Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(761)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear professor Dawkins,

My name Martin, 29, and I am from Holland. I used to be an ´atheist, but….´.

My father who raised me is a former Catholic priest who has in his later life pursued different spiritual routes, especially (zen)Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Throughout my life I have been strongly pulled towards spirituality as well. The ideal of the fully committed spiritual life has always had a very strong attraction for me. I picked up my fathers somewhat implicit belief that people should strive to the realisation that ´everything is one´ and we should transcend our own ego in order to be completely liberated. As a vehicle of selflessness, personal worries would instantly vanish and only a sense of freedom and univsersal compassion would remain. I read and practised buddhism – the one ‘religion’ that doesn’t really require concrete metaphysical beliefs, except the belief in the possibility of spiritual ‘Enlightenment’. Then I started a study in philosophy. It was by reading later Wittgenstein that I confessed to a fully anti-metaphysical, naturalist position, and with Nietzsche that I for the first time could accept the ego-drives as natural and dignified. But my spiritual drive hadn´t run out of steam. Plato and neo-platonists like Iris Murdoch, authors like Dostojevski and the romantic Salinger and the brilliant catholic philosopher Charles Taylor all in their own way reaffirmed my ‘atheist, but…’-status. My sympathy and attraction towards religion revived, and Taylor even got me to the edge of an theistic position – albeit a strongly ‘subtle’ and liberal one.

Your book ‘The God delusion’ and the many atheist video’s online have now ‘converted’ me to the, say, strong-atheism position. To me it is really a matter of conversion, and I very much like the explicit distinction you make between the two. As a ‘strong atheist’ who downright rejects religion as foolish and childish, I really perceive the world different from the perspective of the ‘atheist, but …’ who claims that religions may have buried something profound, poetic and awesome in their core – at least for its adherents. Sam Harris argues that moderate believers miss the point how fundamentalists really believe all the hocus-pocus that religion teaches. I´d say it’s similar for the ‘atheist, but ….´: he doesn’t realize that believers usually don’t look at the matter in the sophisticated and quasi-metaphorical fashion that he does. Thus the aura of dignity they attribute to it is rather out of place.

The thing I may have loved most about ‘the God Delusion’ is the argument that religion persists because children are genetically programmed to believe and intellectually obey their parents. An eye-opener. And here I want to add a rather personal psychological observation. It seems to me that especially persons with a kind, sensitive and respecting character – such as myself – are vulnerable to the virus of devotional religion. As I see it, people with this kind of character are less subject to the constant pull selfish drives, they are spiritually somewhat ‘lighter’, and therefore do not experience clear strongholds in life in goals like success, status and power. They are both ‘free’ and ‘unanchored’ and inclined to consciously cling to religion or some kind of spirituality as the noble cause to transcend their ego’s for, to devote their lives to. But it’s not a noble cause, it’s a sick impulse that releases one from the duty to live your own life in all truthfulness, being the primate that you are – and to enjoy it.

I want to thank you, professor Dawkins, for contributing to my mental and spiritual health and also for revitalizing the joy of science in me.

Sincerely,

M. Struik
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