Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(1035)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear Reader/ Mr. Dawkins,

I am sixteen years old now, and I have gone to religious (orthodox) Jewish schools for fifteen years. I “de-converted” last year, after a traumatizing ninth grade. I'm not sure how rare or typical my story is, but basically: I was raised by (and am being raised by) a family that cares more about society's opinion of me than of my opinion of me. However, my mother and grandmother are both very strong, smart women, who always taught me to, “stand up for my rights.” So I feel like I was always raised under the double standard that society is above everything else and that my basic human rights come before everything else – especially since my parents, who are both lawyers, made me very aware of exactly what rights I, as an American, had and didn't have, growing up. If they had realized when I was younger that I took this advice seriously, they might not have given that advice to me. Ultimately, my decision to become an atheist came down to my rejection of the religious society that I was brought up in based on what I viewed to be the society's violation of basic human rights.

Up until the ninth grade, I had been a devoutly religious Jew. I can recall many times when I tried to impose religion on my family, and I can remember many absurd, disgustingly discriminatory and inappropriate stories that rabbis would tell me in middle school. I do not remember questioning any rabbi until the eighth grade, when a=2 0rabbi screamed in front of an all-girls class – I will never forget this – “WOMEN ARE BOGUS!” He said this with his index finger pointed towards the ceiling and a triumphant expression on his face. Later, he justified this remark by saying that he was referring to women's rights (because that makes the remark totally acceptable). I probably was kicked out of his classroom for questioning him throughout the year.

During my first few months at a high school that was more conservative and Jewish than my elementary school, I wrote an article about the modesty of women (tzniut). I argued the subject of covering a woman's body, but sided with the religious perspective. The principal of the school called me to his office anyway, and told me that the article would not run through the newspaper because the topic of modesty was not something to be questioned. The next stunt that I pulled was “even more radical.” I referred to god as “she” in an attempt to prove to everyone that god was neither he nor she. Instead of being able to impose my speech about women's rights onto my classmates, I got a speech on women's rights imposed on me. The headmistress of the school said that it was insulting to refer to god as a “she” and that the feminist cycle was completed, and being a housewife is becoming reputable again (or something like that). From that point on, I questioned every aspect of religion and never received the answers that I was hoping for – one teacher even told me that gays have to be deprogrammed. So much for gay rights, too.

By the beginning of tenth grade (I had switched to a liberal modern orthodox Jewish school), I did not believe in god – I just did not know it yet. The best day of my tenth grade year, I think, was Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the most important holiday for Jews. During this holiday, Jews fast, they cannot wear leather shoes, they pray all day, etc. On Yom Kippur, I stayed in a hotel room with my grandmother – we were at the hotel so that we would be within walking distance of the shul (temple). That morning, I asked my grandmother if I could have room service, and as my grandmother is the most hypocritical orthodox Jew who ever existed, she ordered room service for me. By ten o'clock, I had violated a Jewish law on the holiest day of the year just by eating breakfast. Next, I took a leather jacket, leather shoes, and a cell phone, and walked to shul. It was raining that day. When I got to shul, I prayed to god for the last time. On Yom Kippur, there is a part of the prayer where the congregation bends down on their hands and knees on the floor of the shul. As the congregation did this, I remember thinking that god should bow down to me – he owed me for my horrible ninth grade. He owed the gays and the women and everyone else he discriminates against. That was what I thought then. With that, I said my last prayer – I remember screaming silently (my20mouth was moving without my voice being heard) at god. Then I left the shul, and cannot remember ever going back there.

A month or two later, I bought The God Delusion. I never completed it (my mother threw it out), but it gave me so much hope. I did not/do not live in a society where atheists “come out.” In fact, when I read the book, I felt completely alone – I almost felt wrong about my beliefs because everyone around me was a theist! Because of The God Delusion, I am more than out – I debate my classmates all the time about their theism and my atheism. Most of them seem to be agnostic, after all. After reading The God Delusion, I began to look into atheism. By now, I have read Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens (who is, right after Richard Dawkins, my hero).

Again, I just want to say to Richard Dawkins, if you read this, that you are my hero. I thought that I was the only atheist in the world until I read your book (I know that must sound so ignorant). Because of you, I feel so validated and less alone. It is very difficult to be different in high school, especially when it comes to religion, and it seems that ever yone else believes in something that I do not believe in. I am sure that I am not the only person who feels this way. I do not know if you realize this, but your books speak out to the countless children who have been indoctrinated in the religion of their parents against their will! Your books provide hope for kids like me – who are truly stuck in a bad situation (my family hates that I am an atheist and my grandmother has threatened to cut me off unless I pretend to be a religious Jew) that they simply cannot escape because they are teenagers. You inspire me to fight stupidity with facts and rational, critical thinking (I am even studying to learn at Oxford this summer!). Thank you so so much for giving me hope for a better, more enlightened future.

– Hayley

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