Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(931)

Jan 30, 2013

Dear Dr Dawkins,

I read The God Delusion while on holiday last week, and then immediately read it again on my return. I want to thank you for this book; I have been an atheist in principle for a long time (since my Christian primary school's version of the Hindu faith – with distinctly unsubtle overtones of indulgent amusement for the “primitive” people who follow it – caused me to wonder why “my” god was any less silly), but I had never given enough thought to why I felt uncomfortable expressing my belief that there is no god watching me. I had fallen into exactly the trap you describe, I thought it was insensitive of me to question people about their religious beliefs, and worried that it wasn't my right to risk destroying their faith by forcing them to analyse what they hold true. This, in retrospect, was ludicrously uncharacteristic in me since I have never had a problem with ripping people apart (in a friendly way) for their political, historical, sociological, ethical or philosophical views!

Thanks to you, I can now be proud of my decision to take responsibility for my own choices, and defend myself when religious types threaten me with hell, suicide or cosmic insignificance (all of which I have encountered before when I've been attacked for my lack of faith).

There is one aspect to the causes of religion which I don't think you've covered (although I haven't read everything you've written, so I'd better qualify that quickly). Without being a psychologist or knowing the correct terms to wrap around it, I have always felt that one of the deepest reasons people cling to their religions is an unconscious (I think) need to attach significance to their existence; I don't know the cause of this, but I genuinely believe that people struggle with the idea that their life has no significance on the scale of things. There seems to me to be a universal human need to believe that there is some awareness, somewhere, and some record of what we go through in our lifetimes, every choice, every hurt and every good deed to prevent our existence from being futile. This isn't just religious; it can be seen in the self-centred woman who hears a group of friends laughing and thinks they're laughing at her, or in people who jump from relationship to relationship, always convinced that this is “the one” and always inconsolable when they work out badly. People endlessly make soap-operas of their lives (I'm conscious as I write this that I'm trying to explain all this largely for posterity), and I wonder if this is another version of the religious impulse to assign significance – and if it might be an offshoot of the common instinct of every animal to preserve its own life at (almost) any cost. The flip-side of this, I suppose, is that while a “god” can in this sense create purpose it can also remove responsibility, which is less forgivable.

Personally, I find the freedom from “greater purpose” quite exhilarating, but I think that's because I've spent most of my life aware that my life will only have the significance I create in it – I think if my passing dalliance with faith had lasted significantly longer this would be my biggest obstacle in liberating myself from that faith. I suspect this fear is partly responsible for the fact that religious people will tie their brains in knots rather than admit that things don't add up.

I don't see how any rational being can believe in a god except out of weakness or a need to justify other values (the Westboro baptists are a good example, I think), and from now on will have no qualms about putting people on the spot to address some of the more glaring contradictions. Thank you, Dr Dawkins – you've opened my eyes to the injustices that atheists put up with, and I will fight them from now on!



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