I was raised in a Baptist household near Cleveland, Ohio. I was a naturally curious child and loved to read and learn. I absorbed knowledge like a sponge and always sought more.
When I neared my teenage years, I started to question the religion I was brought up to believe. I had so many questions... contradictions in the Bible; things I were taught to believe about the way the world works, that didn't make ANY sense to me; the difference in the way Christians claim to be, and the way they actually act; etc etc.
I started to research things more and more. I was helped in my research over the years from many different angles. A High School history class about World Religions opened a door for me. I started to become more interested in philosophy, and read up on that. I watched many different programs from The History Channel about the history of Christianity and different religions. My interest in psychology grew and I read everything I could find on that. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell got me interested in mythology and comparative religion, which spawned an interest in anthropology.
As the years went on, I knew I wasn't a "believer" any more. Everything I knew, from all the research I did in books, documentaries, online, TV specials, etc etc all expanded my thought. It's interesting to note how many different fields tend to overlap.
Of course, I was careful to never mention any of this to my family or any of our family friends that were Christian. I only confided my true feelings to a few close friends, who were going through the same ordeal and shared my thoughts.
I joined the Marine Corps right after graduating High School, and moved to California. I kept reading and watching, expanding my thoughts farther and leading to more new discoveries. I was finally able to distance myself from weekly church attendance.
I knew I wasn't a Christian. I really didn't label myself as Atheist or anything specific. Over the few years I've been in the military, my mom slowly started to pick up on things. Little things I said here and there; when I told her I don't go to church on Sunday; etc.
It wasn't until I read your book The God Delusion that I finally stopped and said, "Holy shit... I've been an Atheist all this time."
The suspense my mother was going through had to end at sometime... in a recent phone conversation, my mom directly asked me if I was a believer. I plainly told her "No." At first, she was flabbergasted and didn't know what to say. She expressed some dismay at my answer. I told her that I'm surprised it took so long to ask, and how I'd had doubts with Christianity for years, but whenever I tried to find answers from the pastor, Bible, or Christians, it was to no avail. I'd get a bullshit answer using circular reasoning, or another equally throwaway answer like, "Oh, well we're not meant to understand God's ways."
I threw out a couple examples. As the conversation went on, she stopped being so taken aback and was engaged. And now we've agreed to openly discuss things when the next time I'm home. Maybe, just maybe, I can expand her consciousness too.
So I guess what I'm trying to say Richard, is thank you. Thank you for having the balls to stand up and talk about this "taboo" subject. You've given me that final boost of courage I needed to proclaim who I really am and what I believe. And now I feel obligated to pass on the gift to others. To open their eyes to the blindfold and shackles that have been imprisoning them all their lives. To be free.