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Book Review 

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & Letter to a Christian Nation

by Sam Harris

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & am Harris throws theological curve balls: In his most recent book, he first presents an attack on fundamentalist Christians -- and indeed on fundamentalists of all kinds -- then turns his wrath on moderate and liberal Christians.

Extremists murder infidels (people they disagree with), so they're worse. But in Harris' view, moderates and liberals allow the fantasy of religious faith to undermine humanity's potential for rational living. Harris, himself an atheist, thinks that the best solution to the threat of Islamofascism is that we all join him in disbelief at our earliest possible convenience.

In support of his argument, he trots out some tired anti-Christian arguments: There are loony passages in Leviticus; Christians have fought some awful wars; and terrible things happen, so God must be really mean. But it's possible to believe and still regard the Bible as, in part, historically determined; and horrible misuse (in war) of a good thing (like faith) doesn't argue for expending it altogether.

As for the debate over the existence of evil, Harris advances the familiar argument that if God allows trucks to run over puppies and little children, then God isn't omnipotent, isn't omniscient, isn't benevolent. But humans can't divest themselves of egotism and make genuine moral choices in a wholly predictable and coldly rational world.

Harris has a good response to the God's-ways-are-inscrutable crowd, who comfort themselves with claims that God is beyond human categories of judgment: "But we have seen that human standards of morality," he notes, "are precisely what you use to establish God's goodness in the first place." A telling point: We're limited even in how we speculate about Perfection.

But of course human standards of reason are what Harris insists upon. Prove it to me, he says, in effect crossing his arms and holding out against centuries of theistic conviction. He wants incontrovertible, scientifically demonstrable proof that God exists, and we ain't got none.

But human reason isn't the ultimate arbiter of faith, because the ultimate realities are way, way beyond its ken. The beetle on the forest floor can't comprehend more than his little corner of the forest, much less the continents and oceans beyond. That's why it's obvious to us that beetle understanding doesn't get the final say -- even if it seems that it should, in the opinion of the most skeptical and atheistic beetles. There is far more in heaven and earth -- especially heaven -- than is dreamt of in Harris' philosophy.

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