Dear Dr. Dawkins,
I was raised in a Southern Baptist household and had the fires of hell burned into my mind from a very young age. I first “gave my life to Christ” at about eight or nine because I desperately wanted to avoid eternal suffering and torment. I didn't know much about Christ except that he was “the good guy.” Really, it didn't matter who he was; if he could get me out of burning forever, sign me up.
As a teenager, my faith began to waver due to my own habit of self doubting. I would constantly question myself: “Do I believe enough? Do I think about God's constant prescense enough? What about when I'm sitting in class or watching TV at home? If I really believed, surely I should feel and be aware of God at all times?”
And, of course, the most hideous question of all: “Am I really saved?” That was the big one. I still didn't much care for God or his son. In any other book, they would surely have been the villain and heaven didn't really sound that great, either. But hell… I would do almost anything to avoid that.
For three years, I was racked by huge doubts. I went to a revival at the local church and listened to a pastor named Jamie Ragel who told what he claimed was a true story: An athiest on his deathbed at the hospital, snubbing his nose at Ragel who had come to pray for him. And then, as the young pastor left the room, the man began to die. At this point in the sermon, the pastor solemnly, quietly said that he heard the dying man's last words.
And then, with a hideous, bloodcurling shout, Ragel screamed “Oh, God! I feel the burning demon's hands dragging me into hell! Save me!”
I went forward that night again to be “saved,” completely terrified that I would end up in hell. I spent hours in Christian chatrooms and groups, debating with sure-minded, asking them if they thought I was saved. Sometimes I would get into heated debates about God's existence at all, and every answer they would provide was never good enough. It wasn't enough to convince me. Eventually they would become exasperated and tell me that they would pray for me, but that clearly my heart wasn't ready for God or that I was willfully turning from him.
I went on to read Christian apologist books by people like Lee Strobel. While momentarily comforting, his arguments for God's existence still weren't quite as convincing as I would have liked.
Finally, about a year and a half ago, I became an agnostic. I don't know how it happened or when, but I do know that I began to seek out books and articles that I would have been terrified to touch when I had feared losing my faith.
Eventually I learned of you.
Tonight, as I type this, I have the God Delusion sitting in my lap. I just bought it several hours ago and have been reading it enthusiastically. I really believe this — as well as videos of yourself and others on youtube — have finally pushed me over to the side of the athiest. And… I feel elated! I don't feel the terror and despair I always iimagined I would. I feel somehow more open, like I can finally accept whatever the world has to show me and not worry that it will somehow shake my very being to the core. If the world has something that amazing and exciting to show me, I say bring it on! I don't have to fear that it will destroy my belief in something I already found somewhat unbelievable. I can seek and learn with the kind of wonder that is suppoed to accompany that pursuit.
I think I realized how far I'd come when, just a few moments ago as I was reading your book, I wondered “What would God say if he saw me reading this? Would he be sad? Would he shake his head?” And only then did I notice what a different mindset that was and how I had not been in it for some time. I was momentarily afraid that I would “revert” back to belief, as though it were that easy. But now I know that it's not about just arbitrarily believing something for the sake of it. Now if I am going to believe it, I will look for facts and supporting evidence, and what's more, I won't be AFRAID of that evidence.
I'm sorry, this has been long and rambling. I don't know if you or anyone else will read this, but I do know that it has felt good to let it out. Thank you for your outspoken, inspiring work. I wish I had read the God Delusion during my time of doubt. It would have brought more comfort than any book of Christian apology.