Dear Professor Dawkins,
My name is Emily. I am a 19 year old student currently attending University in the hopes of becoming a math teacher. About half a year ago I read your book, the God Delusion (unfortunately I did not purchase it but instead borrowed it from my roommate. I am sorry about that but I will soon have my own copy!), and also read a couple other of your works, such as Unweaving the Rainbow. I have a tremendous amount of respect for you.
I was raised as a Christian. Not overly strictly, however. Every night we said a prayer before dinner: “Thank you for this food before us and this time together as a family. Amen.” and I attended church and Sunday school until about 5th grade, I think. My parents never seemed to be quite as religious as their own parents. But nevertheless I was raised to believe in God and Jesus Christ, and that if I were good that I would go to Heaven when I died. Hell was never talked about as much but the threat was always there as well. I used to be absolutely infatuated with Angels and drew them often.
But as I grew older, I began to feel my belief slip away. Just as I had”believed” in Santa Claus in the hope that this would produce more presents at Christmas time, when I prayed it was more for show than anything. I wanted to be a good little girl, admired for her faith. I think I also wanted to have a sort of security net in case there really was a God, so I would pray for the safety of my friends and family and also for silly things, like snow on Christmas day or being able to find my favorite bracelet. I tried to believe in God, but the harder I tried to delude myself the more helpless I felt about the whole thing.
In late middle school I began reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and fell in love with the idea that when you die your afterlife is a reflection of what you had believed would happen to you. But the more I fantasized about this the more it became apparent that it all really was just a fantasy. That was when I began questioning religion more and more. During this time I lived in a very religious area, and all of my friends were strong Christians with strong Christian families. I was infuriated when my best friend at the time told me that she knew I was going to go to Hell (I had confessed my doubts). I was mainly upset because she had made the arrogant assumption that every person in the world and in history who had had the misfortune to be born under another religion was doomed to suffer for all eternity. The entire system seemed broken to me and it was at this point that I decided I absolutely refused to accept a deity who has such a harsh sentence for ignorance.
Despite this decision, however, I had never been that outspoken about my new feelings about religion. I believed, in what I now feel was a misguided way, that it would be wrong to criticize the beliefs of others. I winced when I read your segment about how arrogant it is to assume that some people NEED religion, and that while us intelligent people can manage without it, however would these ignorant bumpkins get on without it in there every day lives? for I had harbored these exact thoughts and never imagined them being viewed in such a condescending light. It was in fact that very segment so close to the beginning of your book that finally allowed me to let go of religion forever. Because we don’t need it. No one does. Or at least no one would if they hadn’t been indoctrinated from birth.
I believe I had always on some level been agnostic but after your book I found myself an atheist and it just felt right and good and honest. Above all what I took from you book was that there is only one truth, and to me that is the most precious thing.
I confessed my atheism to my family, friends, and my boyfriend. I was honestly a little surprised at how they reacted. I had expected my parents to be completely supportive as they had always been behind me in everything I did, but while my father seemed OK with it my mother admitted she was disappointed. She said that I “had to believe in something”, which in all honesty reinforced my belief that I didn’t. My sister has been completely antagonistic about it. But it was my boyfriend’s reaction that worries me the most. He is very agnostic, leaning towards atheism, so I expected him to be completely nonchalant about my conversion. However, he seems to think I have become obsessed. He groans when he sees me watch debates such as the one between you and Alistair McGrath on Youtube, and glares at me when I attempt to bring up the subject with my friends. I think what bothers him is that since I had never felt strongly about reliogion during my time with him, he is unsettled to see a new, passionate side of me. Because I truly do feel passionate about being an atheist in a way that I had never felt about religion. I want to cry out to the world to cease and desist and listen to reason!
I’m sorry. This letter has gone on far longer than I expected it to. I just wanted to let you know that you changed my life. It feels as though I had all these feelings built up within me, and that your book was the final tiny crack in the dam that let them flood out to encompass me in a wonderful new perspective of the universe. I am eternally grateful to you. Please, please never give up. You look very frustrated in some of your interviews (that one with Bill O’Reilly, for example) and I just wanted to remind you that you are changing lives for the better everywhere.
I understand that you must get hundreds of letters daily, so I won’t be too hurt if I never hear back from you. It really would make my day if I did though!