My story is somewhat different than most that I have read on here in that I was a devout Christian all of my life. I am 24, and up until I was about 22, I completely believed that Christianity was true.
I was raised in the Bible Belt, in a very conservative family. My grandfather was a Baptist minister, and we lived right next to him and my grandmother, not even 1/4 of a mile from our church. Christianity was definitely the biggest thing in my family and my community. Everything was centered around it. No one speaks out against Christianity in the Deep South, not even now. I never met anyone of a different faith until I left home and went to college. I did, however, learn that a couple of my friends in middle school were not raised as Christians (they moved in from out of town). They didn't like that I said they were going to Hell, but I didn't care, because, after all, it was their own fault. How could they not understand that I was only trying to help them learn the truth? How could they not be as terrified of Hell as I was?
In the Deep South you learn that the only good people in the world are Christians. Everyone else is on drugs and having orgies or otherwise contributing to the downfall of society (and America, “God's Favorite”). Not only that, but even if they somehow manage to be “good”, they're still going to hell for rejecting God. I remember being told many, many times that “there are a lot of good people in Hell.” And I completely bought into it, because those people only thought they were being good. They weren't doing what the Bible says. But, I didn't truly believe that there were atheists in the world, only people who were mad at God, or wanted to deny him in order to live a life of sin without guilt. Obviously, they had never thought about their impending death and unavoidable dismissal into Hell. No one could possibly think that they will just go in the ground when they die! (This is why I can't tolerate adults who say this kind of thing about atheists now. They simply have never met an atheist. But, as adults, they should know better.)
These thoughts are reinforced when one reaches high school, the temptations of the flesh kick in, and fellow students that are supposed to be good Christians can be seen partying and succumbing to other tricks of the Devil. It reminds me of what I hear Muslims say now about women acting like whores. I definitely thought that the Christian world was being threatened by the wanton acts of godlessness. I had been warned about people putting pleasure above the Lord, and this is exactly what was happening all around me. Oh, how I despised the idea of premarital sex and the other sins of MTV Spring Break.
I didn't drink, not even after I graduated from high school. But, by that time, I had learned that not everything I had been taught as a child was true. I had stopped being a racist and homophobe, and had begun thinking for myself. But I still “knew” Jesus was the only way to Heaven. I didn't believe in the Garden of Eden anymore, but I think I still believed in Noah's Flood. There are many ways to rationalize Christianity to oneself. It is airtight from the inside, taken at face value (this is how it survived so long). It's obvious that the parts that don't make sense are supposed to be taken allegorically. I never believed in miracles, under the assumption that God doesn't make himself obvious. He can't. That's what faith is about. So, this also took care of all the suffering in the world. It was all man's fault, and against the rules for God to intervene. C. S. Lewis had made this clear. And evolution and DNA were just seen as God's awesome methods.
Eventually enough holes were put in the Bible that I just thought, “Well, most of it has been lost in translation, but the important parts are true. And the message is the important part. Jesus is still the only way into Heaven.” I mean, you have to believe that to be a Christian. And I was still a Christian. Eventually, though, I met people of other faiths, and it occurred to me that everyone that had ever believed any religion was absolutely sure that their's was the one true religion. How was I any different? And if God made the rules, why couldn't he have just avoided the whole sin thing altogether? And, hell, I know Adam and Eve just plain never existed, so where did original sin come from to begin with? Uh-oh.
So I became somewhat of a Deist. I started believing in something like Gaia Theory or Einstein's god. But I think I still believed in Jesus. How could I not? I wanted to be a good person. But it was occurring to me that, if I think that all these people are wrong about the specifics of religion, why do I think that, in general, they have the right idea? That's when I first came across Dawkins. I think I saw a talk about him online. The one where the snotty bitch asks “Well, Mr. Dawkins, what if you're wrong?” And his answer blew me away. “What if you're wrong!” Holy crap, we are all atheists when it comes to other gods and it never bothers us one bit! Why is Capital G any different? So I bought “The God Delusion” and he made it clear. The world is the way it is because no one is watching. No one is keeping track.
This was huge to me. My life had been 100% spiritual, and now it was clear to me that there was no reason for it to be. The idea that 'faith is not a virtue' changed my life. No one had dared present that as an option before. Growing up, I had been taught that “I just believe” was one of the strongest and most admirable things you could say. And “The God Delusion” woke me up from that. How naive, how foolish I had been. It's embarrassing.
Now I think about atheism all of the time. This was about two years ago and I have never come across an argument that makes me rethink atheism. It is clear that you can only believe in religion if you make yourself believe it and starve yourself of outside views. People tell themselves it is true for a lot of different reasons, mostly, I think, because they are scared of death. But I have no reason to believe that any religion is true, much less any specific religion.
I won't be telling my family, though. That is why I can't put my name on here. It isn't worth it to cause them the grief. And while I want to believe that, if I can be converted and face the facts, then anyone can, I know they probably would never be able to. They truly aren't smart enough or strong enough to accept the truth. Religion is the only thing they know or think they know. I can't even spend an hour at my parents' house without being inundated with talk of “The Lord” and his grace. When they go on about God's ultimate sacrifice of his son, I don't have the heart to say, “Yeah, but it isn't even his son, it's just him as a person! And he didn't even really die, it was just a glorified coma! How does that, of all things, make evil deeds not matter?”
The fact is that when religion began, no one cared that they were saying that people that didn't believe like them were going to be tortured for eternity. Nor did they know anything about the world or universe. They didn't know any better. But now we do. And I am eternally [sic] grateful to Dawkins for showing me this. So many parts of his book are consciousness-raising. He changed my life and has brought me so much peace, I wish I could repay him.
Thanks, Professor Dawkins.