception’, ‘original sin’, etc. are all products of the Graeco-Roman church fathers’ world-view. These doctrines have nothing to do with Hebrew Christianity or the teachings of the Hebrew apostles. They are NOT derived from the New Testament. This is a demonstrable fact.

    Isn’t it about time we stopped providing so much ammunition for atheists?

  27. Robert Caskey permalink
    January 13, 2007

    oh wow…i need to get this book. he has a lot of good points and questions…even though i am a christian and i believe in the message of Christ…

  28. January 13, 2007

    Thanks for posting on this Mr. Cope. As a Harding student, I was actually recently part of a Wednesday night study that for three or four weeks would read sections of Letter to a Christian Nation and then discuss them. As a nonbeliever, I applaud their (and your) attempt to be knowledgeable about arguments from “the other side.”

    The saddest part to me was hearing a group of very intelligent, compassionate students discuss slavery and genocide (after reading Harris’ discussion of the subjects) and conclude that maybe those things weren’t always so bad. “Maybe slavery wasn’t so bad back then, and it was really better for some people,” one person said. And most agreed that slaughtering the Canaanites man, woman, child, and animal was wholly justified because God was on their side. If you want a reason why so much of theology seems repugnant to intelligent, and yes, honest (contrary to what Royce said) people, look no further than these discussion of slavery and genocide, issues that many honest theologians agree are extremely thorny issues for a Christian to reconcile.

    Harris has nothing new to say, and doesn’t have the credentials as an established scientist or philosopher to really deserve the attention he’s getting. Most of his popularity comes from his polemical style, some of which is justified, but little of which is productive. The fact that such diatribes against Christianity are popular in America should be a warning to churches that their attempts to have influence in social and political avenues will naturally breed strong reactions, which might impair their ability to affect individual salvation.

    Some of Harris’ arguments in Letter were utterly poor (such as his suggestion that atheism makes nations wealthier by comparing countries in Western Europe with developing nations). He seems overly optimistic that faith is going to disappear overnight simply because people stop respecting even the most absurd religious beliefs in conversation. Rather, I think serious unbelievers who want to make the world a better place to live in can be highly critical of forms of faith that have a greater negative impact on the world (such as opposing condom use to stop AIDS or supporting foreign policy decisions because of premillenial theology) while still respecting and working alongside those from more liberal, rational theological backgrounds.

  29. January 13, 2007

    Jim said: “I’ve found that unbelievers have been deeply hurt in life, or by Christians and churches. It’s not just a philosophical issue they’re wrestling with. It is a cry of a wounded and frustrated heart.”

    I would caution against assuming that all unbelievers are such because they were deeply hurt. I had/have a good home life, wonderful Christian parents, attend a Christian university, know many thoughtful, intelligent Christian people. I just don’t think they’re right. Some of us have serious scientific, theological, ethical, and historical disputes with the Christian belief system.

    But you’re right too- a good many people (probably the vast majority) reject Christianity for the same reasons that the majority of people accept Christ; personal, emotional circumstances or the beliefs of ones’ parents.

  30. January 13, 2007

    Kristin said: “Bill Johnson at the Bethel Church in Redding, CA has seen limbs regrown by God through prayer – instantly…and his church prays for it when they have the opportunity so Harris’ assertation that we do not pray for this because we apparently do not think that the Lord would/could regrow a limb is wrong.”

    Kristin’s ability to believe the ludicrous exemplifies much of what Harris is talking about. Belief in certain theological principles can lead one to take at face value religious statements that would be rejected out of hand in any other context. Do all of the believing readers on here agree with Kristin? If not, does it not bother you that someone could make such a claim? Do you just avoid confronting statements like these because you’re worried you might offend someone?

    On staying in some homes of church members recently (who were universally kind and caring, I must note) I noticed a good many of them had books by Kevin Trudeau, like Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. Is it possible that Kristin’s statement and this implicit acceptance of things that sound nice but have no backing somehow correlated?

    Royce says: “Anyone can come toward the light if he or she chooses, but the Bible makes it crystal clear that people who don’t make that choice because their deeds are evil.”
    Royce, as a nobeliever, it’s interesting for me to contrast your approach with that of Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 8. I can choose to either blame this contrast on the inconsistency of messages presented in the Bible, or to the possibility that you’ve never met an honest, kind non-Christian. Which should I choose?

  31. Kathy S permalink
    January 13, 2007

    Thank you, Mike, for this post. I have always been so interested–even fascinated at times–in hearing what the “other side” thinks–in any area of my life, most especially regarding my faith. Hearing folks I don’t agree with helps me. It strengthens my faith and causes me to really look at things. It also helps me have more compassion for some I may have “written off.”

    I recently heard a legalistic sermon that centered the preacher’s faith on being the “right” church and that sermon, while disheartening in many ways, has really galvanized and increased my faith in and dependence upon Jesus. My compassion for the hearers of that sermon also grew.

  32. January 14, 2007

    Why are there some of you slamming Royce? Maybe he paraphrased in a more terse way, but he is actually saying what the last few verses of Romans 1 is saying. Please read and make sure you’re really not slamming the Apostle Paul.

    Brett – I see no contrast, in fact I see a perfect fit with Romans 1 and John 8. The adulterous woman’s deeds were evil, and Romans 1 explains that. John 8 then explains how she should she be dealt with… “no condemnation” from any of us, just encouragement to “leave her life of sin”.

  33. January 14, 2007

    C., Maybe some are “slamming” Royce (it sounded more like gentle criticism to me) because they see, as you choose not to, that the phrase “There are no ‘honest’ unbelievers as they are often portrayed” is simply wrong. Maybe some of those disagreeing with him actually know honest unbelievers. Just because Royce is paraphrasing Romans 1 doesn’t make what he’s saying right.

  34. January 14, 2007

    Brett, I see your point. Sounds like Royce needs to clarify his definition of “honest”. No doubt there are unbelievers who live their life dealing with others in an honest way. I would imagine most are honest with their families, co-workers, the IRS, etc.. Was Royce saying that kind of honesty doesn’t exist? I doubt it, but only Royce can explain that.

    My guess is that he was paraphrasing Romans 1 where it says “they have exchanged God’s truth for a lie”. If he is trying to say that the believer’s walk is within God’s truth, but the unbeliever’s walk is within that of a lie (dishonesty?), then what he is saying is right – according to Paul. Because, as you know, you cannot serve both God and flesh.

  35. January 15, 2007

    C.,

    Believing a lie and being a dishonest person are wholly different things.

    Also, don’t forget to keep reading into Chapter 2: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

  36. January 15, 2007

    Exactly. I’m pretty sure that is is what I just said. But, to clarify, I have no doubt there are many, many unbelievers with excellent moral and ethical compasses. However, their proclamation of unbelief means they have bought into the lie Satan is selling, especially when in contrast to God’s truth.

    Romans 2 ties in very well with what Brett and I were talking about earlier in describing John 8 and the adulterous woman. What a great story! Not only are we not to judge or bring condemnation on others, we should bring encouragement to leave the life of sin. After all, believers or non-believers, aren’t we all sinners?

  37. January 15, 2007

    C.,
    No. At least, not in the sense that you would say we’re “all sinners.” (A lot depends on your definition of sin.) For me, as a nonbeliever, the terms is rather weighted down with metaphysical connotations to be very useful. Do we all at some point act inconsistently with our own ethical systems? Yes. Do we hurt others sometimes? Yes. Are we all evil, or brimming over with sin? Feel free to assert that you are, but many of my friends seem to be basically good people, regardless of their belief in God or not. This evil, negative, downtrodden view of human nature is one of the poorest contributions of Christianity to humanity, and along with it comes the fascination with redemption from outside, instead of recognizing the good that humanity itself is able to achieve. This insistence that mankind needs a Savior from on high, to the point that believing in which Savior is the right one becomes more important than actually trying to reconcile the foibles man may commit in the here and now, is not something I can agree with.

  38. January 17, 2007

    Brett,

    I’ve never experienced this view of Christianity of which you speak. I’m sorry that when I say “sin”, you’re experiences lead you to hear “evil, negative, downtrodden”. I do realize that my occasional ethical inconsistencies, or the times I might hurt others keeps me from being a perfect human being. And since I believe in a heaven, I know I need to be perfect to be in the presence of God. Thus, the need for a Savior (Jesus Christ) to appeal for me, and to stand for me so God will see me as perfect.

  39. January 17, 2007

    Preacher Mike:

    You are too kind in attributing “honesty” to Mr. Harris.

    You may want to order my soon to be published book, Letter to an Atheist, which demonstrates 25 factual errors and misrepresentations made by Mr. Harris in his short 91 page book.

    I am not talking about his opinion. I am talking about blatant misrepresentations of fact.

    For more, check out http://www.michaelpatrickleahy.com

  40. January 17, 2007

    Here’s an example of a factual error in Mr. Harris book that you seemed to accept:

    “The rate of gonorrhea among teenagers in the US is 70 times that of the rate in France and the Netherlands.”

    I checked out his source on this and it is — surprise — a 2005 article in the New York Times.

    That article, in turn cited a study published in 2000 by the Guttmacher Institute.

    So I checked out that study, and here’s what I found.

    The data for the US was taken from 1996. The data for France and the Netherlands came from 1990, 1993, 1996.

    US Data in 1996 from our CDC showed the incidence of gonorrhea in kids 15 to 19 to be 581.6 per 100,000. (That incidence declined to 490 in 2001 and 432 in 2005, by the way, the time period during which the abstinence programs Harris complains of were funded).

    The reported data for France and the Netherlands was 7.7 per 100,000.
    France does not collect data in gonorrhea in the same systematic way that way do. Instead, they have sentinel data from private labs, which the authors of the report acknowledge dramatically underreports the incidence of gonorrhea. Taking this suspect data for all age groups, the authors then extrapolated age distributions based upon assumptions that they also acknowledge were weak.

    The data from the Netherlands was compiled similarly, though the authors feel the quality of the data there is better than in France.

    Harris leaves the reader with 3 false impressions:

    1. The data was current, as opposed to ten years old.
    2. The unfavorable ratio was the result of US policies on abstinence. In fact, those policies were not in place until AFTER the study, and during the 10 years since the study, US rates have declined dramatically.
    3. The authors themselves report that the French data understates the true incidence.

    If Harris were intellectually honest, and not a propagandist, he would have made these facts known.

  41. January 18, 2007

    Mike,

    Here’s another falsehood in Harris’ book:

    You quote him as follows:

    ” And yet, Christian conservatives in our government have resisted a vaccination program on the grounds that HPV is a valuable impediment to premarital sex.”

    This is a demonstrably false statement.

    Harris cites a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece as his source for this statement (He seems to only be able to use the New York Times and the New Yorker Magazine as his “primary” sources).

    Turns out, this source points not to the members of the Bush Administration, but instead the Family Research Council.

    And does Harris accurately portray their real position ?

    Surprisingly, he does not.

    In testimony before the CDC in February 2006, their policy analyst states their position clearly — they favor the development of the vaccine, just want its administeration at public schools to twelve year old girls to come as part of an entire program that includes information on abstinence.

  42. February 6, 2007

    Sadly guys like Harris have no idea what’s happening in the spiritual “hot spots” around the world (like China, where 80% of the people are coming to Christ based on miraculous happenings), nor have they ever studied the happenings of the annointed men and women of God of the past like Smith Wigglesworth, John G Lake…etc…where the miraculous happenings he denies were happening….

  43. March 31, 2007

    I wanted to let you know that a new book has just been released that offers a solid response to Sam Harris. It is entitled “Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter Point” by RC Metcalf. Please let others know about this important work!

  44. March 11, 2008

    Julia.. I TOO know the same man as Kirsten does and probably go to the same church as she( just a guess ).. IT IS all over the net.. it has been on TV multiple times.. Its been all over the news and published in many books.. Its something we SEE all the time here, not just a story but something I actually seen with my own eyes.. its not just the pastor but the whole church here and world wide… perhaps you could look up a google or something…
    Yes there are those who dont believe it, but that doesnt make it any less true.. National media is liberal and doesnt often talk about the spiritual, unless its to post bad stuff about it..
    I am grateful that our local news is a lot more conservative..
    None the less I know that person who was healed and all those who are healed everyday here are very happy and you cant convince them they arent better.. 🙂

  45. March 20, 2008

    am pastor zebedayo from kenya east africa looking for affiliation with aministry which will help us to grow in the ministry and also in the word of God please do you like to have us, us your ministry thank you am waiting to hear from you soon

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