Dear Professor Dawkins,
When I was 16, I made the sudden realization that God doesn't exist. It came out of nowhere. I was just thinking, and it happened. It wasn't like I hadn't thought about it before. I don't know of any Theist who doesn't doubt, and I had gone even further. I had been pretty sure that God didn't exist but on this day, I KNEW that he wasn't there.
To say the least, it scared me. Scratch that. It didn't scare me. It disturbed me. Deeply. The realization that there wasn't a loving God watching over me nor was there somewhere to go after I die, that life just ends, was the single most terrifying thing that had ever crossed my mind.
I fell into a deep depression. I talked to my mom about it, and that went well. My mom is an “agnostic” who grew up in a religious family, so she understood what I was going through. But the problems don't go away just because you know someone who's been through it. I was still paralyzed with existential dread, so I tried to talk to my Rabbi about it, and to a certain extent, it helped. He told me that the Jews dont actually have much to work with in terms of an afterlife. It just isn't mentioned all that much in the Torah. But my session with him ended with him just trying to reinforce the idea that God exists and that he loved me. (God, not the rabbi.)
I decided to finally confront the man who brought me up as a Jew; my dad. Dont get me wrong, he's a really nice guy. He's liberal-minded, intelligent, he works in the film industry, and he even teaches a film class for students at Boston University for their exchange program in Los Angeles. He's also religious. Not in the “there's a big guy in the sky who's gonna smite you,” kind of way. He's more in the school of thought where you can make your own interpretation for what God may be. It could be nature, it could be your conscience, etc. Nonetheless, my anouncement to him that “I renounce my faith!” didnt fly too smoothly with him. He took it personally. I didn't blame him. He's on the temple's board of directors and so he's extremely involved in Judaism. It's his “thing.” Long story short, he was dissapointed in me. It made things awkward to say the least.
A few months later, I was coming to terms with my newfound Atheism. I wasn't enjoying it though. It still scared me.
My dad attends the TED conference every year, and I always get exited for the TEDtalks DVDs he brings home. I was watching one of the discs when I came across your talk which I believe was titled “An Atheist's Call To Arms.” It changed my life. I heard you turned a few heads with that one, and you certainly did with me. The idea that here was a guy who was standing up for my beliefs when I thought that I was alone was more comforting than any belief in an afterlife.
I picked up The God Delusion soon after and at this point, all I can say is thank you. Thank you so much for teaching me that it's alright to disbelieve, that it's actually more rational than the God-fearing alternative. The answer was right in front of me, but you lit the path towards it. Thank you so, so very much.
It's two years later, and I'm starting college now. I'm now well equipped to argue for Atheism and evolution at the behest of my Christian collegues. I couldn't be happier.
Atheism for me wasn't a choice. It was a harsh reality that I had to accept, and you helped me come to terms and eventually start what I know will be a life-long friendship with it.
For that, I truly thank you.