I felt that I had to write in, because I am a definite convert of yours, not in fact, as an Atheist, but as somebody who has been converted to the idea of theological faith as a "bad thing". I must admit that for a while now, I have always been one of those Atheists who have not been particularly bothered by other people having faith. I think I have never before drawn the link between moderate religions, and their promotion of faith as a virtue, and extremist religions. After reading The God Delusion I start to ask myself why, for it is one of those things that seem obvious once you have seen or heard the question addressed somewhere. I am certain, in my case, that it was, at least partly, influenced by the fact that I just wanted to be left alone myself, and not had religious ideas shoved down my throat. So I would like to thank you for opening my eyes on this matter.
I was delighted to read your mention of just how wrong it is to give children labels depending on their parents religion. This was something that was really drilled into me early on in my life, so it was nice to see it addressed. I moved to Cork in Ireland from Buckinghamshire when I was about eight, and one of the first questions I was asked, was by another eight year old. It was:
"Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
Now I didn’t have the foggiest notion which of the two I was in fact! (My parents were Anglican, although they went to the Methodist church near where we lived because they preferred it.) I answered stammering er "my mother’s catholic and my father protestant", somehow realising that my answer might shape the rest of my relationship with the child. But the question stuck with me, and it may in fact have been one of the reasons I first questioned Christianity. I kept asking myself: "What am I?" and for that matter, "What does it matter?"
Like a lot of the Atheists I know, I was fortunate, in that my parents are quite easy going. I can vividly remember going to my mother, shocked, a couple of years later, telling her that my teacher had told me we had evolved from monkeys, and were not descended from Adam and Eve. She looked at me in amusement, and didn’t actually confirm one way or the other, but rather encouraged me to question what I had been taught. I think I owe much of my journey to Atheism from my parents.
Despite the fact that I was arguably an Atheist before I read The God Delusion, I would also like to tell you about my 'conversion’, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is something I have never really been able to tell anyone, because I have always been scared to question other people’s beliefs, and telling people you are an Atheist and why automatically puts them on the defensive if they are theistic. I guess that even though you have opened my eyes to the evils of faith, I still find it hard to be more of a militant Atheist. Perhaps it comes with practice. I expect no answer, the knowledge (or mistaken belief!) that there is someone I can actually tell means the world. The second reason, is that the thing that really cemented my lack of faith was in actual fact caused by a University lecturer of mine, on the subject of philosophy of religion. I thought you, or other people, may perhaps find this as amusing, for it was the moment he said (in response to a question) that he was, in actual fact, a theist.
Like many people growing up, rather sadly, I was bullied badly in school. Whether this had any bearing on my decision to question god, I quite honestly can not say. However, one good by product of these miserable times was I discovered the internet in the mid 90s. I discovered forums, and community, where I found acceptance, and encouragement to just discuss. As a twelve year old I found myself in a theological debate with a Cambridge university student, which helped encourage a growing Agnosticism inside me as regards gods. Rather than the usual questions like the existence of evil, he fielded other questions from me, ones which I find a little amusing now. Things like:
If Heaven truly exists, what happens if two mortal enemies kill each other, and as they lay dying repent of their sins and make it to Heaven. When they see each other in Heaven, are they truly expected to treat each other civilly? And if they are forced not to, then surely their personalities are not actually in this 'Heaven’.
If Heaven exists, and is eternal, how can it function? I mean you’d have a near infinite amount of people knowing a near infinite amount of people. Can you imagine what happens to the popular guys? Everyone wanting to talk to them at once!
Or ones I am quite proud of my younger self for coming up with like:
How can God be perfectly good when he only was willing to reveal himself to a tiny percentage of the earth, when the rest of the millions of people were presumably being killed, and killing with no hope of salvation?
How can a perfectly good God allow existence of Hell? Is forgiveness not a trait of being perfectly good?
And they went on and on. With each question, and each blurry or non existent answer given, my theism receiving a punch to the jaw.
I continued for a long, long time being an Agnostic Theist at times rather scarily ardent, but gradually morphing into an Agnostic Atheist as time went on, until the afore mentioned time I was in University, studying maths and computer science. I leapt at the opportunity to try moral philosophy as something completely different in my first year it was a natural progression of my love of questioning things. And here we come to the final nail in my theistic self’s coffin. We were introduced to the Ontological argument quite quickly, and like (I think) most people, I had a feeling that it was profoundly wrong, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I later came to the conclusion that it was because the idea of 'existence’ was treated as if it had some kind of 'perfection’. That somehow 'one’ was greater than 'zero’ and also, that somehow 'one’ was also greater than 'infinity’. Before I came to that conclusion, however, we had another lecture, where I asked him what exactly a perfect 'god’ was. I made the point that my idea of perfection was quite likely different to his, and certainly would be different to a serial killer, who might reasonably believe that a perfect god would be one that kept a ready supply of victims to his door. The lecturer ummed and ahhed a little, before saying:
"I guess that defeats the Ontological argument."
The very next day, he answered a fellow student’s question about his personal belief, where he answered that he believed in God because the Ontological argument was just too strong. And, after his answer to my question the day previously, and the fact that he made no attempt to address the issue, I became a definite Atheist. I decided that if religious faith could bring somebody to believe something which he had acknowledged as being untrue, then it was something I wanted no part of. And so, you see, dogmatic faith can have an up side. It can turn people away from your point of view!
Thanks for opening my eyes, and best wishes for your future, and the future of your foundation.
Greg Bishop (25)
P.S. I think in terms of your scale, I am a '7′ as regards any of the man made deities, and a '6′ as regards everything else. I would also like to thank you for the scale, because it makes it so much easier when people tell me how much faith I need in order to be an Atheist!