Dear Professor Dawkins
I had a fairly relaxed Catholic upbringing; attended Catholic school and Church on Sundays. Of course everything I did seemed perfectly normal to me as everyone around me was doing the same. It was only when I met my non-believing husband that I started to look at things a little differently. He would ask,"did you really sit in front of a priest and confess your sins?" or awkward questions like, "do you think I will go to Hell for not believing?" but I would still say I had my own little beliefs and faith that were important to me and didn't need to be closely examined or questioned by anyone.
When I was heavily pregnant with our first child, I was relaxing in the bath reading Derren Brown's 'Tricks of the mind'. His opening line simply states the non-existence of God. This is a flashbulb memory for me as I sat straight up and thought how dare he make such a statement. I honesty felt like a child who had been told there may not be a Santa.
On Derren's recommendation I bought the God Delusion but didn't feel I could read it straight away. I think I knew that there would be no turning back from that point.
Strangely enough, it was the 'miracle of birth' that provided the next big turning point. It was a fairly difficult delivery and I just remember thinking clearly through the fear and agony, "I don't feel like I want to thank God at all, surely if it was down to him he could snap his fingers or wave his wand or do whatever it is he does to stop the pain and deliver a healthy baby". Instead, I just felt so grateful to all the people in the room that had taken the time to study and grateful for the drugs and machines that were keeping me and my son safe.
Once out of hospital I read the God delusion and that indeed was that. It allowed me to answer all the questions I had and allowed me to give up my religion. The Catholic faith (I'm sure along with many others) does a good job of making you believe that there is no point to existence without God or that a death without the idea of some kind of afterlife is terrifying. You helped me to understand that eternal oblivion is actually more comforting than the idea of sitting on a cloud up there watching my children grow up without me. More recently I have read the magic of reality using the iPad app which further reinforces the extreme beauty of our world without any God.
The only remaining problem I had was that I felt prayer had been taken away from me so I felt powerless when things went wrong. A short time after reading the God Delusion a couple I knew of lost a baby at 27 weeks of pregnancy and in the same week received a diagnosis of breast cancer. My immediate reaction was to say a little prayer and then actually panicked a little when I realised I couldn't do this anymore. I didn't know the couple well enough to even send a card let alone turn up with any offers of help. I sat back and thought about it and realised there were lots of things I could do, all of them more productive than prayer; donate money or time to a cancer charity for example. Ironically, the couple in question were a lesbian couple who had conceived through IVF and so my prayers as a Catholic would presumably have fallen on deaf ears anyway?
They say there's nothing stronger than the faith of the converted and I am certainly a more outspoken atheist than I was a catholic. I am a teacher of maths in a secondary school now and during national book day I shared some of your magic of reality with some of my students (I hope this was ok especially since it resulted in at least one extra sale that I know of!). The bit I chose to share was on evolution, mainly because you did such a great job of helping us to understand the incredibly large numbers involved. Most of the students were totally fascinated but I did have two that expressed their opinion that there isn't enough evidence for evolution. This was clearly the message they were getting from home and although I would love to engage them in the debate, I realise I won't be very popular if students return from Maths class questioning the whole faith of the family. Hopefully, in time, these students will discover your work for themselves just like I did.
Let me close with heartfelt thanks for the positive impact your work has had on my life (I extend the same thanks to Derren for pointing me in your direction). I can honestly say that I never saw as much beauty in the world as I do now.
Yours gratefully, Jo