Readers of conservative blogs such as "Betsy's Page" and "Right Wing News" may have been surprised to see ads touting Sam Harris' anti-Christian manifesto, Letter To a Christian Nation. Its appearance in territory that might seem hostile is the result of a deliberate marketing strategy by Harris' publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, to preach outside the choir.
Harris, author of last year's The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, blogs regularly on "The Huffington Post" with such provocative entries as, "There Is No God and You Know It." His Letter is equally upfront: "I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms."
According to Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards, "[Christians] have a vested interest in hearing Mr. Harris' arguments because he's attacking the very foundations of their belief system." Those arguments have actually changed little from the days of Bertrand Russell; the advantage of Letter is that, at only 96 wide-margined pages, the average Christian can read it in two hours while nestled in a green-upholstered armchair at Barnes & Noble. Whether Christians are buying or not, the book has already gone into its sixth printing.
In some ways, Sam Harris is a hard-boiled atheist of the kind C.S. Lewis lamented back in the '40s. He believes in objective truth and deserves credit for brushing aside the clouds of relativism and "tolerance" to get at the red meat. "So let us be honest with ourselves: In the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and one side is really going to lose."
He clearly considers himself the winner. But on Sept. 12, the very day his Letter went on sale, the Los Angeles Times published a remarkable column by Harris: "Head-in-the-Sand Liberals." The gist is his dismay that fellow-travelers would rather quibble and point fingers than confront the towering threat of radical Islam. He's disturbed that "the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right."
If he is surprised, he shouldn't be. It takes an absolutist to fight an absolutist, and one side is really going to lose.