Dear Professor Dawkins,
At the risk of sounding like a sycophant, I am very honored to be able to communicate with you. I noticed that a lot of your emails seem to be from young people. Well, here's one from a golden oldie – I will be 60 in June.
I was raised in the 1950's and 60's to be a Catholic. This circumstance came about because my heritage on my mother's side consisted of devout Polish American Catholicism. My grandparents (Polish immigrants) even attended a Polish-speaking Catholic Church. (I wish that they had taught me to speak Polish- that would have been far more beneficial in my life).
I was hit hard, I mean, the full Monty. Catechism classes, first communion, confirmation, stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent
(Imagine if you will a shy, gullible little girl beating her breast and declaring that Jesus' suffering came about through, “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault”.)
I'm not a person who remembers my whole childhood, but there are some things that I do remember, I think because they were significant to me. I remember the nun in Catechism class telling us that the Trinity was a hard concept to understand, but we had to “have faith”.
Hmmmm. I remember that the unbelievers in the Congo or wherever were going to Hell unless they accepted Jesus. Didn't seem fair to me, but the authority figures said it was true….so, I accepted it. Then there were the poor babies in Limbo.
My biggest conundrum which came about much later in my life was this: WHY could a person murder, rape, and pillage yet still go to heaven if he or she made their confession to a priest and did penance; but if a person ate a hot dog on Friday, he or she was going straight to hell if uable to make a confession before dying? Arghh!
I remember as a teenager going to confession twice within minutes because I thought that I had “forgotten” something. I much later learned that they even had a word for this: “scrupulosity.” I read this in a book titled, “The Boy Who Could Not Stop Washing” about obsessive-compulsive disorder. I know this is self-diagnosis, but I am convinced that I was afflicted with this disorder for many years. Picture scrubbing the same spot on the floor on hands and knees over and over. I may have developed it regardless of my religious upbringing, but it appears obvious to me that it was triggered by this religiosity.
The OCD has abated, thank goodness, but there is still some residual effects. I still have illogical thoughts and fears that I have to consciously dispel.
I was always in fear of going to Hell, because I did not think that I would ever pass the Heaven entrance exam. I was never good or worthy enough. Ironically, my brothers used to call me “Miss Goodie Two Shoes”. This feeling also seeped into my daily life. I cringe when I don't measure up to any one's expectations, such as in a job. I earned three college degrees, including a Master's and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in my late 40's. But, as Joy Behar says, “So what? Who cares?”
My exit from the formal Catholic experience came about when I was about 20 years old and in college. I had discussions with another Catholic at that time, and ultimately dropped outof the Church. I think we New Englanders are more on the skeptical side than many others. It now amazes me that anyone with even a modicum of higher education can fall for these religions, especially Catholicism.
Through the years, I became a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Church, which is liberal and poses no dogma. Through this affiliation, I discovered paganism and Goddess worship, which I dabbled in, but never took literally. That sort of faded out, but it was comforting, educational (learning about all the deities that weren't male), and fun.
For many years, I think that my religious indoctrination was “knocking” at the edges of my mind. I no longer believed any of it intellectually, but the emotional, irrational fear of Hell teased and poked at me. When your book, Professor Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, and the books especially by Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens came out, I honestly felt that someone had saved me (mostly from myself). I also found much comfort and enlightenment from Brian Flemming's film, “The God Who Wasn't There”. I have read more and more and search the Internet for more writings/videos about atheism.
One of the most important results of these explorations is that I no longer fear death as I once did. And it is not just because Hell is out of the picture. I recently had an experience of becoming unconscious. I believe that is what death is, permanent unconsciousness. My atoms will go back into the pool. So what? Who cares? My ego is okay with it. Life everlasting is not that appealing anyway. I am angry that so much of my life has been wasted on this religious nonsense. But I will make the best of what is left. Thanks for your help!