Dear Dr. Dawkins,
I wanted to thank you for giving me the final push that was needed for me to shead my early religious beliefs. I had aquired a belief in the Christian God through various influences in my early childhood, including a belief in the doctrine of hell – which is, of course, nothing but a form of psychological extortion, but which, if you are trapped in that kind of mindset, can cripple your ability to think critically about matters relating to faith, and the doctrine you've learned to accept.
Unfortunately for my faith, and fortunately for me, I was nevertheless a very inquisitive child by nature, and was an avid reader since the time I learned the skill. I read everything I could get my hands on, which, early on, consisted of various things from the better kind of science fiction, to various kinds of pseudoscientific nonsense. I never was a creationist, but believed in some vague way (without really checking it), that the Genesis was an accurate symbolic account of the history of the world, with the creation account matching in sequence the birth and history of life on Earth (with God's guiding hand in play, of course).
At around 18 or 19 years of age, I finally stumbled upon an actual book on popular science, that I bought on a whim as it looked kinda interesting – it was on complexity research. It WAS interesting. Much more so than any pseudoscience I'd read. The ideas in the book occupied my mind weeks after I'd read it, and so I picked up another popular science book, another fortunate choise:”The Selfish Gene”.
You speak of some ideas being “consciousness raising”, and The Selfish Gene was the book that made my consciousness sore to levels I had not known before – I'd known the basics of evolution, but never really “got it” before, never grasped the power of the mechanism of natural selection acting on random variation.
Realizing that there really WAS a mechanism that required no conscious guidance from above, that could account for the natural world without superstitious notions, opened up the floodgates. The religious doctrines that I'd kept from childhood, in the back of my mind, became clear to me in all their absurdity and needless fearfullness.
You know when the air-conditioning goes off in a room you've spent hours in, and the hum of the machinery suddenly stops, making you realize for the first time that there WAS a hum, only by it's absense? That's how it felt to me – like a ton of bricks lifted off my shoulders, weight that I'd not consciously realized, or admitted to myself was there.
I became an agnostic, and started researching intensely into the questions and claims of gods, feeling energized, the most exiting time in my life. I found good skeptical resources that taught critical thinking, and I soon became what I am still today – an agnostic atheist with a fully naturalistic world view. I keep reading more on the natural world, absolutely fascinated by the Universe I'm priviliged to inhabit, if only for a limited time. No fairies required, or wanted, in the bottom of my garden!