Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(683)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear Mr. Dawkins:

I would like to thank you for having written 'The God Delusion.' It came at a particularly fortuitous time in my life.

I have always been and still consider myself to be an atheist, or at least a highly skeptical agnostic. It was, therefore, with much astonishment that I recently had the extremely moving experience that is known as 'religious ecstasy.' For more than forty minutes I lost all awareness of my surroundings and was embraced by the most intense and extremely pleasurable feelings of joy and love that I have ever felt. I was convinced that this could be none other than the presence of God.

As you say in your book, 'this argument from personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim to have had one. But it is the least convincing to anyone else, and to anyone knowledgeable about psychology.'

In the days following this experience I began to doubt my world-view. Had I really been wrong all this time, or had I experienced a psychotic episode of some sort? I consulted a psychologist whom I knew to be non-theistic. She declined to comment upon the religious nature of the experience, but did state clearly that I was not in any way psychotic. I then consulted a psychiatrist in search of further explanation. She seemed to be overjoyed upon hearing of my experience, and immediately and unhesitatingly referred me to her husband, a Baptist pastor for further counseling. I was, it seems, on the beginning of a slippery path to being 'born again' and receiving 'ex-gay conversion therapy.'

And then I found your book. Thank you Mr. Dawkins!

Your reference to a proximate explanation for religious experience – the neurological 'god-center' in the brain, and the exploration of ultimate explanations based upon the Darwinian theory of natural selection provided me with the tools I needed to make an intelligent assimilation of my experience. For me, this was the most convincing argumentation in your book, and the only one that could address my subjective experience adequately. I look forward to further developments in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology regarding the phenomena of religious belief.

You will find it paradoxical that, although more convinced than ever of my atheism, I still occasionally make a prayer of thanks or entreaty to God, knowing full well that I am only talking to myself! Such are the irrational dictates of my biology that you have helped me to become more conscious and aware of.

All the very best to you, and again many thanks for your book.

Jennifer S. Jones

PS The anecdotes about the child Jesus on pp 96 are incorrectly attributed to the Gospel of Thomas. They come in fact from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
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