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Created on May 04 2010
Dr. Dawkins,
I do not expect a response to this email; in fact, I do not really expect you to have time to read it. But for myself, I wanted to send it for two reasons:
1. To thank you for writing The God Delusion;
2. To briefly relate my experience with religion deep in the fabled heart of Texas, in case that should be useful to you; and
Thank you for having the courage to write The God Delusion. I feel much less alone in the world, and have just a bit more hope that your book will raise the general consciousness of enough people so that the rising tide of religious fundamentalism can be turned before a devastating tsunami of irrational religious oppression sweeps over even my own country. Even at this time, I feel somewhat disenfranchised in my country, and it is difficult to understand how an institution created by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin could have become so subverted by this Christian movement. Even my own representatives in Congress are of the opinion that the founding fathers were Christians, and that this nation was founded as a Christian nation. I have had these discussions with them all, and they are quite unwilling to listen to historical fact.
Please to do not think that this statement is a casual suck up - it is sincerely thought out, and it is the culmination of a great deal of study: Your work stands as the current pinnacle of human intellectual achievement. I am continually amazed at the intellectual output from such a small region as the Midlands of England anyhow. Within a relatively few miles' radius, we can locate the birthplace of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, the Industrial Revolution, William Shakespeare, William Smith (the father of Geology), etc., etc. Benjamin Franklin's parents were born in the epicenter of the region I'm describing. And now, I can add Richard Dawkins to my list. We can extend the region southwest a bit and include Bertrand Russell. There are many literary and other cultural figures we could include. But, that is not the reason I admire your work, it is simply an observation that makes me wonder how much of this can be attributed to the gene pool of the region, and how much can be attributed to a raised level of consciousness in a human community wherein elevated achievement becomes a more common occurrence because one or two happenstance achievements raised expectations and prepared the community's mind for it, up to the point of specially imprinting the children.
But, to my original point, your work sums up the world's cultural maturation struggles, makes sense of what has befuddled our minds for millennia, and offers a way for us to achieve full conscious intellectual maturity as a species, which would be a first on Earth if not a first in the Universe.
I was born the son of a share-cropper in the geographic center of Texas in 1940. No blacks were allowed to live in the area. We lived in a relatively backwoods environment, particularly during WWII, with no electricity, no running water, and no automobile. Dad farmed with a team of horses. We raised most of what we ate. There were many denominations of the Christian religion represented in the area, but the dominant one was the Baptist Church. There were different variations on the Baptist theme, of course. We attended the one that was most local to us, and which happened to the most mainstream version.
Probably, it was my fortuitous path of learning that caused me to become an anomaly: a liberal minded citizen of the world. By the time I entered school, I could already do all the things they tried to teach us to do, and was clearly a creature apart from the other students in my class, to the extent that other teachers in the building were sometimes brought in to watch a spelling bee wherein I would spell everybody down and go beyond our current place in the book. By the time I was in second grade, I could read and write more fluently than any adult in the community. Such leverage kept me from ever feeling intellectually intimidated, and that has to make a huge difference in the trust that I placed in my own thinking. I can understand how others in the community could never achieve such independence of mind.
However, in my youth, I was impressed by the sincerity and "niceness" of the people in our church, and became quite devout. But, problems began to become evident in our rural paradise. This niceness did not extend to people outside our communal sphere. Observed intolerance, a penchant for applying reason and logic to issues, a reading of the Bible, and attendance at the nearby Baptist University undid all that indoctrination (I later received a Master's Degree and pursued extensive science and mathematics training at state universities). I was appalled at the hatred, murder, deception, genocide, intolerance, and series of contradictions that I found in the Bible. The character God (Jehovah as we knew his name) seemed like a monster to me. In lighter moods, I called him the Yosemite Sam of the heavens. And, finally, I came to realize that faith itself is a foolish and gullible mindset, and not something we should ever require of anybody. Indeed, we should strenuously discourage it. The threat of hell fire, to be administered if one didn't go along without question, seemed to me to be the ultimate child abuse. Adults should know better, so I dismissed them, although I've become more understanding since then.
The distortion of sex into a thing of evil struck me as a self-imposed mental illness. The manipulation of guilt in order to gain power over people's minds struck me as a deliberate evil. I came to see that if a person becomes convinced that he (she) is absolutely right, then anyone with any other view is deemed to be absolutely wrong, and that absolutely right person finds himself (herself) justified in committing any act against those absolutely wrong people, for their own good, for the good of the world, and for the good of God. And I saw that nobody knew what was actually in the Bible; either because they did not read it all, or because they chose to blind themselves to passages that did not fit with preconceived notions. I saw that the Bible was far from factual, far from rational, far from fair, far from good, and far from being a reliable guide for anything at all - other than for hatred, prejudice, oppression, cruelty, murder, enslavement, warfare, ethnic cleansing, abdication of life, etc..
But, I was a poor lad, and needed to support a young family. I taught in the public schools of the region, gradually going from the smallest schools in farming and ranching communities to the largest division schools in the DFW Metroplex. One day, I was reminding students in class, who had become excited about UFO reports in the newspapers, that there had never been one shred of hard evidence accumulated from all these alleged encounters. The students began to question me further along those lines, and one student asked me if I believed in God. It seems that believers tend to believe in a multiplicity of things, including things that should be mutually exclusive, so the progression to the subject of religion was quite natural. A superstitious mindset is pretty much a superstitious mindset, I suppose. Now, for years, I had skirted the topics that were dangerous to my tenure, but after 15 years, I was disappointed with the lack of quality in our educational system, and I felt that this imposed community deception (religious belief) was a part of the reason why we weren't actually teaching much of anything. I decided to see if I could survive the truth, if I would couch it in a clinically sterile manner. So, I replied that I did not have any evidence that there actually were any supernatural beings of any kind. I went on to say that that certainly did not prove God's nonexistence, and that nonexistence could not be proved in any case. But we must make our decision based on the best evidence we can muster, and we must be open to changing our opinions if and when acceptable evidence is presented. I said that I was very open to good evidence, if anyone could present it.
As expected, the students reported me to the High School Principal. One student said to me, "It's a good thing my grandmother didn't hear what you said; she'd get her shotgun and blow you away, man!"
The principal told me that a belief in a supreme being was a condition of employment. I quietly dismissed his claim, and he found out from the school lawyer that he was wrong. He spent the next year searching for a loophole through which he could slip my contract, and he found a sufficient one that probably would have worked only in the state of Texas. It was unethical if not illegal, and I could probably have defeated the move in court. However, by that time, I wanted to see what else I could do in the world besides work 24/7 teaching school and coaching athletics. I had had about as much success as there was to be had, and didn't like all the restraints to teaching that were required of us. Perhaps in Victor Hugo's France, the teacher was the torch, but in my Texas, he/she had joined with the clergyman as the extinguisher.
In a large sense, they did me a favor. They caused me to liberate myself from a stagnant system and to enter industry, where, with no business training and no business experience, I quickly rose to levels of some influence, and later became a consultant to industry. I served the major manufacturing companies of the world, traveling to and working in the world's largest corporations across the United States, Canada, and Europe (including your country, which I came to love - particularly Wales). Of course, I discovered ignorance, repression, and graft in industry, so it wasn't a Utopian briar patch into which they had thrown me - except from the standpoint of pay. I earned many times the salary I would have earned if I had remained in Education. Also, I had time to pursue a rigorous line of formal and personal study in the sciences and mathematics.
To my family's credit, they did not ostracize me completely, although I never openly challenged them as perhaps I should have. It became a curious kind of agreed-upon blindness, wherein we continued to respect each other for our human qualities, but the subject of religion was understood to be a taboo topic when we were together. It was as if they had tacitly agreed to pretend not to notice that this one aspect of our lives was now unshared. I think they considered my educational and business achievements to be a negative in one sense, in that it had somehow robbed me of my ability to embrace religion. I was at heart a decent fellow, but I had been corrupted and blinded by the sinful world. They would never venture to go where I had gone, and would not want to. They would hear nothing from me on the subject, and would refrain from all but the most subtle suggestions about religion in my presence. It was the same sort of thing as when we choose not to acknowledge to one another that we defecate, urinate, and have sex. We don't deny it; we just talk and behave as if those things were nonoccurrences. Even going to the bathroom somehow doesn't include the admission of the things that go on in a bathroom. My relationship with my wife of 44 years, while it is a loving relationship, has much of the same quality when it comes to religion. She has heard what I have to say, and she has read what I have written about the topic, and she doesn't go to church. But she cannot put aside a belief in Yosemite Sam and his passive-aggressive son who would have us burn in hell forever if we are not gullible.
Overall, I'm quite safe as long as I keep my opinion pretty much to myself. Most people allow it. But if I were to openly advocate the abolition of religion, which I think is something that should be done, then I could very easily disappear. And I'm quite sure I'd not have 70 virgins waiting for me.
Thomas D. Brown
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