Dear Dr Dawkins,
Many thanks for your excellent books – so far have read both the God Delusion and Unweaving The Rainbow.
Although my “conversion” has been a very long process, I have you to thank for giving me everything I needed to finally take the last step from agnostic to Atheist.
I was raised a Roman Catholic, my mum was from a strict Irish Roman Catholic family. This resulted in many long years of angst and guilt – even long after I began to doubt my faith, aged 15, when my dad died from cancer and I realised there really was no one to listen to my prayers.
Although I've spent years being staunchly ex-Catholic, even anti-Catholic, I've struggled to shake off that need for a comfort blanket, reading all sorts of religious and spiritual texts – everything from “new-age Christianity” a-la Neale Donald Walsch's “Conversations With God” series, through vague spiritualism like Deepak Chopra, to alternative belief systems like Buddhism and Taoism.
Although many of these spiritual texts tell me that others experience the sense of wonder I do in the universe we live in, none of them provided any evidence that they had the answers I wanted.
After many years of reading my beliefs have gradually over time migrated from wishful thinking pantheism, to a more abstract deism to more recently agnosticism. Like many ex-Christians I shied away from full atheism, believing this was akin to nihilism.
Then I read the God Delusion recently, and was able to define myself more accurately as a “de-facto atheist” on your handy seven point scale.
I also then immediately read “Unweaving The Rainbow” which confirmed for me that your interpretation of atheism is the antithesis to the type of nihilism that I feared. I found in your discussion of the universe that same wonder I have sought in so many wrong places.
Also your assertion that “freedom of religion” is costing our society really rings true with me, having wasted so much of my life hunting for answers that weren't there, and seeing nothing but hypocrisy, self-delusion and closed-mindedness along the way.
I spent many years frustrated by Christian fanatics who blithely ignore the glaring contradictions inherent in the bible. That there is a merciful God, a loving God, a forgiving God but that he has a place of eternal punishment lines up for unbelievers. Even unbelievers who may simply be guilty of being born in the wrong place with a different prevailing religion.
Someone suffering from normal human frailty does not need to be told they will burn in hell if they make a mistake. They need to learn to deal with their issues in a realistic way, and not rely upon an imaginary friend to provide support. As someone who, as a Christian, asked for that help and support from god for many years, and who never once felt it, I feel very strongly that relying on religion is a poor substitute for self-reliance.
Interestingly, both methods requires a leap of faith – self-reliance relies on you believing that no matter how tough life gets, you can deal with it. People who have that reliance will weather the toughest storms in their lives with calm and compassion. The difference is that self-reliance is faith in something real, tangible and provable – that is yourself!
That type of faith is entirely self-perpetuating and empowering, as opposed to faith in something unreal, invisible and outside of yourself which is dis-empowering. Religion is a crutch and a cage discouraging development of both the mind and free will.
Finally, a very scary facet of modern life is the way that religious faith is used as a tool used by interested parties to manipulate public opinion – you only have to look at George W Bush and the “Christian Empire” he is building in the good ol' US of A to see what I mean.
This is so very disturbing because religious people are trained from a young age not to think for themselves but to look for authority from a higher power. Regimes like this can portray themselves as being inspired by god and use that authority to their own ends.
I am sure none of us need to be reminded of the Muslims who – seeking their personal heaven – flew two aeroplane's into the World Trade Centre killing nearly 3,000 innocent people.
But we only have to travel a little further back into history to Nazi Germany, where 66% of the population was Christian. Based on their religious distrust of Jews who they held responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus these good Christians engaged in an unprecedented campaign of ethnic cleansing. In that holocaust, German Christians – ordinary citizens, not extremists, or fundamentalists – wearing belts with the legend “God is With Us” took great delight in their “duty” of ethnic cleansing.
If I may quote – “Men never commit evil so fully and joyfuly as when they do it for religious convictions” — Blaise Pascal
So I thank you, Dr Dawkins, for your clarity, and for having the courage to speak loud and proud of your convictions. In doing so I hope you remind the rest of us that we should not stand idly by and let reason be replaced by superstition.
I hope your book gives others the courage to open their eyes and see the truth for themselves, to challenge these delusions that hold us back as a species, and that one day we can all enjoy a world with “freedom from religion”.
“It was Christians, you know, not Pagans, who were responsible for the Holocaust. It was Christians, not Pagans, who lynched people here in the South, who burned people at the stake, frequently in the name of this Jesus Christ” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu