Dear Professor Dawkins,
I would like to start out saying that I loved your book and you are a brilliant author. I
Myself don't read too many books as often as I should, but from the moment I picked up your book I was enthralled into it. I remember the day I went to pick it up at the library, I was pretty much the definition of fence sitter back then and I was pretty skeptical of how this book would affect me and my views on religion. I had reserved your book a week before picking it up, but on the day I was to go pick it up, there was a horrible storm blowing through my part of the country. I was braving rain, wind, thunder, and lightning all for some book that I had never heard of til a week ago from a video on youtube. I'm laughing at myself now because I was rushing in there soaking wet and panting from all the running to get out of the rain asking the librarian if they had my reserved atheist book looking like a madman. After I had dried off a bit though I sat down and read the preface to the paperback and the first chapter and I was enjoying it so much I was almost wanting to get it laminated to I could read it in the rain on the way to the bus! I wanted to read on more and more because everything you were talking about in the book just clicked in my head, so to speak. Living in the small city of Knoxville, TN, in the heart of the southern United States, many of the things you mentioned and were appalled by, such as calling a child a “insert religion here” child, were just normal everyday things here and you wouldn't second think anything about because they seemed like the standard in this country. As I have stated before at this time I was your typical fence sitting agnostic, so I never really gave too much thought to the things that happened on both sides of the argument. I was under the impression that all atheists were “gnostic wackjobs” and refused to believe in a god or gods just “because”. I was pretty sure of myself because it seemed I would be right either way, but honestly I believe I only wanted to believe in a god out of sheer greed. The wanting to have my cake and eat it scenario basically was my premace on religion because of my “hoping” that there is an afterlife and my “hoping” that if something went bad in my life I could pray and by some random chance, if god's not busy, get what I asked for. Now however, if I am wanting something done, or needing change in my life, I work for it myself and don't try to depend upon sheer hope that I will get what I “deserve”.
As you may have guessed though, I was raised in a christian family. From a young age my mom or my grandmother would try to take me to church and teach me the word of god! Oddly enough the male side of my family weren't all that religious, which might account for me being such a bad christian back then, but that aside, they would always take me to these crazy southern Baptist churches with the majority of their followers being 50 year old 300 pound women who run around the church shouting incoherent gibberish, which I find that is a miracle even if I'm now an atheist, but during all of these sermons I would pretty much be bored out of my mind. Keep in mind I was a young 10 year old boy with a 10 minute attention span, but when I picture myself back then sitting there drawing on my little sketch pad to pass the time while having over 50+ grown adults waving their hands in the air, screaming to nobody, crying, running around, going into convulsions on the floor, and throwing water on people, I can't help but break out in tears laughing at this picture in my mind. The only time however, that I ever really ever got interested in the bible back then was when my mom pretty much threw me into the church's “vacation bible school” which was more of a “make arts and crafts for god” program. They would send me home those days, after making little prayer tools to put into my Jesus toolbox, and have me read a few chapters of the bible throughout the program. Of coarse I started out in the old testament with the book of genesis because it seemed like the smart thing to do right? Well after reading through the story of Adam and Eve, I actually stopped reading because it wasn't “entertaining” anymore. I mean I can't blame myself for being offset after a story of creating everything from pretty much nothing to just dwindling on into a long drawn out “series of unfortunate events”. After finishing our “toolbox for Jesus” though, we were supposed to find a verse in the bible that spoke to us in a strong way to put into our toolbox and read out to the entire church. Being young and wanting to stand out I picked the last verse in the bible and read it out, and oddly enough I got a lot of odd responses, but by far the best one was “Why did you pick the last verse?”, in which I childishly replied, “because it's finally the ending to this long book!”
As you can probably tell, I would a young child back then and was believing, because I had never been taught anything else, but as the time I entered high school after moving from my small town in Lafollette,TN back then, to a relatively more open and diverse school, I took a class on “theory of knowledge”. The guidance counselor told my mother that it's a class that allows students to speak about things in life, which sounded like it would be good for me since my parents had just gotten a divorce and I was still a little distraught from that. However the teacher, Mr. Steve Dunn, taught a class which studied human thought and often made great classroom discussions on religion. He explained many different viewpoints on the world, such as the Humanistic view, the Taoistic view, and so on, but he never really went on all that much into atheism, which doesn't surprise me because he is actually a christian himself but embraces anyone elses viewpoints whole heartedly (amazing, right?) without condemning them in any way. I find that he was a major influence on me and I wouldn't be here right now discussing this if he had never opened my mind to new possibilities. However, even after all of this I actually labeled myself openly as a “agnostic christian” just as a way for myself to fit in at my new school, and partly as a result of all my indoctrination in my youth. However him opening my eyes to actually thinking of the world based on evidence led me to eventually pick up your book.
To summarize my experience of conversion would be to state that my views have always been on a bumpy road, but in my experience the drive has never been any smoother until I became an atheist. I thank you for finally opening my eyes to a broader spectrum of evidence than what my old teacher could offer me. I know now to look at actual scientific evidence rather than philosophical hoohah that I make up on my with no bearing on “actual” truth to explain the deep complexity of live and the universe in general. I also would like to thank you for instilling the value of not being afraid to show that I am an atheist and I wear my scarlet A with pride now, as I push on searching for new fulfillment and enjoyment in my life without the overbearing cross of religion to burden.
Sincerely, Donald D. Baird III