Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Writing to a Christian nation

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I just read a whole book in one day.  My recent previous record was to complete Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth in fewer than 72 hours, and I am still amazed that I managed that.  Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great did not take much more time, but Daniel Dennett's excellent books always seem to take longer.  My education would not be complete if I failed to read more of the work of the 'fourth horseman'.

This was not a long book - 91 small pages - but it was by an author who I haven't always found to be interesting.  It had also taken me a long time to buy it because it seemed to me to be rather expensive in terms of pence per page, (or cents per page if you are not in UK).

However . . .  in terms of brilliant ideas and amazing information per pound (or dollar or page), this book can have few competitors.

You might have guessed by now that I am talking about Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.  I have seen Sam speaking with Richard Dawkins in Oxford and quite enjoyed it, and I had read his book The End of Faith quite early in my journey into atheism, but neither of those experiences prepared me for this small volume which contains almost everything that you would ever need to read on the subject.

It is quite complete, very concise, and although he claims that it is "a product of failure" I think he has more than made up for that fault.  As Roger Penrose's review says:

"Sam Harris's elegant little book is most refreshing and a wonderful source of ammunition for those who, like me, hold no religious doctrine.  Yet I have some sympathy also with those who might be worried by his uncompromising stance.  Read it and form your own view, but do not ignore its message"

I can only agree with that.  It takes no prisoners.  It is direct and forthright . . . and right!

Another big surprise came late in the book when Harris started to speak about Islam.  Starting on page 83 (in my copy) he addresses many of the same points that I raised in my recent post Should intelligent people fear Islamism?  The fact that his words were so close to thing I had written was honestly a surprise.  I can only guess that I had unwittingly learned some of his opinions, but forgotten where they came from.


Update 2012-06-16 - here is a Youtube version of the audiobook for your delectation!

Small note: To those of you who might still be put off by the price - as it is definitely a little more expensive than you might expect - I can only recommend Amazon's amazing second-hand service.  Sorry Sam.  You deserve to benefit from my pleasure.  I hope this blog post goes a small way towards making up for my typical ex-Yorkshire thrift!

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