Dr. Professor Dawkins,
Thank you for clearing up my skewed perception of life. I was brought up in the Irish Catholic tradition, which despite being far from the hell-wrecking pulpit monsters of the past, still promotes the delusional ideas of Catholicism. Growing up in modern day Ireland is quite different from anything my parents would have experienced, and I thank goodness that I was born in the mid-eighties and not the mid-fifties i.e. a time when Church bullying is not longer tolerated.
Being the son of devout Catholic parents, I was made go to Church every week without fail. It was just something you had to be done, like the housework or attending school. I always felt resentment at the coercion of mass-going, and in retrospect never found the teachings offered beneficial to my life. The ordeal only served to muddle my view of the world. My parents, while honest and good natured people, performed their Catholic duty in feeding me myths and untruths throughout my early life. It has taken much time to re-evaluate and re-establish my own views of life, the cosmos and our place in it.
I have undergone the later part of this process with the help of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and your good self. The process was a slow one, and not one in which I had given too much thought to in the beginning. I had stopped going to Church when I was about fifteen, more out of laziness than for religious objection. Yet I maintained a belief in Jesus Christ and sent prayers to Heaven every night. It was my belief that God had to be thanked, especially since I did not now receive mass. I held this view right up until a few months ago, after I read your book for a second time.
The ball had started to roll when I saw a documentary late one night that explored evidence that the Christian Church borrowed much of it's stories from the various pagan faiths in existance at the time. The show, surprisingly, was presented by a Christian. The view given was that although the stories themselves may be myths, the message of Christ is what's important. It caused me to question why we need the stories at all. Why not just spread “the message” by a less dogmatic means? I became angered that this information was never made available to me previously. It was like finding out about Santa Claus all over again.
The experience essentially rendered my mind a blank in terms of religion. I still maintained a belief in God, but in what I would later come to know as a Deistic sense. Reading the God Delusion along with God is Not Great and, most recently, the End of Faith has really opened my eyes to the deception of religion. It like being trapped in a circle, unable to gain perspective until you realize that the truth actually lies outside it. Only when you are outside the circle is it possible to see everything in perspective..
The problem now lies in where to go from here. My lack of belief is still new to me and the atheist path seems the one less worn and guided. A lot of our decisions must be made alone and require the faculties of our own minds to do so. Atheism feels very individualistic at times, and I understand why you use the term “herding cats” when speaking about uniting atheists.
But there's no turning back now. I am sick of religious bullying in my life and resent the fact that my parents still try and persuade me to attend mass. I also resent that I must attend Church when I visit my relations in the countryside. It is taken as a sign of disrespect in refusing to do so. Can you imagine this being the case if you substituted religion for any other ideology? It really highlights how hallow the enterprise is when you consider how people need you to believe what they believe – âit's not enough that you believe it, you want me to believe it tooâ (Christopher Hitchens).
I am convinced the whole enterprise hasn't fallen apart yet in Ireland because it holds monopoly on consoling the bereaved. I don't hide my atheism any longer and refuse to be religiously bulled, but I regret that I cannot share the same enthusiasm as some of my fellow non-believers. When I first met my current girlfriend, a discussion came up about religion. One of the things I mentioned openly was that I was an atheist, and felt no obligation to hide that fact. She was openly religious and similarly had no problem in admitting it. No problem so far. I could tell however that she was interested in what I thought on the subject, as I am sure many people are in regard to the atheist view. All humans share the same doubts.
We talked about it further a few weeks later when I gave a very reasoned and methodical case for atheism. I was on a roll. My girlfriend is someone with whom I feel very at ease with, and the flow at which I was able to impart my knowledge would have been great in any other context. However, this time it was not. When I looked away from my memory bank and into her eyes, I could see them welling up with tears. I had not tamed my punches and clearly had her on the ropes. Although she had not told me, I knew immediately that she had suffered a bereavement. I instantly backed off, comforted her, told her that it was just my opinion and that I'm by no means right. I later learned that she had tragically lost her brother to cancer, a viciously potent form that killed him just two weeks after analysis.
I'm sure it's a familiar story for many people. What else can you do? I resent that this knowledge had been kept quiet from me up to now, and yet my girlfriend is quite happy believing that her brother is watching over her as a guardian angel. How can both needs be catered for equally? I just don't have the answers. I am forever grateful to you at least for having the courage to try.