My trip to atheism started when I was in year 11 of public schooling (grade 10, I was 15). As part of an English project I was charged with finding a book that was banned, researching the reasons for such, and explaining them. Of all the books a 15 year old American budding intellectual could pick, I chose to use the entire Harry Potter series for the project. As I researched into the religious individuals, and a few overly sensitive secular individuals, who sought to ban the book I stumbled upon the website religioustolerance.org. In my readings of the articles contained within that site I began to familiarize myself with the atrocities committed in the name of religious faith and decided that I wanted nothing to do with it. I at that point was merely non-religious, I did not really think about divinity or beings claimed to have such, but I did keep researching different religions looking for one with which I agreed.
My search led me to consider Wicca and even, for a brief time when I was inspired to rebellion due to a dramatic disruption in my family structure, Anton LaVey's Satanism. Eventually though I came of the opinion, after reading a little about atheism (for reasons which escape me I did not find it interesting) and agnosticism, that I could not determine the existence of a deity one way or the other. Since I had at that point failed to find a religion which fit my mindset, I settled for calling myself agnostic. Largely I distinguished myself as such because I held no belief regarding any divine entities, was under the impression that any belief would not respect the evidence (or what I saw as a lack thereof), and had been given a false definition (otherwise I would have called myself an atheist at that point). I remained that way until I was 17 and in my final year of state funded schooling. Again, it was a class project that sent me probing through the accumulated knowledge I could find on the internet. This time however, due to a lack of looming time constraints, I focused upon finding more books to read instead of internet articles which I did not fully trust.
I had already been given Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation for Christmas by an atheist aunt of mine and my project lead me to browsing books which discussed the reasons for belief. Since I had liked Mr. Harris's book so much I started by looking at the books of another individual who I suspected to lack belief and whose identity and quality was known to me, Michael Shermer. After purchasing two of his books Amazon.com suggested Professor Dawkins's The God Delusion, which I promptly purchased and read with haste and the utmost fervor. It was that book which, in addition to serving the needs of my project quite nicely, introduced me to the arguments for God's existence as well as demonstrated the faults of my own position. Before I had even completed reading the book I had determined that atheist was a fitting label for myself and quickly welcomed the new label as part of my identity.
My shift from religious to atheistic was slow with only a few minor difficulties, but now at 18 I am, intellectually at least, at the most satisfied of my entire life. I wish to express my most sincere gratitude and my debt to Professor Dawkins for how his work has helped me reach a level of thought which otherwise I would likely have had to wait years before reaching.
-Ian Matthew Raugh, a resident Maryland on the eastern coast of America