Contingency? An eternal truth has to enter human discourse at one time or another. It will become necessarily contingent as soon as it touches the human and becomes part of history. There is no other way. So faith's contingency is neither an argument for or against it.

Other religions. I'm curious. And I find in many of them many of the themes of Jesus: the unimportance of wordliness, the oneness of God, the equal dignity of human beings, the impulse to charity. But I do find Christ's witness the final truth, which must mean that others fall short. But I do not see this as a reason to hate or condemn or even deny the alternatives, where they also see this deeper truth. Everything is true as long as it isn't taken to be anything more than it is. And I am in no position to judge the sincere choices of others in matters inherently beyond our knowledge.

Cultural success? I agree that such success doesn't actually prove anything about a faith. But it is a sign that a truth has endured the test of time and is more than a sudden spasm of fashion. That the life of Jesus has altered human history in ways rarely equaled is indisputable. That's not dispositive, but it is something.

Perhaps, then, Sam, we have talked as much as we fruitfully can. I have to say I am deeply grateful for the opportunity. Those of us who say we have faith are not often challenged as forcefully as you have done for me in your book and in this dialogue. It may frustrate you to know that I have actually found this exchange to be supportive of my own belief. Being forced to defend my faith in public, when usually it lies in the inarticulate folds of private experience, has been a difficult but useful exercize. I'm afraid I haven't persuaded anyone--or maybe led a few to your side of the equation. But in these matters of ultimate meaning, being persuasive is not as important as being right, is it? Thanks for helping me get closer to that ideal. But my doubt, which is a part of my faith, still gets in the way.



From: Sam Harris  To: Andrew Sullivan 04/17/07, 4:15 PM

Dear Andrew--

Well, we have reached the end of our debate, and still we do not agree. We'll have to leave it there for the time being. I think, however, that our stalemate conceals some important asymmetries. For instance, I feel that you should have been convinced by my side of the argument. Can you say the same? You seem, rather, to have argued in a different mode. In your last essay you admit that your notion of God is "preposterous" and then say that you never suggested I should find it otherwise. You acknowledge the absurdity of faith, only to treat this acknowledgement as a demonstration of faith's underlying credibility. While I have yet to see you successfully pull yourself up by your bootstraps in this way, I have watched you repeatedly pull yourself down by them.

You want to have things both ways: your faith is reasonable but not in the least bound by reason; it is a matter of utter certainty, yet leavened by humility and doubt; you are still searching for the truth, but your belief in God is immune to any conceivable challenge from the world of evidence. I trust you will ascribe these antinomies to the paradox of faith; but, to my eye, they remain mere contradictions, dressed up in velvet.

If God loves the world, he has a terribly noncommittal way of showing it. Why rig a silly game in which only the poorly educated and mentally unbalanced are perfectly tuned to glimpse the truth of your existence, while smart, well-adjusted, and well-educated people (like yourself) must wrestle with doubt, barricade themselves behind euphemism, and cling to spurious "mysteries" to keep from tumbling into unbelief? You beckon me to a world in which George Bush and James Dobson have an effortless bead on the deepest conceivable truth; meanwhile, 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences may well be doomed for eternity by their skepticism. It's hard for me to imagine that this scenario seems even remotely plausible to you--but this is Christianity at a glance. I am not the first to notice that it is a strange sort of loving God who would make salvation depend upon a person's ability to believe in him on bad evidence.