Dear Professor Dawkins,
I have just finished reading The God Delusion. It was an incredible book filled with such great and well thought out arguments. As well as pre-empting questions that would be raised from the opposing side.
I am not telling you anything you do not know or have not read in the many reviews you have received over the years, but after reading your book and getting to the point I am at today I felt the need to write to you and your online community. I have written this letter many times trying to keep it short and sweet, all the while explaining my own journey and my “conversion.” My story I am sure is somewhat familiar to you from the many letters you have received, but I would like to share it anyway.
I am 24 years old, and was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. I am part of a very big family, the typical Irish Catholic family. My great grandparents had 16 children and each of them at least had four of their own. Many of them remain strong Catholics, and some have converted to other denominations of Christianity. My family would be considered very conservative Catholics. For instance my mother divorced my father and remarried without an annulment, which is kind of a big deal or so it seemed. My grandmother basically was so upset they did not speak for many years. My step father, whom she married, converted to Catholicism and my step brothers were also baptized later. I reference all this only to display your ideas of how much trouble religion can cause and why the hesitation for myself to declare to members of my family that I am not an atheist.
My view of religion has always been skeptical. Not necessarily if God existed or not, but things such as prayer, the Bible, the Ten Commandments and how they actually covered much more than just ten laws. I would always resort to “just having faith,” but I was always curious. In the third grade I asked my teacher: “If God knows everything and knows the sins we will commit and whether we will go to heaven or hell. Then why bother at all?” Of course I received the free will answer, which was not an answer at all. In the end I was told to just have “faith.”
Faith is the final answer to everything in religious discussion or arguments, and is the most frustrating because it is impossible to proceed past that.
Religious fanatics were the beginning of my questioning. How they could “know” they were right and everyone else was wrong. I would watch them kneel with their eyes closed and their hands clasped together so tight you could see the veins throb. They were showing how devout they were. I did not buy it. I began asking myself all sorts of questions, but I never gave up my faith. Unfortunately I went down the road you referred to in your book. Theology. Psychology has always been the subject I was most fascinated by. Somehow I thought theology was a closely related topic.
I went to a Catholic school for 12 out of 13 years. I cannot recall what we were taught as far as our origins were concerned. I do not think that was a real issue. I knew I did not believe the Bible as literal, I more thought of it as mere simple story telling for something that was much more complex, in my elementary years, and I think that was how my school taught it. Evolution I heard of outside of school and I kind of just accepted that because it was a logical explanation. However my final year we did discuss evolution as being accepted by the church and explaining life, yet it was of course used as evidence for God.
I will skip ahead a bit. A few years after high school religion was not a big part of my life. I was working a lot and trying to take classes at the same time. Although great scientists and writers, like you, have been around for a long time, it was a comedian that I have to give the credit for “raising my consciousness.” Bill Maher’s documentary Religilous was the first time I was exposed to the faults of religion I was blind to before. The faults in the Bible, the story of Jesus being told many times before, these facts were new to me. From then on my questions became more frequent.
A few years into my college life (I was taking classes here and there due to time and money) I took a course in Philosophy of Bioethics. By far the only class I actually felt advanced any learning or thinking ability in my years of school. We read a book called Remaking Eden, which exposed much more about the origins of life. We also debated in class, I have always been pro-life but my arguments had to be rethought in that class. I began to take a different approach to ideas like that. It was a very important class for me. I was getting ready to cross that line. Then I relapsed.
Something in my life shook me. A very pathetic circumstance I am embarrassed to say sent me into what felt and most likely was a depression. A break up. I laugh at it now, but at the time and I am sure many can understand, not so funny. After a few months I felt helpless and I thought about a way out. God. I always believed that a pure faith was unshakable. As the story goes, if faith is strong enough man can walk on water. I applied the same principle and threw myself entirely into faith. I prayed everyday at a chapel for months. Asking God for guidance, wisdom, patience, and here’s the kicker, faith. I was praying to God to have more faith. An idea that is so absurd now.
After that I watched Religilous for a second time and began watching more of Bill Maher, and was led to one of my favorite comedians now, George Carlin. Although they were men who were telling jokes, there was a lot of truth and logic to it. So with that information I began discussing, and reviewing everything I was taught. I was at the edge of the trying to pull myself out of the quicksand of religion. Then a friend recommended reading The God Delusion. I remembered hearing about that quack scientist many years ago, at least that was what I thought when I saw the book’s original release. I used to think of atheism as people who were just angry with life and upset at something that happened and blamed god.
Needless to say a month ago I read your book. Three chapters in I picked up Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I have started after finishing your book. I intend to read more of your work and other’s such as Dennet, Hitchens, Harris, and so the many other authors you recommended. I have watched your interviews and debates as well as your colleagues. I know that is the company of ideas and people I want to associate myself with. My pursuit to further my education has been renewed. Although psychology is my main passion, I have a new found passion for all other sciences as well.
I wanted to say a lot more of certain of my life when religion came into play. Reliving it now was very amusing and I am sure you would also think so. I hope you still enjoy reading these letters (if you do). I most certainly enjoyed writing it. I have to thank you Professor Dawkins. Thank you and people like Bill Maher, George Carlin, Christopher Hitchens and many more for standing up for by far, humanities most unpopular of all ideas, atheism. I still carry the idea of God with me in the same sort of way Jill Mytton did when you interviewed her. Not so much the fear of hell, but as Catholic’s call it, Fear of the Lord (a virtue in Catholicism). It will always be there irrationally, but I can deal with it. Your first chapter on Einstein and God was my favorite. I think I can leave that thought at that.
This letter was my first time actually saying I am an atheist. Some of my brothers and sisters know, and one cousin. The rest of the family does not know, and would probably be shocked. I find it humorous that something like that could be so significant and possibly troublesome to them. Yet that is what the concept of religion causes. I again would like to thank you and your online community for a chance to express these opinions, views, and stories like mine. This is the first letter I have written like this, and I enjoyed it.