Hello Dr. Dawkins,
I came across your website, and decided I would like to share my story with you. I don't know if you actually read this or if someone else does…but, in case this gets to you, I decided to try to share this as briefly as I can.
During my very early teen years, I was invited to a church camp. If you have ever seen the documentary “Jesus Camp,” that is the type of church camp I attended. While there, I firmly believed that I had found God. That one week had such a profound impact on me that it would set the course of my life for the following 15 years.
I became heavily involved in my youth group. I came from a very rough home situation, so this made the “nice church folks” even more appealing, and I placed my trust in them. I had always loved science. I had a microscope when I was a kid that I had bought at a yard sale. I constantly made slides of everything I could get my hands on. In a field nearby my house, I often looked very closely at the different types of grass, the bushes, and the trees. I had a habit of climbing dangerously high to the tops of tall trees to see if there were any differences between the leaves at the top of the tree and the leaves toward the bottom. In middle school, I was thrilled to learn that we could take a science lab course and conduct basic experiments. Sadly, when word of this made it to the leaders of my youth group, I was confronted with shock and horror as these leaders questioned why I would take science classes beyond what was required for my education. They informed me that science was evil and that scientists were liars out to lead people away from God. I was too young and too vulnerable to know any better. I gave up science as my sacrifice to God. And I would not think about it again for many years.
After graduating from high school, I went to a 4-year Bible College and then worked as a children's minister for several years. I did enjoy working with the kids and with families. Yet, something just left me feeling quite unfulfilled. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something just seemed amiss. Perhaps I needed to pray more. Maybe I needed to become closer to God. I tried everything. But, ultimately, I just didn't feel like I was in the right place doing the right thing for me. I was then diagnosed with a chronic, painful, and disabling illness. And things pretty much bottomed out for a while. I decided to take some online college courses to give myself something positive to focus on. I didn't even know what subject area to look into. But, I enjoyed learning, and I assumed taking a class would be good for me. In reviewing the many options available, I came across the listing for a course called “The Biological Basis for Human Behavior.” Something about that sounded quite fascinating to me, and I enrolled in the course.
Over the next 2 semesters, the way in which I had viewed the world for so long was greatly challenged. I began to gain a better understanding of evolutionary theory, which I had always been told was wrong. Seeds were slowly being planted that would take time to grow and blossom. Yet, their growth and blossoming were inevitable at that point, I believe. My love for science had been re-discovered, and this time, I could not turn away. I left the ministry and returned to school to study psychology, biology, and neuroscience. As I learned more, my confidence in evolutionary theory and in science as a whole grew exponentially.
It wasn't so much that I decided “evolution is true, therefore, Christianity is wrong.” What really struck me was that I had been taught so strongly for many years that evolutionary theory was a completely baseless theory designed by scientists to deceive people into turning against God. It became quite clear that that was just not the case. Yet, I had believed that that was the case for a long time without really researching the matter further. I began to wonder what else I had put my faith and belief in simply because I believed the person that told me rather than investigating the issue first. It was that idea that made me begin to question my faith entirely.
I spent a couple of years feeling as though I was a small boat in a huge ocean being tossed about uncontrollably by waves from all directions. My whole world was shattered. Everything that I had believed about myself, about the world, and about life was thrown into question. If my faith was true, could I ever go back to believing it as solidly as I had before? If my faith was not true, how could I begin my life again without living in total devastation?
I would leave the church and then, return. And leave again, and return. While I accepted science and had rejected many false ideas I had held onto for so long, I couldn't get myself to completely release my faith and to complete involve myself in science. My faith had become such an intimate part of every area of my life. It was like losing a part of myself.
And then someone mentioned your name to me. I listened to some of your lectures, interviews, and readings online. I read a few of your books. Through this exploration, I realized that even though letting go of my faith would involve losing a part of myself, I would be awakening another part of myself that had laid dormant for years. It is in my nature to embrace rationality. I believe that is why upon the initial very small exposure to evolutionary theory, my faith was immediately shaken, and I so quickly passed the point of no return. I also have awakened the self within me that loves science and the scientific process. I feel once again like I did at the age of 9 and 10 years old, exploring bushes and trees and microscopic material. Your arguments and explanations gave me the confidence I needed to let go of religion and faith and to embrace who I really am. Without exposure to these arguments, I don't know if I ever would have fully moved on from religion and faith.
That feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction that I sought as a children's minister…I have now found it as I am pursuing what I truly and naturally love. For the first time, I feel that I am truly following my dreams and becoming the person that I really am. In other words, I feel that I have finally discovered myself…and that is well worth the journey. Thank you for being a part of my journey to find myself.
I now, besides attending school, work on a research team, and I teach science classes to children in after-school programs that give students the opportunity to participate in hands-on science experiments. I absolutely love it. My love for science was robbed from me when I was young by people that took advantage of my vulnerability and ignorance. I feel part of my revenge on these folks is imparting my love and enthusiasm for science to children all over the city of Chicago. I just cannot tell you how happy I am to be spending each day doing what I naturally love.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to “come out” in my work, academic, or social life regarding my past. I am a closet ex-Christian. I no longer associate with those that knew me when I was religious (because I was quickly sent away as an outcast). I embrace the journey I have been on and mostly feel thankful that I was able to escape religion…most people never find their way out. Yet, it has been very difficult (impossible, actually) to let people that know me now know that I have not always been the science-enthusiast, anti-religion, etc. woman that I am today. I don't know why…perhaps it is embarrassment. Maybe someday, I will reach the point in which I can share my story more publicly. In the meantime, I have started an anonymous blog in which I am discussing the many issues I have thought about and discovered through my deconversion process. I know you are an extremely busy person, so I will not be offended in the slightest if you turn down my invitation…but, it'd be an honor to have you post a comment on my blog…although, I'm sure my long email has already taken enough of your time! http://theex-christian.blogspot.com/
I fully support you in your efforts, and I look forward to the ways in which you will move science and reason forward in our world.