Richard Dawkins, I love your book "The God Delusion". It should be required reading for all humanity. People don't realize what religion does to human beings. Moderate religion has its evils, but extreme religion is truly diabolical, using brainwashing and the most powerful threats of social isolation to literally torture thousands of children. I know intimately the extent of the damage people can inflict, motivated by religion. I have scars on my body and far deeper invisible scars on my mind to prove it.
I was raised in the ultra-orthodox or "charedi" Jewish society. My ten siblings and I were brought up without access to radio, tv, secular newspapers or people outside the community. My father is a well-known Rabbi and lecturer, my mother a homemaker and aborted artist. I was very devout as a child- my nickname was "Rebetzin"- wife of a Rabbi- the pinnacle of female achievement in our world. On holy days I would cry over the destruction of the temple. In school, my classmates came to me with their problems, and I came to them, to try and convince them to dedicate their lives to an even greater intensity of religious experience.
But something went wrong, some combination of adolescent rebelliousness, curiosity about other cultures and personal integrity. I had a problem with the racism tolerated in my community. And I protested when my brother-in-laws would leave me out of the conversation at the Sabbath table, by speaking in an Aramaic/Yiddish hodge podge the women didn't understand, because as women, we weren't supposed to participate in intellectual discussion. My family's condesneding impatience with me, pushed me further away, and at 15, I told my mother I was thinking about going to college. She threatened to lock me up. At 16, I bought a sweater that conformed to the laws of modesty, but was too form fitting for my parents standards, and they cut off their financial and emotional support.
I was a clueless, ignorant and confused teenager living alone in New York City. I had no tools to interact with the secular world. I knew nothing about pop culture, American culture, men, sex, drugs, education or safety. The closest analogy I can think of for that time in my life, is a bleeding child clinging to a log in the shark infested Atlantic. Easy, easy prey.
I won't go into details.
Its strange, I still hadn't given up my religious convictions. I still desperately tried to squash myself back into my community. My mind had been so deformed, it couldn't imagine a future not as a religious wife and mother. But I had this inexplicable ambition, a desperation for freedom and an insatiable love of learning that kept me going, kept me searching and kept me fighting.
I finally enrolled in college, and spent a few years exhilarated by the ideas and resources I discovered. And the possibilities!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now an athiest, at peace with myself, I graduated in January with a degree in psychology, and found out last week that I was excepted to a graduate program in Harvard.
I came across "The God Delusion" a few days ago and fell in love. Its an incredible book that gave voice to many of the thoughts I had, but had no words for. I wish I could have read this when I was a child. I wish every child in the world, would be given the opportunity to read this book.
Richard- I admire your work and your commitment to this cause. My life is just one tiny illustration of how religion is wielded as an abusive and destructive force. Few people have shown the bravery you have to expose its lies that we all cover for.
You have changed my life.