Converts, Tue, Jan 29 2013 #(1300)

Jan 29, 2013

Professor Dawkins, I am 23 years old, and I currently live in Birmingham, Alabama (something tells me you don’t get too many nice letters from my region of the USA, but I am sure a few). When I was seven, my parents moved the family from the DC suburbs to Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up in a “liberal” Methodist (but predominantly homogenous white suburban) church where one of our pastors had been active in the civil rights movement in Birmingham and declared openly that hell did not exist. The way I think of my religious upbringing reminds more of your descriptions of the Anglican Church than the bible belt. My parents are economically conservative and socially moderate, and my religious upbringing was relatively innocuous compared to many other Southerners. In middle school (6-9th grades), my best friend and I got into “real” Christianity, and during 9th and tenth grades, we took a multi-hour per week bible study class. Only after pouring over the bible for two years, and really coming to terms with the text did I become an agnostic. At 16, I no longer knew whether or not God existed. It was not your lovely books or the righteous anger of Hitchen’s work that led me against religion, it was the bible itself. Maybe then I was angry with a god whose existence I doubted. I quickly became openly agnostic in school, and was, with equal speed, invited to everybody else’s church in true Alabama fashion. As it turned out, what I needed was less religious instruction not more. Always keeping an open mind, I decided I would go to any denomination once if invited. I have since been to evangelical, baptist, Pentecostal, non-domination, Jewish, Presbyterian, Unitarian, and Episcopal (Anglican, right?). This bargain is still open but getting to have less option for future church visits. All of these were even less tolerable than the church I came from. I went to multiple services at an evangelical non-denominational church (more chasing a pretty girl than education), but found I could not go any longer when the preacher turned his hate toward homosexuals. My story is not so dramatic, but I think it may be indicative. At 18, I went to college eight hours from home (still in the South), located in a small cosmopolitan city. Nestled in a diverse urban environment and in Academia, I found my passion for critical reading and thinking. I majored in history and English, and read theory, literature, law, and more religious texts (as they purtain to my chosen disciplines, as opposed to reading law in England, which I think means to get a law degree). I have taken a course devoted to the witch hunts in Europe. My research interests focus on race and slavery in America (I am starting to work on a Masters/ PhD in history this fall, I got a fellowship!). I read lectures by American Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic Preachers telling Southerners how the bible makes it not only ok but a positive good to own another human being. More I began to doubt not only the existance of God but the positive good of religion. First I should stop to say that I told my parents I was an agnostic in high school. My dad seemed fine with it (he did not become religious until later in life, and tends to assume I will someday pick it up); in truth, he was much more upset when I said I was a socialist (he is a banker). My mother handled it ok. I don’t think she cares much about the Christian thing, but believes it is essential I believe in God. She has some medical problems, and every time she has surgery, she always asks me to pray for her. These occasions are only times when I allow her to try and guilt me into her beliefs, because I know she will feel emotionally better, and I do pray for but I am always doubtful it will be effective in the case that the deity exists and knows I don’t belief or in the more likely occasion, it just doesn’t exist. Even in my more progressive family, it has not been easy. At age 20, I read two important works for empowering me in my beliefs. First, in a American Literature class, we read the poem “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stephens. The poem details a woman trying to decide how to enjoy her Sunday morning, and finally, choosing to enjoy the world instead of fearing damnation and being boxed up in a church. I found this to be a commentary on those who present pascal’s wager as a final trump card. Further, it empowered me to view my beliefs as a choice not to live in fear of non-existant demons as opposed to some taboo. The second piece was Thomas Jefferson: Author of America by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens and I disagree on how positive a figure Jefferson was, but this book led me to investigate Hitchens and come across God is not Great. In God is not Great, Hitchens taught (in addition to plenty of argument points with theists) that it’s ok and even good to criticize religion. Finally this past year, I read the God Delusion. As much as I love Hitchens, I think your work may have been the most important to making me comfortable with my beliefs and even proud. First I will say I am a six on your scale of belief in God. I still call myself an agnostic (maybe because it’s a little easier here), but I don’t live my life with any consideration to deities or dragons. Your book helped me to realize that not only was my agnosticism not a bad thing, but that the courage to question, I gathered through years of considering religion and god, also helped me to question long held political and social beliefs in America. The person I am today, the historian, socialist, agnostic, friend, etc is all tied up with my secular humanism. Also, after your book and years of thought, I am comfortable with the person I am and I don’t hide my beliefs even in the deep South. Thank you for your continued work and sorry this turned out so long. Regards and gratitude, Chris Ps: Keep going on those horrible 24 hr news shows and embarrasing moronic fox news hosts. As someone who lives it the South, I take great pleasure in seeing you and hitchens fight those bullies and liars, who seem to have the ear of community I live in and despite my frustration, love.
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