I am 21 years old and my father, a Baptist minister for 30 years, raised my brothers and I to be the most devout Christians he could imagine. All my life I had attended nothing but sectarian Christian schools, attended church services four times a week, sang hymns to the god I was told was watching me, and listened to the incessant drilling into my head of Christian dogma. I remember, even as a toddler of four, thinking to myself “something doesn't feel right”. Throughout my years growing up, I held numerous doubts as to the veracity of this belief, but they were quickly silenced by the fear of eternal damnation for doubting “Big Brother”, who was apparently caring and loving enough to send me to unthinkable torment for the rest of eternity for using the reasoning skills that he himself chose to give me.
It wasn't until I reached university that I realized that I didn't have to believe these things, or rather act as though I believed them, as true belief is something that I do not see as a conscious choice (you can't truly choose to believe anything anymore than you can choose to enjoy the taste of a food that you despise).
After about a year of reading up on the subject (two books in particular, The End of Faith by Sam Harris and your book, The God Delusion), I finally made the “big step”, and came to the realization that I am and always have been an atheist.
Such a transition was not without a great deal of emotional torment, however. I was, after all, completely restructuring my perception of reality. It would be, if I may attempt to convey the idea to you, rather like a young child learning to swim. The child is carried out to the deep end of the water and held in place by a loving, trusted adult while the child kicks in the water. The child becomes excited that he is staying afloat, turns to the adult to share his joy, and realized that he is no longer there, and the child has been left floating miles out in the ocean, with nothing but water in sight.
That feeling of dread and panic was exactly what washed over me when I truly realized the implications of this conversion. Over time, however, I learned that when you are perfectly capable of swimming, there is no need to be afraid of the ocean. I am now completely confident in my decision, and the internal conflict I experienced is gone.
That is, unfortunately, anything but the case for my external conflict. My friends, family, and loved ones are still the ardent Christians. My mother wept for hours when I told her, claiming that I was a monster for leaving this on her soul before she died (my mother has been diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer and is not expected to live past six months). My father is always trying to convince me of the “logic” of religion. My brothers have completely ostracized me; I no longer feel like a genuine member of the family, I am all but ignored at family events.
Don't expend any pity on my behalf, however. I am far happier as an atheist than I ever could imagine as a Christian. I was always told that without God, there is a hole in your being, and emptiness that can't be filled. I suppose that God wasn't big enough for me, and it took science and reasoning to do the trick. I suppose there are times I wish I could have continued as a Christian, living in the ignorant bliss that is the belief of an almighty protector. These longings for the days of old are fleeting, however, as from an evolutionary standpoint, the ignorant die young.
You have transformed my life from bleak ignorance to blissful enlightenment, and there is no way I can begin to thank you. I can only hope that you realize the profound effect you have had on my life. If I can do for only one other human being what you have done for millions, I will consider my life worth living. The feeling they have must be indescribable…
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can never fully convey my full gratitude for what you've done for me.