Dear Mr. Dawkins,
Today is the very first time I will ever type these words out: I am an atheist. I am thirty-five years old and for as long as I can remember I have always struggled with my faith. I was brought up Roman Catholic and when I was a child I believed wholeheartedly that God was real, the Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead in three days and would one day come back. I believed because I had been taught to believe. I believed even after my parents divorce and the multitudes of prayers that my family be kept together weren’t answered. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I started to doubt and even then I was afraid to listen to those doubts. I would tell myself I needed to pray harder, believe harder, because God WAS real. I told myself this over and over again until eventually when I reached my early twenties I decided maybe it was best to be just an agnostic and so I was that for awhile.
This was how it was for me, for a very long time – an extreme up and down of my faith. I either fiercely believed in God or I didn’t. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I listened to The God Delusion on audio that I begin to accept the fact that I didn’t really believe. Not anymore, and most likely I never had I was just too afraid to let go. It was your words in the beginning, how you spoke that this book would be for those who have struggled and questioned their faith for as long as they could remember that hooked me and it was when you spoke of Julia Sweeney and her conversion that it hit home. I remember crying as I heard you tell about her conversion because it was exactly as I felt – how could I give up something I had believed in all my life? And yet, I knew that what I believed in were mere stories of my childhood told to me by parents who felt they were doing the right thing.
I have not yet told my family I’m an atheist – they would never understand and my mother especially would accuse me of being an atheist simply because my husband is an atheist. (She found out simply by asking me straight on if he believed in God and when I told her no, her immediate response was: Doesn’t he have any morals? As if morals were created by God, as if there aren’t horrible people out there killing in the name of God right now.) I suppose one day I will, but for right now, I feel this is my choice, I’m not ashamed of it – I’m just not ready to deal with the backlash that seems to come when you tell someone you don’t believe in God.
I still wear my crucifix around my neck because it is a lovely necklace and it was given to me by my father and so when someone asks how I can wear it and not believe in God I simply tell them, “I believe in my father’s love for me and he’s the one that gave me this necklace and that means more to me then what it actually stands for.” And for the record, I DO believe. I believe in science because (as They Might Be Giants so wonderfully put it) science is real. I believe in humanity, I believe in the present, the quest for everlasting knowledge. I believe that when I hold my 12 month old girl in my arms and she has my eyes and her daddy’s ears that all of this is a result of my DNA and my husband’s DNA converging to make one unique child and that she, her sister, you, my husband, the woman down the street, that we are ALL related in some way, that the very cells that make up my body, are the same cells that make up yours and that to me is more glorious more wondrous than the idea of simply being placed here.
I understand now what it means to finally be at peace. I embrace my atheism and one day I know I’ll be able to more vocal about it. In the meantime, my husband and I encourage our children to believe in the way they want to believe and my oldest daughter (who is eight) has expressed a keen interest in science, particularly evolution and wants very much to one day become a paleontologists so she can learn how dinosaurs evolved.
Thank you Mr. Dawkins for helping me (and others like me) to finally be free.