Dear Dr. Richard Dawkins
I am a closet atheist. I am 22 years old and am the son of a (now former) Baptist Preacher. For as long as I can remember my family and I have been going to fundamentalist Baptist churches. I was “saved” at the age of 8 when I went forward after a long sermon on “Hell” and talked to the pastor and told him that I wanted to go to heaven. My parents divorced when i was 10 and my mom got custody of my two brothers and I. My mom re-married and we were then pulled out of public school and placed in a private fundamentalist christian school. This school, being Christian fundamentalist, doesn't teach students about evolution. Instead, you are taught creationism as the basis for all science, and the only things you are taught about evolution is the “holes” and “inconsistencies” within the theory.
At the age of 13, after another sermon on the “end times” and “hell”, I was “saved” again. After my first conversion, I never felt as though I was really saved. They teach you that after you are “saved” your life transforms and you want to do all these good things for God. That you will want to worship him and read the Bible and share the gospel with others. Months after this though, i still never felt that i was really saved. I didn't feel my life “transform”, i never felt that God heard my prayers because most of them never seemed to come true. They teach you that God only hears and answers prayers from those who are sinless. So in order for God to hear your prayer, you had to confess all of your sins from the last time you prayed, and then ask for gods help. Still after all of this, i never felt that i was really saved. I think from the age of 8 until a couple of years ago I must have literally prayed to God to be saved at least 30 times.
My dad had gotten custody of us when i was 15 or so, because my stepdad was suffering from PTSD as a vietnam war vet and physically and verbally abused us and his own children. My own life seemed to be spiraling downward each year and to top it off, the pastor of my dads church decided that i was (to make a long story short) a very attractive young boy. He is now in jail. During high school i thought I might be depressed. Whenever i looked up my symptoms online, I always came to that conclusion. My church/school however, taught us that if we had emotional problems, it was because we weren't close enough to God. So i would pray constantly for God to help me overcome my depression/anxieties, but nothing ever seemed to happen. When turned 21, I started to doubt whether i was even supposed to be saved. I had heard that, in some sects of Christianity, God has a list of people who are predisposed to salvation and some who are doomed to hell. I started to feel as though i was doomed to go to hell.
It wasn't until i went to Iraq (oddly enough) that i met a friend who used to be a christian. He told me how he used to go to church, but now he's an atheist, and how he came to those conclusions. My time in Iraq was a sort of “awakening” for me. I started to question everything that I had believed in: from politics to religion. From there I then went to your website forum and was forwarded to watch a series of YouTube videos. I am now an anthropology major in college, I'm currently reading The God Delusion, educating myself on evolution, and seeing a psychiatrist for my depression and anxiety. I love seeing all of the inconsistencies of the bible be brought to light and to see religion eviscerated. Unfortunately, my ENTIRE family is still christian and I don't dare come out as an Atheist. I would never hear the end of it! My dad is now the president of a christian motorcycle club and goes around guest-preaching at random churches. There will probably be a time in the future when i will come out, but for right now my facebook profile has me listed as “Ateapostist” :-D.
Of the “Four Horsemen” you are definitely my most favorite! Thank you for all that you do, and thank you bringing reason to those who so desperately seek it!