My shelves are filled with your books and many others about science. I am a science teacher, head of science in fact, at a local comprehensive school. Science has played a huge role in my life. I met my wife “across the test tubes” as it were during an Open University chemistry summer school. She too was a huge fan. We saw you once at a lecture/book signing when The Ancestors Tale had just come out. At that time I was not practicing religion but I had been brought up (brainwashed) as a catholic so probably still had a latent tendency to think God might be involved somewhere. However after my wife and I read The God Delusion it crystallised, for me at least, thoughts/doubts that I now realise were lurking under the surface. Your clear writing style helped bring these ideas to the surface and helped me begin to accept that religion is a harmful agent in the world. I now feel much more confident in challenging people that base their lives on blind faith. My wife probably had already decided she was an atheist long ago but again the book helped her confidence in asserting this to the world.
I have been referring to my wife in the past tense because she died in May this year after a battle with breast cancer. She was only 38. People we knew, and some we didn't, offered to pray for her and one even came round with healing crystals. They could not understand why she rejected all of their offers. They thought she would be desperate to try anything but her attitude was that life was too short to waste even a few minutes thinking about such nonsense. We put our “faith” in science. We were both scientists and knew that miracle cures were not on the cards. Our atheism also allowed us to explain to our children that they should not expect to see Mummy again in heaven or any kind of afterlife and that they needed to say their goodbyes while she was still living. I made sure that there was nothing left unsaid as well and now feel comforted that she died knowing just how much she was loved. The children were able to understand that her body will decay and add nutrients to the soil. That microbes will convert the elements in her tissues into new combinations of compounds and in this way she will still be part of the earth. They also know that she is part of them, they carry her genes in themselves and, of course we carry her memory in our minds. This seems enough, even during our grief.
Jane was buried in a woodland burial ground in a lovely wicker basket. As was her express wish there was no religion at her funeral. A humanist officiant and members of the family conducted her funeral service. Many people, most of them with some kind of religious faith, told me that it was one of the most beautiful and touching funerals they ever attended. Some even said it had made them rethink what they wanted to mark their own passing from life. A few months before Jane died we attended her Grandmothers cremation. Meaningless hymns were sung and a vicar that had never met the woman spoke about her and recited prayers that meant very little to most of the people in attendance. The contrast was striking. The easy platitudes of religion versus heartfelt words focused on Jane's one life and only that.
So reading your book came at the right time for me. Allowing me to finally reject the Pope's God and all the other Gods. I knew I was a real atheist while Jane was terminally ill. I thought I would, in desperation, pray or ask God for help, I never did. When that day never came I knew, for me at least, God no longer existed.
I will go on reading your books and think of Jane when I do, imagining the conversations we had and could have had about them.