My own conversion wound a long road, and curious, very similar to many others who have written here. I had the sense that it was particularly fraught and troubled. But I must confess (if I might indulge in the term) that most of that trouble was of my own fashioning. With chagrin, and though I laugh to say it, I must also admit that I cannot entirely avoid the suspicion of possibly suffering from a bit of a personality disorder. My fierce embracing of Fundamentalist Christianity in my early childhood, to the horror and confusion of my proudly secular parents, had the whiff of desperation about it. I cannot say precisely where or when the idea first infected me, or from whence, exactly, this desparation came. My parents were very loving, supportive and kind. Moral in a way I respected, and still respect, tremendously. In fact, their integrity made it impossible, however religious I became, for me to ever believe one required religion to be moral. I say that most emphatically. We had some strictly fundamentalist neighbors, with whose children I was friends. And my mother’s relatives were (and are still) also quite fundamentalist – although we rarely visited them while I was growing up. Those are possibilities. I only know that, while I at first in no way thought it certain, the mere possibility of either Hell or God obsessed me and caused such distress that out of a twisted kind of fear I leapt the rest of the distance to belief. I partly think it was due to the fact that, from my earliest childhood, I can recall feeling strangely ‘guilty’ all the time – broken, as if I were a mistake in some basic but profound way. I used to describe myself as “an evolutionary cul-de-sac” (forgive the irony of a then-fundamentalist invoking evolutionary imagery). That feeling easily translated into having a sense of ‘original sin’ and seeking the comfort of some kind of forgiveness. To be sure, the concept of forgiveness can be found in many belief systems, so my own latching onto Christianity in particular was purely accidental, when seen in hindsight. This period lasted throughout my teen years, and became more desperate as my good sense began to rebel. My fears fought to keep me where I was. Yes, there were other Christians about me who encouraged my intellectual complacency, but mostly they were kind people, if I am honest, and far less severe in their beliefs than I was in mine. This severity of belief was, in fact, in direct proportion to the growing size of my doubts. I can remember feeling deep uncertainty, but it took a long time to give courage to those thoughts. Finally the doubt began to win over, the strictness of my belief relaxed, mostly as I learned more about biology, philosophy, history and physics in High School, and by my senior year I was teetering on the verge of “apostasy.” The last straw, my epiphany if you like, came during my first year in college. The last residue of my belief in the existence of God centered around the doubts I had as to the possibility of life emerging in the first place. I could understand the crane of natural selection once that process began, but the original spark seemed unlikely in the extreme. Until I read a book on evolution and cellular biology, which treated on that specific topic, and gave a very plausible, if not definitive, theory of how it could have happened. There was so little, if any, evidence or argument of any quality in the competing “God Hypothesis,” if I might steal Prof. Dawkins term (it is on my mind – I am currently devouring The God Delusion, as you might suspect from some of the terminology I have here co-opted), that I finally abandoned my last vestiges of belief. I can remember feeling, for the first time in my life, that sense of peace I’d always wrongly been seeking in religion. Life had further ironies in store for me, however. Many years later, I descended into alcoholism – my own fault, I do not wish to escape blame or responsibility. I sought help, and wound up in recovery. I’ve been sober now for about 7 ½ years, and I don’t think I can dispute that A.A has helped tremendously. I personally credit the very earth-bound power of a simple support network (something very natural and non-mysterious). But, as many readers must know, recovery, at least of the Alcoholics Anonymous variety, is predicated upon that very ‘God Hypothesis’ I had by now rejected. My fellow A.A. members like to laugh and tell me that God was bringing me back to Him. Ah, the gross assumptions as to the very nature of God that pronouncement entails…don’t get me started…In any case, it has been a lonely road for me in this particular way. I can identify with the other A.A.’s regarding the nature of our condition, and the stories of our respective pasts, but I cannot identify with the supernatural variety of ‘spirituality’ they claim. I did try on the God Hypothesis again briefly at the beginning of my recovery process, but found that, for the very same reasons as before, it just didn’t make much sense. So I’ve since been trying to find my own way through recovery, to find how I can both maintain sobriety and remain true to my sense of integrity. Part of that has been seeking out other non-believers, and it has been comforting to know there are others who think the same way I do. The God Delusion, the writings of Daniel Dennett, my current obsession with the Neuroscience of Consciousness, have all conspired to solidify my non-belief, and more importantly, my comfort therein. Finally, I realize it is highly improbable, in the extreme, that Prof. Dawkins himself will read this, but even so – for any others who do – I would like to extend him my most sincere thanks to him for being a part of my awakening.
New York, NY