I was raised as a Catholic for most of my life, and only recently shed all traces of superstition. My mother was a Christian of the very genteel Unitarian sort, though she refuses the definition of Unitarian to this day. My grandmother- who lived with me and my parents through most of my childhood- was a well-meaning but devout Southern catholic. She took her bible seriously and literally most of the time- though to be fair, she did not take it literally on matters such as the treatment of women and outright hatred for homosexuality. Despite my mother not being Catholic, I went to mass with my grandmother and father often in my childhood. To further complicate matters, although my mother taught me how to think logically and did not ever try to suppress any doubts I might have about religion or belief, my science education consisted of a laughable Christian curriculum obviously designed to indoctrinate a child with all the fallacies and strawmen of creationism. You name a creationist fallacy, it was there- from irreducible complexity to the argument from the second law of thermodynamics to supposed biblical prescience.
The first time I ever doubted my religion was when I was eight years old, though on a subconscious level it was probably earlier. I was doing homework for the aforementioned science curriculum. Without knowing anything about the theory of evolution, I noticed some holes in creationism- the biggest one was the argument from entropy. Even my foggy eight-year-old brain noticed that the sun acted as a constant source of energy for the earth- a pocket of non-entropy- and when I realized that this was true even though it contradicted my education, my “faith” became consciously thinner. I began to look skeptically at my science curriculum, and when I was twelve, I read several books on evolution- including The Selfish Gene- and found them fascinating. I also found that they contradicted the creationist notion that evolution was completely selfish on an individual level- both your writings on kin selection and many others helped me to realize the altruistic behavior shared by many social animals, including our fellow mammals.
As someone who worked to help and study first coyotes and then wolves since a young age, I had always taken issue with religion’s position on non-human animals as well. Religion’s characterization of animals as violent, selfish, cruel and soulless automata (while humans were in one sense perfect, ensouled beings and in another sense evil sinners) never sat well with me, and now I had evidence against it.
I also realized I was bisexual when I was fourteen, an orientation that religion largely refuses to admit exists- the diametric opposition of “straight” and “gay” helps their idea of moral conflict, I suppose. All this time I still thought of myself as a liberal Christian, though I never really thought about the dogma of Christianity or the Bible. Even so, a vague uneasiness stayed with me, such that my sexual orientation, views on evolution, and views on animals were kept private.
Nothing changed for several years, but I later began to read and watch the work of comedian and philosopher George Carlin. Among other things, his effortless, funny, and yet irrefutable destruction not only of religion but of the idea of God itself destroyed my belief in one fell swoop. While I was now essentially an atheist, I shied away from the term because I had been led to believe through my childhood curriculum that atheists were completely barren, empty people- people who could not appreciate art, music, nature, love, life, and existence. Then I read The God Delusion, and everything changed. I realized that I had been an atheist all along, and that atheists could have a beautiful, ethical, fulfilling, meditative, and “spiritual” life while nonetheless repudiating all supernaturalism, from Abrahamic religion to new age psuedoscience to gothic cults. A purely “natural” world was even more satisfying and amazing than one with a deist God, let alone the “spooky, incompetent father figure” (in the words of Carlin) of religion.
After finally slaying the last metaphorical demon of belief, I feel free both personally and publicly. I only have one chance at life, and I don’t need to waste it pretending to be something I’m not or feeling eternal shame for who I am. This attitude has helped me to lead a far more fulfilling life, in every respect that matters; and I would never go back.
With that, I truly want to thank you for writing The God Delusion and your other books as well- your work as a scientist is just as impressive as your work in defense of skepticism and rationality. TGD has served as an excellent, clear, and straightforward reference to help with the traditional questions and arguments of the religious- something very important in America today.
Best wishes and keep up the work for science and truth,