Dear Professor Dawkins,
My name is Johnathan Robert Hogan. I was raised in a Catholic family (my mother was methodist, but later converted to Catholicism). For as long as I can remember, I never doubted the existence of God. My mother would often read the Bible to us using a version made specifically for children. My sisters and I were more concerned with the pictures of the Four Horsemen in the back. There were four of us, so we each chose a horse that was ours.
Oddly, I was never faced with the contradiction of science and religion. I heard the story of Adam and Eve as well as the history of dinosaurs. The fact that the biblical story contradicted dinosaurs came millions of years before humans before I saw a news story about the controversy in 2000 (I was 8.) My solution was that the dinosaurs came first, died, and then God made Adam and Eve. At 8 I, of course, had never read the Bible.
My first shred of doubt came that same year. I had minor surgery on my right arm. The night before I prayed to God to get me out of this surgery, not realizing that it wasn’t serious. I soon realized my prayers were futile, and declared I did not believe in God. The next morning I cried and asked God to forgive me. The surgery was pretty uneventful.
A few years ago (I can’t remember when exactly) I was up late channel surfing when I found a debate on the existence of God between Ray Comfort with his sidekick Kirk Cameron and an atheist couple I can’t remember. I knew watching something involving atheists was wrong, but curiosity kept me watching. I remember watching the Atheist woman declaring she would rather suffer in Hell than worship such an evil God. Needless to say, I was shocked.
Around this time one of my sisters gave up her faith. My parents were furious, particularly my mother. My father talked about how she would go to hell. My sister was forced to go to church anyways (as I still am). They gave up a few years ago. I sympathized with my sister, but couldn’t follow her beliefs. I was even mad at her for reading The Golden Compass after our priest told our congregation to boycott it. My youngest sister followed her soon after (when I’m not sure), though my parents are unaware of her beliefs.
I had a few more encounters with Atheism, but two years ago, while going through the local library, I found your book, The God Delusion. I knew I should avoid it, but I couldn’t resist peaking. After the preface, I had to read the rest. I was particularly struck by how you mentioned that most Christians don’t even realize Atheism is an option, as I certainly didn’t. The book destroyed my faith. I not only learned how science can explain everything, but gained a new love for science. When I finished the book, I was literally shaking. Slowly, I let the words leave my mouth, “There is no God.” It was like confessing a murder.
I tried several times to tell my parents, but I always chickened. I eventually told my mother. As I tried to explain your arguments, she refused to listen, claiming she had heard it before. As it turned out, my grandfather and her father was an Atheist, and not the good kind. His Atheism had (or so she claims) made him nihilistic, as he would often go around the house yelling about how meaningless life is while my mother hid in a closet. I would have pointed out that this probably had more to do with his PTSD (he was a WWII veteran) and depression than Atheism, but she wasn’t in the mood to listen. I enjoyed the irony as my dad left the room saying it was ridiculous to believe something because it was in a book.
To balance my opinion, I read What’s so Great About Christianity by Dinesh D’souza, which references your book. It became clear that he hadn’t read your book as he used arguments your book refuted without addressing said refutations. I was officially a full Atheist. My sisters by comparison were still agnostic, and believed in other silly things like ghosts and magic. My sister who was the first to leave the church confessed that she is agnostic on fairies too.
I’ve given up trying to convince my parents, as they are very old (old enough to be my grandparents) and I imagine that converting them would only cause them harm. To be honest, I still have occasional fears that God does exist, but they’ve been happening less and less. Contrary to the expectations of many Christians who think Atheism leads to nihilism, your book made me feel free, and the shackles of religion were gone. My next hurdle is being more open about my faith, as I often pretend to be Christian in order to keep the peace. I am eternally thankful for your book for showing me the folly of religion. I have never felt so alive.