Today, I am twenty-four years old. I have been an atheist for most of my life, but it was often veiled and I would never admit it to myself. From the age of five, my parents started going to church (Christian. While our church is "non-denominational," it's baptist in teaching). I don't recall it, but at some point in my young life after my parents became Christians, I did too. Well, as much as any child can become a Christian.
At the age of seven, I asked to be baptized, much to the joy of my parents. My older brother followed suit, and we were baptized together.
But as much as I loved God and Jesus, I loved science and reason. My parents have always said I was a curious child, constantly questioning everything. From the first time I read the Bible, I remember asking where the light came from in the creation story on the first day, given that the sun and moon weren't created until the fourth day (yet there was still day and night). And I thought that he created the earth AND the heavens on the first day... that doesn't make sense. Aren't the sun and moon part of the heavens? And another thing - why are there two creation stories? He creates people in his image, male and female. But then he only created two? And Eve was made FROM Adam? What?
I would ask pastors, my parents, my youth leaders, and none of them would have answers or even theories that could satisfy me. I started in on these questions as young as seven, and I struggled to come to terms with them, often choosing to ignore them entirely.
So I would come up with my own theories to try and bridge the gaps. Dinosaurs? Well, we have the flood! The Bible says that it had never rained before then, which explains the abrupt climactic change paleontologists theorize about. Evolution made perfect sense to me from the first time it was presented in school at the age of ten. So, I pulled out my Bible... 2 Peter 3:8. A thousand years is like a day to God! Of course! He's outside of time, so HE could have put things in motion. It could have been millions of years for it to be a "day" to God. This is how I tried to balance my faith and my logic.
As I grew older (twelve on), I began to hate God. I didn't understand how people could follow such a complete lunatic. He's all-knowing, so why did he create the world, billions of people and animals, just to destroy them in the flood (I seem to have a lot of deep-seated issues with that flood)? I did not understand how no one else saw anything wrong with that. I felt crazy for noticing it, for questioning it, and for having it glossed over when I asked about it. God made no sense at all to me, especially when compared to Jesus, the crazy law-breaking hippie.
Half a year ago, I was arguing with my pastor. I asked him if God punishes children for the sins of their parents. He said no, and I pulled out examples of when he did just that... such as with Ahab (1 Kings 21:29) and David and Bathsheba's son (2 Samuel 12:14), and so on.. there are several more examples. I told my pastor that, in reading the Bible, I believed God changed. I told him that if he could tell me that God changed, I would follow Him without question. My pastor said that God never changes.
The complete blindness to fact, even fact as read through the Bible, infuriates me. Don't they read it?! Don't they understand it? Don't they understand that if the Bible is true, if they believe God never changed, they are following a crazy, murdering being?
When I was sixteen, there was a boy at school I had a crush on. I was completely jaded with Christianity and God at the time, had stopped going to church, and that boy always tried to get me to go back to church with him (succeeding on a couple occassions). Now, eight years later, that same boy (now a man), handed me your book: The God Delusion. We hadn't spoken for several years and had only recently reconnected; his views on God and the Bible had turned to atheism since I'd last seen him. I was still stuck in the same limbo I'd been in for over eight years, believing in God but hating him, rejecting the God of the old testament but respecting Jesus, trusting in science and trying to temper it with God. If people asked me what religion I was, I would say that I was a Christian who didn't believe in God.
Reading your book, I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. But I slowly came to the realization that not follwing any religion was not a bad thing, was not something to be afraid or ashamed of. Several weeks ago, I was talking to a new friend of mine about religion. I can't recall the lead-up, but I confessed to him: I am an atheist. The smile that spread across his face and the warm, welcoming hug he gave me reminded me of the reception a Christian would give someone who had just accepted Jesus. I felt happy and accepted and everything was okay. It was the first time I admitted to being an atheist to anyone, and your book is what gave me the courage to do so.
While I'm not about to come out as an atheist to my parents any more than I'm about to come out to them as bisexual, I feel better about the world than I can ever remember feeling. The severe depression that has clouded my thoughts for the vast majority of my life came to a bit of a head shortly after my atheistic revelation, but my dear boyfriend, the same man who handed me The God Delusion, talked to me about Albert Camus's thoughts with his The Myth of Sisyphus and helped me make sense of things. And since then, everything is more beautiful. The world is more fascinating, more awe-inspiring, and I know I am blessed beyond all comprehension. Not because a god outside of time created me for the express purpose of worshiping and spending time with him. But because we are fortunate to be where we are, to be able to explore this world of ours and contemplate the universe we inhabit. To stare at the stars and know that we're not alone, that there are most certainly others out there, possibly staring toward our galaxy, wondering...
It's enough to make me cry (joyfully).
So thank you. Thank you for giving me the courage to come to terms with something about myself I've been ignoring and hiding for most of my life.
Very sincerely, Lauren