Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review: Lying by Sam Harris

In 2014, I have resolved to spend part of my Friday mornings reading - not only for my own pleasure and enlightenment, but so that I might be more prepared to share resources with those of you who are into that sort of thing.

I have just this minute finished reading Lying by author Sam Harris. I wanted to write and publish this quickly because I enjoyed it so thoroughly, and felt others would benefit from the recommendation.

Hardly any of us agrees in theory that Lying is a good thing. But too often, our practice undermines that particular ethic during the course of life. We tell little white lies, or polite lies all the time to avoid disharmony and discomfort. Harris proposes that there really isn't any good reason to lie, and he takes on all the little exceptions we try to make. More than just making a condemnation of lying - he extols the virtues of an honest life over and above the kind of life we arrive at through dishonesty.

The text of the book is exceptional and captivating, but one other thing interests me - it's brevity. Really a hardback booklet, the text itself is only 42 pages. I was able to finish it in approximately 2 hours, and in one sitting. In truth, I consider myself a pretty efficient reader, but I don't imagine it would be a long undertaking for anyone. This is a really refreshing thought. How many of us have started book after book, waded a couple of chapters in, but then started to feel like the author was trying to artificially expand the word or page count? (Of course there are plenty of great authors who don't do this.) In Lying, the author has something important, interesting and useful to say, but doesn't insist on lingering after he says it. I wish more authors would do this. I would read more books, be much better informed, and not feel guilty about leaving books half-finished.

I am vaguely aware of Sam Harris reputation of being antagonistic of faith (all religious faith, not just Christian), and his being identified with some in the latest movement of new atheism. I want to be clear: I found nothing here that is not entirely consistent with a Christian ethic of honesty, integrity, wholeness. What I found is the clearest, most concise and convicting explanation why a life lived in deceit is fruitless, and a life of honesty to be pursued at all times. I might go so far to say that Lying does a better job than most churches I have encountered at articulating the kind of honesty and integrity that I believe should be a hallmark of Jesus-followers. Not once in this book did I find his supposed antagonism toward faith on display.

As people of faith, if we want to love the truth, we must follow that truth wherever it leads. We must also acknowledge it and celebrate it wherever we find it, even (especially?) in the mouths of atheists . A former pastor friend used to say, "God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick." And that is as true of you and me as it is of atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Democrats, and Republicans. As a Christian, I am confident in saying that when it comes to Lying, I agree with Sam Harris. In fact, I would welcome his take on the subjects of Murder, Adultery, Stealing, Coveting, and other such commandments.

Many thanks to my good friend Alex Flick who insisted that I read it, and loaned me his pristine copy.
I must admit that the Rob Bell Tumblr posts I asked him to read as part of this deal amounted to more than 42 short pages - although they were significantly less dense. ;-)