A Lengthy and Warmer Depiction of Religion Than I had Anticipated
Dear Mr. Dawkins,
I hope that this message at some point reaches you. I will attempt brevity in my feedback and thanks for what you and others have done for me, but it may be difficult.
I’m sorry to say that my journey of discovery may not be as marvelous as those i’ve read, of 60 year old monks declaring their atheism. I went to chruch relatively regularly, had friends, a community of people that I cared about. I played in the band, and enjoyed listening to weekly discussions on a piece of scripture. Truly, it was one of the parts of the week i found most interesting, and I think is what stimulated my interest in English and Philosophy, which I currently study. This may be surprising, but its true, these discussions inspired me to think about several things that I probably otherwise wouldn’t, it raised the metaphysical questions that I now find most interesting.
I was first introduced to the concept of atheism, sadly, in the furor that surrounded the aftermath of the Da Vinci Code. While it was a lamentably vapid source material, it had a singular benefit for me, it caused my Christian friends to become outraged at percieved attacks on their faith. The result of this was for them to begin denouncing the fallacies of your recently published God Delusion. I had never heard of you, nor your book, and to be honest the first impression I developed of you was of an angry spiteful man that delighted in insulting good honest people, essentially raining on the existential parade. I didn’t address the problem further, but the general concept lingered as a phantom praying at the vague edges of rational thought.
It wasn’t until I was in the mid-teens and the taxing commitment of regular attendance at church wore on, that I very gradually sought further exploration. My fortuitously rational friend, who at a far younger age than I was capable of channeling your clear rationality in isolation, began to ask me why I went to church, whether I really believed everything that was preached in the church. I think that if I hadn’t begun to question things then, I may have accellerated down the slippery slope, but I was saved from that brink by critical thinking. Once I began to look at it critically, I saw that the reason why I went to church was primarily because I enjoyed playing music, enjoyed the extra social groups and activities, and I enjoyed a group of people taking a piece of literature seriously and examining its meanings. I never really had the fundamental faith in Jesus, or god that my fellows had, and this was what I discovered.
The true cognitive journey from weekly church going, to my current frustration with weekly church going, is also largely due to a most humourous adversary of yours, Kent Hovind. If you haven’t seen his illuminating lecture series, they can be viewed at his website, Dr. Dino.com, or on YouTube. The Creationist fundamentalism is fundamentally what made me first laugh in the face of piety. Watching a man claiming that evolutionists want you to believe that Banannas are your grandparents, set me into such a fit of histerics that for weeks I was sharing the video with friends, my Christian friends oddly finding it less humorous than I.
From the Dear Mr. Hovind’s videos, I followed the glorious connections of videos on YouTube, from Creationist to Creationist. Then from rabid Creationist ‘debating’ with rational evolutionist, to rational evolutionist. Your videoes had a strangely alluring quality to them that I hadn’t yet found anywhere else. Where previously I had been laughing at the frank rediculousness of creationism, I began listening to the first entirely salient voice I had yet heard on the debate. I don’t want to over enflate your head, but it is simply the truth that your argumentation and frankness in front of the camera cut through the haze and fog of religious argumentation that I’d been fed previously. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything you said at that point, because I was still somewhat locked in, but I certainly didn’t see you as the impish rabblerouser that I’d heard of previously.
Over the next 3 years I progressively increased my diet of scientific media, largely audiobooks and documentaries. The finally most influential documentary for me, was Bill Maher’s Religulous. While that film doesn’t give a handsdown salient argument against religion, like your work has for me, it instead filled the one void i didn’t entirely get from your work. What Bill showed me, was the hilarity of the situation. While he can be rude, and showed only the most extreme embarassing examples of faith that you can find, it was the inherent fact that the faith was embarassing that he struck home. When a man’s conversion story to faith, was that he prayed it would rain and it did, and Bill proceeded to shred it frankly apart and laugh at the infantile superstition at its heart, part of me felt horrified at the lack of respect, but another part of me saw exactly what he meant. I for the first time felt to my core what it was that was being said to me.
From there, I had the two perspectives of atheism that I needed to address in myself, the situation. There was your salient and believable presentation of the natural world, and Bill’s insight into the hilarity of the whole situation. It was only after these two factors, that i had one of the most earthshattering realisations of my life:
Christians actually believe that Jesus was the Son of God.
Through my entire church going experience, I had subconciously taken it for granted that the only way the Bible could be read was in an allegorical fashion. I had accepted the myths in the Bible, of women being born out of men’s ribs, men being swallowed by whales, and other men walking on water, as nice stories like “The Midnight Before Christmas”. I suddenly realized that when my friends were singing the cringing lines “Jesus is my friend, My Saviour”, they actually meant it in a literal way. Even though they weren’t rabid creationists, as they lay out the Wine and the Host on the altar, they all suddenly appeared to me as my Cousins laying out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve, eagerly anticipating their presents in the morning.
I saw my beautiful, and kind friend, who though you would never know it to look at her, has a genetically fused spine which leaves her in a permanent state of pain. I saw another friend who has always been overweight, and has chronic lack of confidence and close relationships. And another who had an unmentioned childhood with a stepfather we should never talk about. I saw that almost everyone I could think of in that church was clinging to their faith because they really needed it, a lot of them really couldn’t deal with their problems in any other way. I saw that while at one point I had needed it for similar reasons, those reasons had faded, and I had been able to see beyond it, to see that the reasons why we all clung to God wasn’t because it made sense, it was because we had a reliance upon it emotionally. When I saw that, I knew that emotions weren’t enough to sustain me in believing in something. From there, I continued to play in the band, keeping all my thoughts internalized until I moved away from home. Shallow, I know, maybe, but I still had friends, i still liked playing music.
I suppose that I have failed miserably in my attempts at brevity, but I would like to ask 3 final questions to you, and anyone that may read this:
1) Yes, Religion is harmful (Crusades, suicide bombers, living sacrifice). Yes, it is a virus that replicates too quickly and efficiently for us to truly successfully irradicate. And Yes, it also has immense emotional benefits, that save lives and do social good. My friend with a fused spine is honestly the singular flawless example in my life of a wholly good person. She has told me that because the pain has been so intense, lasted for so long (literally weeks), and knowing that it will be with her her entire life, has driven her to the brink of suicide, but that the one thing that has held her back was her faith and her community. I know we have all heard this argument before, but is there really an secular alternative to this kind of aide? Is there anthing other than a good story that could keep her and others like her going? If we push for a world devoid of affective failsafes like these, and there is no atheistic failsafes, then in that world my friend who to this day is the finest example of humanity i have met, would no longer be in it. So setting aside the impossibility of irradicating religion, i ask the question of whether atheism is capable of the community and emotional support that I perceive as the foundation to the religion I have encountered. If I was a leader on the world stage of atheism, I would hope that I would address this aspect as well. I deeply admire your Foundation, but I feel that this is only addressing Religion from the one aspect that you know best, Religion’s role as an explanation for reality. What it doesn’t address are the communally binding aspects to religion that I believe have made the Religious Social Construct the successful survival concept for our species. There is a reason why the fight for reason against religion is such a difficult one, because there has been a long selection process of religious concepts, leaving us with the ones that work well. They are doing things for people that reason and science can’t.
2) What do you think the future is like for the Human race? I am a steadfast environmentalist, and would be extremely excited to hear your salient opinion of the current hopes for the future of our planet. After reading your most recent book, I could not help but notice the similarities between climate change deniers and history deniers. The asinine Lord Monkton an ingloriously infuriating case study. Where I feel that religion is a worthy behemoth to tackle, I can’t help but feel from my own perspective that peak oil depletion, depletion of resources like silicon that sustain our computing age, and the climate change crisis that all continue to get worse as we discuss God.
Do you think there is any way of changing our society to prevent the economic crash that must be inevitable from our exponential overconsumption of fossilfuels? To me, I see the threat to science and reason coming from the economic and social collapse that can only come from our blind continued reliance upon a way of life that will not last. To me, that threat has no benefits, as religion does, and threatens more than just reason and science. I would greatly appreciate hearing your opinions and plans for the future in these areas of concern.
3) My most realization has been that of Reductive Materialism. Where I once realized there was no reason to believe in God, there also doesn’t seem to be much reason to believe in the Soul. This is a little bit more depressing somehow than the non-existance of God. While the belief in the Soul is a more reasonably justified belief than in God, I realized it also doesn’t make too much sense. However, there is an undeniable sense of disappointment in the thought that there is no God, no Soul, and no Afterlife. What do you make of my theory thus:
The Only reason why we have this sense of disappointment is because some people have put the hope into us to expect it. Its like, I’m about to enter a room, before I go through the door a man stops me, and tells me that there is an amazing work of art, and some delicious candy on the other side. i believe him. Then when I go through, there’s nothing there. I am disappointed. But I wouldn’t have been disappointed if the dingbat hadn’t promised me that there would be something amazing inside. In the same way as I don’t want people telling me things like this before I go into rooms, it feels to me that I wouldn’t have an inherent expectation that there is a soul, nor a god, nor an Afterlife, if I didn’t have the notion that there may be, put into my head. Now it seems that when I’m in the process of dying I will be dreading the disappointment that the bastards have set my expectations really really high, and where my experience should be more neutral, I will be spending my dying moments cursing the man in the doorway.
Thank you very much to anyone that took the time to read this letter. It felt great to finally voice my experience where I haven’t been able to, to those closest to me.
Oh, and Mr. Dawkins, please come back to New Zealand. By the time I knew you were touring, all the city venues were sold out. I was most distressed.