Zacharias explains that this book is a response to recent works by Sam Harris, especially Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006). Although atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkens are mentioned in passing, Zacharias focuses particularly on responding to Harris’s diatribe against religion, particularly Christianity. The author’s purpose is clear: “I am writing The End of Reason to tell young men and women—all who ask the hard questions about the meaning of life—that atheism is bankrupt for answers. The emperor has no clothes, and through his verbal magic Harris is trying hard to cover him up” (p. 17). The intended audience is perhaps a bit too narrowly defined here; older men and women—who also ask questions about the meaning of life—will likely find this book helpful too.
Zacharias is a gifted writer. His prose is clear, his illustrations effective, his writing style winsome, and his criticism of Harris pointed yet kind. He structured this book like Harris’s, as a letter. Thus this is an easy-to-read, engaging apologetic for Christianity. Zacharias discusses the question of origins, the meaning and purpose of life, the problem of evil, the basis of morality, and hope for the future; and he argues that atheism’s answers are incoherent, illogical, unreasonable, and unhelpful. He also provides an apologetic for Christ and the Scriptures and the existence of God. He proposes a Christian perspective on bioethical issues like abortion, cloning, euthanasia, and stem-cell research. And he does all this in a small book of slightly more than one hundred pages of text. Obviously, no one of these issues is treated comprehensively or completely.
Perhaps the most touching story in this book is Zacharias’s own conversion from despair and hopelessness to new life through faith in Christ. He describes how atheism led to his attempt at suicide. While recovering in the hospital, he was given a Bible and heard the gospel. He concludes, “All I can say now is how grateful I am that Sam Harris was not my mentor or his tirade the inspiration, for my life would have ended there and then. Instead, I trusted the Christ of the Scriptures, and today, four decades later, having traveled this globe dozens of times, speaking in numerous countries and lecturing in scores of universities, I find Jesus to be more beautiful and attractive than ever before” (p. 28). Clearly there is a personal and deeply emotional reason for Zacharias to respond to Harris as he has, and this passion is evident in his work.
This book is not an academic treatise, a comprehensive apologetic resource, a complete theological response to atheism, or an in-depth treatment of any of these issues. It is a brief, introductory, cursory handling of the atheistic perspective of Sam Harris. It was written for a popular audience; it is not a technical or detailed engagement with the subject. In that way it is very similar in style to Letter to a Christian Nation. Harris’s book, first published in 2006, has since been releaed in a paperback edition, making it much more economical for its intended audience (New York: Vintage, 2008). It is somewhat surprising that Zacharias’s publisher chose to release his book in hardback rather than in a more reasonably priced paperback edition. Hopefully, a mass-market paperback edition will be forthcoming, to make this excellent little book more widely accessible.
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