Letter to a secular nationApril 20, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
Writing for Townhall.com, Mike Adams makes one of the sillier arguments I’ve seen in a while, in attempted rebuttal of Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation. In particular, Adams seems offended by Harris’s remarks about the hate mail he got after writing The End of Faith.
[Harris] has this to say about the worst of it:
The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.
Such a statement would be alarming to Christians were there not a fundamental logical error involved. One way to grasp that error is to imagine me starting a book with the following:
The most hostile of my communications have come from homosexuals. This is ironic, as homosexuals generally imagine that no lifestyle imparts the virtues of love and tolerance more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be liberated by alternative lifestyles are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.
Well, no, Mike, starting a book the way you propose would only expose your foolishness, because it’s plainly not true that homosexuals—or any other rational persons—imagine that sexual attraction to one’s own gender necessarily imparts the virtues of love and tolerance more effectively than attraction to the opposite sex. And they certainly don’t suggest that homosexuality has any supernatural power to impart love and tolerance. The irony that Harris refers to stems directly from the fact that it is true that Christians claim not only that their religion promotes the virtues of love and forgiveness, but that believers have supernatural help in living out that love and forgiveness through the Holy Spirit they claim indwells them. You can’t manufacture a parallel counterexample by inventing silly statements about what homosexuality imparts to homosexuals.
Of course, all groups fail to live up to their ideals from time to time – whether it is Christians failing to show forgiveness or homosexuals failing to show tolerance.
Apparently, Adams assumes that there’s something wrong with expecting Christians to live up to a higher standard just because they claim to be able to do so. That’s fine, that’s fair, as long as we’re admitting that there’s nothing more to the Christian life than a bunch of guys trying to produce “godly” results by their own human efforts. Harris was clearly comparing Christian behavior to the claim of having been supernaturally transformed by Christ’s love, but if God isn’t really part of the equation after all, then Adams is right: we shouldn’t expect Christians to do any better than any other bunch of mortals.
Some would rebut my example by claiming I should expect more hate mail from homosexuals because I criticize that group disproportionately. Harris, on the other hand, wrote a book criticizing people of all faiths with most of the hostile responses coming from Christians.
That logic is flawed and deeply so.
It should go without saying that – even if all of the world’s religions were, in fact, equally loving and forgiving – one should still expect more hostile responses from Christians. This can be attributed to the rather simple fact that Christianity is the world’s largest religion.
Well no, Harris didn’t say “most of the hostile responses,” he said “the most hostile responses.” It’s a question of quality, not quantity. Either Adams misread what he quoted, or he’s deliberately trying to change the subject, but either way he’s rather missing Harris’s point. It’s the degree of hostility that’s remarkable, not the number of responses.
Christianity is indeed flawed because of Christians like me who fail to live up to the ideals of the religion. But Christianity simply cannot be characterized as the religion most hostile to free expression. That contention is simply absurd.
That’s true, but again, Harris didn’t say that Christianity was the religion most hostile to free expression, he said that Christians, who claim to have access to a power that makes better people of them, expressed the greatest hostility towards his book. Adams spends most of his column flailing away at an argument that Harris isn’t making.
Of course, what would a Townhall article be without a paranoid rant that garbles the issues?
Sam Harris contends that his primary purpose in writing Letter to a Christian Nation is to “arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian Right.” That is as dishonest a statement as I have read in quite some time.
Were Harris to seek to preserve the Establishment Clause by keeping one particular faith from becoming the “official” state religion his goals would be laudable. Were he to seek to keep religion “out of public policy” altogether his goals would be laughable. But none of this is relevant because Sam Harris seeks neither of these outcomes.
Instead, Sam Harris seeks to make Secular Humanism the “official religion” of each of our fifty United States. And he seeks to turn our public schools into houses of worship for the Secular Humanist religion with compulsory attendance for children funded with compulsory offerings by adults.
Here’s a quick clue for Mr. Adams: Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists all inhabit the same objective, material universe and must necessarily live according to the laws governing the causes and effects of things in that universe. The secular, material world, therefore, is the one common denominator we all have in common, which does and should influence our policies and behavior, regardless of what we do or do not believe about other realities. The fact that atheists do not happen to believe in anything outside of the secular universe is irrelevant to the fact that secular reality is the common denominator.
The only way in which a religiously neutral government can implement policies which do not favor one religion over another is to stick to the things that we all have in common, i.e. the secular things, instead of basing our policies on what one group believes that others don’t. It’s not the atheists’ fault if secular reality happens to conform perfectly to their religious beliefs, and indeed, if other religions are at a disadvantage due to their failure to conform to objective reality, well, that’s not the atheists’ fault either.
The observable, verifiable reality we all experience in common is an observable, verifiable reality which ought to be a part of all religions, and not just “secular humanism.” To claim, therefore, that secular policies discriminate against your religious beliefs is to admit that your religious beliefs are not compatible with the common, objective reality that ought to be the basis for all definitions of “truth.”
So in a way, Mr. Adams’s paranoid rant is a concession. He concedes that secular truth and Christian “truth” are at odds with one another, such that the pursuit of secular knowledge and secular policies constitute a conspiracy against the Christian faith. The First Amendment is impossible to obey, according to Adams, to the point that it’s even “laughable” to suggest trying. There’s no way the government could be religiously neutral, and to strive for neutrality is to force people to “worship” secular humanism.
The point is very clear. The only way Christians can protect themselves against the secular influences of people like Harris is to beat him at his own game. Christians must subvert the First Amendment, or God will suffer. After all, it’s not like He could do anything to help. As is the case with Christian love and forgiveness, the only thing Christianity can accomplish is what Christian men do, by their own efforts, on God’s behalf.