Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" Refuted

Update 10/20: Harris is still active as a speaker and writer but appears to have become less engaged concering matters of Christianity.

In the spirit of Harris' own book, our point by point response will be in the form of letters addressed to Harris that were first created in November 2006 and edited in June 2009.

November 2, 2006

Dear Mr. Harris,

Greetings to you. I am writing to you because I am in possession of your latest work, Letter to a Christian Nation, about which I have been asked to deliver a detailed response that I intend to do over the next few days. Before I begin writing you letters in earnest, however, I thought I ought to let you know when I first learned of you via your appearance in Brian Flemming's film, The God Who Wasn't There.

Now, knowing this, you will understand why, quite frankly, I question your ability to deliver an accurate and fair assessment of Christianity.

Your decision to appear in a movie that posits the thesis that Jesus never existed - a position that credentialed, serious historians universally reject - raises some serious questions about your discernment. May I ask if you also intend to appear in films endorsing UFOs, the reality of the Bermuda Triangle and the Loch Ness Monster?

It is rather ironic that you critique Christians so readily for believing what they do uncritically, and yet deigned to appear in a film that endorsed such a blatantly counter-consensus position, one rejected by scholars of every religious persuasion. The contrary view endorsed by Flemming is the province of non-scholars.

You will not be able to say, "I didn't endorse the film's conclusions." Maybe you did not, but that you aided and abetted such a film, and contributed to it, does indicate your lack of discernment.

In reviewing your Letter, I find the same sort of lack of discernment, and over the next few days I will be going over your book page by page, addressing these matters for the benefit of those who might think that you are an authority on this subject, which you clearly are not. You are an expert in neuroscience. I do not imagine you would have a great deal of patience with a theologian or a Biblical scholar who wrote a book "debunking" neuroscience, would you?

This all might be well and good if you actually used credible sources to back up your claims, but I see in your bibliography only one possibly relevant source: Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, which itself has serious problems (here is a general review here with links to more specific reviews). And as we will see, what you derive from there is itself problematic.

But enough. Let us proceed to the content of your book.

As a summation of what I believe as a Christian, much of what you start with is accurate, although I might query your claim that I believe "all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so." (3) If you are saying that I think all other religions are e.g., 90-100% in the wrong about what they claim, then that is false. I would say that the degree of error varies according to the religion. But since you haven't been more specific, that's all I can say. You are also certainly right to indicate that it is not possible for both you and I to be right.

It may interest you to know that there is a view of hell -- held by educated Christians -- that does not match the one you apparently have in mind. Please see: here for what I mean.

Now Mr. Harris, knowing your work as I do I don't expect you to present any sort of informed answer to this understanding. The answer I expect from you is, "Other Christians disagree, so this is more proof that Christianity is false." If so, I would point out to you that the scientific community is hardly united on each and every point, yet I am sure you would not take this as evidence that science is false. If you will, please try to actually engage interpretations and understandings rather than simply appealing to diversity.

You say, The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are. (4)

I wouldn't doubt that. However, the fact that you manifest such poor knowledge of Christianity means that I am not worried in the least about your rejection.

I will say little of your points concerning religious "liberals" and "moderates" since I am neither by your definition (4-5). You are certainly right about the dichotomy that exists between our two positions and the consequences for whoever is in error.

Without substance is your statement that "every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian." (6)

Really? May I ask what exactly you think those "reasons" are and how you arrive at the conclusion that they are the "same" (presumably, you mean, in quality, since it is wrong to say that a Christian uses "Mohammed did X" as a reason for being a Christian). You don't explain any of these "reasons," and I certainly do not see you offering any survey of, or answers to, Muslim (or Christian) scholars or apologists.

May I ask if in fact you have done any research concerning evidences for these or ANY religious systems? Have you in fact composed an argument promoting the "theft theory" for the body of Jesus? Have you indeed gone through the Koran showing it errs? Have you shown that Moses did not exist as Jews claim he did?

What exactly have you done? As far as can be told, virtually nothing. Letter, which is supposed to be your best foot forward on this account, is a mere 84 pages, and there are works by literally hundreds of religious scholars -- all far more qualified than you -- that you don't seem to have addressed.

I am not a Muslim, because I have considered arguments for and against Islam and arrived at a rational decision. You may wish to check with such sources as the Answering Islam ( website, so that you may see that there is more to the matter than simply saying, "they have reasons too just like you do" or just dismissing other people's systems of beliefs as "absurd" (6) without giving any form of argument.

By the same token, to be fair, Muslims have apologists who have indeed taken the time to fulfill the burden you put on them to prove their beliefs are valid, and it speaks for itself that unlike Answering Islam and others, you feel that it is simply enough to dismiss them with a mere word, "absurd", and say that they are "simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated."

The same could be done to you and your beliefs with just as much validity. And, it is just as appropriate for me to say, using your own words (7):

The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be a Muslims with respect to the beliefs of an atheist. Isn't it obvious that atheists are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks the universe was a cosmic accident has not considered the universe critically? Isn't it obvious that the doctrine of atheism represents a near-perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious.

No, actually, they are not. What is obvious is that you are using declarative assertions as a substitute for informed argument. I do not think that you are not sufficiently equipped to answer the truth claims of ANY religion -- Muslim, Christian, or otherwise.

As you continue your "you believe" recitation, you are spot on until you say, "You believe that...[the Bible's] contents have stood the test of time so well that it must have been divinely inspired." (7-8)

I do? Perhaps this sort of argument is made in evangelistic tracts, but it isn't made by Christian academia. I suppose (especially given your association with Brian Flemming's film) that I can now fairly say to you as an atheist, "You believe that Jesus didn't exist, that Mithra was a source for the life of Jesus, and that Nazareth didn't exist."

Maybe you do believe all this (in which case, you are even less informed an opponent than I think). Maybe you don't, but in any event, it seems evident that your "you believe" list could stand a little broader data sample.

And finally, we get to see you at work with Biblical "exegesis". I use the word loosely because it is apparent from your use of the Bible that you do not understand what this is. In attempting to criticize the moral teachings of the Bible, did it not at least occur to you that they were written to a specific context? And that the modern reader is expected to be a proper disciple, to know the meanings in their contexts and to best determine the application for themselves?

Let's look at how you misuse the Bible's teachings. You refer to Proverbs as saying children should be beaten with a rod. The first error you make is in assuming that a proverb is a universal absolute. Do you KNOW what a proverb is, Mr. Harris? Wisdom and proverbial literature was a leading genre of the Ancient Near East. Much of the OT, and parts of the NT, fall into this category. (One of the best-known examples outside the Bible is the Egyptian Wisdom of Amenemope.) Wisdom literature was (and still is) characterized by language of exclusivity. This is partially attributable to the fact that wisdom/proverbial literature was intended to be short, pithy and easily memorized. Our modern literature of this type -- for example, the maxims in Poor Richard's Almanac -- can be described similarly. The wisdom genre has changed little over the years from a functional perspective.

Because of these characteristics of proverbial and wisdom literature, the genre has a high rhetorical function and cannot be read as though it were absolute. Much of what is written in the OT, and a good deal in the NT, is subject to these constraints. So, for you to say that Proverbs is "straightforward" in advising the use of a rod for discipline, is simply wrong. Material in the Bible that belongs in the proverbial/wisdom genre cannot be read absolutely and used to claim error.

Now this brings up the question you no doubt also wish to implicitly ask, as to whether a beating with a rod is even a fair punishment, ever.

Well, let me ask you a question, Mr. Harris, you, as you live in an air-conditioned housing unit, eat three full, healthy meals a day and have vast amounts of leisure time at your disposal: Do you know what it is like to live in a world where anarchy and chaos were constant threats, where life could be stolen from you at any moment?

Ancient people did. We have lost the realization that for the ancients, education wasn't simply a matter of teaching times tables so we can get a job selling timeshares: Education was a matter of survival, of ensuring that what there was of civilization did not slip over that fine line from order into chaos.

Thus all of the Ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature is filled with pithy sayings like this one you cite from Proverbs, along the lines of, "A student's back is his ear." Even today, students are taught to want to learn -- the only differences are that the options for distraction have become more diversified (i.e., video games, versus, i.e., trips to the prostitute's house), and most of us aren't perceptive enough to see through our society's complexity to know that chaos is just as possible here and now. We don't see a reason to associate severity with education, but if we wait long enough and have enough school shootings, perhaps we finally will.

So, you fail to contextualize Proverbs and thus err.

Now let us consider your next error. You refer to stoning people to death for things like heresy and adultery (8-9). Allow me to explain a few things to you of which you are obviously unaware.

The laws of the Old Testament fall into three categories. First, some laws are universal moral laws. This includes such things as do not steal, do not kill and others. Some of these are laws that even you agree should be obeyed today, and we will not discuss them further.

Second, some laws are cultural universals, meaning laws geared to Israel's culture that have a universal moral law behind them. As an example, Deut. 22:8-9 states: When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.

You may say that one would be hard-pressed to find home builders who follow this rule, but actually they do follow the modern equivalent. In ancient Israel, the flat roof of a house would be used for many purposes, such as sleeping, household chores and entertaining. These chores included drying and storage of produce and even today the roof is used for such things in modern Arab nations.

We don't use our roof the same way -- the modern equivalent is a balcony. Our builders certainly do make sure that they follow the point of this rule.

Finally, there are ceremonial laws: Instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant, for example, are definitely of this type, as are sacrificial and dietary laws.

Put simply, you err in your assumption that every single bit of the legal strictures of the Bible are of the first sort; namely, Universal moral laws. They are not. The Old Testament law is embodied in the book of Deuteronomy (you cite other books, but the same laws are repeated in Deuteronomy). The book of Deuteronomy is laid out in the form of an ancient treaty between a king and his vassals. It is in essence a contract between God and Israel where they "signed on" and agreed to enforce the penalties.

Modern Christians believe that we now have a new covenant or contract between Christ and the individual believer. The sins are paid for by Christ's blood, and he takes on the punishment for the transgression of those who break God's law and accept his payment. The old covenant and our enmity with it is now abolished (Ephesians 2:15).

Our new contract, so to speak, does not contain specifications of enforcement -- that is now considered God's domain, with regard to each individual, on the basis of the new covenant terms. God will judge and punish moral crimes of the sort that are not prohibited by law, not men.

Put another way, you are looking at the terms of a contract that was declared null and void some time ago. Christians have no mandate to execute persons who work on the Sabbath as only those who signed onto the covenant of Deuteronomy did. It is an open question indeed whether God requires observance of a Sabbath today, but that is beside the point of this letter and your claims. However, your claim that the Bible demands that we must now stone people to death is simply misinformed.

I realize that you quote Matthew 5:18-19 (10) as some sort of evidence that Jesus would expect us today to stone people who violate the Sabbath, and so on. In so doing you fail to differentiate between law and judicial penalty. Judicial penalties are not "commandments".

Moving on, I find your appeal to allegedly peaceful religions like Jainism a curious one and for several reasons.

First, if we wish to pursue that sort of fallacy, then it is fair to point out (just as readily) that your system -- atheism -- has been responsible for widespread torture, death and atrocity in atheist regimes like Cuba, China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

Second, it is curious that you would cite Jainism's teaching to not do harm, while at the same time listing George Smith's volume, Atheism: The Case Against God, as a source. Smith was quite adamant that passages like Matthew 5:39-41 were poor moral sense, for "such precepts require the obliteration of one's capacity to distinguish the good from the evil." Taking them just as badly out of context, perhaps, one might say the same of the Jainist teachings you cite.

You only briefly mention the Inquisition and that the teachings of the Bible are "muddled and self-contradictory." [11] Not that you provide any examples, but as it happens, you are wrong. It was not inability to get a clear message from the Bible that allowed the Inquisition. Indeed, I wonder just how much you know about the Inquisition, for I am accustomed to atheists who claim that it killed millions of people -- more than the number who actually lived in most all countries in Europe at the time.

Since you seem to be very adept at not discussing specifics, allow us to inform you somewhat using credentialed historians of the Inquisition as sources (here). Oddly, none of these historians seems to think that the Inquisition was enabled by "muddled and self-contradictory" Bible passages, but rather, conclude that the Inquisition was an honest attempt to implement a particular view (not against a contrary one).

You seem to think you have a trump card when you cite the likes of Luther saying that heretics, etc. should be executed, and then say we may read the Bible differently, but "isn't it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?" (12)

Well, to put it bluntly, NO. If you were a serious researcher you would certainly realize that there is no shortage of criticisms of "influential thinkers" like Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, etc. in Christian literature. You would also be aware that no one expects someone living in medieval Germany, like Luther, to have a full grip on the concept of Ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties.

The more pointed question is, isn't it amazing that you, Sam Harris, are so indifferent to finding out the truth that you merely noted (but did not quote) statements from the likes of Luther on burning heretics, and thought that represented the 'last word' on exegeting Scripture, when there are literally hundreds of scholars who have written on the same texts today? Would you have patience with someone who tried to refute one of your theories about neuroscience by quoting the statement of a contemporary of Isaac Newton?

An even more apparent flaw in your approach is that you seem to think merely citing passages like John 15:6 with no explanation (13) automatically proves bad morality in the Bible. You present no actual argument showing this, you merely present and assume -- this is what I call "argument by outrage" (if you like Latin phrases, call it argumentum ad cerebrosus and it runs more or less like this:

  1. You find some event or passage in the Biblical text that you personally find morally offensive.
  2. You merely recount this passage or event in such a way as to imply that by itself, the event or passage is enough of a moral outrage that there can be no argument or counter to it.

    Or as Glenn Miller has put it, similarly: individual's personal moral intuitions, if they run counter to moral intuitions of other experts and peers, may need further analysis and qualification, before they could function plausibly in constructing a logical argument of God's non-existence.
    In other words, the argument that I THINK someone might make about this might look like the following:
    1. The biblical God CANNOT commit any unjust act (Authority: theological tradition)
    2. God ordered the killing of children (Authority: biblical text)
    3. The killing of children can never be a 'just' act, regardless of competing ethical demands in a given situation. (Authority: someone's personal moral intuition)
    4. God, therefore, ordered an 'unjust act'. (authority: substitution of terms)
    5. The ordering of an 'unjust act' is itself an 'unjust act' (authority: not sure--this is somewhat controversial in ethical theory, but I will grant it here for the purposes of illustration)
    6. The biblical God, therefore, committed an unjust act. (authority: substitution of terms)
    7. Therefore, the biblical God CAN commit an unjust act. (authority: from the actual to the possible)

Mr. Harris, simply stating outrage is not a sufficient form of argument. It is merely a substitute for true argument. What must be done -- but I have still not seen done by you -- is an analysis proving that a given action/directive by God was indeed unfair and/or cruel. No doubt the reason I have not seen you do this is that you are not actually able to make such judgments. Your tendency is simply to assume, "the punishment is undeserved, and can never be justified."

Again, as Miller tells us:

But notice the problem -- the whole thing stands or falls on the accuracy of the personal moral intuition in Step 3. If there is no reason to believe it applies WITHOUT EXCEPTION, then our attempt at constructing a hard contradiction this way fails...This, of course, puts the ball back in the individual's court to do one of two things: (1) show that these exceptions do NOT hold...or, (2) show that although there ARE legitimate exceptions, there could not be any valid exceptions that would be operative in our biblical case.
But in any event, someone would still have much, much work to do, to be able to even offer the 'it is a contradiction' position as an argument. Without such work, this objection is simple assertion, unsubstantiated opinion (e.g., a hunch), or emotional statement.

To make your "argument by outrage" more than just an emotional appeal, you must do more than simply offer quotes. Mere statement of data on a broad level argues for nothing since a moral hierarchy must be examined and established. Take these two statements:

We are rightly filled with moral outrage at the first one. But why? The obvious reason is that we know about Hitler and we know about his Master race schemes; we know about his attempt to seize power; we know from the data that he was morally wrong.

The core of your "argument by outrage" is to take something like the second item, however, and shake out the "least common denominator" so that the moral equivalency is made to seem to be the same.

However, what if we start defining out the second one so that:

  1. "Blekthorp" is the leader of the Harlanian race, a peaceful people who only wish to be left alone.
  2. The "Refrons" are a predatory and parasitical race -- say like Star Trek's Borg -- whose only goal is to assimilate others into their culture or destroy those they consider inferior.

Now that we have the context, whence is the "argument by outrage"? I have chosen a clearly extreme illustration, but between these extremes of black and white lie shades of gray which are a combination of black and white. We would suppose that you would agree that the Harlanians have a right to defend themselves.

If the Refrons refuse to give up -- are willing to fight to the last to achieve their goal -- is it a moral outrage that the Harlanians exterminated 6 million of them? How indeed if the total population of Refrons was somewhere around 70 billion and executing 6 million was the only way to get the Refrons to decide that the cost of conquest was too high?

Lest you think this a fanciful idea, consider the key parallels to the arguments over whether or not to drop a nuclear bomb on Japan.

One final irony, Mr. Harris. You seem rather pleased by the use of nonviolent protest as a form of social change, but as we will see in the next letter, you condemn the New Testament for commending slaves to obedience. Such is your level of knowledge of the social world of the Bible. You fail to recognize that such NT admonitions are an ancient mode of the very sort of non-violent protest and undermining of the social system that Gandhi and King taught.

But we will expose that aspect of your lack of education next time. For now, please, if you will, present some actual arguments -- not merely unexplained quotes or references.


J. P. Holding

November 3, 2006

Dear Mr. Harris,

Today I'd like to talk to you about the topic of slavery (15-19).

In all seriousness, Mr. Harris, has your education in this matter gone past simply slapping open a Bible, seeing the word "slave," and immediately assuming the worst?

Please allow us to refer you to the detailed research provided by a friend of mine here as well as ny ebook here. The following are some relevant excerpts in terms of what you offered in your book. Naturally, if you respond, we expect you to do the same level of study as we have. I will add comments in italics to what my friend has written.

Scholars in the ANE have often abandoned the use of the general term 'slavery' in descriptions of the many diverse forms of master-servant that are manifest in the ancient world. There are very few 'true' slave societies in the world (with Roman and Greek being two of the major ones!), and ancient Israel will be seen to be outside this classification as well (in legislation, not practice).

A recent example of this comes from the discussion of the Hittite culture in [HI:HANEL:1.632]:

"Guterbock refers to 'slaves in the strict sense,' apparently referring to chattel slaves such as those of classical antiquity. This characterization may have been valid for house slaves whose master could treat them as he wished when they were at fault, but it is less suitable when they were capable of owning property and could pay betrothal money or fines. The meaning 'servant' seems more appropriate, or perhaps the designation 'semi-free'. It comprises every person who is subject to orders or dependent on another but nonetheless has a certain independence within his own sphere of active."

Scholars in Cultural Anthropology are sensitive to this as well, and point out that historically New World slavery was quite unique:

"Scholars do not agree on a definition of "slavery." The term has been used at various times for a wide range of institutions, including plantation slavery, forced labor, the drudgery of factories and sweatshops, child labor, semi-voluntary prostitution, bride-price marriage, child adoption for payment, and paid-for surrogate motherhood. Somewhere within this range, the literal meaning of "slavery" shifts into metaphorical meaning, but it is not entirely clear at what point. A similar problem arises when we look at other cultures. The reason is that the term "Slavery" is evocative rather than analytical, calling to mind a loose bundle of diagnostic features. These features are mainly derived from the most recent direct Western experience with slavery, that of the southern United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The present Western image of slavery has been haphazardly constructed out of the representations of that experience in nineteenth-century abolitionist literature, and later novels, textbooks, and films...From a global cross-cultural and historical perspective, however, New World slavery was a unique conjunction of features...In brief, most varieties of slavery did not exhibit the three elements that were dominant in the New World: slaves as property and commodities; their use exclusively as labor; and their lack of freedom...". [NS:ECA:4:1190f]

Generally, in the ANE, these 'fuzzy' boundaries exist as well. "Slavery" is a very relative word in our time period, and we have to be very careful in not [sic] auto-associating it with more 'vivid' New World examples. For example, in the West we would never say that the American President's Cabinet members were his 'slaves', but this term would have been applied to them in the ANE kingdoms. And, in the ANE, even though children/family could be bought and sold, they were never actually referred to as 'slaves' -- the property aspect (for such transactions) did NOT define, explicitly, the notion of 'slavery':

"Freedom in the ancient Near East was a relative, not an absolute state, as the ambiguity of the term for "slave" in all the region's languages illustrates. "Slave" could be used to refer to a subordinate in the social ladder. Thus the subjects of a king were called his "slaves," even though they were free citizens. The king himself, if a vassal, was the "slave" of his emperor, emperor kings and commoners alike were "slaves" of the gods. Even a social inferior, when addressing a social superior, referred to himself out of politeness as "your slave." There were, moreover, a plethora of servile conditions that were not regarded as slavery, such as son, daughter, wife, serf or human pledge." [HI:HANEL:1.40]...

With these points in mind, Mr. Harris, merely quoting verses that mention "slaves" is irrelevant. Let us now start with finding out what, in the Old Testament, the word "slave" REALLY meant:

"The word >ebed, however, denoted not only actual slaves occupied in production or in the household but also persons in subordinate positions (mainly subordinate with regard to the king and his higher officials). Thus the term >ebed is sometimes translated as "servant." Besides, the term was used as a sign of servility in reference to oneself when addressing persons of higher rank. Finally, the same term was also used in the figurative meaning "the slave (or servant) of God." Thus, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prophets, David, Solomon and other kings are regularly called slaves of Yahweh (Exodus 32:13; Lev 25:55; 1 Sam 3:9; Ezra 9:11, etc.). Similarly, all the subjects of Israel and Judah are called slaves of their kings, including even wives, sons, and brothers of the latter (1 Sam 17:8; 29:3; 2 Sam 19:5, etc.; cf. also Gen 27:37; 32:4). Addressing Moses and prophets, the Israelites called themselves their slaves (Num 32:25; 1 Sam 12:19, etc.). Ruth refers to herself as a slave girl of her relative Boaz (Ruth 3:9). Being a vassal of the Philistine king Achish, David called himself his slave (1 Sam 28:2). It is natural that the same vague and inexplicitly formulated social terminology characteristic of the ANE is also used in the Bible in relation to the subjects of foreign rulers. For example, courtiers of an Aramean ruler or the soldiers of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II were considered slaves of their monarchs (2 Kgs 6:11; 24:10-11). It is natural that kings of Judah depending on more powerful rulers of neighboring countries were considered their slaves. Thus, Ahaz is referred to as a slave of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kgs 16:7). In modern translations of the Bible >ebed/doulos and several other similar terms are rendered "slave" as well as "servant," "attendant," etc. Such translations, however, might create some confusion and give the incorrect impression that special terms for the designation of servants and slaves are attested in the Bible; however, selecting the proper meaning from such a broad metaphorical application of the term designating a general dependence rarely presents great difficulty. For example, Abimelech, king of Gerar, called up his slaves and told them his dream (Gen 20:8). Apparently, these "slaves" were royal courtiers and officials. Abraham gathered 318 of his slaves, born in his household, in order to recover his kinsman Lot who had been captured by Chedorlaomer and three Mesopotamian kings (Gen 14:14). At least, a part of these persons constituted freeborn members of Abraham's family. Upon ascending the throne of Judah, Amaziah executed his slaves who had murdered his father, the former king (2 Cron 25:3). These slaves were certainly royal dignitaries. When Josiah, king of Judah, had been killed at Megiddo, his body was taken in a chariot to Jerusalem by his slaves (2 Kgs 23:30). It is quite evident that these slaves were royal soldiers. In a number of cases, however, the interpretation of the actual meaning of the ambiguous >ebed may be disputed. For instance, the steward of Abraham's household who was in charge of all his possessions is called his slave (Gen 24:2). His status can only conjecturally be interpreted as an indication of actual slavery and, of course, he could have been a freeborn person." [ABD, s.v. "Slavery, Old Testament"]

In the ANE, legal systems divided 'slaves' into different categories, and prioritized interventions (social intervention has costs, remember, and scarce resources in the ANE had to be allocated to optimize their effect on social/community survival) around these categories:

"In determining who should benefit from their intervention, the legal systems drew two important distinctions: between debt and chattel slaves, and between native and foreign slaves. The authorities intervened first and foremost to protect the former category of each -- citizens who had fallen on hard times and had been forced into slavery by debt or famine." [HI:HANEL:1,42]

In the OT case, we will see a similar interest: most legislation will be about Hebrew ("native") individuals who, for reasons of debt/famine, sell themselves into short-term slavery ("debt slaves"). Accordingly, we will examine this class of 'slaves' first (native, debt).

Hebrew 'slavery' (i.e., a Hebrew 'servant' of a Hebrew 'master'; we will do foreigners next) occurs in a very specific socio-economic-religious context, and only actually makes sense (in its structure) in that context. Like the ANE, the context is a constant struggle for economic stability. The Mosaic law contains numerous initiatives designed to preclude someone having to consider voluntary slavery as an option:

"Pentateuchal prescriptions are meant to mitigate the causes of and need for such bondservice. Resident aliens, orphans and widows are not to be abused, oppressed or deprived of justice. When money is lent to the poor, they are not to be charged interest. (Elsewhere in the ancient Near East exorbitant interest rates on loans were the chief cause of people being sold into slavery)." [OT:DictOT5, s.v. "Slavery"]

To put it another way, Mr. Harris, Old Testament slavery was indentured servitude where one willingly put oneself in debt to another and working to pay it off, just like you do today with your credit card debts. Therefore, what you fail to realize is that the daughter "sold" in Exodus 21:7-11 is willfully entering into a POSITIVE arrangement:

1. The first thing to note is that commentators do not see this as a 'despicable', 'mercenary' act on the part of a cold-hearted father. Rather, it was an exigency taken by a dad in protection and provision for his daughter (generally thought to be under extreme duress):

· "Lagas-Girsu legal texts show children being sold into slavery, and this led the texts' editor to posit a weak family bond. If, as seems likely, the parents were choosing life over death for their children, one does not need to doubt their devotion to the children." [OT:LIANE, 35]

· "While this legal right of parents was more than likely subject to abuse, its practice resulted from poverty and debt that threatened the survival of the household. Thus the selling of children was one means of payment of debt by an impoverished household, at the same time providing a new household for the poor offspring." [OT:FAI, 196]

· "Female slaves were treated differently. Many times female slaves were concubines or secondary wives (cf. Gen. 16:3; 22:24; 30:3, 9; 36:12; Jud. 8:31; 9:18). Some Hebrew fathers thought it more advantageous for their daughters to become concubines of well-to-do neighbors than to become the wives of men in their own social class." [BBC, at Ex 21.3ff]

· "In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son. Documents recording legal arrangements of this kind have survived from Nuzi. The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her. A breach of faith gains for her freedom, and the master receives no compensation for the purchase price." [JPStorah, Ex 21]

2. Secondly, commentators are quick to point out that this 'selling' isn't real slavery--its very, very different from 'regular' slavery transactions. This case is different than the debt-slave situation, in that (1) it is done by the father for a dependent daughter, rather than an independent self-selling female; (2) it is about marriage and childbearing, instead of simple domestic service labor, and is therefore exempt from the must-wait-six-years provision – indeed, release would not have to wait nearly that long at all since the 'master' would know very soon if he was not pleased with the bride-to-be; (3) has multiple exit conditions; and (4) has additional protections and guarantees in it:

· "Older views held that Mesopotamian marriage was basically a commercial arrangement in which the groom purchased the bride, and it is true that extant texts are interested in the economic relations that were being forged by the new union. But it is not helpful to see marriage as purchase because the bride's family too usually presented gifts to the groom's family; instead, marriage seems more a change in status for both parties, like adoption." [OT:LIANE, 52]

· "The provisions here stipulated for such a woman make it very likely that she was not sold into slavery for general purposes, but only as a bride, and therefore with provisions restricting her owner-husband concerning her welfare if he should become dissatisfied with the union. Such an interpretation makes clear why the provisions for such a slave-bride are given in sequence to the "guiding principles" for the protection of the male temporary slave: the slave-bride had special rights, too, and if they were violated, she too could go free. [WBC]

· "The Hebrew term 'amah used here, does not mean a slave girl in the usual sense, since her status is quite different from that of the male slave. The laws safeguard her rights and protect her from sexual exploitation." [JPStorah, Ex 21]

· "In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The sale presupposes marriage to the master or his son. …The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her." [JPStorah, Ex 21]

3. The odd mixture of 'slave' words and 'marriage' words designate this individual as a 'concubine'. Concubines in the ancient world were essentially wives whose offspring were not automatically in the inheritance/succession line. They had all the legal rights of wives, but they had typically originated in a state of slavery. They were subordinate to freeborn-wives (if there were any in the household), and their offspring could be successors ONLY IF the offspring were legally 'adopted' or publicly acclaimed by the owner. They could be legally 'promoted' to full wife status (in the ANE).

· "In Assyria a man could raise a concubine to the status of a wife." [OT:DLAM, 136]

· "The ancient law of Ex 21:7-11 allows an Israelite father who is poor or in debt to sell his daughter to be the slave-concubine of a master or his son. She is not freed in the seventh year like the male slaves. If her master is not satisfied, he may resell her to her family, but may not sell her to a stranger. If he takes another wife, he must leave intact all the rights of the first. If he intends her to be his son's wife, he must treat her as a daughter of the family." [AI:1, 86]

· "This restriction was the result of the owner's having been faithless to her, that is, he had not lived up to the agreement made with her household, that she would be his concubine. In addition, if the buyer purchased the woman to be a concubine for his son, then she was to treated as a daughter. And if the buyer took another woman for his wife, he could not reduce his concubine's conjugal rights, food, or clothing." [OT:FAI, 196]

· "In addition to the regular wife or wives, a man might also have one or more secondary wives or concubines who would bear children for him. The most explicit statement prescribing a husband's behavior toward a wife occurs in Exodus 21:7-11. This text concerns a concubine, to be sure, but according to the rabbinic principle of qal wa-homer (what applies in a minor case will also apply in a major case), one may assume that husbands were to treat their wives with even greater dignity. Because of uncertainties in the meanings of the three critical words in verse 10, there is some question concerning the obligations placed upon the man. However, on the analogy of extrabiblical formulas, seer, kesut and ona are best understood as 'food,' 'clothing' and 'ointment/oil', respectively. These specific expressions capture the man's general responsibility to provide peace, permanence and security for his wives." [HI:MFBW, 48]

· "Exodus 21:7-11 specifically seeks to regulate cases involving Israelite women/girls who were sold by their fathers as female slaves (amot), presumably because of debt. Many commentators assume that this sale envisions marriage to the master or to his son, but the absence of marriage or divorce terminology in the passage suggests the purpose of the sale was concubinage. The regulation safeguards the woman's rights in two respects. First, the purchaser may not treat her as an ordinary slave. If she proves not to please him, and he does not fulfill his contractual obligation to treat her as his own concubine, or assign her to his son, he may not treat her as an ordinary slave woman. Because he has failed to grant her the protection available to concubines through motherhood, she retains the right to redemption by her father. Second, the purchaser may not sell her to a foreigner, that is a non-Israelite, and thereby render her irredeemable because foreigners would not recognize her rights under Israelite law." [HI:MFBW, 60]

Note: one of the two main purposes of concubinage -- an economically very expensive expedient in the ancient world -- was to keep the family from falling below 'critical mass', and the other being to provide an heir in a barren marriage. The mortality rate was so high ("as many as one in two children did not survive to the age of five", [OT:FAI:19] and the labor demand was so high, that additional means of renewal (other than just the single-wife of the ideal) were sometimes necessary:

· "Those labor requirements in early Israel were especially intense for several reasons: cropping patterns, with their seasonal demands for many hands to do certain sowing or harvesting tasks within a relatively short window of environmental opportunity; sporadic needs for terrace maintenance and land clearing; a constant set of time-consuming daily procedures for tending to livestock, securing water, and transforming food products to comestibles. The number of persons needed for the family, as the primary, self-sufficient economic unit, to perform the myriad tasks in a regime with critical labor-intensive periods was greater than a nuclear family could supply. Extended or compound families were essential for survival." [OT:FAI, 18]

· "Concubines are women without dowry who include among their duties providing children to the family. Childbearing was an important function in the ancient world, where survival of the family, and often survival at all, was tenuous at best. " [BBC, at Gen 35.21ff]

· "A concubine was a true wife, though of secondary rank. This is indicated, for example, by the references to a concubine's "husband" (Jud 19:3), the "father-in-law" (Jud 19:4), "son-in-law" (Jud 19:5). Thus, the concubine was not a kept mistress, and did not cohabit with a man unless married to him. The institution itself is an offshoot of polygamy." [TWOT, s.v. concubine/pilgsh]

4. This focus on the wife-aspect of this process leads commentators to understand this passage to be about protections for the woman, over and above the protections afforded a male slave, and there were many 'exit clauses' for the woman, either to full family membership, or to freedom:

· "When a daughter was sold into slavery by her father, this was intended both as a payment of debt and as a way of obtaining a husband for her without a dowry. She has more rights than a male in the sense that she can be freed from slavery if her master does not provide her with food, clothing and marital rights. [BBC, Exodus]

· "Female slaves were treated differently. Many times female slaves were concubines or secondary wives (cf. Gen. 16:3; 22:24; 30:3, 9; 36:12; Jud. 8:31; 9:18). Some Hebrew fathers thought it more advantageous for their daughters to become concubines of well-to-do neighbors than to become the wives of men in their own social class. If a daughter who became a servant was not pleasing to her master she was to be redeemed by a near kinsman (cf. Lev. 25:47-54) but never sold to foreigners (Ex. 21:8); she could also redeem herself. If she married her master's son she was to be given family status (v. 9). If the master married someone else he was required to provide his servant with three essentials: food, clothing, and shelter. [BBC, at Ex 21.3ff]

· "The expectation of seventh-year release was denied to women...Though an owner may be unhappy with a female slave he has bought for himself, he is to permit her to be freed by the payment of a price, apparently by her family, or he is to make provision for her to remain within his own family, perhaps as a daughter-in-law. Despite his own dissatisfaction with her, he has no right to sell her to "a strange family", a family unknown to her, perhaps even one outside the covenant community of Israel. If he keeps her within his own family, yet takes another woman as his own wife or concubine, he is not to deny her the basic rights which his purchase of her for himself guaranteed in the first place. If the owner refuses to provide the female slave with these fundamental rights, he waives his claim of possession, and she is free to go her own way. The provisions here stipulated for such a woman make it very likely that she was not sold into slavery for general purposes, but only as a bride, and therefore with provisions restricting her owner-husband concerning her welfare if he should become dissatisfied with the union. Mendelsohn has cited Nuzian sale contracts which almost exactly parallel the Exodus provisions. Such an interpretation makes clear why the provisions for such a slavebride are given in sequence to the "guiding principles" for the protection of the male temporary slave: the slave-bride had special rights, too, and if they were violated, she too could go free. [WBC]

· "In addition to the regular wife or wives, a man might also have one or more secondary wives or concubines who would bear children for him. The most explicit statement prescribing a husband's behavior toward a wife occurs in Exodus 21:7-11. This text concerns a concubine, to be sure, but according to the rabbinic principle of qal wa-homer (what applies in a minor case will also apply in a major case), one may assume that husbands were to treat their wives with even greater dignity. Because of uncertainties in the meanings of the three critical words in verse 10, there is some question concerning the obligations placed upon the man. However, on the analogy of extrabiblical formulas, seer, kesut and ona are best understood as 'food,' 'clothing' and 'ointment/oil', respectively. These specific expressions capture the man's general responsibility to provide peace, permanence and security for his wives." [HI:MFBW, 48]

· "The regulation safeguards the woman's rights in two respects. First, the purchaser may not treat her as an ordinary slave. If she proves not to please him, and he does not fulfill his contractual obligation to treat her as his own concubine, or assign her to his son, he may not treat her as an ordinary slave woman. Because he has failed to grant her the protection available to concubines through motherhood, she retains the right to redemption by her father. Second, the purchaser may not sell her to a foreigner, that is a non-Israelite, and thereby render her irredeemable because foreigners would not recognize her rights under Israelite law." [HI:MFBW, 60]

· "The Hebrew term 'amah used here, does not mean a slave girl in the usual sense, since her status is quite different from that of the male slave. The following laws safeguard her rights and protect her from sexual exploitation." [JPStorah, Ex 21]

· "In the ancient world, a father, driven by poverty, might sell his daughter into a well-to-do family in order to ensure her future security. The Torah stipulates that the girl must be treated as a free woman; should the designated husband take an additional wife, he is still obligated to support her." [JPStorah, Ex 21]

· "The 'amah' of the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21:7-10) is an Israelite woman sold for this status by her father. If the buyer has designated her for his son, she is treated like any other daughter in-law, becomes a wife, and is not freed in the seventh year. If the man for whom she was acquired as a wife did not want her, he could "redeem her" to another family but he could not sell her, for his not marrying her was considered a betrayal. If he married another woman, he had to keep providing for his 'amah; if not, she would go free." [HI:HALOT:2:1008]

· "The ancient law of Ex 21:7-11 allows an Israelite father who is poor or in debt to sell his daughter to be the slave-concubine of a master or his son. She is not freed in the seventh year like the male slaves. If her master is not satisfied, he may resell her to her family, but may not sell her to a stranger. If he takes another wife, he must leave intact all the rights of the first. If he intends her to be his son's wife, he must treat her as a daughter of the family." [AI:1, 86]

· "This restriction was the result of the owner's having been faithless to her, that is, he had not lived up to the agreement made with her household, that she would be his concubine. In addition, if the buyer purchased the woman to be a concubine for his son, then she was to be treated as a daughter. And if the buyer took another woman for his wife, he could not reduce his concubine's conjugal rights, food, or clothing." [OT:FAI, 196]

So, this passage is hardly 'negative': it provides an escape from poverty for a young woman, security and protection (and upward social mobility) in the house of a better place, and all the basic legal rights of a wife.

Mr. Harris, in light of these details provided from scholars of the ancient world, is it not rather obvious that your treatment of this subject is inadequate?

One last point on OT slavery. You note that the OT permits slaves to be beaten. Once again, I will allow my friend to report:

The above prescription is hugely instructive, in comparison to the ANE. In some ANE codes, a master could literally put out the eyes of his slaves![HI:HANEL, e.g., at Mari, 1:383; at Nuzi, 1:586] This represents a MASSIVE departure from 'conventional morality' of the day!

And, the above prescription is also instructive, in comparison to today, where typical insurance programs will pay 50% of maximum disability for 'loss of a single eye', they pay nothing for the loss of a tooth (smile). But in the OT, there was a huge "disincentive" to strike one's slave in the face! Legitimate community punishments were by rods, on the back. Facial blows were considered culpable. The ANE, however, did NOT have the same 'respect' for the face of slaves -- besides eye-gouging, they resorted to branding, cutting of the ears, mutilating the nose, etc., -- IN THE LAW CODES! These practices are NOT in Israel's law codes, and they are implied to be prohibited by the focus on penalties for striking the face.

And this passage is noted as being 'oddly humanitarian':

"In the case of bodily injury to slaves, whose status does not qualify them for equal compensation, the owner whose abuse results in the loss of an eye or a tooth is to free that slave, a remarkably humanitarian provision directed at cruelty and sadism in a slave-owner." [WBC]

The law allowed disciplinary rod-beating for a servant (Ex 21.20f), apparently under the same conditions as that for free men:

If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed. If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property (ksph--"silver"; not the normal word(s) for property, btw).

Free men could likewise be punished by the legal system by rod-beating (Deut 25.1-3; Prov 10.13; 26.3), as could rebellious older sons (Prov 13.24; 22.15; 23.13). Beating by rod (shevet) is the same act/instrument used in flogging (2 Sam 7.14; Ps 89.32). This verse is in parallel to verses 18-19. If two people fight but no one dies, the aggressor is punished by having to 'retributively' pay (out of his own money--"silver", ksph) for the victim's lost economic time and medical expenses. If it is a person's slave and this occurs, there is no (additional) economic payment -- the lost productivity and medical expenses of the wounded servant are (punitive economic) loss alone. There was no other punishment for the actual damage done to the free-person in 18-19, and the slave seems to be treated in the same fashion. Thus, the 'property' attribute doesn't seem to suggest any real difference in ethical treatment of injury against a servant.

You next go on to quote passages from the NT about slavery, and while slavery of this sort was more like American slavery, as we noted above, you fail to see how the admonitions of Ephesians and 1 Timothy amount to the "nonviolent resistance" of the modern Gandhi and King. Again, from my own source, which utilizes the scholarship you do not:

The Biblical emphasis on new creation in Christ (via identification with His death) would argue for removal of many ethnic, social or cultural 'barriers' between people. This is quite clear in Paul. The unity in Christ obliterated social/ethnic/gender barriers:

”There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3.28)

”Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Col 3.11)

These were contrary to much of his Pharisaical upbringing (especially as regards Gentiles and women!), but even the slave class was despised within first-century Judaism [Cohen, Everyman's Talmud, Dutton:949, p.203]:

"Nevertheless, the slave class was despised and credited with certain faults. Slaves were generally supposed to be lazy. 'Ten measures of sleep descended into the world; slaves took nine of them and the rest of mankind one' (Kid. 49b); 'A slave is not worth the food of his stomach' (B.K. 97a). They were untrustworthy: 'There is not faithfulness in slaves' (B.M. 86b). Their moral standard was low: 'The more maidservants the more lewdness, the more menservants the more robbery' (Aboth II.8); and 'A slave prefers a dissolute life with female slaves (to a regular marriage)' (Git. 13a)."

Do you see that, Mr. Harris? Paul's words to slaves amount to Gandhi telling his subjects not to rebel, in accordance with what was believed of them, but to behave. So, do you now wish to reject Gandhi as a source of moral inspiration?

o The biblical element of covenant loyalty would argue that both master and slave would be held accountable to their sides of the relationship -- to their responsibilities to one another.

This was clear from some of the above passages, in which masters were supposed to provide what is 'right and fair' to the slave, and the slave was supposed to follow the owner's instructions faithfully and without deceit.

o The biblical motif of Christ as Lord over all elements of creation would argue that all relationships would be transformed somehow by His Lordship.

This is definitely the case, because Paul centers each aspect of the slave-owner relationship around their individual accountability to the Lord:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eye service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 9 And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. (Eph 6.5ff)

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 4.1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, (NIV: Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair) knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. (Col 3.22ff)

As you can see, Mr. Harris, the Christian response to slavery was one that would subtly undermine the institution, as a King would. An instant "Malcolm X" type reaction, which seems to be what you think ought to be in the NT, would have resulted in something actually bad:

o Given the complex situation, we would NOT expect blanket commands to 'free the slaves', if for no other reason than that infanticide-rescued infant slaves and aged/infirm/sick slaves would become critically destitute. We might expect, however, a general encouragement away from a slave system.

We do find statements that 'move' the church away from general slave-system orientation:

1. Paul explicitly denounces slave-trading, which would have restricted the supply of slaves to Christian households (1 Tim 1.9-10)

2. Paul tells free people to NOT become slaves (1 Cor 7.23)

3. Paul tells slaves to become free, if they can (1 Cor 7.21)

4. Paul encourages Philemon to 'free' Onesimus in the above epistle (verse 21)

But the historical situation was too complex to issue such a blanket 'free them all' statement:

o Many slaves were still in infancy or childhood, rescued from infant exposure/abandonment.

o Many slaves were acquired in infancy or childhood, with life-care being provided by the owner.

o Many slaves were aged or sick, without means to live in 'freedom'.

o The social relief systems of the Empire would have been inadequate to care for these needy people. Later, the emperor Julian will lament about this--that it is only the Christian community that provides welfare services to the needy of the world.

o There were known legal limits to manumission (and probably others), some before an owner's death and some at death.

o There was a growing body of legislation and intellectual support for amelioration of the slave's conditions, and the trend lines were very favorable to the slave:

"The cruel views of Cato, who advised to work the slaves, like beasts of burden, to death rather than allow them to become old and unprofitable, gave way to the milder and humane views of Seneca, Pliny, and Plutarch, who very nearly approach the apostolic teaching." [Schaff]

Do you notice that, Mr. Harris? The NT views on slavery are actually above those of the pagan moralists of the same day.

"At the opposite end of the spectrum were slaves who worked as agricultural laborers. To be sure, the age of "plantation slavery" and Spartacus' revolt belonged to the distant past, and it is not true that Roman society was based on slavery." [HPL:55)

Even abuse of slaves was frowned upon, legislated against and deplored, as when Pliny the Elder speaks of the cruelty of Vedius Pollio in the manner of execution of condemned slave criminals, or when Seneca describes the beating of a slave by a master for a simple sneeze. These were NOT accepted practices of the time, and it is simply false to assert that owners had complete authority over their slaves.

Had Paul somehow been able to get the Empire to free the 'slaves', the economic and social chaos would have been unimaginable. The sheer size of the slave population was immense. "At the end of the first century BC the servile population of the Roman heartland lay, according the modern estimates, in the order of two to three million, representing 33-40 per cent of the total population." [SASAR:29f]

From a practical standpoint alone, it would have been impossible to have issued some unilateral emancipation command to the Christian community.

With that, Mr. Harris, it should become clear that you indifferently de-contextualize the Bible in order to make it support what you want it to say. Moreover, you err when you dismiss the fact that abolitionists used the Bible against slavery, by saying that "[p]eople have been cherry-picking the Bible" to support their views for the longest time -- ironic, since that is exactly what YOU have done by ignoring the defining contexts.

You apparently wish to minimize the fact that there was a vast abolitionist literature on this subject, as noted in my ebook. Perhaps you might teach yourself what Southern slaveholders did not; namely, that the Bible does NOT support slavery of the form held in the Americas, and in fact, completely undermines it -- unless you do something that slaveholders did do, which was to redefine black persons as non-persons (perhaps you have heard of the Dred Scott case).

In contrast, the New Testament fully humanizes slaves by making them equals to their masters in Christ. Do you really think the system held in place by pagan Rome could survive that kind of thing for long? It didn't. And so it is that the Bible instructs doing what you say needs to be done: "recognize that slaves are human beings like himself".

I'll be back next week with a letter on your take on the Ten Commandments.


J. P. Holding

November 6, 2006

Dear Mr. Harris,

I have a busy week ahead of me, but I do have time to address one of your shorter sections on the Ten Commandments (19-23).

To begin, I would like to mention that I am not one of those sorts who is particular about seeing the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms and such. Frankly, I think the problems with our educational system run much more deeply than that can address.

I also would tend not to take your word about the influences of Christianity on the founding of America. You are, after all, not a historian of any sort. I would ask what response you might have to a study which shows that the matter is certainly more complex than your mere pointing out that "God" is not mentioned in the Constitution.

I would also note as a prelude your rather misinformed statement that the Ten Commandments must have been important because they are the only part of the Bible "the creator of the universe felt the need to physically write them himself."

Mr. Harris, let me introduce you to a new word: graphocentrism. This is the belief that writing as a form of communication is somehow superior to other forms, particularly orality. Ancient literacy was no higher than 10 percent at any given time, so the primary method of communication was oral.

Memory capabilities were correspondingly much stronger, so that it cannot be said that oral transmission was unreliable, or that because something was important, it "ought to have been written down". No one in ancient society would share this modern sentiment. Indeed, something written was trusted LESS than something spoken, and for good reasons. (For a full overview of the ancient view of writing as a less-trusted "supplement" to orality, see: Tony Lentz, “Orality and Literacy in Hellenic Greece”)

The point being, that your attempt to somehow read the 10 Commandments as more important because God wrote them Himself is an error.

Beyond that, your dismissal of commandments 1-4 as having "nothing whatsoever to do with morality" hardly does any justice to the far more complex matter of whether indeed God is necessary for morality.

Your similar dismissal of commandments 5-9 on the basis that, though moral, "it is questionable how many human beings ever" did refrain from the acts described "because of them," is, may I say, misplaced. Do you suppose then that all state and federal statutes ought to be repealed, because it is obvious that human beings are not obeying them? Isn't it just as obvious that we don't need statutes or laws, or that the Code of Hammurabi and the Roman Ten Tables, are useless because we have "obvious biological reasons" to obey these rules anyway? (They surely don't seem terribly obvious in light of the existence of a growing prison population)

I have no trust in your claim that "moral emotions" precede any exposure to laws. First, because you forget the factor of parenting, which exposes children to moral laws learned from other sources and second, your appeal to things like "primate behavior" leaves you wide open to the question of whether animal behavior is an appropriate model and, for that matter, why limit it to primates (perhaps you would like to have a wife or girlfriend who learned morals from "black widow spiders")?

I very much doubt that people who want the Commandments posted in a courtroom or classroom are of the persuasion that they will act as a magical talisman that reforms behavior; though it seems that your own wish to ensure that they are NEVER posted betrays your own fear that they will have some sort of effect, which means that you are in essence refuting yourself by your own advocacy.

I note your further comment that "the creator of the universe could think of no more human concerns more pressing and durable than the coveting of servants and livestock."

First of all, Mr. Harris, to the world in which these were first written, "servants and livestock" were the very components of survival. They did not have a 7-11 on every corner from which they could procure donuts, Mr. Harris. A single cow could literally be a family's key to staying alive.

Second, are you going to deny that covetousness is a serious moral problem? You have offered a semantic evasion by picking from the command the objects of the order, when the real issue is the act being forbidden. Check Commandment #9 for the real problem.

I am wondering as well of your argument that God does not give us "the freedom to follow the commandments we like and neglect the rest." Mr. Harris, do you know of a government that does that with their laws? I believe that is called "anarchy". Do not attempt to cloud the issue by saying we can vote on laws -- in that case, the majority is still not giving the minority "freedom" to pick and choose.

You also say that God doesn't tell us we can relax the penalties, and in so doing err yet again. As noted in Hillers' Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea:

(T)here is no evidence that any collection of Near Eastern laws functioned as a written code that was applied by a strict method of exegesis to individual cases. As far as we can tell, these bodies of laws served educational purposes and gave expression to what was regarded as just in typical cases, but they left considerable latitude to local courts for determining the right in individual suits. They aided local courts without controlling them

In other words, Mr. Harris, it was within the context-function of a law code at the time of the Commandments writing that relaxing penalties was permitted at the discretion of local courts.

One final word. You appeal once again to the morals of the Jains, but I would note again that your own cited source, George Smith, has indicated the moral inferiority of such commands as the one you so admire, pointing out that they turn people into doormats. You ask us to imagine how the world would be different if the Bible contained the same precepts. In fact, it does, but because of your poor interpretations of the texts (as in your treatment of slavery above) you miss it -- and any lack of clarity is the result of your own obvious refusal to look into the texts with any depth.


J. P. Holding

Dear Mr. Harris,

I haven't much to say about your brief utilitarian morality segment (23-4); this sort of thing isn't my bag either, and I have already referred you to more complex treatments of the issue above. But let's now get to your extended comments on stem cells and other medical issues (25-32).

Your summaries hardly seem to do justice. Perhaps you are unaware of Christian groups that have worked and do work against genocide, and do not "preach against condom use" in places hit hard by AIDS (though it speaks for itself to suppose that condom use is anything more than a "band aid" solution). If I were judgmental, I could accuse the media of the same flaws since I don't see a great deal about those subjects in newspapers or on news programs, but a great deal about "gay marriage" and individual deaths of soldiers in Iraq.

Mr. Harris, is religion behind the media's neglect of these matters? Or would this be a case of not knowing any better on my part? I don't see the media making a great issue of "human suffering". I don't see the media stumping for the HPV vaccine. I also have never heard of any "Christian conservatives" fighting against a vaccination program; but prompted by your claim, I found this, which shows, among other things you have neglected to mention, that:

  1. It is seen as something that could encourage premarital sex by giving a false assurance. I have no comment on the psychological aspects, but surely you will not tell us that whatever one's religious leanings, abstinence coupled with monogamy is a far more effective solution. Your excuse that "it doesn't work" is rather ironic, inasmuch as you seem to forget that we have constant media barrages of wanton sexuality that work to erase the message. I may as well argue that your "condom solution" is useless because many men won't wear them, and because condoms break easily, and so on.
  2. Social taboos are, arguably, far greater obstacles in the world as a whole.

I would ask as well: Why have you misled your readers by saying that Christians "want to preserve cervical cancer as an incentive towards abstinence"? That is false. The reasoning is rather that such a vaccine would encourage more wanton behavior, thereby increasing the risks.

Put another way, what you are asking to have done is like saying we should distribute clean needles to drug users. In so doing, the drug users feel safer and so take drugs more freely and/or often. That in turn increases the chance that they will NOT use some safety measure (e.g., a clean needle), or that they will encounter far more risks, and so your "preventative" measure ends up as useless.

You claim to be concerned about suffering while Christians are not; the fact is that you are concerned only with stopping suffering in the short term for the sake of instant gratification. We, on the other hand, are interested in long-term solutions to many more kinds of sufferings and their causes.

Finally, for today, let's deal with your extended comments about stem cells. You claim use of embryonic stem cells is a promising development.

Really? Then why isn't private industry lining up to fund it? I'm sorry, but we have some doubts. As this notes, proven treatments keep being discovered with "adult" (somatic) stem cells, while embryonic stem cells have not been proven to be any good, except to produce tumors. See also here.

You may say that you need time as it has only been a few years since research started. Well then, let the private sector do it. Surely they have as much money and intelligence as government workers do. As it is, I see from this that the first treatment derived from embryonic cells is about to undergo clinical trials, and I see that an expert at the end is quoted as having doubts about whether the setup will work. Your verbiage makes it sound like the cures are ready and raring to go, with no problems in view were but for those religionists who stand in the way.

These are just the beginnings of questions you'll have to answer to convince me you have a case. As it is, your logic is flawed, as you say that a 3-day old embryo has only 150 cells, while a fly's brain has over 100,000.

I had no idea that number of cells was what determined identity, Mr. Harris. So if you weigh 145 pounds, and I weigh 240, am I more human than you?

The issue here, Mr. Harris, is not (as you think) the embryo's potentiality to become human because it is our argument that it IS human, now. And there's no comparison to scratching your nose and losing cells, because the end result of your view is that the entirety of the individual is killed.

The issue, Mr. Harris, devolves to this: Is the embryo human? If it is not, you are free and clear. If it is, then you are not. Yet you seem to think counting cells is a way to arrive at humanity. Well, then, I'm more human than you by virtue of my weight -- and become less human when I lose weight…and so on back and forth.

On the side, the issue of souls isn't even a starter. There are pro-life groups with no religious interest, like Godless Pro-Lifers and Libertarians for Life, and we use the same arguments they do. In any event, we don't even get that far with you since you have no evidence of useful stem cell treatments based on embryonic stem cells. And if that's not so, then why isn't private industry throwing "immense resources" at the problem?

In the end, it obviously is not that you want to prevent suffering but more so that you want immediate gratification for those who have the power to take what they want from those who do not.


J. P. Holding

Dear Mr. Harris,

I would like now to move to your comments (33-38) on the evils of the church where sexuality is concerned.

As before, I would note again that your view concerning such matters as condom distribution offer little more than short-term bandages. I would also note that you of course beg the question when you say that missionaries merely spread delusions. As yet I have not seen from you any refutation of Christianity (or any religion's) claims, although, as I look ahead in your book, I see such issues as "the Bible reports pi wrong", which is certainly of no concern. We shall deal with that and your other claims at the proper time.

You wonder whether it is better to help people because of a reward in heaven or because they are suffering, and seem to assume that the former is why missionaries do their work. Perhaps some do, but then some atheists do good things because they want to make money or feel good. Your view of the world is hardly immune to selfishness.

You offer a very simplified version of the problem of evil. Well, perhaps you haven't heard that even atheist philosophers have given up on this one? Please respond to here.

You say that abortion is not an evil, but as yet you have not dealt with the issue of the humanity of the fetus, which is the critical one. Perhaps you'd also like to accuse the Godless Prolifers of having wrong priorities as well. While no one can doubt that your example of El Salvador's abortion laws is tragic, it is also an extreme. Perhaps you are unaware of such things as pregnancy care centers sponsored by churches and other organizations that work to provide the childless with children via the route of preventing abortions.

Finally, you accuse God of being the world's foremost abortionist on the grounds that 15-20% of recognized conceptions miscarry while as many as 50% of all conceptions miscarry. Is there some reason you failed to mention that medical researchers have listed the causes for these miscarriages? At a page now offline, which repeats your statistics, we found several reasons listed, and "God" didn't seem to be one of them.

In close for today, I would also like to touch on a few points with respect to your section asking if atheists are evil (38-46). I myself make no use of the argument in which the likes of Stalin are used as it is fallacious, just as is your use of events like the Inquisition. It's unfortunate that you don't seem to be able to be consistent on this. I have already referred to resources with respect to the moral argument -- I believe most Christian philosophers would suggest not that atheists are immoral, but that even when moral, they have no epistemic basis for morality.

It was ironic to see you ask when there was last an atheist riot. There have never been enough atheists to mount one worth having, with only 2000 showing up for events like "Godless America", such that it is arguable that a riot is far from being in your best interests.

Your citation of statistics with respect to how well the least religious societies are doing (43) raises some questions. The nations named, such as the UK, Australia, etc. have not ALWAYS been irreligious. So, one is led to ask whether their current success is built on the back of prior prosperity as religious nations. I am not saying this is absolutely so -- only saying that your use of this point is not deep enough.

Second, it seems you forgot to mention that the United States ranked as 17th most healthy -- which wouldn't exactly support your contention, given the total number of nations surveyed was 175. Tell us, is country #175 (Sierra Leone) exceptionally religious?

You may wish to use some caution in noting that 70% of inmates in French jails are Muslim (44). Having worked for the prison system, I am aware of the fact that in places where over 50% of the prison population is black, it is often used as evidence of pervasive racism.

There's not much need to respond to your further use of statistics. Remember, giving to social welfare causes isn't the only form of charity that exists...and when you cite the example of how high American CEOs are paid in a country where so many expect to be called to account by sure to also reckon with (atheist) Bill Gates' salary.


J. P. Holding

Dear Mr. Harris,

With your section on the Golden Rule (46-56), we are now slowly getting back into my own area of expertise. We've heard you deliver the declarative assertion about religions being "both false and dangerous" enough times already, thank you. If you spent half as much time actually answering the claims of religions as you do warning about how dangerous and false they are, we might actually have something of substance to which to reply.

I am not one of those who believes in God because it gives my life meaning, so I have nothing to say about your response to those who are one of those types, beyond what I have noted concerning the problem of evil above. Liberal theology is indeed bankrupt, but for you to notice this deserves no praise. Nor do I merely use "[my] own moral intuitions" to decide that the Golden Rule is a good thing. Evidence shows this. It is you, as a atheist materialist, that merely relies on intuitions and has circular reasoning, for in your worldview, good itself is a mere declaration.

Your treatment of Deut. 22:13-21 is without merit. I have covered this issue before so I will merely refer you to here and here. For you to refer to these matters in terms of "the vilest lunacy" reflects an intolerant misrepresentation of a different culture.

Finally, you return again to the problem of evil. Mr. Harris, do you really insist on thinking that God should have done something about Hurricane Katrina? Really? What for? There's no blame to be affixed to governmental units who did nothing for decades to ensure that New Orleans could be a safer place, in spite of knowing that the city was settled in a teacup below sea level?

Do not try to change the terms by pointing out that the human response was inept in light of science only. Perhaps you have forgotten that where events like the tsunami and Katrina are concerned, there are ample warning signs that even primitive people are known to notice, for example, like animals fleeing for higher ground. I lived through the three hurricanes that hit Florida, and there were plenty of signals in advance of a coming storm that I would have noticed without - The Weather Channel.

Please, do not resort to demanding that theists present evidence that God exists. There are literally hundreds of philosophers from many religions who have crafted arguments for the existence of God, and your 84 pages are not an answer.

Your issues against prayer are also far to familiar. The problem, Mr. Harris, isn’t that you think God should do something about evil, but that He should do something about it RIGHT NOW or He must not exist. Well, in that case, Mr. Harris, why are you publishing books? Why don't you go out RIGHT NOW and feed some starving children? Are you evil?

Most Christian people will say that God will erase the problem of evil completely at some future date, and that He has provided a way to end evil within the parameters of our own lives. What you demand is that God simply erase it all now when you say He should. But unless you're doing all you can every moment to stop evil, you are advocating this hypocritically.

Finally, regarding religious groups getting tax breaks, I wonder whether you would also remove that exclusion from groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation or the Secular Web?

In the next section, I see you fully return to actually addressing Biblical texts for all of 5 pages. How much more thorough a refutation of Christianity can one find?


J. P. Holding

Dear Mr. Harris,

You will not hear from me for a while, as of course I plan to celebrate our soon holiday with family. However, a reader sent me an interesting corrective to your claim on how secular countries are allegedly the best charity cases.

Allow me to present some selections from this article titled, "Philanthropy Expert: Conservatives Are More Generous" which was previously at but is now offline.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks is about to become the darling of the religious right in America -- and it's making him nervous.

The child of academics, raised in a liberal household and educated in the liberal arts, Brooks has written a book that concludes religious conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals to all sorts of charitable activities, irrespective of income.

In the book, he cites extensive data analysis to demonstrate that values advocated by conservatives -- from church attendance and two-parent families, to the Protestant work ethic and a distaste for government-funded social services -- make conservatives more generous than liberals.

The book, titled "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism" (Basic Books, $26), is due for release Nov. 24.

When it comes to helping the needy, Brooks writes: "For too long, liberals have been claiming they are the most virtuous members of American society. Although they usually give less to charity, they have nevertheless lambasted conservatives for their callousness in the face of social injustice...".

The book's basic findings are that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans, by any measure.

Conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. They want everyone's tax dollars to support charitable causes and are reluctant to write checks to those causes, even when governments don't provide them with enough money.

Such an attitude, he writes, not only shortchanges the nonprofits but also diminishes the positive fallout of giving, including personal health, wealth and happiness for the donor and overall economic growth. All of this, he said, he backs up with statistical analysis.

"These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, 10 years ago," he writes in the introduction. "I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book."

Still, he says it forcefully, pointing out that liberals give less than conservatives in every way imaginable, including volunteer hours and donated blood...

Have a good holiday, Mr. Harris.


J. P. Holding

Dear Mr. Harris,

After reading your next several pages, I must ask you if you check to see if Christian answers of any sort exist? Let's have a look at this brief section (57-62) on the Bible: one would think you'd spend more time on Christianity's foundational document if you were effectively and genuinely trying to refute the whole.

  • It's fair for you as a materialist to beg the question and assume that the Gospel writers made up elements of the life of Jesus to conform to prophecy, but unfortunately, you fail to grasp the nature of most Biblical prophecy, which was not in fact predictive. Rather, a Gospel writer would have an event in the life of Jesus which they would try to match with an OT passage.

    In any event, since I do not use the sort of "prophecy" apologetic you refer to, except in a few cases (such as the book of Daniel) your point does not affect me.

  • Is. 7:14, again? See here. And it is news to me that Matthew had anything to do with "the Christian world's anxiety about sex." Where did you find that, may I ask?
  • Mark and John's silence on the virgin birth means nothing. As I have said elsewhere:
    This sort of objection demonstrates a lack of realization that there is NO relevance for the virgin birth in the places where it is lacking mention. Remember, the NT materials were written to people who ALREADY believed the Gospel. By the time they were reading this stuff, they had already accepted all of the basic tenets, and already had all the basic information. Furthermore, Paul (and I would also argue, the other epistle-writers) wrote "problem-oriented" letters, so that there was really no need to go out of the way to mention anything for which he did not have pertinence. (It also matches the point that the NT was written in a "high context" setting on which people's background knowledge of events was substantially assumed, as opposed to our "low context" society in which we feel a need to explain everything, again, and every time!)

    Beyond that, Brown [Brow.BirM, 521] observes that the virginal conception "would have become the subject of preaching (and therefore likely to be included in the kind of writing we find in the New Testament) only when its christological significance was seen." He also observes that the primary theological doctrine associated with the virginal conception (that Christ was thus not tainted by original sin) was first cited by Augustine (ibid., 530 -- who probably misunderstood what Paul said anyway). That being the case, we may suggest that the NT writers did NOT observe any christological significance in the virgin birth per se, any more than they did in any of Jesus' other miracles collectively. Hence, there was no need to go out of their way to report it, and we may agree with Anderson, who observes that all we can therefore say about the silence of the rest of the NT is that the virgin birth was simply "not a ground on which (the evangelists) called others to faith." [Ander.MI, 16]

    Indeed, though he does not explain why, Brown suggests that adding the virgin birth to the preaching of the church would have "opened Jesus' origins to ridicule and calumny" [Brow.VirgRes, 61] … but we may guess why. There would be the inevitable comparisons to pagan myths, or, the charge of illegitimacy – exactly as occurs today!

    Brown's observations are confirmed elsewhere in more detail. Campenhausen [VonCamp.VBT], though skeptical of the virgin birth himself, has performed a survey of the theology of the virgin birth in the early church, and observes, rather dryly, that the virgin birth was "anything but the starting point of the early Christian message" (ibid., 10). He does not speculate as to why this was so, but does note that it was only in the time of Ireneaus that the virgin birth was regarded as an essential part of doctrine, with hints of its theological import being found earlier in the works of Justin (c. 150 AD). Thus, he writes (ibid., 24): ...the doctrine of the virgin birth was not formulated for the sake of a theological line of thought; it is simply a supposedly 'apostolic' piece of biblical tradition that was handed down.

    This leads back to Brown's remark. The virgin birth was not seen in a christological perspective when Matthew and Luke reported it; hence, there is no reason for it to appear in Paul's letters or elsewhere in the NT. There is not even any reason for it to be in Mark and John (note that in the missionary preaching of Acts, the kerygma begins not with Jesus' birth, but with his baptism by John) - but there is a reason for Matthew and Luke to use it. The former wished to link it to the fulfillment of prophecy (Is. 7:14); the latter showed especial interest in the life of Mary.

  • Matthew 27:9-10 again? Answer:
    Our problem may be that we are concentrating only on verses 9-10, when we should be looking at the passage beginning with verse 3. Menken [Menk.RJ, 10-11] offers this analysis:

    A partial answer lies in the fact that in narrative (27, 2-8) and quotation (27, 9-10) passages from Jer exercise their influence as well. Jer 18, 2-3, where a potter is mentioned but no purchase of a field, is often adduced, as well as Jer 32,6-9, where the purchase of a field is dealt with but no potter occurs. A reference to Jer 19 may be more to the point: in front of the elders and priests, Jeremiah has to shatter an earthen potter's vessel, as a symbol of the disasters which will strike Judah and Jerusalem because of their idolatry, and because "they filled this place with blood of innocents" (Jer 19, 4). The prophet has to do this on the place that is called Tophet but will be called "Valley of Slaughter", and will be one large burial-place. The points of contact between this passage and Matt 27, 3-10 are obvious.

    Menken thereby asserts that it is an atmosphere, rather than a quotation, that is being evoked: That of Jeremiah as being in Matthew "pre-eminently the prophet of rejection of the Messiah." This, along with Mattews theme of Jesus as a Jeremiac figure (Mt. 16:14), explains the "wrong" attribution of the Zech passage to Jerry. Zech may have been the writer, but the whole theme that Matthew is invoking is derived from Jeremiah.

    This type of attribution, of course, seems very odd to our Western mind that demands documentary exactitude in all things. But we should again recall that the ancients did not think as we did, and it is chauvinistic to regard their thinking as erroneous. Matthew is not stupid, but he is subtle. He wrote as an educated Jew and as a craftsman with a point to prove to his readers, and it is our own fault that it has taken us so long to "get the point" ourselves.

  • The time of the crucifixion again? See here.
  • Now a word on future prophecy. As a preterist, I do not accept the view you criticize. However, your objections otherwise are misplaced. You wish for God to specifically speak of things like the Internet in the Bible, even mention it by name? May I ask what use such a prediction would have been to 99% of the people who have ever lived?
  • You also object that the Bible does not contain a "formal discussion of mathematics." I am sure that the average peasant farmer who oft worried about where his next meal would come from would have appreciated an algebra lesson. Your comments about pi in the Bible are answered for the entry under 1 Kings 7:23 here. Please bear in mind, Mr. Harris, that the Egyptian texts that calculate pi were math texts. 1 Kings is not a math text and is under no obligation to work out pi to 100 places just for your sake. And contrary to your assertion, we have a mathematics expert who has not said that the Bible is deficient for not going to any greater extent.

    One last thing, Mr. want the Bible to spell out a cure for cancer, do you? Does advice like, "don't smoke" need to be spelled out? If so, then I'm afraid no explicit instruction from the Bible would be of much help. Since such warnings appear unheeded on cigarette packages, it's hard to see why having them in the Bible would have been any more helpful.

    In closing for this round, a few words on your next section on science and religion (62-78). This is not my subject, so I have but a very few comments.

    First, your idea that "intellectual integrity" of the same sort found in science (like in the Piltdown Man case?) does not belong to the realm of religion merely here just begs the materialist question and also where you declare the debate over limbo a "hilarious, terrifying and unconscionable waste of time."

    Second, your definition of "faith" is misguided. See here, which means giving trust based on evidence, not without it.

    Third, your comment about receiving a Ph.D. in order to "rationalize the glaring inadequacies in the Bible" is just as readily turned around on you, if that's all you plan to say. It is also ironic that you speak of "building a civilization of ignorance" when you won't even open a single commentary to check your claims on the Bible. One wonders how China and Rome ever got their civilizations going without evolution in their databank.

    Fourth, if you wish to propose in reality that the universe is merely a computer simulation (who built the computer?), or propose dualism -- go ahead and argue for those. It should be interesting, and I jokingly expect you'll author a peer-respected philosophical best-seller on the subject someday.

    We'll close next time.


    J. P. Holding

    Dear Mr. Harris,

    Your closing commentary concerning the "future of civilization" is devoid of factual and/or relevant content. As has been noted previously, the vast majority of conflicts today simply are not religious, and even many that seem religious (such as in Northern Ireland) have more to do with political identity than with actual religion. I also find it curious that you devolve into discussing Islam extensively, in a book addressed to Christians, as though this is to serve some purpose. As a result I have little more to say on this closing section.

    Your comment regarding experience as a basis for faith (89) is, I will concede, one in which I do agree with you. The simple fact is that ancient Christians did not appeal to experience as a reason to believe, but rather, to the historic event of the Resurrection. It is this you must address if you wish to succeed in your mission to eradicate the Christian faith, and frankly, I have little confidence in your abilities to do so, especially given your association with Brian Flemming and your thinking "the Bible gets pi wrong" as being some sort of qualified objection. It would never occur to you that some of us consider your work an irony -- you who speak of "denial of tangible reality" even as you appear in a film endorsing the premise that Jesus did not exist.

    It speaks for itself that you recommend a work written in 1860 as a source for the recording of Biblical contradictions (95). Do you truly think that treatments of these subjects have not advanced? That there have been no responses to such works? Or do you simply assume such arguments from your side cannot be refuted?

    By now, the answer to that question has become abundantly clear.


    J. P. Holding

    Dear Mr. Harris,

    As a final step in this process of reviewing your Letter, I have now also read its prequel, The End of Faith. One letter in the form of notes in reply will suffice here, as most of this book is beyond my scope or interest (e.g., on Islam and neuroscience). However, even then, we find little of substance and what little there is, you also presented in Letter.

  • Your principal flaw, in areas with which I am concerned, is familiar: You create a dichotomy between "faith" and "evidence" and your definition of "faith" [64-5] is based on a "plain reading" of the text (note prior link on this subject). Of course, it is obvious that many Christians have this sort of "blind faith", but so do many atheists. It is not a religious phenomenon, as I can attest having encountered so many atheists who accept such things as the Christ myth.
  • You say that if we revived a Christian from the 14th century, they would be a "total ignoramus" [21] on such matters as geography. Your point being what? A 14th century atheist revived would be no more informed. You say, "except in matters of faith" which simply tells me how little you know with respect to the depth of Biblical scholarship in this century. That too has advanced. I am no more in favor of holding beliefs sacred simply because they once were, but you offer a hypocrisy in that case, for example, by looking no further than a work from the 1800s when it comes to "Bible contradictions".
  • Speaking of faith, it seems you have one of your own -- in science, which you hope will provide answers to deep questions someday where now it does not [43].
  • We are wise to your method in which you shift back and forth between Islamic barbarities and Christian beliefs, in an effort to associate the latter with the former.
  • How interesting that you choose "the pope" to profess that Jesus rose from the dead, etc. when trying to argue with respect to trusting sources of information. Why the pope? Why not one of the experts in this subject, such as Greenleaf, Craig or any one of dozens of others who have produced defenses of these doctrines from an intellectual and scholarly point of view?

    It's rather questionable of you to say that the pope's only source is "the Bible itself" [77] while leaving such defenses untouched.

  • Your pardon for the likes of Stalin and Mao is unreasonable [79, 231] as you try to make out their atheism as "political religion" and claim that they were not "rational". Well, then, Mr. Harris, you have no grounds to deny a voice to Christians or Muslims who are not bombing abortion clinics or kidnapping people. Once again, you have merely decided that only your kind of people are "rational", while religious people are not.

    Similarly questionable was your claim that the Tamil Tigers (per Mr. Day above) don't count against you because they might happen to be Hindus and they are afflicted mentally by a sense of "other-worldliness." [239] You seem to find a way to blame religion no matter what the matter is, even if it has nothing to do with why the Tigers bomb people.

  • It is ironic that you say such of the interpretability of Scripture [83] when your practice of exegesis amounts to, "I'll pick up a Bible and read it in English, and from there decide what it means" and you bring up such arguments as Exodus gives two versions of the Ten Commandments. See: this [155]
  • If John Ashcroft should have been removed from office for making the comments he did about evolution [156], can we also punish you for starring in a film promoting the Christ-myth? Or, do you also feel that it is impossible to do anything unreasonable in the service of your worldview?

    Apparently not.


    J. P. Holding