God told me to hate you

Letter to a Christian Nation

After The End of Faith came out, I received thousands of emails, many from devout Christians who did their best to show me the error of my ways. I answered these emails individually at first, but they then came in such torrents, and were so similar in content, that I developed a boiler-plate "Letter to a Christian" in response. Occasionally, someone would respond to my form letter with further arguments in defense of God. So the letter began to evolve, and then I realized that I could write a short book and address all the committed Christians at once. [...]

There is no way around the fact that I'm advocating a certain kind of intolerance, but it is not political intolerance. I'm not saying that people should be jailed for their religious beliefs. I am saying, however, that certain beliefs are so lacking in merit that there should be no question of our "respecting" them. People who claim to be certain about things they cannot be certain about should meet resistance in our discourse. This happens quite naturally on every subject but religion. For instance, a person who believes that Elvis is still alive is very unlikely to get promoted to a position of great power and responsibility in our society. Neither will a person who believes that the holocaust was a hoax. But people who believe equally irrational things about God and the bible are now running our country. This is genuinely terrifying. We must find a way of criticizing and marginalizing bad ideas, even when they come under the cloak of religion.

Then he turns the snark up to 11 with those pesky "facts":

44% of Americans think Jesus Christ will return in the next 50 years. (22% are "certain" that he will, another 22% think he "probably" will.)

Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution (and two-thirds of these believe evolution was "guided by God"). 53% are actually creationists.

"Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue."

87% of Americans say they "never doubt the existence of God."

28% of Americans believe that every word of the Bible is literally true. 49% believe that it is the "inspired word" of God.

"We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God's teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father's doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)."

80% of Americans expect to be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for their sins. 90% believe in heaven. 77% rate their chances of going to heaven as "excellent" or "good."

"In the year 2006, a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get seventy-two virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: they don't know what is like to really believe in God."

65% of Americans believe in the literal existence of Satan. 73% believe in Hell.

"It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion -- to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources -- is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity."

83% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. (11% disbelieve. 6% don't know.)

"The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive."

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36 Responses:

  1. fo0bar says:

    Then there's the agnostic: "You, prove that God exists. You, prove that god doesn't exist. If you guys need me, I'll be over there sipping a martini."

    • strspn says:

      I used to be proud to call myself agnostic, knowing it was the only logically defensible position in the absence of any evidence. But the pragmatic position is probably atheist. Sometimes you just have to call bullshit.

      • ciphergoth says:

        Atheism = not believing that God exists
        Agnosticism = believing that the question of God's existence is unknowable

        So you can be both an atheist and an agnostic. Russell described himself as an agnostic.

        I also like

        Igtheism = Assertions about God are too meaningless to be either true nor false. In other words, religion is not only not right, it is not even wrong.

        • carus_erus says:

          I've not heard of "Igtheism" before. The closest I've heard has been "apathetic agnosicism". Don't know, don't care, doesn't matter.

          There's also the Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic from which you can get a Bachelor Degree from the International University of Nescience and become a legally ordained as a Minister, Pastor, Rabbi, Priest, or Priestess. In some states that means you can legally marry couples.

          My wife considered becoming a priestess, but I'm not sure I want that kind of responsibility.

  2. azul_ros says:

    I think I need to read this author's books!!! I am definitely in the minority according to those stats. I can barely believe that so many people fall into those categories because 80-90% of the people I know do not hold such beliefs!!!

  3. kehoea says:

    [Tags | doomed, ...]

    I was raised Catholic and have been solidly agnostic but not filled with rage at organised religion for a while now; if this dude succeeds in making his point of view standard in the US, I think nonetheless that the world will be a better place. Less doomed, as it were.

  4. g_na says:

    If those percentages are correct, then I am thoroughly justified in believing most people/Americans are idiots.

  5. tiff_seattle says:

    "Tell a devout Christian ... that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever."

  6. autopope says:

    At last! C*mm*n s*ns* about religion.

    Poor bastard's probably going to be on his way to the camps just as soon as the coming shit-storm hits, but hey, he did his best.

    • fanf says:

      Dawkins has finally published his god book, but (according to one review at least) it's disappointingly badly argued.

      • dojothemouse says:

        That was certainly the problem with his other books. He's best used for summarizing inane objections from religious people, because they all write to him. But he pads his good arguments with bad ones, and it makes his books very cringe-worthy.

  7. djverablue says:

    those statistics are just plain creepy....

    • misuba says:

      He does not actually come out and say from which specific poll those statistics come, anywhere in the book. He just cites Pew and Gallup. So we should all take them with a grain or two of salt.

      • jsl32 says:

        on another note, i'm curious about why people are expected to prove faith in this one specific set of circumstances. faith is by definition unprovable, so any 'arguments' that it's 'false' are kind of beside the point. i don't understand why some people want to spooge off about how intellektuly superior they must *obviously* be because they don't have faith in certain phenomena over other phenomena. it's a very improperly feudal mindset.

  8. I've read The End Of Faith; most of this book was about how we are at war with Islam, and took a rather paranoid destroy-it-before-it-destroys-us line. At one point he raised the possible necessity for preemptive nuclear strikes against Islamic population centres.

    His take on religion is sensible, but his politics might be a bit dubious. Interestingly enough, when he talks about the Middle East conflict, he makes no mention of ultra-orthodox Judaism's influence on Israeli government policy, placing all the blame for the conflict on the Muslims. Which makes me wonder whether or not he has an agenda.

    • misuba says:

      he makes no mention of ultra-orthodox Judaism's influence on Israeli government policy, placing all the blame for the conflict on the Muslims.

      This is false, although the brunt of his direct attack on Judaism is in the afterword to the paperback edition, and some of the rest of it is indirect. He goes lighter on Judaism, but given that Harris is a New Yorker who began the book on September 12, I think what bias there is is sort of understandable, and at any rate easy enough to correct for.

      • I got my copy this year, brand new, and didn't find much reference to Judaism, at least in the context of the Middle East conflict.

        Being angry at Islamism on September 12, 2001, is perfectly understandable; though he doesn't seem to have tempered his anger much, and the result is a rather one-sided point of view, that seemed to me to be more about recruiting the Dawkinsian atheists for Bush's War On Terror than finding a solution. The way he has given short shrift to the possibility of an Islamic reformation sidelining the Wahhabiists, whilst entertaining Strangelovian ideas of nuking cities, does make him seem a bit unbalanced.

  9. xinit says:

    With that many people thinking that they're going to be called in front of their god when they die, you would think that people would just fucking be nicer to each other.

    • According to (some) Christians, you don't need to be nice so long as you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Take a look at some chick.com for numerous statements to this effect.

      • carus_erus says:

        These are the Christians who get off on the virgin birth and the ressurection, and then stick with the old testament for everything else.

        Anything Jesus actually *did* or *said* is a big no no.

        Being born, dying for original sin.. It's dramatic. Brings closure to the old testament. Being kind to your neighbour? The rich getting into heaven like a camel going through the eye of a needle? Forget it.

      • rapier1 says:

        Many people are assholes. They'll use whatever veneer they have available to justify their actions. Do you really think these people would be any different if they were atheists?

  10. heliocide says:

    Great post today, jwz. My next stop was this, which immediately suggested itself as related.

  11. rapier1 says:

    As a Catholic I know I'm supposed to be one of those gas huffing types many people seem to fear. Maybe I am. I mean, I believe in God. I also believe in Jesus. Likewise, I believe in evolution and the scientific method. I believe two men should get married if they want and that love is the greatest proof of God there is. I believe that abortion is wrong and that every woman deserves a choice*. I believe in cold hard facts. I believe that there is an ineffable divine presence.

    Mostly I believe that I feel bad for people that don't have the ability to be logical and illogical at the same time. Too many people are all wrapped up in being consistent and that just sort of seems sad to me. It just seems limiting to me. Which is probably a clear sign of an intrinsic insanity.

    Lastly, I believe that I really doubt those numbers; Lies, damn lies, and statistics after all.

    *(I've worked clinic defence and fully support a woman's right to choose. Healthcare is a right.)

    • pumpkinkingx says:

      I'm not religious, but I have to say this is one of the most insightful posts I've read from someone who believes in God.

      Thank you...

      • rapier1 says:

        You're welcome.

        Seriously, most people who are religious aren't mouth breathing maniacs intent on rolling back the clock to the middle ages. Sure, there are some and they get all the press but its sort of like any other stereotype. The dramatic minority being used to define the majority.

        What is interesting is that things like the above tend to push people who do have religious leanings *further* towards religious conservativism than anything else. Its that whole "I'm being attacked so I must defend myself!" sort of thing which ends up polarizing people. Rarely, if ever, does it undercut anyone's faith or belief anymore than a papal bull would make you question your own morality.

    • swayworn says:

      “I feel bad for people that don't have the ability to be logical and illogical at the same time.”

      Nobody has that ability:
      logical + illogical = illogical

  12. lohphat says:

    You are *so* going to hell for this...

  13. pumpkinkingx says:

    OMFG! The hairdryer made me chuckle noddingly. Hilarious bedtime story :)

  14. darkengobot says:

    I think a poll showed that about 1/3 of Americans believed 9/11 was an inside job. Americans believe all kinds of wonky things. Europeans aren't doing much better--they believe they can grant themselves endless government services and not have children to pay for them.

    It's not quite fair to compare the "Golden Rule" (actually, there are two rules, not one: love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself) with Deuteronomy. One is God's commandment, the other is Mosaic law, which I suppose could be considered inspired by God. Also it's worthwhile to remember that the Mosaic law was designed for people some thousands of years ago. Using modern mores to judge ancient morals is a fool's exercise IMO.

    • swayworn says:

      “Using modern mores to judge ancient morals is a fool's exercise IMO.”

      I totally agree... but, well, God hasn't issued a rewrite. It's ancient morals or eternal damnation.

  15. Another interesting/amazing statistic for you: Atheists are distrusted by 97% of the U.S. population

    From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.
    This comes from a study done at the University of Minnesota.

    As reported at Pharyngula: Wednesday, March 22, 2006