Greetings, Professor Dawkins,
I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but I feel that it is necessary; if nothing else, to serve as a lesson to converts, or to those who may be on the proverbial fence.
I grew up in Indiana with my parents, and two half-brothers. When I was an elementary school student, both of my brothers dropped out of high school and took the "rebellious" path - recreational drugs, underage drinking, etc. My mother, not wanting me to follow their lead, began to question the public education system, and what it must have been teaching. She began watching the TBN, CBN, and whatever religious channels she could find on cable. She began doing some research into holidays being nothing but pagan rituals. She quickly decided that Halloween was a trap by Satan himself, and that as a family, we would no longer celebrate such traditions. When I was a boy of 10 and a 5th grade student, my mother withdrew me from the school I was attending in order to home-school me. I was removed from public education the weekend before Halloween, 1993. This was the last bit of public education I received as a child.
We ordered books through a Christian college, and I was taught the same subjects as any other student, but with a twist. History always had a religious spin. Literature was largely from authors regarded as Christians, and Science was the worst of all. My fragile mind wanted to know how everything worked. Science, according to my books, was very simple. God created everything in its complexity, and there was no chance to it whatsoever. From the louse to the lion, God created everything we see. Noah literally had every species on his ark that existed at that time, and they all still exist now. Astronomy had to be the most boring of subjects at the time (don't tell Neil deGrasse Tyson), because our planets, and everything we see in the observable universe, were breathed into life by God. Every day I had Bible Study as a course. This went on for years. I was given the option to attend a public high school, but I was institutionalized at this point. All I knew was learning at home. I had been completely reprogrammed, no doubt to the delight of my mother. My father even accused my mother of brainwashing me. At the time, I defended mom, because I believed every word of what I was taught. I knew mother would never lie to me, or lead me astray.
We began attending church in 1995, and went faithfully for years. I began to study the bible intensely, and read it cover to cover several times. I knew my Bible front and back, and still believed every word literally. I began witnessing to my friends to the point that I was mocked and made fun of, even to the point of losing friends because of my religious fanaticism. Mother told me not to worry, because I was doing what Jesus commanded me to do, and that those weren't really my friends. I faithfully attended church, Sunday School, and youth group meetings. I became what you could call "Captain Christian" in my circle.
I started to get a bit unnerved when I was given the never-ending list of things a Christian can't do. I wasn't allowed to watch anything that wasn't sports or christianity related, listen to any secular music, play any video games that depict violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, magic or sorcery of any kind. Even toys began to disappear from my collection now and then because they weren't based on our religion. Everything was a trap from Satan: TV, radio, movies, books, girls. At one point, I was told to pack my things and move out because I was playing a video game that contained magic spells. I wish I was making this up. She tried to use me to convert my father and my brothers, who all apparently have since caved. Every bad thing that has happened to my brothers, she had turned into a lesson on why we should all follow God's plan. He has everything under control, and we should always praise Jesus.
In the years of 1999/2000, I started to push back a bit. i was becoming embittered with the lack of a social life my religion had caused, and was making any excuse I could to avoid church. I started changing my taste in music(back to what it was prior to '93), watching whatever I pleased on TV and on screen, and essentially living my life how I saw fit. Unfortunately, I was so crippled by my religion that I was useless to society after high school. I had to get a GED, because the state does not recognize the type of curriculum we were using(nor should they have to). I was so convinced as a child and teen that the world would end before I had to worry about being an adult, that I made no plans just in case Jesus decided to take an extended vacation away from his own second coming. I saw so much dreadful behavior from Christians that I was sick of everything associated with religion.
I finally got out of the house at 23 when I enlisted in the US Air Force. It took me so long to break out of my shell after school, because I had no social connections, and was afraid of the world around me. But I'd finally reached my breaking point, and enlisted like I had wanted to since I was little. Mom thought it would be a nice touch to send along a bible, to keep me close to God. I have to say that even then, I read it just in case it would help. No matter how much I tried to break away, it kept coming back to me. I spent a few years trying to figure out why I put so much into religion. I realized that dad was right all along. I was brainwashed. Mentally broken down as a child, and re-molded so that I wouldn't repeat the mistakes of those before me. Even after a divorce in 2009, I began going to church with a good friend. I would weep over the pain I was going through, and thought this was the answer. I soon realized that it was the atmosphere itself causing this heaviness of my heart. I was being told by another man that I was unworthy of life if I didn't live for the service of God. A man was telling me I was living in sin. A man was telling me that only God can heal my wounds. That my marriage failed because I didn't follow Jesus. How many times can an emotional wreck of a person hear that before they start to believe it?
It was a slow transition, but I finally stopped thinking about religious nonsense, and my life has changed dramatically. Just within the last couple of years I've been watching you on youtube and reading your books, but it's been a great help. I began watching folks like Dr. Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Michio Kaku, and several others, on top of watching almost everything that exists on youtube with your name attached. I have a newfound love for real science, and I can't get enough. I have learned so many incredible things that were previously unknown to me. What truly excites me is the passion for knowledge that I can share with my two stepdaughters, and with my next child (due in November). I still get a lot of commentary from my family about religion, and I ignore it as much as possible. For example, I was in a car accident, and was asked if I thought God had saved my life. I simply replied, "No, physics saved my life, actually." Of course I can't say with certainty that there is no God, much like I can't say there are no fairies, or flying spaghetti monsters, but I do know that I have seen just as much evidence for the latter in my life as for the former, and see no reason to carry on with superstitious nonsense. My life is abundantly happier, and so much more fulfilling without the weight of a pissed off father figure always judging me. My wife would tell you that I've become a militant "anti-religioust", and that over the past few years, I've become increasingly angry and appalled at what religious people do and say on a daily basis.
I saw you most recently at ASU with the Origins Project, and had the privilege to meet you and have you sign my copy of "The Selfish Gene." There, I thanked you for being one of the people responsible for helping me to free my mind, along with Professor Krauss. There wasn't enuogh time to tell you how truly grateful I am for what you and others do. I hope all is well with you, and I thank you for reading this. My mind is free.
Thank Thor, Apollo, and the Flying Teapot for you, Richard Dawkins.