Answering Sam Harris

Intellectual Honesty The Jains
Islam Mass Murder
The Potter and the Clay Disagreement
Hate Speech Sermon on the Mount
Nailed to the Cross Moderates and Extremists
Brave New World Conflict of Interest
Lost Liberty What Planet?
Sympathy for the Devil

Intellectual Honesty

Atheist Sam HarrisBest-selling atheist author Sam Harris has produced a work entitled 'Letter to a Christian Nation.' This slender, over-priced little volume upholds 'intellectual honesty' as the highest virtue, and indeed, the sum of science's claimed superiority over religion:

"The core of science is not controlled experience or mathematical modeling; it is intellectual honesty. It is time we acknowledged a basic feature of human discourse: when considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn't. Religion is the one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 65).

By his own standard, is Mr. Harris doing science or religion? Let us examine what kind of "intellectual honesty" Mr. Harris' readers may expect from him:

1.) Slavery. Mr. Harris advises, "Consult the Bible, and you will discover that the creator of the universe clearly expects us to keep slaves. . ." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 14). He further explains,

"The only real restraint God counsels on the subject of slavery is that we not beat our slaves so severely that we injure their eyes or their teeth (Exodus 21)." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 16).

Now, is this statement of fact defensible? Is it intellectually honest? Is this, in fact, the "only real restraint" the Bible places upon slavery?:

  • “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.”
  • (Exodus 21:2).

  • “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.”
  • (Deuteronomy 15:12-15).

The reader who does not already know what the Bible says about slavery would not learn these things from Mr. Harris, though he certainly knows them. Rather he would have his readers believe that a book one of whose central themes is the liberation of God's people from slavery in Egypt encourages slavery:

"God had room to instruct us in great detail about how to keep slaves and sacrifice a wide variety of animals." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 62).

If Mr. Harris' readers do not already know the Bible, and many of them undoubtedly do not, then they will not know why African Americans used to celebrate Jubilee Day:

  • “And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.”
  • (Leviticus 25:8).

  • “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
  • “And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers.”
  • (Leviticus 26:35-41).

It may be objected that white Southerners did not enslave white Southerners, but black Africans. Indeed people often enslave those who are unlike them; the Spartans enslaved the Helots, not other Spartans. And the light-skinned ancestors of the Brahmins ensconced themselves atop a social pyramid whose broad bottom rested upon the darker-skinned peoples they had conquered, a social order ever thereafter justified by the myth of transmigration. Jews were allowed, under the Mosaic Law, to enslave foreigners. But noting this, without also noting that the door was left wide open for foreigners to enter into God's congregation, would betray intellectual dishonesty. And failing to note that the Jew/foreigner distinction is erased in the New Testament, would betray even more egregious intellectual dishonesty:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).

Author Harris advises us that ". . .while the abolitionists of the nineteenth century were morally right, they were on the losing side of a theological argument." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 17). While the Southern slaveholders did indeed prepare a Bible argument in defense of their position, those who have encountered it know it to be laughable. The reader is expected to believe that the 'mark of Cain' was black skin, though nowhere so stated, and that the 'mark of Cain' was placed upon him, not to protect him as stated, but to mark him out for exploitation. One must moreover believe the 'mark of Cain' was inherited by one only of Noah's descendents. One must moreover believe that Noah's curse against Canaan applied, not to Canaan, but to black Africans, and was meant to benefit, not Israel, but white Southerners. How that's done,— anglo-Israelitism and all that,— leads through further absurdities. It is because the South did not win the Bible argument that our society is no longer stained by this blight. Or does Mr. Harris think it was atheists who did away with slavery?

Mr. Harris goes on to accuse abolitionists of "cherry-picking the Bible" (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 18) to find ammunition for their cause. But this is what he has done, ignoring everything the Bible says against slavery. Recall, this is a person whose central accusation against Christians is that they are not 'intellectually honest.'

2. Jesus' Teaching. According to Mr. Harris, Jesus is here admonishing His followers to burn heretics:

"Jesus seems to have suggested, in John 15:6, further refinements to the practice of killing heretics and unbelievers: 'If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.' Whether we want to interpret Jesus metaphorically is, of course, our business." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 83).

Get it? Jesus, in saying that "men...cast them into the fire," is telling His followers to burn heretics...unless, of course, you prefer to interpret Him "metaphorically." Can this possibly be meant seriously?

This scripture-wresting is essential to Mr. Harris' thesis, which is that events like the Spanish Inquisition and the Nazi Holocaust represent, not unchristian aberrations, but the very flowering of the Christian faith according to its Biblical mandate:

"My purpose in this chapter has been to intimate, in as concise a manner as possible, some of the terrible consequences that have arisen, logically and inevitably, out of Christian faith. Unfortunately, this catalog of horrors could be elaborated upon indefinitely. Auschwitz, the Cathar heresy, the witch hunts -- these phrases signify depths of human depravity and human suffering that would surely elude description were a writer to set himself no other task." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 106).

He insists that the Christianity of the fourteenth century is true Biblical Christianity, even though believers in the fourteenth century had no Bible in their hands in a tongue they could decipher, nor if they had, would they have been permitted by their clerical overlords to read it. Why is it that, if Mr. Harris is correct and the worst atrocities of the Inquisition represent the true spirit of the gospel, no lay-person at the time they were occurring was permitted to read the Bible? Shouldn't the clerics who sponsored these events have been eager for the laity to see they were only doing as Christ and His apostles instructed?

When you observe believers carrying around Bibles and reading them, you do not observe any such events. When you do see such events, you see believers who would join the heretics in the flames if they even tried to read the Bible. To conclude from this evidence that believers do these things because the Bible commands them is intellectually dishonest.

3. Gandhi. Author Harris advises admirers of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "the doctrine of Jainism is an objectively better guide for becoming like Martin Luther King, Jr., than the doctrine of Christianity is." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 12). He goes on to explain that Martin Luther King, Jr. was influenced by Gandhi, who, he claims, got his doctrine from the Jains, polytheists to whom this atheist has attached himself. But Mr. Harris, who embarked upon a religious pilgrimage to India in his younger years, cannot be ill-informed about the influences which worked to form the faith of his heroes. Gandhi's religion may well owe much to the Jains, but it owed even more to Madame Blavatsky! By his own testimony, Gandhi was moved by the New Testament:

  • “I have a faint recollection that he himself used to sell copies of the Bible, and I purchased from him an edition containing maps, concordance, and other aids. I began reading it, but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.
  • “But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses, "But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloak too," delighted me beyond measure and put me in mind of Shamal Bhatt"s "For a bowl of water, give a goodly meal" etc. My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, The Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount.”

  • The Story of my Experiments with Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi, Project Gutenberg, Part 1, Chapter XX.

The Sermon on the Mount is, by Gandhi's own admission, one of the components entering into his 'unifi[ed]' blend. Gandhi's social teaching derives almost entirely from Western authors who were themselves influenced by the Bible, including John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy. Both these authors started the race with promise, though neither ended well. The author of the 'Modern Painters' was an evangelical Christian, and after his mid-life conversion, Tolstoy at first fellowshipped with the Russian Orthodox Church. Both authors saw in the Sermon on the Mount, not an unattainable counsel of perfection, but a practical political program.

Native Hindu social thinking revolves around explaining why those in the lower castes deserve to be treated like dogs,— because they sinned in a prior life,— while those in the upper castes deserve to have everything handed to them on a platter,— because they behaved well in a prior life. The untouchable who demands due process: who demands that his accusers prove in a court of law by rational evidentiary standards that he did anything bad in a prior life,— waits for a hearing in vain.

4. The Koran. Mohammed ibn Abdallah undertook his prophetic ministry with the bright hope of clearing up disputed points dividing the Christians and the Jews. Although the composition of his book is itself a stab at inter-faith dialogue, Mr. Harris cannot hear Mohammed ibn Abdallah conversing with the Christians, because his preposterous thesis denies any conversation possible on these topics:

"Nothing that a Christian and Muslim can say to each other will render their beliefs mutually vulnerable to discourse, because the very tenets of their faith have immunized them against the power of conversation." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 45).

To be sure this dialogue, which began with such earnest hope on Mohammed's part, ended very badly. At this late date Mohammed's followers have retreated into their own redoubt, hurling anathemas at the people of the book:

"After considering the queries the Council answered as follows: All religions other than Islam are heresy and error. Any place designated for worship other than [that of] Islam is a place of heresy and error, for it is forbidden to worship Allah in any way other than the way that Allah has prescribed in Islam." ('All Religions Other Than Islam Are Heresy': Saudi Religious Council, March 31, 2006, Assyrian International News Agency).

But this is not where the conversation started. It's hard to imagine how an author like Mr. Harris can read the Koran with enough attention to cherry-pick alarming verses, yet never even notice how many of the old familiar Bible stories made their way into that document. The poet Dante, in his survey of Hell, situated Mohammed amongst Christian schismatics and heretics, not with partisans of unrelated religions. Whatever the merits of this approach, it is certainly more tenable than Mr. Harris' pretense that these two books and two religions have nothing to do with each other and nothing to say to each other.

5. Augustine. Readers curious to ascertain our author's intellectual honesty should check this out:

Christian Classics

Augustine's well-known discussion of rape and suicide is available on, where it constitutes chapters 16 through 29 of Book 1 of the City of God.

Mr. Harris is aghast at honor killings amongst Muslims, which he explains as the consequence of "unjustified belief," including belief in "the shamefulness of being raped." These beliefs, he alleges, "have a venerable pedigree in the Christian West." And who does he present in the line-up to answer for theologically motivated belief in "the shamefulness of being raped"? Augustine, of course:

"Augustine, for instance, when considering the moral stature of virgins who had been raped by the Goths, wondered whether they had not been 'unduly puffed up by [their] integrity, continence and chastity.'...Perhaps, in other words, they deserved it." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 188).

Except, as is depressingly common with this author, Augustine is arguing the opposite side of the case from what he wishes the gullible reader to believe. Pagan Romans were familiar with honor killings; readers of Livy will recall Virginius murdering his daughter Virginia to keep Appius Claudius' dirty paws off her. Honor suicides also represented a venerable tradition, with Lucretia their founding heroine. This woman was raped by the son of King Tarquin the Proud, the last of the Roman kings:

"Then, after embracing her father and addressing many entreaties both to him and to all present and praying to the gods and other divinities to grant her a speedy departure from life, she drew the dagger she was keeping concealed under her robes, and plunging it into her breast, with a single stroke pierced her heart. Upon this the women beat their breasts and filled the house with their shrieks and lamentations, but her father, enfolding her body in his arms, embraced it, and calling her by name again and again, ministered to her, as though she might recover from her wound, until in his arms, gasping and breathing out her life, she expired. This dreadful scene struck the Romans who were present with so much horror and compassion that they all cried out with one voice that they would rather die a thousand deaths in defense of their liberty than suffer such outrages to be committed by the tyrants." (Dionysius of Hallicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book IV, Chapter LXVII, pp. 479-481, Vol. 2 Loeb).

Monarchy has this disadvantage, that equal justice under the laws is not obtainable; some people, like the King's son, get into the habit of thinking they can do whatever they want with impunity. The Roman monarchy did not survive Lucretia's suicide. Modern history continues this shameful story; thousands of women in the East German town of Demmin, and in other places, walked into the river rather than submit to further abuse at the hands of the atheist Red Army.

Karl Marx V. I. Lenin
Bhagat Singh Mao Zedong
Pol Pot Enver Hoxha
The Derg Che Guevara
No True Atheist Why?
Tu Quoque Prince of Tyre
Atheist Armies Jim Jones
The French Revolution

The Polish and German women who suffered these atheist outrages were not avenged, and Eastern Europe was plunged into atheist darkness and tyranny for the next forty years. By the time that the Gothic marauders revived the old raping-and-plundering heritage of the Roman kings, paganism had declined. In 394 A.D. Emperor Theodosius extinguished the sacred flame in the temple of Vesta and sent the vestal virgins home. 16 years later Rome fell to Alaric the Goth, with many Christian virgins and widows falling victim to rape by the triumphant barbarians. The pagans blamed Christianity for this calamity and Augustine wrote 'The City of God' to answer their catcalls.

Augustine sympathizes with those women who flung themselves into the river or onto the barbarians' swords to avoid being raped: "And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to forgive them?" (Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 17). Nevertheless he wants it clearly understand, contra the pagans, that suicide was not the right thing to do; these women were innocent crime victims who had nothing to be ashamed of and no grounds for taking their own lives. His first principle:

"Let this, therefore, in the first place, be laid down as an unassailable position, that the virtue which makes the life good has its throne in the soul, and thence rules the members of the body, which becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will; and that while the will remains firm and unshaken, nothing that another person does with the body, or upon the body, is any fault of the person who suffers it, so long as he cannot escape it without sin." (Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 16).

In Augustine's eyes the raped virgins were not shamed in the slightest. He contrasts their case with the pagan honor suicide victim, Lucretia:

"Not such was the decision of the Christian women who suffered as she did, and yet survive...Within their own souls, in the witness of their own conscience, they enjoy the glory of chastity. In the sight of God, too, they are esteemed pure, and this contents them..." (Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 19).

So when does our author find occasion to fabricate his accusation? As soon as Augustine starts asking a different question: 'Why did God allow this to happen?' Joseph, also a crime victim, saw God bring good out of man's ill-will: "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." (Genesis 50:20). So how did God mean it for good that such a thing happened as happened in 410 A.D.? Augustine's answer to such questions in general is, "...when He exposes us to adversities, it is either to prove our perfections or correct our imperfections..." (Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 29). So he starts on the paragraph that Sam Harris thinks can be sculpted to make it look like Augustine supported honor killings:

"Let not your life, then, be a burden to you, ye faithful servants of Christ, though your chastity was made the sport of your enemies. You have a grand and true consolation, if you maintain a good conscience, and know that you did not consent to the sins of those who were permitted to commit sinful outrage upon you. And if you should ask why this permission was granted, indeed it is a deep providence of the Creator and Governor of the world; and 'unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out.' Nevertheless, faithfully interrogate your own souls, whether ye have not been unduly puffed up by your integrity, and continence, and chastity; and whether ye have not been so desirous of the human praise that is accorded to these virtues, that ye have envied some who possessed them. I, for my part, do not know your hearts, and therefore I make no accusation; I do not even hear what your hearts answer when you question them. And yet, if they answer that it is as I have supposed it might be, do not marvel that you have lost that by which you can win men's praise, and retain that which cannot be exhibited to men." (Augustine, The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 28).

Whether such speculations are insensitive and uncalled for, or the contrary, they are no endorsement of honor killing as our author dishonestly pretends. Again the astonished reader watches as stones come flying out of our author's cracked glass abode. Recall that a lack of 'intellectual honesty' is the charge he flings against the Christians. Why are his representations of other authors' thoughts so rarely accurate?


The Jains

Our author concedes that "the Jains believe many improbable things about the universe" (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 11). The fear that your grand-mother may have come back as that piglet over there is a great boost to vegetarianism. Indeed the Jains will not even harm insects,-- aunt Sally under that carapace, perhaps?

"The universe is peopled by manifold creatures who are, in this round of rebirth, born in different families and castes for having done various actions...Sometimes they become nobles or outcastes and untouchables, or worms and moths..." (Doctrine 1: Living Beings and the Round of Rebirth: Uttaradhyayana, Jainism, p. 282, Sacred Texts of the World, A Universal Anthology edited by Ninian Smart and Richard D. Hecht).

That transmigration is improbable is an accurate statement; but this is also the engine that makes the system go. No rational content can be assigned to the assertion that one's grandmother may have come back as a moth. What is the point of contact between the moth and your grandmother? Is the moth 'kind' or 'compassionate,' as it may be hoped your grandmother was; is it 'thoughtful' or 'ethical'? How can the moth be one and the same as your grandmother? Yet this fundamentally incoherent idea is at the heart of Eastern religion. Mr. Harris accuses religion of giving good people bad reasons to be good: "Religion gives good people bad reasons to be good" (Arthur J. Pais, December 12, 2006, Rediff News). This is certainly true of the religion of the Jains, which encourages non-violence as the way to hop off the wheel of transmigration.

The Jains exert themselves to escape a fate which does not so much seem otherwise inevitable, as one for which little evidence can be adduced. The rationale for the system is only that, if it were not true, India's inherited social order, a racist apartheid imposed long ago by light-skinned invaders who left the darker-skinned natives occupying the bottom of the social pyramid, is not fair. South Africa experienced a very similar history, though in the full glare of recorded history: militarily superior light-skinned late arrivals established a social order with themselves and their descendants at the apex, and the darker-skinned original inhabitants filling the bottom rungs.

The Hindus and Jains meet with praise not only from our author but from many others who have had enough exposure to Christian society that they ought to understand a racial caste system is wrong: "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons..." (Acts 10:34). The South African racists, on the other hand, were shunned by the whole world until their system collapsed. Why the double standard? What did the white South Africans omit?

They neglected to propound the fairy tale of 'karma' and 'reincarnation;' they forgot to tell the darker-skinned peoples that they occupied a hierarchical society's basement level because they did bad things in a prior life. The corrective to their misery is not to throw off the racists who are oppressing them, but rather to join them, because if they do good things in this life, then they get a posthumous promotion and are reincarnated as one of the lighter-skinned upper classes, a descendent of the ancient imperialists. This transparently self-serving fable is so compelling to some people that this 'religion' even wins 'converts.'

And as ever, hope springs eternal: "There may even be some credible evidence for reincarnation." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 242). Our author's concept of scientific rationalism is a very big tent indeed, which shelters beneath it every kind of Eastern obscurantism and New Age mystical practice. Only not monotheism.

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According to our author, the standard of morality delivered to the Jains surpasses Christian morality:

"Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: 'Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.'" (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, pp. 22-23).

Does this ethical standard indeed surpass the Bible's teaching? As Mr. Harris points out, the Golden Rule in its negative form was stated by several speakers other than Jesus, including Confucius: "'Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire' (Analects 15.24)'"  (quoted in Michael Green, But Don't All Religions Lead to God? p. 46). Another is Tobit, of the Old Testament apocrypha:

  • “And what you hate, do not do to anyone.”
  • (Tobit 4:15).

An interesting variant is found in Herodotus, ". . .but that for the doing of which I find fault with my neighbor, I will myself refrain from doing, so far as I may. . ." (quote of Maiandrios, Herodotus, Histories, Book III, Chapter 142). The negative form, of course, tells us what not to do: "The great sages Socrates, Buddha, Confucius and Hillel each groped after this truth, but they stated it thus: 'Do not do to others what you would not have done to you;' thus making it a rule of not doing rather than of doing." (J. W. McGarvey, The FourFold Gospel, Kindle location 4193). Philo Judaeus also states it:

"Moreover, it is ordained in the laws themselves that no one shall do to his neighbour what he would be unwilling to have done to himself."
(Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Hypothetica. Delphi Complete Works of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 77) (Kindle Locations 29099-29100).)

There are even intimations of the positive rule, as by Isocrates: "Behave towards others as you would wish me to behave towards you." (Isocrates, Cyprian Orations, Speech 3, Section 48-50), and Jesus ben Sirach: "The man who fears the Lord keeps his friendships in repair, for he treats his neighbor as himself." (Ecclesiasticus 6:17), though one may ask, who is the neighbor? However, the standard Mr. Harris wishes to uphold is strictly the negative form. As should be apparent, the negative form of the Golden Rule, as well as Mahavira's ethical norm of doing harm to no creature, can be met by pure passivity. Withdrawing from the world and doing neither good nor harm to one's fellows meets our author's standard. In fact sitting there and doing nothing at all meets this standard! The priest and Levite passing by the mugging victim (Luke 10:33) can be joined by the Jain, because in passing by, they did the man no harm. But this is not what the Lord enjoins:

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12).

No less sympathetic an observer than Montesquieu could see nothing in Indian ethics beyond a yearning for inaction: "The Indians believe that repose and non-existence are the foundation of all things, and the end in which they terminate. Hence they consider entire inaction as the most perfect of all states, and the object of their desires." (Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Kindle location 3490). Those who hymn the 'Buddha' also tell stories about how he didn't even notice the calamities befalling neighborhood folk: "Of the Buddha, too, it is reported that he was absorbed so deeply in contemplation that he never noticed a thunderstorm which killed two farmers and four oxen right near him." (Hans Kung, editor, Christianity and the World Religions, p. 256). An inspiring tale? As William Jennings Bryan noticed, the Christian Golden Rule demands that you try to help the farmers and their oxen who are dying before you, whereas Mr. Harris' preferred negative form allows you to ignore their cries with a clear conscience. After all it's easy enough to put up with other people's troubles, there's no need to make a virtue out of it:

"I was more disappointed in Confucianism than in either Mohammedanism or Buddhism, for I had been led to form a higher opinion of the philosophy of the Chinese Sage. I had not read much that Confucius had said, although I had read tributes to his wisdom, but the more I read of his utterances, the more my admiration for him diminished. I have wondered whether some have not magnified his teachings in order to find in them justification for the rejection of the teachings of the Nazarene. The golden rule of Confucius reads, “Do not unto others as you would not have others do unto you.” The Golden Rule of Christ is, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” There is a wide difference between the two; one is negative and the other positive; one enjoins a life of negative harmlessness, while the other commands a life of positive helpfulness. You could stand by a stream and watch a neighbor fall in and drown, and if you did not push him in you need not pull him out; and yet you would not violate the negative form of the rule, but you would violate the positive form of the rule.

"The Chinaman, following the doctrine of Confucius, does not regard it as a duty to help others, but the streams of Christian benevolence girdle the globe."

(William Jennings Bryan, Missions).

William Jennings Bryan is correct in noticing that the results are not the same; how could they be? If doing nothing meets the standard, and that is the choice which conserves energy besides, why wouldn't you expect to see that very choice made countless times, while untold misery piles up around it? And you do: this phenomenon explains much of the poverty, filth and hopelessness in which the East was immersed for so many centuries. It is politically correct to claim that all religions yield the same harvest of action:

"When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian, and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives." (William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture XX, Kindle location 6948).

It's remarkable that this gets repeated so often when it simply isn't so, nor must we substitute less promising candidates, like Hinduism, Jainism or Islam, to see the fallacy. If you want to see a good example of a bad society, filled with blind injustice and hopeless deprivation, you should follow the crumb-trail left behind by the ethics our author admires. Even the pagan Nietzsche realized that inertia fails to inspire: "And then again there are such as sit in their swamp and speak thus out of the reeds: 'Virtue — that is sitting still in a swamp. We bite no one and avoid those who want to bite; and in all things we hold the opiinon that is given to us.'" (Thus Spake Zarathustra, The Portable Nietzsche, edited by Walter Kaufmann, p. 207). Yet Mr. Harris' highest ideal is the inert swamp-sitter, who does not bite, neither is bitten.

Simply failing to harm others, while good in and of itself, and certainly superior to the alternative, falls very far short of God's righteousness: "Many men, all their religion runs upon nots: 'I am not as this publican' (Luke 18:11). That ground is naught, though it brings not forth briars and thorns, if it yields not good increase. Not only the unruly servant is cast into hell, that beat his fellow-servant, that ate and drank with the drunken; but the idle servant that wrapped up his talent in a napkin.  . .Dives did not take away food from Lazarus, but he did not give him of his crumbs." (quote from Thomas Manton, Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psalm 119, Kindle location 65711). This arrogant druggie can form no higher concept of morals than to do no harm, but that is a low enough limit by gospel standards. Jesus' standard is higher; failing to injure others is good, but bearing injury without resentment is better: "But of these, He knew that it was desirable they should stand in need of no such laws; but that this should above all things, be precious in their sight. . .that they should so labor against theft, that they should give of their own to them that needed; and further, that they should not glory in this, that they injured none, but (rather) in this, that those who wished to injure them, they bore with without anger." (Eusebius of Caesarea, Theophania, The Fifth Book, Chapter 22, Kindle location 4602).

While they are held up as moral paragons, it turns out our author travels only so far with the Jains. The pious, albeit polytheistic, Jains do not share our author's atheism; their literature speaks about "the gods:"

"May the Blessed Lord Sumati, whose toe-nails are sharpened on the whetstone of the gods' diadems, grant your desires." (The Tirthankaras, quoted in The Archaeology of World Religions, Jack Finegan, p. 188)

The editors of this volume helpfully explain how the gods could, or would wish to, sharpen this gentleman's toe-nails: "The gods bow their heads so low before this great being that the jewels on their crowns come in contact with his feet." (The Archaeology of World Religions, Jack Finegan, p. 188). The Jains do agree with our author, however, that there is no supreme being. It is monotheism, with its singular God sitting in judgment upon His creation, which aggravates our author.

This feature was inherited from the parent religion, which is luxuriantly polytheistic. Indeed, it is the mournful and degrading fate of millions of human beings under this oppressive system to be given over to worship of other human beings, their 'betters:'

"The view given of the relation of castes leads directly to the subject of Religion. For the claims of caste are, as already remarked, not merely secular, but essentially religious, and the Brahmins in their exalted dignity are the very gods bodily present. In the laws of Manu it is said: 'Let he King, even in extreme necessity, beware of exciting the Brahmins against him; for they can destroy him with their power — they who create Fire, Sun, Moon, etc.' They are servants neither of God nor of his People, but are God himself to the other Castes — a position of things which constitutes the perverted character of the Hindu mind." (G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, Section II, Kindle location 3041).

The reader may wonder how the Jains' commitment to not harming any living creature can be reconciled with abortion. Many Jains are perfectly consistent and are pro-life. Yet somehow they escape the author's vitriol.

Our author believes Mahavira excelled in preaching the negative command to do no harm to the Jains, while omitting the affirmative command to love their neighbor:

  • “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
  • (Romans 13:8-10).

  • “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
  • (Leviticus 19:18)

  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
  • (Matthew 5:43-48).

Certainly what people do, and what they are exhorted to do, can be two very different things, but what Jains are exhorted to do falls short of what Christians are exhorted to do. History demonstrates that Jains too have their treasure in vessels of clay, because Jains display the works of carnality such as schism: there is a school of Jainist thought which teaches that people should not wear clothes, and a competing school which says they should. Comparing the very worst that any nominal Christian has ever done with the very highest aspirations of Jain morality compares unlike terms.

In addition to his fondness for the Jains, our author, who devoted years of his life mastering Eastern meditative techniques, sympathizes with the Eastern quest to extirpate self-aware thinking, and indeed makes this endeavor one of the pillars of his future ideal society. To cease mental functioning is the liberation sought by Jains as well as Buddhists:

"..He first stops the functions of his mind, then the functions of speech, then those of the body, at last he ceases to breathe." (Experience 2: Higher Meditation: Uttaradhyayana, Jainism, p. 286, Sacred Texts of the World, A Universal Anthology, Edited by Ninian Smart and Richard D. Hecht).

Why it is desirable to extirpate our rational human nature and seek instead to become like moths or inanimate objects is left unstated. Our author wants it understood that Buddhists stand in the same relation to Christians as do Cambridge physicists to Bushmen:

"It is no exaggeration to say that meetings between the Dalai Lama and Christian ecclesiastics to mutually honor their religious traditions are like meetings between physicists from Cambridge and the Bushmen of the Kalahari to mutually honor their respective understandings of the physical universe." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 294).

This New Age guru differs from others of his ilk in that he wants it understood that those who do not share his views are not only unenlightened, but also ignorant, irrational, and backward.

Is it is true that a one-world polity in which large numbers of people lacked any self-conscious awareness would be an improvement over existing conditions? Or would this non-conscious society be a post-human slave state? To Christians, the proposal that humanity can eliminate suffering by retrogressing to the 'no-mind' condition of a lizard or an insect throws out the baby with the bath-water. If indeed it is true that mankind can eliminate suffering by ceasing to be human, isn't that like advocating decapitation as a remedy for headache? Something essential to humanity is lost when we throw the 'off' switch on our minds. Our author's commitment to 'rationality' ends somewhere amidst the ruins of theistic faith, before the entry arch into the brave new world of his own irrational New Age thinking.



According to our author,

"The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible's account of itself." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 6).

Not only does the Koran proclaim itself the perfect word of the creator of the universe, it says the same of the Bible. In fact, not only Christians, but also Muslims who believe the Koran, "believe the Bible's account of itself," because the Koran confirms the Bible's account of itself. The Koran claims to be confirmatory of God's past revelations:

  • “And when it is said to them, 'Believe in what God hath sent down,' they say, 'In that which hath been sent down to us we believe:' but what hath since been sent down they disbelieve, although it be the truth confirmatory of their own Scriptures. Say: Why then have ye of old slain God's prophets, if ye are indeed believers?” (Koran, Sura 2:85).

  • “O ye to whom the Scriptures have been given! believe in what we have sent down confirmatory of the Scripture which is in your hands, ere we efface your features, and twist your head round backward, or curse you as we cursed the sabbath-breakers: and the command of God was carried into effect.” (Koran, Sura 4:50).

  • “Moreover this Koran could not have been devised by any but God: but it confirmeth what was revealed before it, and is a clearing up of the Scriptures — there is no doubt thereof — from the Lord of all creatures.” (Koran, Sura 10:38).

Fortunately, this is a testable claim. Our author pontificates, "Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 7). Actually it is not, because while the Koran speaks favorably of the Bible, the Bible does not reciprocate the courtesy, saying nothing at all about the Koran.

Mohammed began his preaching ministry encouraging his hearers to go to their Christian and Jewish neighbors and verify the information he was giving them. Too many of them did. The results were, and remain, mixed:

Those Christians who believe the Bible are only doing as the Koran urges them to do. When the many contradictions between the work of the unlettered prophet and the Bible are brought to their attention, Muslims are obliged to retort, not the Bible is a fake, but that God's original Bible has been 'corrupted' by man.

Mass Murder

According to author Harris, "Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 23). Is God's word responsible for mass murder?:


Our author is aware that the human rights record of officially atheist states is, not so much spotty, as uniformly bleak: "Christians like yourself invariably declare that monsters like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Kim Il Sung spring from the womb of atheism." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 40). He goes on to explain, however, that these men are not especially "rational:" as if someone had accused him and his fellow atheists of being "rational"!

Nazis tended to be pagan occultists; the other mass murderers of the twentieth century were committed atheists. The sheer number of human beings these atheist murderers slaughtered continues to astonish. Marxist-Leninist economics presented itself as a science; our author's own New Age thinking flirts more with unreason than did dialectical materialism. When confronted with an ethical dilemma, Marxists relied on utilitarian reasoning: 'The kulaks (family farmers) of Russia are obstructing the collectivization of agriculture, thus depriving the masses of the happiness that will follow in the train of socialism. The happiness of the greater number requires we sacrifice the kulaks.' Utilitarianism mandates we must act so as to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.

If they had left the kulaks to tend their modest plots, at least there would have been food on the grocery store shelves. But because they killed these innocent people, there wasn't even that. Innocent men were slaughtered, without justice, in order to bring in a dysfunctional, underperforming agricultural economy that could not keep the supermarket shelves stocked. The system of ethics that permitted Marxist-Leninists to compile such a horrifying human rights record has a flaw: it assigns no absolute value to a human life and thus erects no firewall preventing murderous atrocities. The system allows no ethical absolutes, so that one cannot say, 'The kulaks have committed no crime, therefore justice requires their lives be held sacrosanct.' Our author takes his stumbling, tottering steps toward rediscovering utilitarian ethics without seeming to realize this system has already been tried, and its inadequacy underlays the killing fields of the twentieth century.

God cautioned man against making too much of his predictive abilities, which often do not live up to their billing: “Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;' whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15). Experience shows every day that God's book has a point. An ethical system which makes everything depend upon human predictions of the future leans upon a rotten timber which is guaranteed to fall.

Whenever our author takes a stab at constructing his own atheist ethic, it turns out to be utilitarian: "Everything about human experience suggests that love is more conducive to happiness than hate is. This is an objective claim about the human mind, about the dynamics of social relations, and about the moral order of our world. It is clearly possible to say that someone like Hitler was wrong in moral terms without reference to scripture." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 24). So there you have it: what was wrong with Adolf Hitler is that he was unhappy!

Our author's argument devours its own tail. He first judges fundamentalist Christians, who share his dangerous category of 'extremists' with Muslim terrorists, as bad because they are not tolerant, as is shown by the fact that they are continually burning heretics at the stake. (We Baptists do not do this, but our author claims to have discovered that we want to.) So is our author promoting tolerance, which a credulous reader might suppose is 'good' if the people who do not practice it are 'bad'? Not at all; he wants an end to religious tolerance. Because the religious 'extremists' are so dangerous, we cannot afford it any more. In the end our author is just as 'bad' as the people he hates.


The Potter and the Clay

This author marches God in to take His place in the criminal line-up alongside the rest of us: "There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 38). If God ends a human life, then He is a murderer, just as we would be. Given that, over the long haul, the mortality rate is 100%, this is bad news for God's criminal record. But to theists, this misses the point:

  • “The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 'Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.' Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.
    Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?' says the LORD. 'Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!'”
  • (Jeremiah 18:1-6).

  • “Surely you have things turned around!
    Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
    For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
    'He did not make me'?
    Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    'He has no understanding'?”
  • (Isaiah 29:16).


No rational person, observing that scientists disagree: some think dark matter exists in large quantity while others do not, some think strings are a fundamental constituent of reality while others do not, draws this conclusion: because scientists disagree, the entire venture is illegitimate and should be abandoned. This conclusion does not follow logically. Nor would any be so intemperate and rude as to label the venture a "ludicrous obscenity" on these grounds. Yet our author concludes, from the mere fact that religious people disagree with one another, that the entire enterprise is worthless, indeed dangerous:

"Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and they make incompatible claims about how we all must live." (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 79).

This is the same as to conclude that, because there is counterfeit currency, there is no such thing as real coin; because there is error, there can be no such thing as truth. To the contrary, spurious productions point to the reality they falsify.

In our author's logic, the fact that two speakers contradict each other forces the conclusion that neither speaker's statement can be true. To generalize our author's principle: 'If two speakers contradict one another, then no statement of that kind can be true.' But in logic as heretofore understood, the circumstance that two speakers contradict one another means: either statement a.) is true and b.) [not-a] is false, or statement a.) is false and b.) is true, or neither a.) nor b.) is true.

So one speaker may say, 'Buenos Aires is in North America,' and another retorts, 'No, Buenos Aires is in South America.' A third begs to differ, 'You're both wrong, because Buenos Aires is in Asia.' What follows logically is not, 'All statements about the location of Buenos Aires are false and futile,' but 'Buenos Aires cannot simultaneously be in North America, South America, and also in Asia; at least two of these statements are false, and possibly all three.' Our author's revision of logic is inept.

Although our author repeatedly offers the mere disagreement of religious viewpoints as proof of their inherent irrationality, he himself is aware this is a worthless argument. He repeats it only because he lacks the intellectual honesty to stop using a silly argument. Our author notes, for example, that ethics and politics stir up endless disputes. Uh-oh -- if this means these endeavors are a waste of time, then he cannot take up the reader's time with his pontificating on these topics! But these are the very topics he wishes to treat; this is a not a philosophy book but a political one; our author does not deign to argue, but assumes, the intellectual bankruptcy of theism.

The topics he proposes to treat are noted for the proliferation of divergent and irreconcilable views. Does that mere fact make these fields of endeavor a waste of time, as we have heard him say of religion? Of course not:

"The fact that people of different times and cultures disagree about ethical questions should not trouble us. It suggests nothing at all about the status of moral truth." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 171).

Of course it shouldn't. And yet, he has assured us, a similar situation in the case of religion shows up religion as an irrational waste of time. Indeed, in reality, one person might be right and everyone else wrong: "It is quite conceivable that everyone might agree and yet be wrong about the way the world is. It is also conceivable that a single person might be right in the face of unanimous opposition" (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' pp. 181-182) -- except, of course, if that one person is a Christian, in which case the fact that not everyone is a Christian, and that fact alone, demonstrates the falsity and futility of Christianity.

Lately, offering an incoherent and ill-received theory about morals and neuroscience, our author has discovered that one lone voice in the wilderness can be right:

"The deeper issue, however, is that truth has nothing, in principle, to do with consensus: one person can be right, and everyone else can be wrong." (Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, p. 31).

The fact that the neuroscience establishment fails to see the merit in his work does not make him a quack, he wants to assure us, and yet the fact that religious people differ means that they are all wrong. There is no intellectual honesty here, only special pleading.

At times our author refines his 'difference of opinion implies irrationality' argument by explaining that, as opposed to science, religion lacks a methodology to settle disputes and ascertain truth. Religious people, he suggests, are handed their confessions by random allotment and ever afterward stare at other religious people with blank incomprehension. Yet his own experience shows that this is not the case. Our author does not practice the Jewish faith, but is rather a Jain sympathizer who frequently presents arguments purporting to show the moral superiority of Jainism. If such arguments are impossible and futile, why waste the reader's time by presenting them? If such arguments are not impossible nor futile, why is only he allowed to make them?

Hate Speech

Readers who recall a more genial atheistic literature, such as that produced by the late Bertrand Russell, will be taken aback at the raw hatred which underlies the more recent atheist publishing boomlet. Bertrand Russell perceived his Christian neighbors as gullible simpletons who believed improbable things without sufficient reason. He did not wish them ill nor propose depriving them of their civil liberties. Our author perceives his Christian neighbors' living up the street as a threat to his existence, a threat which must be neutralized for him to survive. Sam Harris' goal is nothing less than to stamp out religion:

"Words like 'God' and 'Allah' must go the way of 'Apollo' and 'Baal,' or they will unmake our world." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 14).

This author imagines a world made new, a happy, wonderful world where people stroll down the street arm in arm...because there are no Christians there. A world without any of us is our author's paradise. How wonderful life would be...if we were gone! One must imagine this is much the same way the Hutus feel about the Tutsis. Our author's publishing efforts are the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' for New Age atheists. Above all he wants his fellow enlightened ones to understand that theists are dangerous.

'What a wonderful world it would be if only there were no ________' is a perennial best-seller in the political marketplace. For generations white Southern politics revolved around demonizing African-Americans and seeking to harm and disadvantage this population group in every way possible. Our author's political program tracks with theirs. In spite of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of a religious test for public office, and in defiance of present law which disallows private employers basing hiring or firing decisions on religious affiliation, our author hopes for a day in which Christians will suffer the same employment discrimination as did blacks under Jim Crow and will be locked out of positions of responsibility:

"A few minutes spent wandering the graveyard of bad ideas suggests that such conceptual revolutions are possible. Consider the case of alchemy: it fascinated human beings for over a thousand years, and yet anyone who seriously claims to be a practicing alchemist today will have disqualified himself for most positions of responsibility in our society. Faith-based religion must suffer the same slide into obsolescence." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 14)
"People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the margins of our societies, not in our halls of power." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 225).

Christians in fact enjoy the same status in sharia-observant Muslim societies as our author would allow them, as 'dhimmis' who must pay taxes but may not wield power.

Similarly idealistic Turks once dreamt of how excellent a world it would be if there were no Armenians. Sam Harris presents a political utopia premised on the disappearance of a population group. Where does a politics like his, predicated on demonizing and vilifying a population group, have to go when it turns out the population group in question has no intention of going away? How many corpses will have to litter the street to make a word like 'God' fade from memory?

Sermon on the Mount

Friedrich Nietzsche despised Christianity because he hated Christian morals. The gentle precepts of the Sermon on the Mount had neutered his ideal, the "blonde beast" (Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Twilight of the Idols, 'The "Improvers" of Mankind,' 2) who had been "strong and happy" before hearing the gospel. This present crop of atheist authors, while they dislike Christian sexual morality, have no quarrel with the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount. Rather, they accuse Christians, who repeat these precepts and strive to live up to them, of being the only people on earth who cannot be brought to heel to them. For atheists, you see, it is easy and natural to live the Sermon on the Mount.

What Nietzsche realized is that Christian ethics is a system:

"When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. For the latter is absolutely not self-evident...Christianity is a system, a consistently thought out and complete view of things. If one breaks out of it a fundamental idea, the belief in God, one thereby breaks the whole thing to pieces: one has nothing of any consequence left in one's hands." (Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Twilight of the Idols,' 'Expeditions of an Untimely Man,' 5)

Non-resistance to evil, turning the other cheek, is premised on the idea that vengeance belongs to God:

"Vengeance is Mine, and recompense;
Their foot shall slip in due time;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And the things to come hasten upon them." (Deuteronomy 32:35).

Although we do not observe atheists to live by the Sermon on the Mount, we are to imagine that they do. But how can atheists live by this code without fearing that injustice will prevail? If the heavens are empty, the assaulted innocent who turns the other cheek allows aggression to triumph.

Thanks to the myopic self-esteem which so richly fills every human breast, each litigant watches his side of the dispute wave the banner of justice. But disputes proliferate endlessly, because both parties to the quarrel quite sincerely believe their cause is the cause of right. Only by laying the quarrel on the altar can there be an end.

If there is no God, then how can justice prevail when the wronged party turns the other cheek and lets it go? God keeps the accounts, God knows who has repented, God knows who meant well and who did not. In any case He is the offended party: "Against You, You only, have I sinned" (Psalm 51:4); it is His business not ours. Theists can leave it in His hands.

  • "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
  • (Matthew 5:38-48).

Nailed to the Cross

It would appear our author has neither any familial connection to Christianity nor even any Christian friends. To his way of thinking, the only possible reason why Christians do not stone people to death is because they do not really believe their own Bible:

"While the stoning of children of heresy has fallen out of fashion in our country, you will not hear a moderate Christian or Jew arguing for a 'symbolic' reading of passages of this sort [Deuteronomy 13:7-11]...The above passage is as canonical as any in the Bible, and it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world. This is a problem for 'moderation:' in religion: it has nothing underwriting it other than the unacknowledged neglect of the letter of the divine law." (Sam Harris, 'The End of the Faith,' p. 18)

This misconception could have been corrected by purchasing a Bible with two testaments. Christians do not 'ignore' or 'neglect' the law of Moses; rather, this handwriting of ordinances has been nailed to the cross:

"And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Colossians 1:13-14).

Christians understand the function of the law to have served as a 'schoolmaster' bringing us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). The law testified to Jesus Christ, and its prophetic elements were fulfilled in Him: "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me." (John 5:46). To accuse Christians who do not do what Moses ordained of 'ignoring' or 'neglecting' the Bible reveals a fundamental incomprehension of the relation of the two testaments.

Certainly an atheist who wished to quibble could say, 'I find the Christian understanding of the Mosaic law forced, unnatural, and unlikely to reflect what the scribes who penned those texts were thinking at the time they wrote their words.' Our author, however, is unaware that there is any such thing.

As to stoning, we have a direct command from the Lord:

“'Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?' This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.'” (John 8:5-7).

Inasmuch as it is difficult for the Lord's followers to say they are without sin: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:10)-- those majority Christian societies which have felt the need for capital punishment as societal protection against proliferating crime have been careful to employ other means.

Christians believe that the Old Testament is the New veiled, the New Testament is the Old revealed. Though there is no principle of Christian Bible interpretation more consistently applied than that the Old Testament should be read through the lens of the New, the clearer and more transparent Testament, Mr. Harris insists that any Christian who reads the Bible 'literally' must invert this process. Is it not, rather, apparent that those who believe the Messiah promised by the Old Testament has come, ought to carry on with their correct procedure?

If our author felt moved to alert the public at large to the danger posed by their Christian neighbors, why was his first step not to find out what these folks believed and why they believed it? Perhaps if he had done this first, the urge to publish his ominous warning might have lessened.


Eating Lobster Moral Law
Ceremonial Law Universal Law
Sabbath Keeping The Talmud
Law of Love Kiss the Son

Moderates and Extremists

Our author divides the religious populace into 'moderates' and 'extremists:'

"Of course, people of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 14)

He conflates these two categories: persons committed to tolerance ('moderates') and persons who wish to burn heretics ('extremists') with two differing approaches to reading scripture which have been propounded in the Christian church. Our 'moderates,' we learn, have retreated from scriptural "literalism:" "Moderates in every faith are obliged to loosely interpret (or simply ignore) much of their canons in the interests of living in the modern world." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 17).

Thus our author identifies 'moderates' — believers committed to tolerance — with the religious liberals who believe the truth claims made by their religion only 'in a sense' or 'after a manner of speaking.' This leaves our author's residual category, 'extremists,' identified with the fundamentalists who reaffirm the central tenets of the Christian faith:

Our author admits that the percentage of Americans who believe God authored the Bible is huge. Yet he also claims this group wishes to burn heretics. Indeed, he claims they cannot help themselves from wishing this: "Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 13). In Mr. Harris' universe, there are no Christian believers who think God authored the Bible ('extremists') who also practice religious toleration.

And yet not one of Mr. Harris' fellow citizens has touched one hair on his head. What is stopping them? He claims they wish to burn heretics. Has he not heard this is a democracy? The constitution can be amended; indeed, the first amendment is an amendment to that document. Why have his fellow citizens, who he claims wish to burn heretics, not exercised their unstoppable political power to bring about this result? Where are the burnt heretics to prove his allegation?

To the contrary, the people he despises, the people whom he claims wish to burn heretics, have created the freest country on earth. He ought to thank his Christian neighbors rather than publishing this libel against them. By and large, these people do not think Jesus wants them to burn heretics. When you look to the letter of scripture, you must admit they have a point. Our author sounds the alarm about Muslims because they are so much more dangerous than moderate Christians. He exists in a state of cognitive dissonance in which it is simultaneously true that: a.) there are no 'extremist' Christians left, their hey-day was back in the fourteenth century, and b.) there are millions upon millions of 'extremist' Bible-believing Christians, by their own testimony! -- what a threat! The perplexed reader who puts our author aside to read the New Testament will discover that Mr. Harris' assumption that fundamentalist Christian belief and practice are the same as that of Muslim terrorists is ill-founded and ill-informed.

Our author desires his categories to transcend religious confession. He himself posits a suicide bomber who blows up a bus, then asks, "Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy -- you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it-easy -- to guess the young man's religion?" (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 12). His own guess as to the suicide bomber's religion might be thought to be 'Christian,' because he proceeds in the calm assurance that his own categories of 'moderate' and 'extremist' transcend any difference of religious confession or scriptural instruction.

Yet his Christian neighbors do not actually do any of the things he accuses them of wanting to do. Indeed our author himself is aware his suicide bomber is unlikely to be a Christian: "Where are the Palestinian Christian suicide bombers?" (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 233). Indeed, where are they? Since there aren't any, why does this author insist Bible-believing Christian must trigger the same threat-level warning as Muslim terrorists?

Brave New World

What exactly does our author want to see happen to his arch-villains, Muslims, whether passive or predatory, innocent or guilty? What else but regime change! Subjugation to foreign armies is to be followed by "benign dictatorship:" "We are now living in a world that can no longer tolerate well-armed, malevolent regimes." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 147, p. 151).

Our author has evolved beyond those old-fashioned moralists who think we did something wrong when we invaded a sovereign state which had not attacked us and was not threatening to attack us. We are morally superior and thus entitled to invade whomever we please. The proof that we are morally superior is that we shed a tear at the appalling number of civilian casualties we cause: "What are the chances that Iraqi soldiers would have wept upon killing a carload of American civilians at a checkpoint unnecessarily?" (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 146). This current crop of atheist authors came scuttling out of the woodwork when 9/11 made their loathsome brand of politics seem feasible.

Demonizing and dehumanizing the enemy is a constant of war. Our stalwart atheists observed their military commanders doing an unconvincing and half-hearted job of it subsequent to our unjustified invasion of Iraq, ladling out weak tea against 'dead-enders' and similar whining. Realizing that nobody can dehumanize other human beings like an atheist -- who did it better than avowed atheist Slobodan Milosevic? -- they bravely stepped forward and did their thing.

To what ultimate political goal is our author's authoritarianism tending? He looks forward to a day when Eastern mystical techniques for extinguishing the "I" will be applied on a large scale. Individuality will be a forgotten relic of the past when all that can be heard is the humming of a communal hive mind:

"It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the feeling that we call 'I' is one of the most pervasive and salient features of human life: and its effects upon the world, as six billion 'selves' pursue diverse and often incompatible ends, rival those that can be ascribed to any other phenomenon in nature [...] Almost every problem we have can be ascribed to the fact that human beings are utterly beguiled by their feelings of separateness. It would seem that a spirituality that undermined such dualism, through the mere contemplation of consciousness, could not help but improve our situation." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 214).

All this bliss, and one world government too!: "We can say it even more simply: we need a world government." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 151). Human beings are not like minnows. We see the stream, as the minnows also do, yet we also say, 'I see the stream.' According to Buddhists, this is the source of all our misery: the "I." Gautama Buddha, you see, discovered that existence is misery. (No doubt our author imagines this insight is a scientific truth, not an irrational and life-denying belief!) So why not just kill themselves and be done with it? Because they share the irrational belief prevalent in the East in reincarnation: if they killed themselves, they'd keep coming back like a bad penny. The way to step off the wheel of rebirth once and for all is to extinguish the "I:" squelch that little voice that says, 'I see the stream.' With consciousness extinguished, what is there to be reborn? There are, as our author assures us, reliable techniques for silencing the "I." These might include not only traditional meditative disciplines but also administering drugs or placing an electrode on just the right spot. (Who knows, maybe an ice-pick lobotomy will do the trick.) Imagine the possibilities these techniques present for constructing a totalitarian state. If there is no one who says "I," then there is no one to say, 'My rights are being violated.'

Our author realizes that "our current beliefs about God" (p. 214) are the main barrier standing between us and his utopia. His ultimate complaint against religions like Christianity and Islam is that they do not seek to free mankind from the "illusion of self" (p. 215), as indeed they do not. Once our author has extinguished human individuality and selfhood from off the planet, the Holy Spirit will rove over the waves in vain seeking to find what may be saved. We are supposed to say "I," and "Thou" to God. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we rejoice that "Thy rod and Thy staff" are there for our comfort and guidance. We maim and diminish ourselves when we stop saying "I." A world in which all human personality and individuality has been expunged is not a better world, but a nightmare world. God save us from the atheist paradise.

Lately our author wants to teach us all morals as well, perhaps so that we too can enjoy the freedom to dream about taking away our fellow-citizens' rights. Some people say we should do what's right, and let the consequences take care of themselves, because "Consequences are under the control of that all-wise and all-powerful being, whose providence conducts the affairs of all men. Our part is to act right, and we may then have confidence that the consequences will be favorable." (Anti-Federalist Papers: No. 85, 'A Plebeian,' Melancthon Smith, Kindle location 5566). Others say, it's just the other way around:

What is Utilitarianism? Subjective Feelings
Sermon on the Mount Body Pile
Trojan Horse Baboon Troop
Hate Literature Good Folks
Peaceful Co-Existence Barn-Yard
Sadists' Rights Comrade Mother
Grand Inquisitor Humpty Dumpty
Gorgias Wrath of Achilles
Flash-Light Unmet Expectations
Fallacy of Scale Hall of Mirrors
Pretty Pebble Great Leap Backwards
Bow-Wow Minority Rights
God's Math

Conflict of Interest

It is only fair for an author with a personal stake in a controversy to alert the reader, but our author's concept of intellectual honesty does not so require. He would save the reader needless detective work if he would state his ethnic background up front.

Our author's political bedrock is that Israel is good and her enemies evil. Thus she should continue to outvy her Palestinian adversaries in tit-for-tat atrocities, because, you see, she values the human lives she is snuffing out: "The truth is, as Dershowitz points out, that 'no other nation in history faced with comparable challenges has ever adhered to a higher standard of human rights...'" (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 135). What a come-down that an author who aspires to scale the heights of ever-advancing civilized ethics only understands, in the end, that his tribe is better than other tribes.

Lost Liberty

The terrorist murder spree on 9/11 proved a bonanza for those who hope to roll back the civil liberties Americans secured over the course of centuries. The right for anyone imprisoned to demand a writ of habeas corpus goes back to the Magna Carta. That's gone, as became apparent when Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was held incommunicado in a secret location without being charged with a crime. He was ultimately tried and convicted, which is good enough in our present legal climate, and was good enough before the Magna Carta.

Our present author is part of this same trend to perceive liberties we inherited from our fathers as luxuries we cannot afford in the post-9/11 era. One liberty he'd like to see gone is the religious tolerance painstakingly won by generations of non-conforming Christians. In the process he intends to eliminate the long-standing understanding that the government of a free people may criminalize acts, not beliefs, as expressed for example by Thomas Jefferson: "...that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions" (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists).

Our author hopes to see a world in which people can be executed for thought crimes:

"Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' pp. 52-53).

The dangerous people in question are religious "extremists," a category deliberately composed by our author to include Christian fundamentalists alongside Muslim terrorists. Neither are these people powerless spectators. It is terrifying to watch their agenda march forward: a singer like Kim Burrill hoping to advance her career is disappointed to discover she is beyond the pale, because they want to make dissenters into non-persons: "It should be clear that what motivates the pro-homosexual movement is not advancing a free and tolerant society. It is promoting a society that legitimizes their point of view and punishes, as severely as possible, those who reject it. This is fascism, not freedom." (Editorial by Star Parker, Christian Persecution in America, on Faithful News).

It should come as little surprise that an author so hostile to constitutional liberties is also pro-torture: "...the practice of torture, in certain circumstances, would seem to be not only permissible but necessary." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p.199).

What Planet?

At times the reader wonders from what planet has our author parachuted onto our own green earth. Our author alleges it is "taboo" to criticize religion " is taboo to criticize a person's religious beliefs..." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 230). This comes as news to Christian readers. There is a whole world of religious discourse from which our author seems disconnected, cut off, unplugged. Evidently the Jehovah's Witnesses do not come round knocking on doors in his neighborhood. They tell about the Jehovah's Witness who walked right up to the door display at Home Depot, and knocked. But not in his town. Is it a gated community?

Where is it "taboo" to criticize a person's religious beliefs? Not in the secular academic world, where expressions of contempt similar to his own are often heard. Not at the local diner, where evangelical Christians sharing their faith often get an earful from their interlocutors. Or is it on the web, where every religious viewpoint imaginable has constructed its own little universe of discourse? I can only speculate our author is thinking of the shadow world of TV and newsmagazines, which is perhaps the only route by which he makes contact with his fellow-citizens.

These venues, commercial ventures mass marketing to a majority Christian populace, present mainly incomprehension. But what this has to do with religious tolerance is not apparent. Certainly those magazines and TV channels who target their wares to the slice of the populace to which Mr. Harris belongs are free to criticize whomever they please. He can invite the local Jehovah's Witness to sit down and watch The Atheist Channel with him; they go anywhere. He wants those who are like him to come out and say what they really think, without seeming to realize that, if everything he wanted came to fruition and the New York Times editorial page started to read like a hate-filled atheist screed, all that would happen is that the New York Times would cease to be a mass circulation periodical.

The incoherence of our author's concept of religious tolerance retards the reader's evaluation of the degree of danger he poses to the Christian populace. He writes to rid the world of the outmoded concept of religious tolerance, which has become a dangerous luxury in the post-9/11 world:

"I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance -- born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God -- is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 15).

But what exactly does he want to get rid of? Sometimes he uses the phrase to mean indifference to religious truth, which is the only basis he can imagine for religious liberty. But historically religious liberty was secured by the opposite conviction. Sometimes he uses it to mean politeness or civility or unwillingness to offend, which are admirable personal qualities not heretofore mandated by the state. Sometimes he adopts the strange and novel equation that religious tolerance means a disinclination to talk about religion. But sometimes he uses the phrase in its proper sense of willingness to use state power to disadvantage, indeed even to kill, a certain set of religious believers. In his case these are 'extremists,' i.e. Christian fundamentalists and their close kin (in his eyes), Muslim terrorists.

Is he dangerous? The demographics are against him. Buddhists make up less than one percent of the U.S. population, so the prospect of a Buddhist putsch bringing in a New World Order may seem safely remote. Yet demography was against another Jewish atheist, Vladimir Lenin, too. Perhaps a prudent regard for self-preservation should lead Christians to keep an eye on this individual and his admirers in the media and academia. As Hitler showed, the first step is to make society fear the designated population group. However, the next step, if it happens the demonized group outnumber their demonizers, is not apparent. Not every day-dream by a hater comes to fruition; for every Hitler there is a David Duke ranting into the middle distance about race war with no one listening. Certainly, though, if people do listen to him, he is as scary as they come.

Sympathy for the Devil

Our author does not deign to demonstrate that Christians are 'irrational;' to his way of thinking, this is so far past being obvious as to need no demonstration. But what could be more 'irrational' than the belief that noetic entities such as numbers are incorporated into our world, without any counting mind beforehand capable of contact with such entities? If God is omnipotent, it cannot be impossible for Him to write a book. If God did write a book, there is no 'intellectual dishonesty' in reading and learning from it.

However, at one point, speaking on behalf of his Hindu friends, our author lodges a legitimate complaint. Judge Roy Moore attracted attention by installing a giant granite monument in his courthouse, engraved with the Ten Commandments. But the government of the United States is forbidden, by the Bill of Rights, from establishing a religion:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." (Amendment 1, Bill of Rights).

The first four of the ten commandments address man's duties toward God, criminalizing worship of any God but Jehovah alone, and specifically criminalizing idolatry. How does this affect an American of Hindu ancestry who may have been called to this scofflaw Judge's courtroom to testify, or to perform jury duty? On his way out of the house he pours milk into a saucer to be lapped up by the porous stone of his elephant-headed idol. His religious observance is precisely what is outlawed by the first and second commandments, as Mr. Harris realizes: ". . .the First Commandment, if taken literally, makes a religion like Hinduism an abomination." ('Religion gives good people bad reasons to be good,' Arthur J. Pais, December 12, 2006, Rediff News).

Indeed, in the eyes of God, Hinduism is an abomination; it is idolatrous pagan polytheism. But the government of the United States has no standing to determine which religious practices are, and which are not, abominations in God's eyes; this power has been taken out of the government's hands by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Bible-believing Christians, perceiving that the Bible grants no such standing to Caesar, demanded his usurpation be struck down. Once our American citizen of Hindu heritage walks into the courthouse, he is struck between the eyes by Judge Moore's monument, which, as he understands, criminalizes his religion. Why is it up there? Is this the law of the land in the United States? If he starts running now, can he outrace the deputies?

Courthouse displays of the ten commandments which serve a secular or historical purpose have been found constitutional; if Moses is sandwiched between Lycurgus and Hammurabi, he can stay in the courthouse. But Judge Moore, by his own admission, had no intention of offering a historical survey of law-codes. His intent was solely religious; he wanted to underline God's sovereignty over America. This is precisely what is outlawed by the First Amendment. Any patriotic American who supports the Constitution must object to Judge Moore's defiantly illegal conduct. Yet the 'Religious Right' cheered him on. Why? So long as enemies of the Constitution encourage illegal provocations of this sort, the backlash represented by Mr. Harris, an almost-Jain, will only grow, and our Christian founding fathers can only roll in their graves.