I would like to start out by saying thank you to Mr. Dawkins. Without your exquisite writings on the wonderful nuances of nature, who knows where I'd be at this point in my life?
When I was 17, I went to my last annual Stuebenville Conference in Tuscon, AZ. Stuebenville was a massive gathering of teenagers growing up in the Roman Catholic faith. It turned out to be extremely effective in not only getting me actually interested in my faith and God in general, but also solidifying my personal philosophy and making my beliefs much more concrete, real. It's something that I looked forward to every summer since I first went 4 years prior. I Considered it to be one of the most important aspects of my life at that point, a 'spiritual recharging' if you will. All of the chaos, stress, and problems of life were washed away every summer, and replaced with a renewed positive outlook on this world. I was proud of my faith. I wore a crucifix everyday for 4 years, and thought about how much love I felt for Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the effect or spiritual 'high' I felt after every conference faded away after 2 months or so, and I began caring less and less until I went to the next conference. After the last time I went to the conference, I became somewhat disillusioned after hearing one of the speakers give the same exact speech she gave four years before. Two of my good friends who also went every year and allowed me to witness what I thought was truly the Holy Spirit working through them eventually turned to agnosticism and atheism. This also had an effect of eroding my faith even further, even though I was still literally fearful for their 'souls' after they passed into the next life.
The following winter, I started reading online about how similar the stories of Jesus' birth, life, teachings, and death were to a multitude of other stories pertaining to different religions, including that of the extinct Egyptian civilization. There were other small seeds of doubt that started growing quickly after that initial catalyst. Watching countless documentaries of how the world is almost always in a state of suffering, along with starting to watch documentaries pertaining to the majesty and awe that can be found in the natural universe also contributed to a final scrubbing away of my faith. The seeds fully germinated and broke through the barriers created by my religious upbringing. It's hard to explain the exact feeling of when I finally realized that my belief was only a mere illusion, and I started to perceive the world in a new light. One of rational thought and renewed appreciation for science. I would equate it to someone with very poor eyesight, but not aware that their eyesight was impaired in any way. And then, after putting on glasses for the first time, everything is so much more focused, sharp, real, and beautiful.
I picked up a copy of The God Delusion, and I can honestly say now that literature can indeed change someone's whole way of thinking, as it has mine. Everything seemed so much less complex than before, and this led me to pick up the Origin of Species, the Selfish Gene, and the Greatest Show on Earth. These books have truly turned my view of the universe on its head, and I now feel so grateful that I discovered them when I did. The beauty and elegance of Darwin's theory very nearly made me gasp out loud when it all finally clicked, and since then, my mind has been churning, constantly thinking about chemistry and biology, math and physics, and the natural world and universe (or universi). I am now a pre-med student and always find myself basking in the awe and majesty that is the universe. I see the world in such a colorful light now, and find total appreciation and beauty in subjects that I would have originally thought were boring and dry. So thank you once again, Mr. Dawkins. You are truly my hero, and I hope that one day everyone will be able to appreciate your insights into this world, as much as I have.