Dear Sam Harris:
I hope you don’t mind that I’ve adapted the title of your bestselling pamphlet bound between two hard covers and foisted on to an ignorant public as a book. Of course, I am referring to your pretentious Letter to a Christian Nation.
In this little polemic you take the liberty of directly addressing those like me who believe in the divinity of Christ and in the truth of Bible. Your primary charge against me is holding thoughts and beliefs that do not square with yours. You do show some mercy and leniency toward those you deem moderate and liberal—those vaguely Unitarian, who believe Christ was a cool dude, with some nice ideas, who would have gone to peace marches--but not much more. I take your upbraiding personally, as I think you intend.
My letter is addressed also to those who fall into the category you do. I have seen them—biologists with visibly rising blood pressure at college debates, writers of angry rhetoric in “humanist” magazines, bitter middle-aged men still chasing skirts, and one college sophomore who stands out in my memory among the hundreds of students I have taught over the years.
I can’t remember the young man’s name, but I’ll call him Sammy. Since the class was a survey class on early British literature we couldn’t avoid reading distinctly Christian literature, like religious poetry and mystery plays.
Sammy sat towards the back of the class. He was bright and articulate and I believe he earned at least a B. Away from parents who apparently sent him to church most Sundays, Sammy was feeling his oats amidst 30,000-plus students, and the professors from whom he took up the challenge to think “outside the box.” He prided himself on his independence of thought, and like you, revisited the Bible. He found it did not square with what he was learning in Biology 101.
Like many liberals he assumed the mantle of bravery by speaking out in class. He ‘spoke to power’—the ultimate power you might say. (But we know who else did that; he figures prominently in a poem by John Milton.) So whenever we came to a passage that alluded to religious faith Sammy would add to class discussion by declaring it “poppycock.” He boldly used the same word on papers.
I tried to be charitable. I asked Sammy to address the concerns in more scholarly language. I marked his papers for diction. (“Poppycock” is too colloquial, I wrote.) I asked him to reconsider his assessment of all Christians as stupid and bad.
I thus avoided getting into a heated debate on religion in that public university, a place where the only debates on religion allowed in the classroom are about the various degrees to which Christians are wrong, stupid, and bad.
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