Dear Professor Dawkins,
I knew someday I would write you this letter, but I did not know when. Formality suggests I introduce myself: my name is unimportant, but I am a 20 year old college student living in the American Midwest. I attend a school with surprisingly conservative students, and come from an extremely conservative background. My mother is Irish, and more significantly, an Irish Catholic. My father, who is an atheist, was often treated as the black sheep of the family. While I and the rest of the family (Mom and my two younger brothers) attended church every Sunday, my father never came with us. I remember him being almost mocked by my brothers and I for being a “Pagan”, which was of course both a misunderstood and dirty word to us.
In high school, I read a book called The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly. His words fundamentally changed my life, but not in the way they were likely intended. You see, Mr. Kelly is a very faithful and deeply religious man. He believes that we all have a calling, a purpose, and that God (most likely referring to the god known as Yahweh, though it’s never clarified) has a plan. But there were parts of this book that, to me, seemed contradictory to these concepts. For instance, Mr. Kelly speaks of the idea that “everything is a choice”, which I interpreted as the idea that perception influences reality. I felt stronger, believing that my attitudes could have profound impacts on the course of my life, and I still do. More importantly, this idea gave me the understanding that people often say things are true because they believe things are true. I began to question things; a curious mind is often the onset of great discovery.
This was certainly the case for myself.
In college, I was opened to a whole new world of thinking and knowledge. Freshman year, I enrolled in a course titled, “The History of Warfare and Violence in the Ancient Near East.” The class, which was a small honors seminar, taught by a visiting professor from Yale (who was, by far the most intelligent person I’ve ever known on a personal level), focused primarily on understanding the history and cultural context in which the Old Testament came about. I loved the class, as it satisfied both my intellectual thirst for a challenge, and helped me to better logically break down the religious foundations and dogmas of my childhood. I was one of only two students who received an A in the class, and I did my best writing I’ve ever done. I realized then that religion had so many things wrong with it, and I did it by reading the Bible. That’s right, I converted into being an Atheist by reading the Bible. I wrote an extensive final paper comparing and contrasting how two books, Job and Ecclesiastes (which everyone should read) questioned the idea of theodicy. I have seen many terrible things happen to good people, needlessly, and I realized that I was not OK with my previous notions of an omnipotent god. To argue for an omnipotent god to me negates the argument for a benevolent god – for any god that allows the vast array of miseries and sufferings that occur daily would be regarded as the lowest scum of this earth.
Of course, I never knew it was OK to be an atheist. I considered attacks on religion to be of the most heinous nature in my childhood. In fact, I remember distinctly mocking the lyrics of the death metal band Slayer, who said “religion is hate, religion is fear, religion is war,” without ever really understanding why. But after reading The God Delusion, I gained a sense of identification. I realized that I was not alone; that other intelligent people who were capable of thinking logically for themselves existed. I also have come to terms with my personal atheism, but I still have trouble speaking out to others. I feel that, given my background, if I were to tell people that I am an atheist, that I would be ridiculed an shunned. There are many people I care about, and who I believe are intelligent, who are wasting their lives worrying about what god thinks. I wish I could make more people experience what I’ve come to understand: religion is a waste of time, energy, and most importantly life.
Perhaps because I’m studying mathematics I’ve developed a penchant for systems of logic, and the idea of proofs. I love discussing the idea of proving that god exists or proving that god doesn’t exist. This is because it is so easily dismissed if you have any sort of basic understanding of mathematical proofs. You see, in math, “theorems” are statements that have been conclusively proven as true using rigorous logic based on previously proven theorems or axioms. The conjecture that god exists is one that has yet to be proven, and as such, cannot be believed. This conjecture is neither a theorem, nor a law, but a guess. No matter how many people believe something, it is not true until rigorously proven. There were many people in the world of mathematics who believed that Fermat’s Last theorem was true, and yet it was not accepted as such until it was rigorously proven. The same rigor should apply to god – since we have not proven his existence, we cannot credibly believe that he exists.
Professor Dawkins, I sincerely thank you for saving my life, and the lives of my future children.
In truth above ignorance,