Although I originally sent a version of this letter to Richard, I'd like to submit this for Converts' Corner:
I recall that you wrote that Douglas Adams was your tallest, funniest, and perhaps only convert. You had the fortune to count such a wonderful, funny person among your friends. I did not, but Douglas reached many of us with his writing, and not only to make us laugh, but to inspire some of us to think for ourselves.
When I was much younger, I wanted to understand the universe, and I looked to religion (Catholicism, in fact) but the believers I spoke to often had no more answers than I did, and resorted to the defense of “it's a mystery” when I asked about certain claims the church made, a defense I know realize is all too common.
I left the church, and in my own way I tried to fill that “void” by reading about more religion. Perhaps I'd just gotten the wrong one (what a ridiculous idea, I'd later come to think). I read as much as I could about Wicca and various branches of Satanism (which, as it turns out, is a particularly self-serving brand of foolishness that has very little to do with the Judaeo-Christian devil and resembles nothing more than arrogant solipsism or even self-worship, dressed in a scary mask), I read about the Druids, I read books on Buddhism, and nothing could answer my questions. Oh, they all offered answers, but none of their claims could stand up to more questions.
I happened to read something by Douglas Adams, long one of my favorite authors. It was an essay about atheism, and why he was an atheist; the same essay, I think, that you mentioned in /The God Delusion/. I realized that I didn't need religion to fill that “void” I described, because it was really a desire for understanding that I could only satisfy with /real/ truth and /real/ answers.
Perhaps I am one of Douglas's converts to atheism. The idea of such a thing being possible strikes me as oddly amusing, but there you have it. Regrettably I only recently discovered two books I had been given years ago as part of a collection, that might have helped me back then: your /River Out Of Eden/ and Christopher Hitchens's wonderful /Letters to a Young Contrarian/. I've only just begun to catch up on all the reading I have missed, but I've now read two of Christopher's books and have started on my third Richard Dawkins book (having read /The God Delusion/ and /River Out Of Eden/ I have picked up/ The Blind Watchmaker/ and watched two of your TED talks), and my second Hitchens book, /God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything/, and in an unusual twist, my best friend of over six years and girlfriend of one and a half years knows Dan Dennett personally and even got me an autographed copy of one of his books.
Sometimes I find myself with more questions than answers, but I am satisfied and heartened to know that I can find explanations for the natural world that do not require fairies at the bottom of the garden, or, as George Carlin once put it, a man who lives in the clouds. I don't need to invent impossible stories and declare them true by fiat, nor do I need to accept the non-answers that the Church offered me. That was the most stunning and life-altering realization I have ever had.
A seeker of knowledge