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Created on Sep 09 2011
Dear Prof. Dawkins,
I have recently felt the very strong urge to write down my thoughts on paper of my recent revelations about God and religion. This compulsion has led from hearing you speak on online videos as well as other notable figures (particularly Christopher Hitchens). I thank you for at least letting me send this to you – it feels as though I cannot easily talk to the people around me about this and just having someone to which I can express my thoughts feels like a weight is lifting off me.
I grew up in a reasonably catholic household. My mum was Irish catholic but my dad was definitely an atheist. Both my brothers and I went to an RC school and were taken to church every week, and for many years of my life I definitely believed in the Christian version of God and the bible.
I must admit that for the last few years I questioned whether I believe in God or not. However, the busyness of life has never led me to delve deeply into this topic. The doubts came about from simply recalling certain religious related moments in my childhood. When I was about 12 years old, I was at mass when we were to witness the ordaining of a Catholic priest who was previously an Anglican Vicar (married with 4 kids I might add, which even at the time I thought strange that this would be allowed in the Catholic Church). I was told by my mother that at this special occasion, any prayers for healing should be made. I prayed and was entirely convinced that my grandfather’s bowel cancer, and my own chronic hay fever, would be cured. Neither was and I was left disappointed and dejected about the whole thing.
It was my older brother in his early teens who first told my mum that he didn’t want to go to church as he didn’t believe in God. At the time I genuinely thought he was being rude and bull-headed and, because I still believed, started to worry ‘what would god think?’. Now I look back and admire his strength to tell my mother what was undoubtedly very difficult for her to hear.
My Roman Catholic school, by all accounts was quite liberal. Science classes were objective and we were given the opportunity to study different religions as part of our Religious Education. From this I’ve always taken evolution to be fact and always, even when a Christian, considered the bibles account of creation to be metaphorical at best. It was the all knowing, omnipotent God that was still a strong belief I held, sitting outside of what we see as reality and the known universe.
During my later teens my interest in science, particularly physics and astronomy grew but I did not find myself questioning my faith as much as I think I should have. I now think that my belief was so indoctrinated and ingrained into my sub-conscious that it didn’t even occur to me to try and marry the two thought processes up. My Christian beliefs were to the extent that I thought that God could see my actions, read my thoughts and know what I was about to do or say. The strength of this sub-conscious thinking was such that even today I’m still coming to terms with the fact that my mind is my own, completely, and my thoughts are mine only. It’s an extremely refreshing notion to feel that there is no-one or nothing ‘in there’ judging my thoughts.
So, for many years I was in a sort of limbo regarding my faith and it is only very recently I have begun to really question it, and make myself come to a clear decision about whether I believe in God, and religion. That decision is this: I do not believe in God. Further to this, I am indeed angry about the indoctrination I was subjected to. As a young child I used to worry terribly about my non-believing dad, to the extent that I (as a child of maybe 10) would lie awake and night and cry that he might one day go to hell. Looking back, this was a terrible thing to go through and now it makes me angry to know that the indoctrination I was put through led to such worry - and knowing that many children right now might be going through these same thoughts. Children shouldn’t have to be worrying about such things.
The universe we live in is immeasurably fascinating and something I wish to explore further through my interest in astronomy. I’d like to thank you Prof. Dawkins for a point I heard you make on a video recently which is that, yes the universe is complex beyond our knowledge, but to deem that it was created by an intelligent god then it must be that God is even more complex and must have always existed. This point resonated so profoundly with me that I think it was the turning point. The point at which any niggling doubts about my questioning of my faith started to fall away.
My open mindedness has led me to be more sceptical and I have been introduced to many more fascinating people that I’m ashamed to say I had never previously heard of. Such men as James Randi, Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens – as well as yourself. To this end I have vehemently questioned homeopathy (something else my mother also believes in) to which I was convinced to pay large sums of money for sessions to cure a skin condition which I still suffer with (this also angers me, although not quite as much as my religious indoctrination).
I feel I have so much more clarity about the world, my life and how lucky I am to exist in this tiniest of slivers of life in the universe. I will be spending my life knowing it is my own. Prof. Brian Cox explained the entropy of the entire universe in one of his TV programs and the fate that in trillions upon trillions of years, there will be nothing but base particles (photons maybe?) spread across universe. This feels like a cold and quiet end, so to be part of the exciting bit of the universe makes me feel privileged.
I do have one thing to admit. When I think about the finite nature of life I try to ‘imagine’ my self-consciousness at a time before my birth. All I can picture obviously is an infinite nothingness because I did not yet exist. When I project this same thought into the future, after I die I realise that this same non-existence applies for the infinite future. Whilst my worries about my body are less bothersome, the conscious knowledge that my mind will cease to exist forever more, quite frankly terrifies me. The thought of dying and no longer existing on a conscious level really does frighten me. From this point I can understand why people turn to religious beliefs as an emotional crutch or something to convince them that the unknown ‘will be alright’.
I suppose it also saddens me, in my revelations about God that I must accept the fact that people who were extremely important to me who have passed away, aren’t around to the extent that I used to believe (for example, I used to believe my grandfather was watching over me and looking after me). These emotional crutches have been taken away and I am at a stage where I am to support myself, understand my existence and hopefully come to terms with the fact that my consciousness will one day cease to be.
I have a lot of reading to do. I have ordered your books, as well as some by Christopher Hitchens. I have also watched hours and hours of videos online on this subject and hope to ensure that I come to my conclusions in a balanced manner.
Again, Professor Dawkins, I’d like to thank you for your work, your ability to explain complex concepts in a manner easy to digest and I do hope that one day I will have the opportunity to hear you speak in public.
Apologies for the length of this letter – I just needed to get these things off my chest.
With the very best of regards
Philip Matthews
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