Dear Prof Dawkins,
I'm afraid I cannot say that your book/s converted me, because my own religious epiphany happened many years ago. I was 8, and at the American school in Kabul, Afghanistan – shortly before the Russian revolution. My teacher was a large and devout mid-Western American lady, who I shall not name. She seemed incredibly old to me, but then I was only 8. Anyone above 10 seemed old to me. She was an enthusiastic “fire and brimstone” evangelist. She was relentless. The text was this:
“You're f****d. Really, really, really f****d. Hell is coming and YOU, yes YOU personally, Mr 8-year old, butter wouldn't melt in your mouth Mat, will burn forever in the most exquisite torture chambers ever devised. And then there'll be a lot more than butter
melting, oh yes. There will be flames, and red-hot pokers, and extreme mind-bending pain – forever, and ever, and ever. The only thing you can do to avoid this is believe in Jesus Christ with all your might. Devote your life to him. Think about him all the time. Do what he says. Believe. Believe. BELIEVE. It's your only chance. And, to be honest, even then your chances aren't all that great. But it's the only chance you've got, so you'd better take it.”
Then she passed out comic books showing these torture chambers and flames and pestilence and catastrophe and people writhing in what, to me at 8, certainly did look like never-ending pain.
It scared me out of my wits. I was terrified. More scared than I'd ever been of anything before. It filled me with dread (and a really pressing desire not to see that teacher ever again…).
But as I was in the car on the way home, I kept thinking thoughts along the lines of: “All that hell stuff sounds really, really, not good at all. I don't like the sound of it one bit. But I simply don't see how it applies to ME. What have I done to deserve all that? It just seems completely unfair and wrong and totally out of proportion, somehow. And the ONLY slim
chance I've got is believing in some bloke with a beard who died a long time ago? That doesn't seem quite enough to escape all that brimstone.”
And I had my revelation, in an old car on a potholed road in a country that has since been devastated by the results of religion.
It was all rubbish.
None of it was true. Hell didn't exist. The torture chambers and never-ending pain didn't exist. The devil didn't exist. Heaven didn't exist. It was just rubbish.
I remember that moment as clear as day. The most enormous weight was lifted from me. Yes, the real world was still there, with the arguments with friends and telling off from parents and good and bad times at school – but the whole, ridiculous Christian thing wasn't something to worry about. I could get on with being a sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good 8-year old. It made me happy.
This revelation was largely possible because both my parents were and are staunch non-believers. Nevertheless, if the large mid-Western teacher hadn't been quite so psychologically distressing (abusive? I'd say yes!), you never know. The Christians could
have captured another mind in their web of fantasy, guilt, fear, repression and unreason.
But your book The God Delusion also shook me out of falling further into the grip of the over-respectful mindset that all religions require. It reminded me how falacious and downright silly religion is – and also confirmed my view that morality comes from being
human, not from being religious. Religions actually allow people to act in a way that is brutally immoral, despite the apparent “morality” that they wrap themselves in. It is not right to kill people or persecute them because their beliefs differ from yours. Yet that is what most religions, as a baseline, believe; even if many don't act on it as much as they used to. But the potential is always there. Humans seem prone to an “us vs. them” approach to life, and religion gives this mindset a perfect vehicle.
So, let's keep the good bits of religion – which are based around very human morals and codes of behaviour – and ditch the supernatural claptrap.
Wish this was possible… Maybe it will be, one day.