Dear Dr Dawkins,
I’m not sure whether this letter should go in converts’ corner as I fear I am not quite there yet! But I will allow you and your team to decide!
I was born into a happily divided family. My Mother is a practicing Catholic; my Father (who sadly recently passed away) was an atheist. However, their conflicting beliefs never caused conflict in their relationship, it was a simple fact of one believed one thing, one believed the other and they both allowed each other to be happy in that. When it came to their children, it was felt that Mothers way was most appropriate. I was brought up a Catholic, attended a Catholic Primary and Secondary school, went through the various initial sacraments. And through all this I have to admit that I never felt indoctrinated or forced to believe anything.
At 11 years old my Mother felt I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to go to church anymore. Some may say that she shouldn’t have decided for me up to that point, but neither of my parents tried to tell me whether God and Jesus were real or who they purported to be, church was seen as a source of moral guidance and to help bring up children to be good. So when given the choice between Saturday evenings in a big, cold church or Noel’s House Party on BBC1, there was only winner!
For the next 10 years church and faith didn’t mean much to me. When I was 21, I started to ask the big questions, about life, the universe, where we came from etc. I had a hunger to find this out and invested in books by Plato, CS Lewis, Nietzsche, Hawking and other philosophy and religious writers.
I read these books for nearly 12 months and then a Christian friend suggested the Alpha course – his church was running one, and I gladly agreed expecting a proper discussion on God, the universe etc. I was very disappointed. The DVD’s were just a guy talking about the nice bits of Christianity and I was the only non Christian there so the group discussion didn’t get past ‘it’s so simple’. But, hungry as I was for answers I saw it through and even went to the church service. It was here that I had an ‘encounter with God’ as it was explained to me.
For five years I went to the church and made some good friends, including one who is now my wife! However there were always things that didn’t sit right. I could not accept creationism just because it was in the Bible. I couldn’t just accept that the Bible was the infallible word of God. At church house groups I would ask questions, not to be difficult but just because I wanted to discuss things beyond the flowery niceness of middle class Christianity, but serious discussion never came, in one incident I was criticised for being ‘difficult’. Throughout my time at church, I kept reading books from all viewpoints, including The God Delusion. My first read of TGD was revealing, and although it didn’t destroy my faith, it did open up new questions and raise more doubt.
Last year, me and my then fiancé did the unthinkable and moved in together and were condemned by the leaders of the church. Over the space of a few months, we were ostracised by half the congregation and the main pastor stopped speaking to us. During this time, my Grandmother and sister in law passed away within 3 weeks of each other. No words of condolence from the pastor. But when I told him we were leaving the church we were criticised for not showing any loyalty. Clearly the last five years of me being the first person there on Sundays to set up didn’t count for anything.
But we moved on, and I felt liberated. Freed from the shackles of organised religion I continued my reading and questioning, and with everything I read, I learn more. I realise that religion is not necessary, it is a crutch, full of contradictions and limitations and evil methods.
My wife still holds her Christian faith but has also been very hurt by the organised church. But like my parents, our differing beliefs create discussion, not division. And the questioning mind is something we will promote in our children. I still retain some strange affection for Christianity – the beautiful language, the beautiful churches and music, but their theology just doesn’t cut it!
The reason I say I may not be a full convert is that there are still questions I have that I still see ‘God’ as an answer. However, this God is not the Abrahamic version of a man with a white beard who turns people to salt, more just a being which set things in motion, a ‘God of the gaps’. And I am sure that as I continue to discover more about the amazing world and universe we live in, the remaining God filled gaps will be replaced.
Thank you to you and all of your colleagues who went before you for all your work in bringing a fresh and evolving understanding of the beautiful world we live in.