Dear Professor Dawkins,
I was born in India and moved to America at 3, and raised in a Hindu household. My parents weren't fundamentalist or even particularly religious, especially my Dad. However, at the same time, they, my mother in particular, tried to indoctrinate in me the idea that Hinduism is part of my culture, and for that reason I should stay Hindu, because I should not leave my culture behind. For a time, it worked very well.
In America, we moved quite a bit in the Northeast, since my parents were both doctors, and were constantly trying to find better jobs for them so that me and my sister could lead better lives. During that time, we lived in West Virginia for a year. At the time, I was maybe 8 or 9.
There, my parents, in order to make sure they and I had friends and were somewhat part of the community, decided to join the Church, knowing it would only be for a short while. Along with joining the Church, they enrolled me in the Sunday school there. At the Sunday school, not only we did we learn about the Bible, but also about why what science says is supposedly not true. There was one 'experiment' we did in particular that I remember had a large effect on my thoughts about science and religion. We were told to put confetti in a balloon, blow it up, and then pop it up. This was meant to simulate the Big Bang; the point was to show that an explosion could not create the order in the Universe.
This rather bothered me. I did not know much about physics or cosmology at that age, but I wondered at the time how valid that experiment was. I knew at least that the Big Bang was not an explosion, but an expansion, and that there were things that we hadn't put in the experiment that would effect the outcome. The experiment motivated me to learn more about science and figure out whether what I had learned then was true.
During the Summer there, my parents, unable to find any other place for me to stay as they worked, since we lived in a rural town, decided to enroll me in a Christian Light of the World day camp. There, I got to interact with other kids my age, and also had to study the Bible. I didn't mind, as I found religion even then to be rather interesting, especially Christianity, from the Sunday school. I went there twice that Summer, both times winning trophies in a Bible Studies competition they had (the first time I got first place, the second I got second place). Due partly to that stint in WV, I toyed for a while with the idea of converting to Christianity, putting it aside due to the effect of my household – something I'm very happy for.
The knowledge I accumulated in WV piqued my interest quite a bit, and over the next few years, as my family kept hopping from place to place, I kept trying to take in as much information as I possibly could about religion, and thus 'stumbled' on the idea of atheism. Atheism automatically appealed to me – what I had learned about other religions appalled me. Yet, I felt as if there was nothing wrong with a metaphorical acceptance of Hinduism, as I had, and so put that aside. However, the knowledge I acquired led me to accept modern science as fact, something which my family does as well.
From there, as I became a teenager, I continued to toy with the idea of atheism and Hinduism, yet found no reason to personally disregard atheism. Then, on the internet, one day I read an article about you. I don't remember the article, as that was a few years ago now. But I read up on you and your beliefs. I never checked out any of your books, I'm sad to say, as I felt I was too young to understand it. However, my continuing disgust with the hypocrisies of religion and your own writings and beliefs led me down a path to atheism.
Around 2006, I joined a site that divided itself into multiple 'Heavens', each devoted to a different videogame. The site was not Christian, despite the name. There, I delved into the community forums at a few 'Heavens', where I could talk about anything. In one of those in particular, there were some people who were fundamentalist Christian, some people who were more moderate and liberal in their beliefs, some people who were agnostic, and at least one who was an atheist. It was a small community of maybe 14 or 16 people, and we were all friends. Debates, however, erupted every now and then, due to the differences in belief, and often they were about religion. Luckily, no harm was ever meant in any word and we all remained friends. However, there, the member who was an atheist, suggested I read The God Delusion.
With eagerness, I picked up the book, remembering your name. The book quite wonderfully dissected my beliefs, and hardened my dislike for Christianity, especially the fundamentalist denominations. By the end of the book, I made my choice and converted to atheism. My parents did not mind too much.
Since then, despite a few protests from my Mother, I'm a more reasonable and critical person. Due to The God Delusion, rather than simply accepting Hinduism, I can lead a fuller life and seek knowledge more effectively. And for that gift, I can never be more thankful to you, sir.
For that book, and for the effect you have had on my life, thank you, Professor, with all my heart.