Jan. 9, 2007 Joe Bell
In his new book, â€œLetter to a Christian Nation,â€ Sam Harris does his best to discredit the belief system that gives guidance and comfort to those who embrace Christianity. His reasoning, which is shallow and watery, actually reinforced my belief.
Harris and those who share his views have every right to disbelieve in God and to reject Jesus as the Son of God. Through free will, God gave Harris and everyone else that right. The proper way to address Harris is with respect, sympathy, understanding and by pointing to the weakness of his arguments. An understanding of why faith is difficult does not diminish a believerâ€™s convictions. Many Christians have likely struggled, and perhaps continue to struggle, with the same questions Harris catalogs. But there are answers.
Most readers will likely find Harris at his most persuasive when he addresses the concept of Godâ€™s goodness. Citing the December 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina as evidence of Godâ€™s lack of caring for those He created, the author says, â€œIf God exists, He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. You may now be tempted to execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by human standards of morality. But we have seen that human standards of morality are precisely what you use to establish Godâ€™s goodness in the first place.â€
First, God cannot be judged by human standards. God judges man by His standards. Second, in â€œThe Problem of Pain,â€ C.S. Lewis addresses this issue: â€œWe want, in fact, not so much a father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven â€“ a senile benevolence who, as they say, â€˜likes to see young people enjoying themselves,â€™ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day â€˜a good time was had by allâ€™â€
Harris is looking for God to deliver promises He never made. Harris wants a God who will prevent all suffering, banish tragedy from human life and wave a mighty arm to create heaven on earth. Jesus never promised that those who followed Him would have a carefree existence. Harris is demanding that God jump through the hoops he places before Him in order to prove His existence. The writer is making demands he has no right to make. He wants God to measure up to what he believes God should be and he does so in large part by demanding God do things He never said He would do and deliver gifts He never said He would deliver.
There is surely much suffering in the world. Wars have plagued mankind since he first walked the earth and they continue today. But the evil of war does not flow from Godâ€™s dictates but from manâ€™s free will. God did not force Hitler to invade Poland. God did not create evil; man did by abusing the free will God gave him. God intended man to be a free being and knew he could not be truly free unless he had the capacity to make decisions between right behavior and wrong behavior. God allows the potential for sin but gave mankind a moral code that, if followed, would prevent him from crossing that threshold.
Professor Peter Kreeft, who has taught philosophy at Villanova University and Boston College, said, â€œThe point of our lives in this world isnâ€™t comfort, but training and preparation for eternity. Scripture tells us that even Jesus â€˜learned obedience through sufferingâ€™ and if that was true for him why wouldnâ€™t it be even more true for us?â€
The fact that freedom is a heavy responsibility is lost upon those who want the God who created puppies and beautiful sunsets but not the God who sits in judgment on what is right and wrong.
Harris also focused on natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. Pondering such events, the author imagines that those who survived imagined they were â€œspared through Godâ€™s grace. â€¦It is time we acknowledged how disgraceful it is for the survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving god while the same God drowned infants in their cribs.â€
Along those same lines regarding suffering, Harris demands to know why the bible does not reveal a cure for cancer, pointing out that, â€œGood, pious people are dying horribly from cancer at this very moment, and many of them are children.â€
Harris is correct. But whether death results from disease, natural disaster or old age, God has decreed that everyone will die at some point. In Hebrews 9:27, the Bible states, â€œMan is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.â€
Some individuals live to be 100 years old or more while others sadly never live to see their second birthday. No one knows the time, place or circumstance of his or her death. All we know is that it will come. That does not mean we should not do all we can to stay healthy. Jesus never said God would keep us fit and safe regardless of how foolhardy we are. In Matthew, when Satan urged Jesus to leap off the top of the Temple and trust God to save Him, Jesus replied, â€œDo not put the Lord your God to the test.â€
God is not a trick dog that jumps at manâ€™s direction. He is not obliged to prove Himself to skeptics by producing miracles on demand. That is the God Harris seeks; he will not find Him. Many say they have prayed to God for something that was never provided - perhaps a job that was never received or for a spouse to be cured from an illness. But prayer is not offered to get God to do what you want. Prayer is a way to get closer to God, to understand His will, especially when it conflicts with yours. It is a way of connecting to the Almighty.
Harris turns to science to disprove Godâ€™s existence. He writes, â€œThe conflict between science and religion is reducible to a simple fact of human cognition and discourse: either a person has good reasons for what he believes or he does not.â€
The idea that science and a belief in God cannot coexist is ridiculous. In his book, â€œThe Language of God,â€ Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, explained how his relationship with God has been strengthened by science. Collins, who worked for more than 10 years to unravel the DNA sequence, recalled standing next to President Clinton at the unveiling of the Projectâ€™s work. Clinton said, â€œToday we are learning the language in which God created life.â€
Collins wrote, â€œWas I, a rigorously trained scientist, taken aback at such a blatantly religious referenceâ€¦ In fact I had worked closely with the presidentâ€™s speechwriter â€¦ and had strongly endorsed the inclusion of the paragraph.â€
When Collins spoke, he said, â€œIt is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own construction book, previously known only to God.â€
After reading Harrisâ€™ book I came to the conclusion that individuals like the author choose atheism because the god they want does not exist. Therefore, they reject the one that does. Harris craves an interventionist deity that exerts control over the affairs of men simply because He can. To do so would defeat Godâ€™s purpose for man, which is to exercise the gift/burden of free will and comprehend and prepare for the consequences of his choices.
Christianity teaches that God proved His love for mankind by sending Jesus into this world to die on a cross so we might receive eternal life. But love does not coerce. We can reject Godâ€™s love, guidance and the invitation to spend eternity in heaven. Harris did not disprove Godâ€™s existence. He simply made the case that the god he prefers does not exist. On that count, Harris is correct. ### Joseph Bell has hosted a radio talk show and is a former editorial writer/columnist for several Connecticut newspapers. A former liberal Democrat, Bell has not been on the conservative side of the aisle for very long. He voted for Clinton/Gore in 1992. Abandoning the convictions that he had held and defended through adolescence and into adulthood was not easy. Sincere soul-searching and a commitment to distinguish fact from fiction compelled him to accept that liberal ideology was bankrupt.