Dear Professor Dawkins,
I feel it only appropriate that i give a brief description of my background, even though it is probably a repeat of the same scenario of others, it still makes me happy to know I am definitely not the only one who has a similar story.
Im a 19 year old male, first generation Australian, born to Catholic, Lebanese immigrant parents who fled their homeland because of, and you guessed it - religious turmoil. All my life I have been told didactically to pray to god, this person in the sky who would somehow save me from this thing they told me i had, which was an inherent evil sin in my blood and mind. I went to a catholic school, and yes i was intrigued and quite taken by the character Jesus, a good man, yet all that miracle, heaven, angel and magic stuff just didn't fit with my perspective of the humane figure of Jesus. I was frightened about my actions, and the sins i committed, sure that i would go to hell if i continued. It all seemed a bit scary and farfetched that i was being punished because of things i would instinctively do by something i couldn't see or comprehend.
I was also a strange and uncommonly kind, skinny kid and the only ethnic child at my school. I was constantly picked on for about 12 years of my life. I would come home teary eyed and tell my mother and father of my deep pains, but as usual their only answer was to ceremoniously clap my hands together and seek some divine intervention and the odd "toughen up", expressed physically and verbally. At the age of about 17, after years of bullying, by so called catholic children and the hollow, blind faith of both my parents who refused to acknowledge that i was on the verge of suicidal depression, but rather possessed by some evil spirit, I came to the sudden realisation that this faith that I was defending and professing so blindly was absolutely pointless. It was that level of clarity that made its way into my head, funnily enough due to my physics classes and the ancient history classes. I thought "my word, all that praying all that going to church, all those blind and mechanic acts and ceremonies, have really done nothing to influence me in a positive way". As you say in your book, it was in spite of religion (and partly the HUMAN acts of Jesus - I can't deny), that i am managing to slowly love myself and reverse the relentless bitterness in my heart, channelling it to a kindness and blind acceptance of all others. I was taught, by everyone around me especially my parents, who often times i felt ashamed of, to hate Muslims, or Hindus or Jews and MOST especially, Atheists - Atheists are the WORST of them all because the "have no morals. Never deal with an atheist".
My father once made a joke which went something like: "What do you do if a Muslim throws a bomb at you?" to which he chuckled "You throw it in a mosque and watch them burn." I was on my way to school and decided in a pre-atheist revelation, to yell out "WELL CHRISTIANITY IS F**KED TOO". I had never seen him so angry at me and both my parents refused to interact with me for weeks. And these were people professing to be good, moral catholics, yet masquerading around with their vile bigotry, racism and indifference. I don't mean to be so harsh on my parents, but having taught myself morals literally because of religious indifference, I hated seeing such disgusting acts from my own parents whom i love very much and who are genuinely good people, poisoned by the rubbish of their religious institution.
I bought your book "the god delusion" at the end of my first year of university (which i might add, was also a factor in my conversion, due to the number of enlightened and educated people in secular bodies of eduction - a big sigh of relief from the toils of theological education). When i bought it i was so nervous, that i proclaimed to the lady at the counter "My parents are very religious, but i don't care". I had this veneer of strength and self confidence, but i was really terrified. I once bought a book called "Perfume" by Patrick Suskind, and my father tore it up and threw it in my face because it was about murder. I should have told him to read the bible....But anyway, i bought your book and instantly went into my studio and covered it in a white paper so no one could read the cover and know what it was about. I then went to Lebanon and read your book, in a country that is so deep in the problems of religion, that it only reinforced my new stance, which was always inside of me but unidentified and unfounded due to a lack of questioning of who i was - I was an atheist! I had found what i was searching for my whole life - people who thought about religion in a different, critical light and who did not need some invisible entity to dictate their lives. I didn't want original sin, or religious law, or silly beliefs which have imprisoned the world for millennia. I wanted facts, truths and i saw the beauty of our planet and our universe for what it was, which is more that some stupid made up religion and god. I also wanted to be who i was without religion telling me i was evil, wrong or damned.
Unfortunately, even though you have been the tipping scale for my conversion, i am still living in a lie. I have not picked up the courage to tell anyone let alone my parents, because so much of my life and culture and family revolves around religion. And my sexuality doesn't help either. It would be outrageously funny and intense to suddenly come out to my parents and say "Mum, dad. Im a bisexual atheist. What do you think? Do you still love me?"
Well, Im kind of happy now to have that confidence and clarity, yet i don't think you talked about it enough in your book - it is extremely hard, especially with very blind parents to be open about anything. I think thats the main problem in society today, there are many new generation, young men and women, of a all faiths, who are silently shackled to the burden of religious adherence, and don't dare to come out and be open about their ideas on religion, politics and sexuality. If there was a way to somehow inject a bit of courage into my generation, you would see the hold of religion slip away quite rapidly.
Im sorry if i was too long in my letter, its just nice to be able to talk to someone that i can actually see and know exists.
Your truly a progressive and an inspiration, who has made me laugh, inspired enlightened and angry (in a good way), and frankly I can also credit you to saving my life when i felt cold, lonely and on the verge of irreversible breakdown.
Please continue your work at whatever cost, because if you continue to help people take that leap that they knew in their heart they wanted to do, then the world will change and my generation wont be so pessimistic about a future life on this planet. And maybe one day in the near future ill have the courage to be who i am openly and happily without persecution.
A very deep, and sincere Thank you.