Dear Dr. Dawkins,
I felt compelled to tell you how much your courage and eloquence in The God Delusion has changed my life. It gave me the confidence to finally admit to myself that I was a non-believer by challenging my unacknowledged, groundless respect and deference to religious belief.
I was always skeptical. I clearly remember the first time I expressed it at four with the pointed question, “Mommy, why didn't God love the Philistines?” I was a religious moderate, so I was in some ways more free to follow my conscience when it ultimately led me to atheism. I didn't think people were punished simply for not believing, but I still had this nagging feeling that it was wrong not to. Most off my fellow Episcopalians did not believe in hell (or thought of it only symbolically), and I quite freely voiced my opinion that there was no heaven. I was free to say and believe almost anything, even to be a secret atheist (I was even, like Mother Theresa, congratulated for my doubt as some kind of shared suffering with Christ), as long as I didn't challenge belief in belief. And I was truly convinced of this.
But I was still not okay with what I recognized to be cognitive dissonance by another name. I began to get the feeling that it would only be a matter of time before I stopped believing. I even began to call myself “atheist” in my own head. But it was your book that finally coaxed me out of the closet. You and Sam Harris in particular made me realize that my tacit approval of belief without evidence was an entirely untenable position, and, in fact, condescending. In my mind, it had somehow been okay for others to believe things that I could sniff out as spurious, and the presence of religious interests in my life had blinded me to the inherent stupidity of this position.
Your book was the first argument I'd ever heard specifically directed against the belief in belief argument. All the intellectuals around me (my mother teaches at a non-denominational Christian college, so there was no dearth of religious apologist arguments) would concede to almost any other rational argument, until the value of faith itself came into question. It was reading your book and seeing such assumptions treated as they ought to be, as any other claim in any other area of our lives would be, that finally broke the spell. I can't thank you enough for sharing your experience and insight. Thank you so much for writing this book that helped me come to this decision at 17 instead of after many more years of the vicious cycle of doubt and self-loathing I was trapped in. You have freed me up to live my life to its fullest.
Holly Elmore, West Palm Beach, FL