Dear Mr. Dawkins,
I would like to share my conversion story, to encourage others to do so, to raise awareness and most importantly – to Thank You for everything.
I am a 28 years old woman from Estonia. Estonia has been known as one of the most irreligious countries in Europe (at least as far as the “affiliation with any church” statistics go) so luckily enough I did not have a deeply religious childhood or family. My parents consider themselves Lutherans, but we almost never went to church and my parents didn’t baptize me and my sisters on principle – they wanted us to make that decision on our own, as adults. For that I am immensely thankful. They never scared me with stories of hell or bothered to teach me any scripture. Yet my parents did instill a belief in me that the world and everything in it is God’s handiwork and the will of God, they told me stories of Jesus, of heaven, and taught me a simple evening prayer to recite if I wanted to. Still, all this was quite enough to muddle my little impressionable brain.
In 1988 Armenia was shattered by Spitak earthquake. Estonia rushed in to help and I remember clearly as my mother asked my permission to donate many of my old dresses and shoes to the thousands of children orphaned or left homeless in Spitak. There was even talk of adopting one of the orphans. As little as I was, I was shocked and absolutely devastated that God, my benevolent God of heaven and angels and everything nice, would let such a tragedy to take place in the world. From then on my evening prayers ended in tears and I don’t think I cried so much for the sadness, as for the injustice. What did those children do to deserve this? If they didn’t do anything then what purpose did that horrific event serve? Was God just cruel? Nothing added up, nothing was right, the workings of God were suddenly totally incomprehensible to me.
Years passed and I still held on to the idea of God and the idea of afterlife, but I had passively acknowledged that I would never and could never make God “match” my personal sense of morality, I sort of adopted the “the ways of God are inscrutable” stance. When I was 16 I fell in love with a boy who had been raised in an atheist family. We talked about everything and that included religion. I was always thoroughly frustrated that every single argument that I had for the existence of God fell flat against his arguments. I had to agree that the world and universe seemed to exist neatly enough without a God. I decided not to be baptized, as I figured that God could not be that petty as to mind whether or not I'm baptized. The only real argument for God that remained dear to me was the “divine inspiration” argument – music and art were capable of moving me to such extent that I felt certain that there had to be a spiritual higher being channeling through human creation. Surely people by themselves could not be that talented, right?
Fast forward to 2009 – I picked up Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True” not because I ever doubted it but because I too felt deeply disturbed by the growing religious fanaticism and blindness spreading in all corners over the world. With every new story of yet another school teaching creationism or banning scientific evidence it felt like a new dark age descending - slowly and firmly. So I thought – I’ll read Coyne’s book and I will make the last attempt to atone my God with the reality of universe and everything in it. With first five pages I was sucked into the wonderful world of evolution theory backed by meticulous hard evidence and I felt such awe and wonder that I actually, no kidding, considered dropping my ongoing master studies in international relations to pursue a biology degree instead. I didn’t find the atonement but I found something much more fantastic – a passionate thirst for true knowledge, for truth, for evidence. After Coyne I devoured “The Blind Watchmaker” and “The Selfish Gene”. With every passage another peace fell into place, another “click” in my brain. And then, I finally picked up “The God Delusion”. When I read the quote by Douglas Adams: “It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life” – I felt tears running down my face. And then it hit me – I am moved to tears for science, for man-made, gritty, messy, hard-work science, not divine inspiration, but 100% human pursuit of knowledge and truth, and it is wonderful and awe-inspiring and it moves me to tears! Music and art have nothing to do with divine inspiration and everything to do with homo sapiens – the wonderful, complex (but not perfect!) product of evolution. We are fascinating beings with different talents and different emotions, capable of learning and capable of loving and caring – all on our own! It is daunting yet liberating to know that neither Einstein nor Beethoven were “touched by God”, that all the great thinkers before us are just as human and mortal as I am. To know that not prayers but hard work and willingness to question everything is the way to get any answers. To realize that the only "life after death" worth pursuing is the ongoing lives of our ideas, our deeds and our genes in our children. And finally, to make peace with the knowledge that the little Armenian children didn’t do anything to deserve an earthquake that left them orphaned. That sometimes tragic things just happen, because life is messy and unfair, but it is also fascinating and wonderful and each of us only has one chance at it. Because there is no God.
Thank You for everything, dear Mr. Dawkins, dear Richard. You will never know how many people you have truly inspired and awakened.
PS! The wonderful atheist boy I met when 16? I married him last summer. :)