Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(835)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear Richard Dawkins:

You might say i've come full circle on my long journey
from atheist to believer, to “agnostic” and finally
back to atheist. Although I was born in
bible-thumping eastern Tennessee, my parents were both
well-educated university professors. They were
moderately religious methodists and took me to church
every sunday. I started to attend sunday school when i
was about 8 years old, and thus began my first
conversion to atheism. I knew something was wrong
when i would ask the teacher simple questions about
the contradictory and unfair tenets of christianity,
such as “why does god let bad things happen” and “do
you go to hell if you never even knew about jesus.” I
would either get nonsense answers or “we don't ask
those kinds of kinds of questions” in response. These
responses were disturbing even then, and although i
wasn't articulate enough to express it at that age, i
knew that any system of belief that discourages
questioning was seriously flawed. Eventually i became
such a distraction in that class that, i suspect, my
parents were quitely asked to remove me. By age 10, i
simply refused to go to church, and my parents, to
their credit, respectfully honored my decision. In
hindsight, they probably only attended church for
social reasons. It was clear then that jesus was
simply santa clause for adults.

When i was 11 my mother died in an airplane crash, and
i was further subjected to more ridiculous input from
well-meaning adults who were attempting to explain how
such tragedies were compatible with a loving god. “It
was all part of his plan”, etc. However, i ended
moving back toward christianity simply because i
couldn't bear the thought that life is finite and that
i might never see those i'd lost again. For a few
years, a went along with church and really, really
made an another attempt at faith. I was willing to
admit that my earlier expeiences with faith may have
been atypically bad. However, It just wouldn't stick
despite my best efforts and by the time i graduated
high school, I subscribed to a kind of formless, mushy
belief that there are many paths to god and that all
types of religion are “true in their own way.”

I went on like this through college and grad school
but gradually realized that such thinking is simply
dishonest. You might say it all clicked when i finally
realized that it is okay to admit that we don't know
everything and pretending to do so just isn't
satisfying intellectually or spiritually. I also soon
realized that “faith” simply is not a virtue. How is
it that belief in outrageous fairy tale claims without
legitimate evidence has come to be accepted as a good
thing? The God Delusion did not convert me to
anything, but it pefectly explained what i'd known in
my heart since those first sunday school classes.

I guess i've alwas been an atheist but didn't always
know it. I thank you for articulating the subject so
well and, above all, helping free thinkers everywhere
admit to themselves and others that it is okay to be
reasonable. Sounds self-evident, but i guess it still
isn't to most.

One more thing. I think things are definitely moving
in the right direction. Although the bible belt is
still heavily burdened by religious idiocy, a great
number of the well-educated young people (35 or under)
here are not very religious. I can honestly say that
every one of my eastern Tennessee childhood friends
(who i still keep up with) are atheist/agnostic. We
all attended church as children, and no matter where
our lives took us or where we moved off to, we have
all independently ended up free thinkers. Almost all
of the newer friends i have in Memphis (western
Tennessee) have a similar story to tell. Granted, we
all tend to hang out with people who hold similar
views, but the fact is that this type of thinking is
more prevelant than you might think even here in the
american bible belt.

matthew

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