I’ve recently discovered, much to my surprise, that I’ve become an atheist. For so long I was content to be in the comfort of agnosticism, never having to really make up my mind one way or the other. I have always hated religion though, so this is nothing new. However, it was after finishing The God Delusion that I realized being an atheist really isn’t that scary! I got my first taste of atheism about two years ago when my boyfriend lent me a copy of Christopher Htichens’ God Is Not Great. Talk about an eye opener! I devoured the book whole it seemed, but really didn’t want to venture further after that, because what else was there? (I guess Hitchens does that to people) Wow, was I ever wrong. At the time of reading God Is Not Great though, I had much less motivation to seek out atheism than I do now. I simply moved onto the next thing that interested me.
In the two years since I’ve read Hitchens’ book, I lost my brother to melanoma — he was 34. As death does for most people, it transformed me and the way I viewed the world. I found I could no loner hang onto being agnostic and that atheism was at least worth a shot. One particular instance in which I knew my agnosticism was dead (and my hunger for atheism was born) was not long after my brother’s death. My mother kept saying to me, “He’s not really gone, it’s just his body. He’s here, just know that. You have to believe that he’s still here.” I was completely bewildered by this statement, mainly because it did not line up with what I saw as the reality. If someone dies, they are buried in the ground, where they slowly rot away — how can they still be here? In addition to being perplexed by this, I was also angry. I knew I would not be feeling this way about my brother’s death if he were still here; I simply had to face it and accept my grief. The simple idea that death is easier to accept because someone is with God infuriated me more than I could ever verbalize.
Despite the rocky road I’ve experienced with atheism in the last year or so, it’s been life changing for me. And it it is people like you who have allowed that to happen. Yes, my atheism was born from a “bad” place perhaps, but how can I not enjoy the process when there are books like The God Delusion out there? I can’t properly express my admiration for you, not merely for your brilliance, but for your courage and bravery. Being an American, it is easy for me to see how an atheist can get lost in such a now-religious country (since America was clearly not founded as such). I guess I’m fortunate enough that despite my mother’s former devotion to Catholicism (that she has never fully let go of), I was raised to believe what I wanted. I try to remember that as often as I can when religion frustrates me.
However, it seems that it is most other people who are religious in any fashion that I can’t understand. Your compassionate and informed approach inspires and comforts me. It makes the doorway to full atheism that much wider and more inviting. For me, people like yourself, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris make me feel like there is hope in this world for rationalism, free thinking and compassion for the truth. All three of you have reawakened my intellect in what now is my life long quest for atheism, both to continue learning and hopefully one day promoting.
I simply cannot thank you enough, Professor Dawkins, for your contributions to these life changing experiences I have had. In fact, it is because of people like yourself that there is more than a silver lining to my brother’s death — for no other event I can think of would have prompted me to feel it absolutely necessary to travel down the exciting, scary and fantastic road that is atheism. Considering my tremendous grief over the past year or so, it is practically surreal what those feelings have been transformed into now. I owe to you more than I can say and I will conclude this by stating that I hope to one day, if I can, at least go and hear you speak — and ultimately, shake your hand and let you know that you have more than just a fan from a small, religiously minded town in California. I am forever in awe and gratitude.
Carmel Valley, California