Dear Professor Dawkins,
I became an atheist at the age of 12. I had been raised by a devout Catholic mother, and while my father was- as far as I know- an unbeliever, his religious influence was little after my parents divorced. As a very young child, I was a young earth creationist. By very young, I mean approximately 5- when I still believed in the Bible school bull because I didn’t know any better. Later on, especially after a biology class in 6th grade, I became a believer in intelligent design and remained so until my deconversion.
There were two books that lead to my deconversion; “Existentialism is a Humanism” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and your “The God Delusion”, in that respective order. When an acquaintance of mine on a popular online forum suggested I read “Existentialism is a Humanism”, I couldn’t deny the logic presented in the book. This was my first taste of philosophy, and despite having been a theist up until that point, the book included many concepts that I had once considered. I began to agree more and more, and this was the first blow to my religious beliefs.
As a video series on one man’s deconversion points out, religion- at least by any sophistocated believer- is a sort of “multi-belief” system. This relies on prayer, the belief in a personal relationship with god, church community, morals, the Bible. When one of these beliefs is struck down, the believer can fall back upon the other beliefs for continued faith. This is what happened to me after reading “Existentialism is a Humanism”. I couldn’t deny the rational arguments, but I created rather foolish hypocrisies and somehow or another managed to convince myself that I could be an existentialist theist. I don’t know how that happened either.
Then, I read “The God Delusion”, and I must say this the most eloquent book I have ever read. I became a full-on atheist after your teapot analogy; namely that theism is like ‘the flying teapot in space, which is so small no microscope can or will ever be able to see it’. I didn’t want let go of god initially, but I recognized that I had to- I simply could not deny that sort of rationality.
Familiar reactions have been interesting, naturally. My atheism drove my mother to yell at me that she would ‘lose me to hell’, and the rest of my family consists entirely of even more devout Catholics. Unfortunately I’m set to be confirmed into the Catholic faith quite soon. Despite being honest about what I believe towards my family, evidently I’m not in the position to make my own theological decisions. I must commend you, with great appreciation, for your persistance that no child is born into a religion. I was ‘born a Catholic’- I resent this.
On a bit of a tangent, but something I thought I’d like to share; I was recently asked by a theist whether or not I believed in a soul in the context of personality or destiny preceeding existence. I answered of course not, I would have to question the logic of any atheist who did. The theist in question asked if this made me unhappy. I told her no, it most certainly did not. Believing in a soul, a personality, any sort of essence of that nature before existence makes one feel unique- ‘God wanted me to be special’, and people call this beautiful. But I’ve found another sort of beauty- I told her how incredible I see the brain as, that a child can be raised and develop from an infant into an opinionated adult- how beautiful it is that the body can do that!
I wanted to thank you for teaching me this way of thinking. Life is precious to me because I now believe in only one life, and why should I not live that to the full? As a theist, I was weighed down by the hypocrisies I saw in religion, being unable to justify something that I believed in. As an atheist, I do indeed feel more free, happier. In a slightly rephrased version of your own words, ‘Why must we imagine fairies at the bottom of the garden to recognize the garden as beautiful? Isn’t the garden beautiful enough without deluding yourself with the fairy theory?’.
That is how I think now.
In conclusion, I too hope religion will cease. I doubt it will soon, but I hope with new generations such as my own, new thought, that religion is finally put in it’s place (or lack therof), and the oppression brought on by it gone.
With immense respect and thanks,