In the tradition of Voltaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris, a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University, has been battering at the walls of religious faith, especially Christianity and Islam. His first book, The End of Faith (2004), was a New York Times bestseller. Predictably, he received a torrent of argumentative mail from Christians and promptly decided to write another book, Letter to a Christian Nation (2006). The aim of this second volume, he says, is quite simply "to demolish the moral and intellectual pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms."
This has been tried before, of course. After Voltaire predicted that Christianity would be extinct within 100 years of his death, his estate became a Bible Society headquarters. It is true that Europe, on the whole, has marginalized religious faith. But in the United States, nearly 90 percent of the population regularly professes belief in God or a higher power. To Harris's evident irritation, 35 percent also believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, 46 percent in a literalist view of the creation in Genesis, and 40 percent in Jesus Christ's return to judge the world within the next 50 years. Harris believes that this mindset constitutes a "moral and intellectual emergency."
Further, Harris believes that religious faith of any kind constitutes total abandonment of the normal rules of evidence. That might not matter much, he says, if the dominant religious view were that of Jainism, an Indian faith that has traditionally stressed nonviolence. But Harris blames mainstream faiths in the West, such as Christianity, for most manmade horrors, from the Inquisition to Hitler's death camps. (Hitler, he asserts, citing a 1922 speech, was a Christian, ...1