Dear Professor Dawkins
My name's Paolo and I'm a great admirer of yours. I'm 21 and I'm from Italy and I've been following your debates , speeches and lectures for the past 3 years or so (possibly longer).
I've been an atheist ever since I was 13. I was , like many other children here and around the world, indoctrinated since childhood. My parents were never very religious but they sent me to a catholic church. There I began to learn the elegant, beautiful truth about the evolution of biological life on this planet. I remember that I had been told by everyone that Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God. They never actually bothered to specify which information from the Bible was to be taken literally and which one wasn't. I think unless they were faced to confront it with scientific facts, they wouldn't even bother because it was much better that way (much less effort required). I remember I was shocked yet fascinated by this amazing , new discovery. It wasn't hard for me to find evolution attractive. At first, I didn't understand it because it was presented to me as Lamarck's theory of evolution when it was , instead, supposed to be Darwin's. Then I thought about it, read about it and I had got it. Then another lecture about natural selection made it more clear. I had always been attracted by biology. I'd say I was much more of a naturalist at first because I was absolutely fascinted by animals, I remember I would get totally mesmerized when I went to the zoo. I remember I would stare at a fish tank for entire afternoons just to observe the behavior of several species of fish, some of which were hard to observe such as the shy "Muraena helena" which would rarely come out its hideout. At the age of 4, before I could read, I asked my relatives to buy me books about dinosaurs. There was something about these animals that really fascinated me. Perhaps it was the fact that they once existed but are no longer. Of course being only a child, the only thing I could really do was memorizing some basic features, sizes and hundreds of dinosaur species by the time I was 6. I was absolutely excited about fossils, although they were fake they were still pretty real to me. I couldn't understand all the implications of evolution, dinosaurs, creation etc back then, and I only knew that I really loved all of that magnificient stuff. Everytime someone would ask me what I would have liked to become, I would reply "paleontologist". I was of course fascinated by the Jurassic Park films and would point out every single mistake they made in the film when they ignored some anatomical features of some dinosaurs (such as Brachiosaurus altithorax not being able to bend its neck like it does in the films).
Anyways, one day I just stopped thinking about God entirely, and none of it made any sense to me. I realized none of it was supported by evidence, and I think that science fiction and Star Trek, as well as my natural curiosity played a major role in this process of inner growth.
All of these things opened my mind to new possibilities, entirely new ways of thinking. And I think that's what really made me realize that I had been an atheist all along, ever since I was born! I despised going to the church and I would rarely do it, except that I did care about going to hell. I felt guily sometimes because I would not go to the church, and the catechist was always there making sure everyone was present, and if you were not then she would tell you off the next monday. I did, sincerely believe in god, and I did think that the cracker turned into the body of Christ but I thought everyone saw it as a symbolic thing. Before I was 13 I had very ltitle doubt that God was real, but I was just not very active religiously speaking. One thing I'd like to point out though, is that I had been told by almost everyone that "bad people" go to hell when they die. My parents also did this but in a very mild way. My dad would make jokes about the devil stinging my "rear" with his pitchfork. Now I know he meant to be funny, but if you link this to the fact that basically everyone in the catholic school was telling me that hell is real, I can say that my mind evoked some pretty scary images. I was truly, deeply, terrified by the thought of going to hell. Even now, being an atheist, there is a remnant of that old fear. I don't really believe it of course, but an irrational part of me still manages to feel the residual fear within my mind, even though I clearly don't seem to give it much thought, but I'm aware of the fact that it is a product of indoctrination. This is just to point out that indoctrination on children is a very powerful action with devasting consequences and results. It should not happen, it should not be taken so slightly. It is a very serious thing. I was able to shake off this fear almost entirely. I was able to shake off religion but most people I know were not able to.
I truly think religion kills curiosity. It does a great job at that. I do think that some religious people are of course, good scientists and very curious people indeed. But that's just because they were exceptional people in the first place and happened to have a religious belief. But on average, I would assume that the more religious a person is, the less likely he's going to be interested in the real world around them, in the real , scientifically intelligible universe around us.
So what's this story about? I'm not writing it to draw attention nor to be considered important nor to be cool or anything. Well first, I wanted to tell what religion did to me and what it is doing to other people that have been thru the same experiences as I have. Second, I think it is very important to point out, once more, that parents DO play a critical role in this. I consider my parents to be good parents, but not the kind of parents that would really encourage the scientist within me. All of my family basically considered my early passion during childhood as nothing more than a child's fantasy, something to play with just like any other toy. To me, it was the whole world. Nature to me, was basically a bunch of wonderful animals , extinct or not. I would even buy books about bugs, and capture them and keep them contained to study their features. I would reproduce their habitats in plastic containers and even set the light level to their liking according to what the books said. My parents never encouraged that. They found it to be some childish thing to be punished. My mother actually used to throw all the bugs away and was never happy about what I did. I think parents MUST always encourage their children, especially when they display a very early passion that will develop into something more "real" later on. I think they made a mistake there, perhaps today I would have taken the path of biological sciences. Who knows, I just know that they didn't do anything to encourage me. And I think, that this, together with religion, can kill a child's passion, ambition, curiosity. We must let children experience the world, experiment with things. We must teach them how to think properly and encourage their early ambitions if they appear to be deep and real, like mine was.
Fortunatly, I simply switched my passion to computer science and computer programming, which became a very addicting hobby of mine and I'm trying to merge this personal passion with university studies.
But most importantly is the fact that I "met" you Prof. Dawkins , and I was about 18 . You made me realize that my atheism was not actually something to be ashamed of or something unique. Everywhere I looked there were people disagreeing with me and I had never met anyone sharing my views and my skepticism. To be honest, before I knew of your existence I didn't give too much thought to my views as an atheist maybe because I simply did not find the concept of religion and god in general, very plausible or very interesting. The first of your documentaries that I watched was "The Genius of Charles Darwin". After I was done watching it I reconsidered my views, I thought about them a little longer, a little deeper, and actually reinforced and confirmed them. I had finally found someone I was completely in agreement with. I had found someone who shared most of my views and had actually become famous partly because of it (the other part , it seems, for being a brilliant scientist). Then from there, I started watching every speech you gave, every documentary, every debate and the more I learnt about you the more I found myself in agreement with you. I remember I would scream in front of the monitor things like "YES! THAT'S EXACTLY IT! THAT'S EXACTLY HOW I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT OF IT!". Thanks to you Prof. Dawkins, I'm no longer alone. I feel like I'm drifting through an ocean of irrationality, except now I know, that beyond the horizon, there is a place I can call home.
Thank you, Professor Richard Dawkins.
Regards, your greatest admirer.