Dear Pr Dawkins,
As someone who was raised Christian in Northern Ireland, I must thank you for being a voice of reason. I became an atheist at about the age of twenty (I’m now 22), after years of being secretly afraid I was going to burn in hell when I died (I was never quite convinced I was ‘saved’, no matter how much I prayed and wept). It was a long, difficult process- how can you begin to question everything you’ve ever been told about the nature of your reality by almost everyone you know? I realised that I only believed what I did because of my parents and my upbringing; if someone told me such a story now how could I possibly believe it? It bothered me that those in the Bible who doubted that Jesus was the son of God were so damned; if someone today claimed to be a Messiah, why on earth would I believe that?
I suspect this is a common testimony of lost faith- ultimately we must ask ourselves if we care about whether the things we believe are true or not. Are we prepared to be intellectually dishonest to protect our ego? Integrity being my reason for deconversion was handy- it ruled out more than just Christian theology. All forms of irrational thinking, including but not limited to religion, is a form of lying to oneself about what we can know about the universe. We all lie to ourselves in some ways, and our feelings are so easily manipulated; to be honest and humble, becoming more aware of our biases, is not naturally easy. Only through logic and reason can we have hope of ascertaining any kind of objective truth (anyone who denies that is never very forthcoming on alternatives). Ideas such as creationism are so brazenly intellectually dishonest that it is embarrassing, yet through childhood indoctrination I too believed that evolution was some kind of scientific conspiracy.
Thankfully I could not deal with such the cognitive dissonance and decided I only cared about the truth of the matter, and came to understand and accept the reality of evolution. However, I never understood it fully until I read The Selfish Gene last year. It took me on thrilling journey; it was beautiful and amazing, and it saddened me that my father would dismiss the whole book and replace it with ‘God did it.’ Now I can’t even bear the thought of living if you’re going to ignore reality- the world is so much more interesting than any ancient myth could make it. That is why I must thank you for being a voice against religion- even if you are not a creationist sexist homophobe (and you wouldn’t have to go very far to find plenty of those in Northern Ireland I’m afraid), if you are a Christian your entire worldview is clouded with dishonest thinking. There are so many habits of thought related to my former religion I’ve had to make a conscious effort to get out of: the idea that the universe was made specially for us, black-and-white thinking (that everything is just good or just bad), that some things cannot be questioned, that faith is a good thing, that just because we don’t know everything about the universe we can just fill in the gaps with any old nonsense we like…
My main point is: the things you say need to be said. It’s easy for people who were not brought up in a religious home to think that religion is benign and quaint, and quite nice really, and we shouldn’t say bad things of it. This attitude shows a disturbing disregard for the truth, and I find it condescending and patronising. I think it was on the the internet that I first saw anything that contradicted my faith-based worldview, but what if I’d never been exposed to that? What if no-one had ever questioned my beliefs because they thought I couldn’t handle it, and just patted me on the head and said ‘You believe in god, that’s nice dear’? To shield a religion from scrutiny shows disrespect to the mental capacity of its adherents, just as tolerating any ignorance of mine would be disrespectful to me.
So while you played no part in my deconversion, you have given me hope for a bit more sense in this world. Every seed of doubt sown in the mind of a believer, every conversion from guilt and fear to enlightenment, makes the world a better place.