My wake up call
I heard you speak at Cal-Tech a few weeks ago and would like to thank you for your eloquence and determination in repudiating these most pervasive mythologies. With the likes of Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and yourself taking the pulpit, one can finally feel comfort having a voice larger (and infinitely more articulate) than one's own. I will certainly do my part and encourage others to do the same. I hope all this exposure/momentum that we seem to be currently enjoying is but the beginning of a true sea change.
Ok, here is my humble story:
I was born into a family comprised mostly of Missouri Synod Lutherans, with a few Old-World Catholics along for good measure. We regularly attend the Church and all its functions, while I would hesitate to use the word devout to describe our family in its totality, but as individuals, many of them certainly were. As a child I was always engrossed in various books, so much to the extent that no one could keep track of what I was reading at any one moment (good old neighborhood library). Being a small boy in the 70's, of course, space travel was largely the fascination of the day, which led to science fiction, as well as various science-related books and videos. Books, videos, and television programs were near absolute authorities to me, as the ideas were typically presented with certainty and without dissent (at least within each vessel).
Somewhere around the 4th grade, our pastor and the head of my tiny Lutheran School noticed a book that I was carrying around (how I wish I could remember what it was!) and asked to see it. After a cursory perusal, he took me aside into a room, and told me that the book was wrong, a dangerous lie, since the Bible clearly states that mankind, the Earth, and indeed the whole Universe was created directly by the hand of God in 6 days, somewhere around 10,000 year ago. By entertaining these ideas of "The Big Bang", "Evolution", "Extraterrestrial Life", and so forth, he said, I was purely encouraging an attempt by Satan to bring me into his fold, and that I should reject these deceptions outright. I was stupefied. How could all these important scientists, writers, and famous figures be so treacherously evil and speak collectively with such authority? I told the pastor the he was wrong, and that he should read about it, but I was so angry and upset by both this new conflict and his harsh, condescending manner, that I just pulled away and ran off (to bad I couldn't have handed him a copy of the "The God Delusion" or "The End of Faith" at that point). At first, I didn't question God or the Bible, but only my pastor and the Church. But it didn't take long to have serious doubts across the board, since no one I knew at the time could give me any real answers to my questions, and these were the
questions of a nine year old! I got mostly the same bullshit that we've all heard so often such as "God works in mysterious ways.", "These things are beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.", and the crown jewel of religious inanity "He who doubts but still believes has the greatest faith." I still remember that gem like an old video clip.
At that point, I pretty much cast off Biblical literalism, but it did take many years of back and forth before I rejected God out of hand. You see, I didn't know a single other atheist, at least any who were open and honest about it, so I had no one to discuss my ideas, fears, doubts, social/familial implications, etc. with. I was in constant conflict between doubts of the highly improbably Bible/Church accounts, and doubts of the highly improbable likelihood that I knew better than every other person that I knew. Throw in all the other uncertainties of childhood and the teenage years and, well. whew.
Needless to say, I am lucky enough now to be surrounded by brilliant, wonderful, and highly principled people who reject such hogwash and revel in intellectual growth and challenge. Los Angeles is not a difficult place in which to be an atheist. But I have an even higher regard for those of you who are putting your reputations, successes, and health on line to discredit those whose use religion as a lever and a whip, encourage those who are smarter than they've allowed themselves to be, and to comfort those of us embarrassed and angered by this whole farce. Thank you, once again.
I am a proud atheist.
Los Angeles, CA