Dear Richard Dawkins,
I have only recently come to be aware of you and your writings, and I am greatly thankful for them and you. You have given me the confidence to declare what I had felt scratching at the back of my head for some time: I am an atheist.
I had the good fortune of being brought up by parents who valued education and who encouraged me to read and research any subject to my heart's content. We had a fairly large library in my childhood home that was filled with books about dinosaurs and prehistoric life. This was the key for me. Like many children, I had a deep fondness for dinosaurs.
I would peruse these books for hours on end, marvelling at the myriad forms of life contained within them. My father would talk with me about the the various prehistoric mammals and why they were shaped the way they were. He had a particular fondness for the saber-toothed tiger and was always eager to point out its specialized teeth.
Besides dinosaurs, I was also very intrigued by mythology. I memorized the names of Egyptian, Greek, and Norse gods and knew their stories before I ever picked up a Bible. My parents told me the Christian stories that were tacked on to various holidays, and I had a basic understanding of Jesus as a character. At this point, I didn't really have a strictly defined concept of the Christian God, but I held on to a desire for him to be surrounded by
Anubis, Athena, and Loki. I enjoyed the gods then as I do Batman and Green Arrow now.
My last year in Junior High school was a major turning point. I had spent most of my middle school years attending a weekly church youth group, mainly because my circle of friends at that time went to it and were very much Christians. For the most part, the meetings were just full of games of basketball and volleyball and kick the can (my favorite). From time to time, however, the meetings would focus on a Bible story or a discussion of some current event from a Christian viewpoint.
I actually contemplated becoming a Christian for some time while attending these meetings. This was almost entirely from peer pressure. I would occasionally attend church with some of my friends and they made it clear that I wasn't allowed to take part in Communion as I hadn't been baptised. Every youth group meeting ended with a prayer (which still gives me shivers to this day… “All that I am and all that I have, I give to Christ and his service”) and I always felt just a shade out of place saying it. Fear was creeping into me, and I was starting to believe that I needed to become a Christian just so I could fit in.
One of the youth group meetings focused entirely on disproving other religions as well as scientific theories. Every major belief system received a childish and simplistic refutation, all in an attempt to show how “true” Christianity was. I was feeling very uneasy about all of this. It seemed tremendously un-Christian, as I had thought Christians to be gentle and nice people before this. The straw to break the camel's back focused on Darwin. The pastor enthusiastically proclaimed evolution to just be wrong because, “gorillas and monkeys still exist.”
Things became very clear at that moment. I had read enough about evolution at that point to know that the pastor had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I confronted my friends from the youth group the next morning in school, thinking that they had felt the same as I had. When I mentioned the abject silliness of the gorillas and monkeys comment, they looked at me as if I were crazy and emphatically pronounced that it made
That was when I stopped attending the youth group. I had the strong and painful realization that most of my childhood friends believed in something that I didn't, and for that matter, couldn't. I drifted away and eventually found new friends in High School.
Through High School and into college, I still wasn't too certain about the existence of God either way. I knew I wasn't Christian, but I couldn't quite get my head around the concept of “no God,” either.
I studied theatre and philosophy at university and eventually came across the works of Joseph Campbell. His comparitive mythology work began to highlight things I had started to suspect from my earlier studies of myths and legends. I enrolled in several religion courses at my university to get more input from various belief systems around the world. Things started to become even clearer as I began to trace the mythological development of the Christian God from a Cannanite deity of war. My route to atheism was by tracing the obvious hand of man in the creation of gods.
I had the pleasure of seeing The Root of All Evil a month or two ago. The moment you used the phrase, “Some of us go one god further,” I almost cried from sheer joy. Never had I heard my innermost thoughts put so coherently and concisely.
I feel as though you have given me a language with which to effectively communicate my beliefs and stance. For that I am profoundly grateful.
Virginia, United States