Dear Professor Dawkins,
I am writing to you (or rather to your webmaster) on behalf of me and my fiancé who just spent a rainy weekend reading The God Delusion. We were both atheists before we read it, but nevertheless your book contained some very important messages that we have both taken on board.
First, a confession — without having read any of your work, I used to sneer at what I perceived to be a war between militant atheists (you, Christopher Hitchens et al) and militant religionists that I wanted no part of. I have since realised, of course, that there is nothing militant or strident about your work: indeed I have been deeply moved to see how well you articulate your arguments, deeply gratified that someone as intelligent, lucid and witty as you is on the side of the Enlightenment.
As good, Guardian-reading liberals, my fiancé and I have both fallen into the ethical trap of being 'respectful' to moderate religionists — never quite bringing ourselves to question why religion has such a privileged place in public life. I even went as far as to find myself defending, on a message board, alleged plans for the London super-mosque despite my strong view on the reprehensible treatment of women in Islam. After all, freedom of religion is something every good liberal should defend, isn't it?
Of course, since reading The God Delusion I have come to realise that no, defending freedom of religion is a waste of my time and intelligence. Without being in any way 'militant' (you won't find my baying for blood or waving placards saying 'Behead all religionists'), I see now that it is vital for atheists to stand up and be counted. If even I can spend years kow-towing to various religions that I actively despise, what hope for people living in religious societies who yearn to be free? From now on my privately held views will be publicly held, and publicly defended. I wish to join others in creating a space for atheists in society, so that wavering religionists see there is a good and happy refuge from a priest/imam-ridden existence.
A further consequence of reading The God Delusion was a crystallization of something I have been feeling for some time. Namely, that the gaps in my education are simply shocking for someone who considers herself intelligent. It saddens me that other 'educated' people don't even seem to care that they know nothing of critical thinking or basic scientific method, and so leave themselves vulnerable to 'persuasive' arguments from people who have an agenda. I too have been called 'nineteenth century', which I find flattering: it seems to me that the nineteenth century was the last time educated people were expected to be well-rounded, to take an educated interest in many fields.
Today, people blame the advance of technology and the proliferation of specializations for their ignorance — they "don't have time to learn." Well, perhaps not. But anyone interested in the world around them should be able to engage with scientific arguments at a basic level, should at least be able to tell if a conclusion really does flow from a stated premise.
All else being equal, I had planned in about 2 years from now to launch a literary review to promote new writers. I reviewed this plan over the weekend and saw that what I needed to do instead, for people like me (with enquiring minds but inadequate educations) was to bring together writers (not necessarily previously published) from scientific, technological, philosophical, historical and socio-political backgrounds — to help people like me gain more of an understanding of issues that affect us — to broaden our educations — to be truly 'nineteenth century!' It won't be happening for a while yet, but I hope you won't mind that when the first issue appears it will be dedicated to you.