I would like to thank you for The God Delusion.
I'd bought it as a present for my father few years ago and this year I finally read it. I am an atheist for almost 15 years, I am over 30 now. I start to question religion and christianity in early high school. I remember when I refused to attend religion lessons in high school – my school mates were so startled. Around that time a priest come to my family home with a pastoral visit and I have convinced my mother to let me speak with him – he started by saing we are not seen in the church on sundays. And then, as we haven't show any repentance and I've asked why we have to excuse ourselves, he got nervous and said that he will mark our family “not catholic” in his notebook and ask me if this is what I really want?! Then tried to scare me by saying that I will regret, as I will have a family one day (and they will be punished by the Church for my insolence). I was surprised to hear that in my own house, and so was my mother. Since then my family members only show up in a church on weddings and funerals.
During my university years I tried to learn more about all great religions and I come to a conclusion, that there can not be one true religion, if there is so many of the “real” gods out there. I tried to find a reason, a need for religion and the only thing I could think of was fear of unknown (weather, disasters, diseases, death) and I disliked the Pascal's Gambit the first time a heared about it but I couldn't see a reason why it was not just a perverse but smart idea (now I know, thanks to you, Professor).
My husband is an atheist and a number of my friends are atheists although no one says that aloud. It seems that if there is a religion discussion, atheists tend to sit quiet.
I grew up in Poland, as you know one of most catholic countries in Europe. It's due to Adam Mickiewicz, our great (yet hounted) poet of a romanticism times and due to the sad history of our country, we as a nation believe in an important role we have among other nations (“Poles are the Christ of nations”) and strange attention the mother of Christ gave(?) our country (as many people believe she is “the Queen of Poland”). Clergy plays a significant role in polish political and social life. They benefit from the fact, that it is believed that the fall of communism (in fact there was no true communism in Poland in the 80s) was partially the service of “our” pope John Paul II. Not many people know exactly what he really said or done, but they love him as a god.
(Catholic) Religion as a school lecture is not obligatory, but there is no alternative for a kid from atheistic or jewish or Jehowas Witness' family but to sit on the corridor. To date in high school religion lessons are twice a week, while phisics – only once! Ethics alternative in public schools is just pure fiction. And there is no school ceremony without a priest standing in a first row. Each school semester begins with a holy mass every teacher has to attend to as being an example for kids.
In public kindergarten my 5-years-old daughter has to learn all the Christmas carols and she even has played Maria in a play. This December I had to answer many difficult questions “who was Maria”, “why she has a statue near our house and why people put flowers there” and “what is god”.
Being openly an atheist in Poland is very difficult. People tend to talk to me that I have gone astray (since I grew up in a catholic family) and that I have lost something, that there is a hole in my heart where used to be god. When I try to explain that there is nothing missing, and that I am even more moral than most of catholics, because I can not count on going to confession and had my sins forgotten, I just have to behave according to rules all the time, they simply do not believe me. They always find some strange way to confuse me by saying “if there is no religion in your life, there is no rules as well” and “if you agree on one thing, which is questionably right, you might as well agree on something else, which is wrong”. And then I have to defend myself. This happens always when I try to talk about abortion or women rights or gay marriages or how Bible was written by many people and can not be all true. Each time they seem not to have a real knowledge of the subject, only the popular opinions (however they all university graduates). They even question evolution! (they say “there is no real proof” or “god has planned everything so you could think there could be evolution” – recently I read Darwin and Russell in order to know the facts but frankly you can not agree with people of the second kind – the world view in which everything is mysterious god's project is complete and there is no room nor need for reasonable arguments).
But until I read The God Delusion, I could not defend myself properly. I didn't realise religious people tend to use scientific facts as a weapon when science gives them proof of their concept, but they never change their believes when scientific facts are agains their thoughts. I always tend to agree that religion has an important role in a society – to give hope and calm people who fear death. When you grow up surrounded by people who believe, even if they accept your lack of faith, they always want you to admit, that there is nothing wrong with the religion – you should admit that there is a place for it, a purpose it serves (answering difficult questions or bringing hope to people or making them fight their egoistic desires) as they (being wise and good) just can not be wrong…
But after reading The God Delusion I realised it is not good, to make poeple fear and that's what organised religion is all about – fear and power over people. And that we have to argue that it's not right to ask us for reasons of not believing, while they have the right to believe in most absurd and sometimes even offending things without being questioned. Now I know I should stand up for my belileves more than I used to. And protect my little child from the religion abuse while she is still young. When she will be a grown-up she will have the knowledge and will make a choice on her own.
Thank you again for the book, the arguments and the belief that we, atheists, are not alone even if we are surrounded by religious people.
And for hope, that even in this time of religion return we are not standing at the edge of the dark ages again…
P.S. I am looking forward to reading all books you wrote (that is why I already bought River out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable and The Extended Phenotype).