Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(634)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear Richard Dawkins

It really is a pleasure to be a moderator on this site. Thank you for RDF.

Maybe for me it would be true to say that Douglas Adams converted me, and led me to your works.

When I was eight I came home from school with a question as to why it rained in England but not so much in Africa where they seemed to need it most. My mother was unable to answer that question. That evening Jehovah's Witnesses came round and my mother asked them my question.

The next 6 years was one of study. Easily I was reading publications, attending meetings, and going door to door roughly 30 – 40 hours a week. When I started secondary school I was concerned that my school acquaintances (not friends as “bad associations spoil useful habits”) would not survive Armageddon. I needed to help them see that only those that called on Jehovah would be saved. Also I knew that if they rejected what I said they would be damned to eternal sleep in hell.

Many a night spent weeping. Not only did most not heed the warning but I became a victim of bullying. The system of things was against me. Yet the congregation almost seemed glad that these people would be destroyed and soon. Even when I was on the floor being kicked I had in mind that Jesus on a stake being crucified was far worse and that he wanted his persecutors to be forgiven.

Thankfully in the main it was verbal and psychological the bullying. Though what was really driving me to despair was the thought I had failed to be convincing in helping to save my class. Half way through the first term my mother agreed to have me taught at home.

This suited me fine. More time to study God's word, witness and help out at home (my younger brother is severely autistic and needs constant care). For science lessons I had the blue book on evolution and creation which Dawkins has multiple copies of.

My mother one day was looking at a list from school of books to read and came across Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. We had a lodger who was a big Adams fan – my mother decided such books were unacceptable as they did not teach the world was created by God. However, the more the lodger told me memorable quotes from the book the more I wanted to read it.

Secretly, like someone reading the Tyndale bible, I read the book while pretending to be asleep. I laughed silently. Not only was the book funny, but there was an illicit thrill that this was naughty but nice. Maybe I was dishonoring my mother reading this book – but it was a fun story!

And then something hit me between the eyes. If I wanted to prove that it was not the Magrathians but God that built the earth what evidence would I need? So at 13 I reread the Creation Evolution book. It did not give me anything except – well how else? Well I could say the same thing about an alien race making the earth.

By now I was close to being baptized. I had no access to science books, and one night when I was about 12 my mother had gone into my bedroom and seen a programme called Murder Most Horrid which had a satirical scene on the Ku Klux Kan – I was in the kitchen having finished watching the news that was on before. My mother accused me of watching this programme, then lying when I pointed out the facts (it had just started, I was in the kitchen before it came on). The result was that we no longer had TV in the house.

So my only source material was JW books. So I decided to look at all the old publications. Thankfully an elder had out of print copies which I was able to look at. I wanted to learn more about the society, and see if they had answered my question before somewhere.

What I discovered was an organization that changed dogma, and made predictions which had never come to pass. I was shocked. To give credit so too was my mother looking at these old publications (especially where new editions of a book changed belief without acknowledgment).

So at 14, having already had an interview as a step towards being baptized we terminated our study. I decided that I needed to go back to school to get accredited qualifications. I went back to my old school and things were fine in comparison to what they were.

When I went to 6th form friction developed between myself and mother. She had started reading the Watchtower and Awake! magazines again, while I wanted nothing to do with it. Also I had by now openly read all Douglas' books, radio series, TV series. I came across a reference where Douglas mentioned a certain Richard Dawkins as being an influence on him, an evolutionary biologist. Decided that any friend of Adams would be a friend of mine and therefore went to a bookstore where they recommended The Blind Watchmaker.

I had about finished reading when I went to University. By now relations with my mother were strained. She did not approve of my agnosticism (which for me meant that God as a concept is meaningless and makes no difference if such a being exists or does not exist as I have no way of knowing how the universe is different in either case), or of me going to 6th Form, let alone University.

But I was determined. I needed to get away from the arguments at home, and the emotional blackmail that I would be letting my brother down going to University. One moment my mother was fine with it all, then for no reason she would have a barmy about it. Looking back I realize that she was scared how she would manage without me (my parents divorced just before the JWs).

When my Uncle took me down to University it was the happiest day of my life. It was like an after life. While studying Economics and Politics I came across Bertrand Russell's lecture “Why I am Not A Christian”. Overnight I decided that really I was an atheist, but I did not really want to make a big deal about it.

As to my mother, well I still get it in the neck being an atheist. But she and my brother are doing well.

However The God Delusion has awakened in me the political animal that I always was. Secularism is about protecting personal freedom and individual liberty. No one in the name of faith should be able to reduce people's freedom. Also, science should teach science – not the kind of lessons I had when being taught at home which was a debasement of science fitting religious teaching.

So thank you Douglas for entertaining and getting me thinking about logic and reason. And thank you Richard for popularizing science and understanding what needs to be said about the elephant in the room. Together you have enriched my life.


John Sargeant

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