Dear Professor Dawkins,
Many have already stated that their realization of their rational, atheist selves were, at least in part, brought out by your magnificently well-written and extremely intelligent book, The God Delusion. Indeed, that book helped me come out of the suffocating closet of personal dishonesty, too, at least in part. I read it for the first time last month, and I am already beginning to read it for a third time. (It's made all the better with the immensely charismatic audio book narration.) But I was not solely “converted” by that book, however persuasive, logical, and witty it is.
You've caught the public's attention with your insightful and necessary declarations of secularism and rational thought. But I was personally changed not by your interviews, written works, or documentaries on religion. Rather, my consciousness was raised, and thus evolved, due to your insight on the natural world.
I have always been enchanted by nature. I grew up in a family that didn't shift one way or the other on a definable religious scale, so I was never persuaded in any direction, theist or atheist, blindly. But I was always encouraged, and simultaneously actively pursued on my own, a devoted interest in the mind-boggling majesty of life. I fed my fascination with nature as soon as I could walk. I grew up knowing the names of countless dinosaurs and other extinct genera, memorizing the order in which significant phyla or adaptations appeared on earth's timescale, and knowing that evolution was as much a fact as gravity and heliocentrism.
When my parents died unexpectedly when I was eleven years old, I was alone. Although there were of course people who continued to love and guide me, I now had to discover myself and the universe as best as I could on my own. I had to be observant, open-minded, and skeptical. But as liberal as my upbringing was, there was still an unfortunate pressure to hide a bit, or to find good in being indecisive.
But as I have read your books, watched your television specials, and delighted in hearing your explanations of the natural world in the last few months, the epiphany of the sheer magnitude, the mesmerizing elegance, and the awesome power of what life really is and how it operates truly became conscious to me. Your detailed and thorough explanations not only made me truly appreciate the processes of biology and natural selection, but also made me realize just how superfluous a divine, intelligent creator really is. I discovered that I had been an atheist all my life; I just never called myself one.
Now I am proud to state that I am a rational atheist, just as I am proud to state that I am an individual human being. I was afraid of the atheist label for too long. But then I realized, “I'm a walking collection of labels! I'm a white, adolescent male going to a liberal arts college on the east coast, but born and raised in Minnesota.” That's a plethora of labels right there, with all of the supposed advantages and disadvantages that they may carry and that with which others may attempt to categorize me. So why not carry a label that actually has some merit? Why not a label I'm really proud of? Since that epiphany, less than two weeks ago, I have eagerly worn my scarlet letter “A” lapel pin each day.
I have to thank many people in my life for guiding me (including Sir David Attenborough, who, with his engaging and scientifically rich television programs, helped me spark my interest in the natural world as early as my parents did). But it is you, Prof. Dawkins, who got me to make my final step out of that dark, uncomfortable closet of fear, and to finally step out into a bright new world of personal awareness. And what joy and enlightenment I have felt because of it. Atheism is not an alternative blind belief or faith; it is freedom from blind belief and faith, and an appreciation of the ceaselessly amazing and elegant universe around us.
I am only nineteen years old and I still have a lot to learn and discover. But I anticipate that frontier so eagerly with a clear mind. Perhaps someday I can incorporate my passions in science and nature with my love of creatively communicating to others these messages through film and related visual arts. Who knows what the future may hold? But it is so exciting to imagine what that future may be.
Thank you, Prof. Dawkins. You are one of my greatest teachers who I never even met.
With deepest sincerity and admiration,