Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(1053)

Jan 30, 2013

Dr. Dawkins,

I write this from my CHU (containerized housing unit), neslted in the fortified sand- and dust-covered barriers of Tallil Air Force Base, Iraq. I'm a recalled US Army Captain, having gotten out of the service 3 years ago to be with my beautiful wife and daughter. I find myself embittered to be here, fighting “The War on Terror”, under the orders of the (thankfully) former president, a man driven by what he believes divine authority.

I've seen first-hand the horror and destruction religion can wreak. Seemingly innocuous variations in interpretations of ancient texts have driven people to feel righteous in the most heinous acts imaginable. Innocents suffering and dying for superstition. “Modern” religion scoffs at ancient mythology, and yet relates nearly identical fairy tales as gospel; it looks back in disdain at events like the Salem witch trials, and yet condones the mental torture of homosexuals and free-choice-driven women. And, as I write this, I can't help a grin at the irony as I realize I'm preaching to the choir.

I'd not heard your name until just a few months ago. Another recalled Soldier saw me reading an article in the Army Times about atheists in the foxhole. It was a surprisingly insightful piece about non-religious groups in the military finally calling out for fair treatment and equal rights. It argued against the old adage that “everyone finds God when bullets are flying”, and demanded that Christian-favored promotions, duty assignments, awards and decorations, and even social activities come to an end. We're not god's army, we're that of the United States of America – a country founded on the principles of freedom…

This Soldier asked me if I'd read The God Delusion, realizing I was a rare breed of free-thinking service-man; finally someone else in uniform he could relate to. He was shocked that I hadn't, told me he had a copy, and that I had to read it as soon as I was able. I visited your site tonight and promptly walked over to his CHU to get it.

Because I've yet to read it, I can't claim conversion as a result of it, but I will share my own short story. I was 12 when I had an epiphany. My parents were non-religious (they'd call themselves agnostic), but they tried hard not to sway the minds of me and my younger brother on the subject. My father was a career Soldier, and growing up in the 80's and 90's on Army bases exposed me to as much Christianity as patriotism. I grew terrified that I was bound for hell. So I started going to church.

My parents graciously allowed it, and even supported it in their own way. This went on for a few months until I started realizing how similar the stories being told were to those I was learning about in school as mythology. I began to wonder if everyone else there was faking it, afraid as I was of going to hell if they faltered in their faith. Eventually, I decided it was time to “save” myself, and during one service, I rose to walk to the front of the church to give my soul to Jesus. I prayed quietly, asking forgiveness for my doubt, promising to commit myself to his service, etc. etc. etc. Nothing. I looked around at everyone else, some on their knees, eyes closed, hands folded like we're told to do, and thought how foolish we all were. Were we all really here, making ourselves believe such nonsense? I never went back.

I'm nearly 30, and have spent more than half that time as a closet atheist. Such mindsets don't sit well with commanders, and when I got out of the Army, my religious beliefs were something I kept close to my chest during interviews and meetings. I'm emboldened by what I read on your and related sites, and I look forward to delving into your book(s). I appreciate the courage you have to stand up for free-thinking, and the mission you've undertaken of relieving humanity of the shackles of oppression under the guise of faith.

Thank you, from one soldier to another.

-Billy
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