This email is to thank you for my life in the most literal sense.
A couple of months ago, I walked into a book store here in the U.S, as I have literally hundreds of times in my life, looking for the thoughts of anyone who might know the answer to a simple question: “Why hasn't God chosen me?” I've wondered why I never felt His presence in my heart as so many millions appear to do. I certainly wanted to. I invited him in. I felt the “hole” in myself that believers call the “god shaped hole that can't be filled by anything else.”
I was the perfect candidate for recruitment into the fold, but I never felt the touch and I was dying to know why, literally.
Your book, The God Delusion finally provided an answer and at what was literally the lowest point of my life.
I was raised in a variety of “faiths” as my parents struggled to find one that fit, flitting from church to church, never satisfied. The result was that I never knew what God wanted from me. Every faith has its own version of god, and its own version of what it takes to be saved. How is a child supposed to know how and what to believe?
All I took from the experience was that I was somehow unsatisfactory in all versions of his sight. After all, all of my friends found him simply by going to church and waiting. My parents “got” god. Their friends likewise.
For me: nothing. Just the hole.
It seemed simple enough, and in talks with literally dozens of pastors, rabbis and elders, it was confirmed time and again: just asking him to touch you is enough. “Just wait. He'll come,” they would say in that tone that in an untrained ear is sincere and loving, but in one who's spent most of a lifetime hearing it again and again is a mixture of pity and disgust. I could almost hear their thoughts, “Poor lamb. You must have done SOMETHING wrong or he would have scooped you up into his love by now.”
Can you imagine how much that tone of voice hurt? Most people will probably never know how alone you can be, how much self-loathing you can generate when even all-knowing, all-loving god rejects you for actions you can't even recall as they must have happened so early in childhood as to be invisible in memory.
I literally shiver as I write this; the memory of that feeling is still raw and very fresh in my mind.
Still, daily for more than 30 years I knelt and prayed – a simple prayer, “Father, please enter my heart and take me to your service and your will.”
I was assured that if I meant it, if I REALLY meant it, and if I humbled myself and begged, I would get my answer, find my peace, know my savior at last.
I felt nothing. Ever. Empty rejection of my pleas.
In March of this year, I finally gave up. Not on God, but on myself. After three decades I simply couldn't carry on any more being so obviously hideous in his site that I must suffer the absence of his presence; this, by the way, is a common definition of hell given by believers – to be separated from God.
I was literally in Hell, while here on earth. I wanted nothing more than for him to love me and was in constant agony because of my failure to be worthy.
In the end, I sold virtually everything I owned, ceased most contact with friends and family and prepared myself to give up, to die. I thought that if I proved my devotion by seeking Him in the most direct fashion (going to meet him), I would finally have my answer, even if my suicide meant going to hell. God loved me, or so I was told, perhaps I had simply failed to ask loudly enough and show enough faith.
I was empty, alone in a way that simply can not be described to someone who has never felt that hole in himself and ready to die. I was just waiting for the courage to do it.
I wandered around in that state for several months.
As I was approaching my breaking point, drinking myself into a hopefully (but never successfully) dreamless sleep every night, exploring mind altering drugs, doing anything and everything I could think of in a last ditch effort to find Him, I walked into the above mentioned local book shop.
There, on a bargain bin table, I saw an odd, shiny book: The God Delusion.
As a side note: I find it astounding that in the bible-belt [a nickname for the most religious portion of the southern united states] a best seller and relatively new release can go on the bargain bin. According to an employee of the store – who was so offended by it that she refused to touch it – “they knew it wouldn't sell well, but they had to carry it due to some agreement with a distributor”. Appalling.
At any rate, the title captured me. I was, for a minute or two, equally anxious and terrified to open it.
Could I be delusional?
Oddly, I hoped that I was in fact pathologically incapable of finding god. At least I wasn't to blame if that was the case.
Could this be it? The moment when god reveals himself to me at last through the medium of a scientist, an apostate to all faith?
I opened it and within 3 pages of skimming I realized that this was a book I had to own.
I read it in an 18 hour straight session.
Here is the rough shorthand for my thought process: The reason there had been no answer to my years of prayer is simply because there is no god. What a revolutionary concept!
Believing this doesn't make me a monster. It doesn't relieve me of the burden of morality. It doesn't make me “abnormal”. It doesn't make my life meaningless and my death into an inevitably pointless punctuation mark at the end of a pointless existence. It simply means that I had best get on with whatever I intend to do with my time here; it's very short and very, very important that I spend it well.
Mr. Dawkins, I do not have command of the language sufficient to describe what happened inside me by the time I was finished reading. I wish I could quote some great philosopher, sage or poet who has said it perfectly. I'm sure they exist, but I haven't read widely enough to have found any (although in the last few months I've begun exploring some: Blake, Spinoza, Hume, Lucretius, Plato and I'm proud now to say Darwin himself).
I will say that I simply sat in my chair crying in relief. I have no idea how long I was there, but it was several hours; I just remember being too exhausted and emotionally drained to move. I fell asleep in the chair and woke up a very stiff, very sore, very new human being.
My whole life I had been told, and dutifully believed, that my humanity was granted to me (and somehow grafted onto my imperfect body) by divinity; that my meaning and purpose was generated by – and for the unknowable purposes of – this fantastically complex being whom everyone else seemed to be able to see and hear, while I could not; that my purpose was to serve him, my existence because of him, my unpardonable (apparently even by him) debt of gratitude to him. All my life I tried to believe it and was ashamed, mortified, that I couldn't quite convince myself that it was true.
In trying and wanting to believe, I crippled myself and brought myself to the point of ending the pain by ending my existence. The nagging fear of hell for suicide was still there, but I literally couldn't imagine anything worse than the abandonment I felt in this hell and if I could only see him the one time, feel his presence, then hell was worth it.
In the end, your calm yet passionate reverence for, reliance on and advocacy of reason was simply inarguable – when I finally allowed myself to truly THINK for the first time in my life. It was so powerful and elegant in its simplicity and honesty that when I finally took the time to compare the two truths, the Darwinian version of how we came to be to the shallow creationist view, the god-based version was washed clean and whisked and away.
Yes, you converted me.
When I held up my blind faith to the light of reason I could see through the holes in belief right down into the one I had felt in myself and I saw the fearful, crying child, lost in the dark and hiding under the covers from the bogey man of death and abandonment; I couldn't hide from reality any more.
When I finally examined the price that I and the world pay for clinging to religion, I came to the – now seemingly inescapable and inarguable – conclusion that whatever false peace I might have taken by clinging to the delusion of a god was bought, on credit, in the name of innocents in the next generation and in other places in the world; it isn't my (or anyone's) right to spend the resources, lives and futures of others for our pathetic pseudo-happiness.
Where before I felt I had a “right” to god's love, I now realize that we and I are mortgaging the future of our species because of our “belief” in an afterlife and its paternal landlord. That is to say, we are terrified of the dark of death and we are willing to do anything, at any cost to ourselves, our children and our neighbors, not to have to face it, including believing in that which is, if you are honest, impossible to believe.
No more. Now that I've allowed myself to see it, I can never go back to allowing myself to feel that way. And I am convinced that I did indeed allow myself to do it, rather than needing to do it as most believers will claim.
When, for the first time in my life I allowed myself to be honest, god simply died in my arms.
Make no mistake, I still grieve for that never-found sense of peace that comes to believers who can imagine without skepticism a paradise to come, but I would rather have the comfort of truth based on reason and evidence and all the innervating strength that comes from it – and the realization that I will cease to be at the end of my days here that goes with it – than be so frightened (yet arrogant) about the end of my time like most believers who simply pour the opium of mythology on the pain of the fear of oblivion.
I thank you for that.
And for the realization which was at the heart of it all: complexity, wondrous majesty, miraculous diversity, fantastical breadth and depth of existence can only come from the accretion of simplicity. I use the word advisedly. In a pearl, no one ever sees the simple center, the irritant that causes the buildup. The same was true with me and my “faith.” Reason was the irritant, misery the raw material of the accretion.
I had never seen the simple truth at the heart of me; I hadn't known how to look for simplicity. I didn't have the strength to break through the accumulated layers of scar tissue and see that grain of truth and reason that was there all along. This fact is astonishing to me, even now.
So simple an answer, yet I had never been taught how to see it. In 40 years I had never been exposed to true critical thinking.
Professor, since July, I've read every word of yours I've been able to find, and bought many copies of your books, including Greatest Show On Earth, as gifts for the people I love. I do this precisely BECAUSE I love them. I want them to feel the absolute thrill of truth, the joyous abandon of living for NOW, not some imagined future. I've watched every video of your attempts to help others truly feel the wonder, the “miracle” if you will, of simply being alive against such unimaginable odds and work hard to become as gently yet unwaveringly forthright as you are in discussion.
I wish I had the eloquence that comes so simply and naturally to you as it would help me convey the true depths of the abyss that religious indoctrination can create in a person who isn't adapted to believe (pun intended). I hope it suffices that I say the desire to be accepted by God is as strong enough to make an otherwise sane person suicidal. I compare it to the loneliness of teenage years when one's hormones are so profoundly powerful as to cause delusions of ugliness or overweight, or to an old age spent alone; it is stunning to me now how deep such veins of despair can run.
I suppose that I knew all along that god was a myth like all the others. Yet as a child, saying so was tantamount to slapping my mother or father and so, as every child in such an abusive (albeit unintentionally so) situation would do, I blamed myself for my shortcomings as a son, an American and a child of god.
I have received many gifts in my life, but I consider you my greatest benefactor and perhaps the only true friend I've ever known for you literally gave me back my life by telling the whole truth without fear. No one else in my life ever did.
I consider it a gift and a debt and I intend to spend the time you've given me in spreading that same gift to others, trying to prevent such abuse of other children in our world.
I am not one to write to authors or celebrities (in fact this is the first “fan” letter I've ever written), but it seems to me that, at least in America, you must face nearly constant fear, perhaps even hatred, and criticism of the “evil” you are doing by “turning children away from God” as I saw someone on your website wrote.
I thought you deserved a bit of praise, thanks and encouragement from one who was in fact turned away from god by god itself (the concept of course, not the “being” since it isn't real) because of you, and found in reason a reason to go on, quite literally thanks to you and your courage and passion.
Thanks also for the obvious sense of awe and wonder with which approach and hold life itself; I had one fear in letting go of god. “Will there still be beauty, love, music, tears, passion, etc. without him?”
I'm happy to report that there is MORE beauty, love, passion and the rest to be had simply by getting off your knees, walking outside and opening your eyes – truly seeing the world, tasting the wine, being in the moment with your friends and family – really accepting how stunningly short is our own little slice of time in consciousness and determining to waste not a moment more of it, than there ever will be or ever was in cowering on my knees, waiting for things to “finally get good” in paradise.
I hope that you have many, many more years ahead of you sir.
The world needs you.