Hi Professor Dawkins
I was raised in a nominally Christian family. My parents were both Church of England, but like a lot of C of E families religion wasn't really a major part of our daily life. We all went to church every Sunday, I attended Sunday school, and round about the age of 9 or 10 I sung in the church choir. At about the age of 14 I was Confirmed , which then meant I could partake of the bread & wine. However I always remember specific moments in church, when the vicar said “Let us pray” and everyone put their heads down and there was silence, and I sat there with my head down hearing an feeling nothing but the silence. The same thing happened when I took the Communion. I would wonder why nothing happened, why there was no amazing explosion of “Godness” in my head. I would furtively look around at everyone else with their heads bowed and wonder if they could “feel” something that I couldn't. In short I began to feel guilty, as if I was in church under false pretences.
I eventually told my parents I didn't want to go to church anymore. They were disappointed but they let me stay at home, and from then on I more or less drifted away from religion. If questioned I would still say I believed in God, but as time went by I began to change this to “who knows?”, although I still maintained that religion was a personal choice and that if you wanted to believe in God or Allah or Vishnu or whoever then it was up to you.
It wasn't until about 10 years ago (I'm 47 now) that I started to get annoyed about what I increasingly saw as the negative aspects of religious belief – the way Blasphemy still appeared to be an offence in what I'd always considered to be an enlightened country (England), the increase in religion-led terroism and generally the offences of Man against Man that have been perpetrated in the name of religion for almost all of Human history. At that point I began to swiftly slide towards definite atheism (which is where I stand now).
I have an 11-year old son, and about 4 years ago he started asking the usual child questions like “what is Heaven like”, “what happens when we die” and “what does God look like”. I was very conscious of the fact that I couldn't go barging straight in and telling him what I saw as the truth – There's no God, and when you die, that's it. On the other hand I was determined not to lie to him. What to do? The answer was to discuss it with him. When he asked what Heaven was like, I told him that honestly no-one knew, because as far as I knew no-one ever came back from the dead. When he asked what happened when we died, I told him again that no-one really knew. I told him that a lot of people thought there was an afterlife, and a God, but that there were lots of different religions, and each had different ideas about what happened. I explained to him that the Muslim idea of Heaven was different from the Christian idea, and that Buddhists and Hindus even believed that you didn't go to Heaven but just got reincarnated. I was lucky that he is an intelligent child and continued to ask more questions as time went by. I was still careful not to implicitly state that there was no God, as I realise that young children start getting scared of dying as they realise their own mortality (my 6-year old daughter went through that phase a few months ago) and I didn't want to upset him.
However now he is 11 and although I tried to be impartial, I appear to have turned him into a full-blown atheist as well! We have discussions about evolution & the universe (he's very into Science subjects) and when I ask him what he thinks happens when you die, he seems quite accepting that you just stop and that's the end.
Have I created a monster? Or an intelligent enlightened human being? I hope the latter.
I would also like to say that although I have been aware of your work for several years, it was only a couple of years ago that I read “The God Delusion” and only this year that I read “The Blind Watchmaker”, which I really wish I'd read sooner.
All the best & thanks for bringing “non-belief” out of the ghetto and onto the centre stage.