Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(648)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear Mr. Dawkins,
Thank you very much for writing your book, The God Delusion. In an act of (admittedly childish) “sacrilege”, I have been reading two chapters every Sunday, finishing today. You’ve managed to turn me into an avowed atheist, and I can’t tell you how much I thank you for it. Mind you, I’ve never been a real Christian. I believe that I was first introduced to the concept of atheism in sixth grade and declared myself an atheist in seventh. I continued to consider myself an atheist through the summer after my freshman year of high school, but I was not a happy atheist. It wasn’t enough for me to just know that I am above the influence of this all-powerful "drug", religion. I felt like I was constantly on the warpath against religion, and I was extremely discontented. This discontent lasted until the end of the summer, when, for the first time, I got in a philosophical mood. It was actually somewhat bizarre; it felt like a wall fell down between me and the truth. I would stay up at night, sitting on my bedroom floor at 2 in the morning and thinking through my own philosophical truths and proofs that I had figured out (at this point, this was all mine. I had never even read any philosophy). Much of what I thought of had to do with religion. My greatest philosophical truth that I discovered was that the idea of a god is illogical.

I can’t explain how what I discovered that night made me feel. It put me at peace. My atheism ceased to be a struggle for me. Despite my wonderful, peaceful feeling, during my sophomore year, as more and more of my friends began to turn away from religion, I moved in the other direction. My hatred (yes, I really do hate it) of religion deepened, since as a human rights activist and someone who is extremely interested in international politics, I was seeing more and more of exactly how horrible religion was. I became vehemently anti-religion, but less anti-god. Although I did not care if there was a god, and I wouldn’t live my life any differently if there was, I became less inclined to say that there was no god. Sophomore year I became an agnostic. I just didn’t know. There were strange things that happened in the world, and maybe god did cause them. Maybe god helped me get an A in chemistry. I was less happy being an agnostic than I was as an atheist, but I just couldn’t justify being an atheist. It was during sophomore year that I picked up your book for the first time. Although I was engrossed, for some reason, I only got through the first six chapters. All through your probability argument, there was a little voice in my head whispering, but what if….

Perhaps it was my study of thermodynamics that made me more receptive to your probability argument the second time around. I learned in physics class sophomore year that all of thermodynamics is based on probability. It is theoretically quite possible for a lake to spontaneously freeze in ninety degree weather, but the odds of that are astronomical. We don’t take into account the fact that lakes could spontaneously freeze when we build hydroelectric power plants. Your probability argument, the second time around, convinced me, and I am once again a happy and firm atheist. As a budding scientist (although I intend to become an honest politician when I grow up, I go to a science school and take biology, physics, and chemistry every year and I have also read several of Stephen Hawking’s books), I am compelled to follow the evidence. The evidence suggests that there is no god, and I would be contrary to my own scientific spirit to believe otherwise. Thank you.

As I have already stated, I enjoyed you book very much. That being said, I did not agree with everything you said, especially regarding absolutism, consequentialism, relativism, and exactly how much we can and should regulate what parents teach their children (with more emphasis on the can than the should). I also find the multiverse theory rather off-the-wall, but all that is rather irrelevant. I’m sure we could have a wonderful, reason-based debate on our respective philosophies and the physical theories we subscribe to. What really struck me in your book is the beginning of chapter 9, where you discussed how damaging childhood indoctrination of the concept of hell can be. Surprisingly, this struck a chord with me.

My mother’s side of the family (the one which I am close to, and consider my family), is atheist or nonreligious all the way up the tree. Even my great-grandmother was not religious and a feminist, both things which were extremely difficult for a woman born in super-Christian Armenia in 1900. My grandmother is an atheist and my mother is somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. (The men in the family don’t seem to have much to say on the matter!) Nevertheless, the family has maintained some connection with the church for social reasons. As a result, I attended an Episcopal school in nursery school and kindergarten, since the quality of education was much better there than in other schools. I want to make it clear that I was not the victim, here, of any sort of the abuse that you documented in your book. The nursery school was indistinguishable from any secular nursery school. Religion was never brought up, and the nursery school was completely unaffiliated with the church with which the primary school was affiliated. As I recall, not everyone there was even children of Christians. Kindergarten was nearly the same. Upon moving to the primary school, the only changes were that everyone recited the Lord’s Prayer in the morning and we had a religion class. This religion class did not teach us to fear anyone or anything, it mostly taught us about the stories in the Bible, and was taught by a delightfully kind old woman named Mother Baker. The school encouraged learning of all sorts, especially scientific, and the religious aspect of the school, such as it was, in no way interfered with the curriculum. These were fairly enlightened people who did not take the Bible literally at all. The stories in the Bible were taught to us like fairy tales, or fables, so we could get a moral point out of them, not as though they actually happened. Even then I was interested in science, and the school librarian took great joy in providing me with all the geology books I could handle, books that surely would have been labeled as blasphemous at most Christian schools. As a result, I left kindergarten with a knowledge of geology to rival that of many eighth-graders and a love of God and Jesus, since they inspired such nice people to create such nice schools. Even then it was a casual love. I didn’t see the point of ritual, and we only went to church on Christmas and Easter.

All this changed when my family moved to New Jersey as a result of my father’s job. I am 100% Armenian, a culture which is extremely, extremely tied to the Armenian Orthodox (or Apostlistic, the terms are interchangeable) Church. However, no one in my family had ever attended the Armenian Church, for reasons I would later discover, namely that this church is misogynistic, backwards, and in an ancient dialect of Armenian that even Armenian speakers can’t understand. Even when my grandmother and great-grandmother were bringing up my mother and aunt, they attended an Episcopal church, when they attended at all. But there was a fairly well-known Armenian church in our area, so my mother and father decided to go there in order to put me in touch with my culture. I can’t remember how long this lasted. I quit Sunday school after a year, since I just didn’t like it, but we continued to be affiliated with the church for a while afterwards. I can’t remember the thing that caused us to split, but my mother does, and she told me the story. One Easter, some high-up Armenian Church official held a special Easter sermon for children. Rather than tell us about how Jesus loved us, he proceeded to tell us that we are all terrible sinners destined for hell. Remember, he was talking to children younger than ten. My parents were completely horrified, and we never went back to that church. The experience stayed with me, however. One night I went down to my mother in tears. I was scared that the Devil was going to come and take me to hell. My mother was upset over my distress and furious at any organization that would cause little children to think like this. Thus began my liberation: my mother told me that there is no hell and no Devil, and that the priests just told me about it to scare me.

It is with some sense of shame that I recount this story, since I consider myself to be an enlightened person. Even when I was very young and believed in God, I was never religious and hardly ever went to church. But I cannot be blamed for being young and impressionable. I am extremely grateful for having enlightened parents who would have never enrolled in the church were it not for cultural heritage. I worry about those less fortunate, such as two good friends of mine, whose family we met through the Church and whose parents are extremely religious and extremely conservative. I can only hope that they may one day hear your message as well.

I really hope you have read this, although I recognize that, due to the sheer amount of mail you get, you will probably not. In any case, thank you very much for making me a proud atheist.

Sincerely,
Janine

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