Dear Dr. Dawkins,
A few days ago I was reflecting on how I felt losing my faith. For years I was a evangelical Christian, going to church at least three times a week, studying and preaching the bible. Just around my sixteenth birthday I spent some months alone in Tokyo, a terribly lonely city to begin with, even lonelier since I didn't speak Japanese. With so much time to ponder and experience the world for myself, without pastors or youth groups to influence me, I had a crisis of belief. I no longer saw Christ's hands shaping the world or giving me relief. By some stroke of luck, I picked up Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil in a bookstore. His deep recognition of my struggle for meaning propped me back up, and his description of a godless world sounded accurate.
I'm eighteen now; it's been about two years since I took on the label atheist. Since my first step out the church, your writings have been a huge encouragement on my new path; you play a good guy in under the spotlight for some time in a crucial scene of my de-conversion story. I teared up the first time I heard about your “Out” campaign– I still haven't told my family, but I was heartened to find out that you acknowledge us de-converts as real people going through perhaps painful and lonely trials. Thank you! And I have watched all the debates available on your site, read countless articles, and have read much of The God Delusion (though not quite done), all helping bit by bit.
I journaled this the other day, wondering why my de-conversion felt more like a gradual eye-opening than a sudden shock:
“In Christianity, it's as if I had an ecosystem in my brain. One part of my internal machinery was designed so that I could identify all my character faults, my foibles, my instincts– in other words, my “sin”. I could see my egotism and hypocrisy, among other violations, with exacting criticism, and ache and remorse over all these crimes of mine, against who else but God Himself. The complementary construct, the other half of the mind game, was the idea of Jesus and His salvation. These fed off each other. First I was sinful, terrible, damned, then I was forgiven; I was evil turned good; I was lost, but then I was found; I was filth made “white as snow.” The disappointment and frustration in myself I cultivated had its release, thank God. When I lost my religion, the ecosystem nearly collapsed; the bee lost its flower. One half dead, the idea of forgiveness, while the other stubbornly alive, my self-loathing judgments. This, perhaps, is why there are so many “recovering atheists.” Rationality stole from me the consolation of heaven, of a loving God to comfort my grievances and loneliness. Now I'm left with a head full of bees. Is this what fundamentalists fear? I lost everything in a few months; something, somewhere, somehow, somewhen clipped my wings and made me earthbound. I don't remember the exact process, but one day I woke up an atheist and I did not know how to feel about it. Is atheism a plastic flower?”
I am still somewhat disoriented, as you can tell, despite a decent amount of time passing since I turned away from God. However pleasing Christianity was in some ways, I recognize it now as a distraction from life, and I can never turn back. This world, godless and bleak as it may be sometimes, is real and therefore more worthwhile, complex and therefore more interesting, grounding and therefore a place where, when I begin to understand it, I can understand myself. I love the world, others, and myself now more than ever. I'm far from perfect, but today I feel like a better human being than in my hyper-critical evangelical era.
Dr. Dawkins, thank you for the good you have personally done for me. Your careful inquiry, example dissent, obvious virtue, and human sensitivity have brightened and brought clarity to my vision of life.