Dear Professor Dawkins –
I know that, most likely, you will not get a chance to read this message as I am sure you have many things to do. Your busy schedule is evidenced by the amount of great information coming out of your website. Regardless, I feel a deep gratitude and therefore the duty to make my thanks known to you, or at least to make the effort.
I wanted to thank you for helping me understand and answer some of the most profound questions in my life. I was raised in the LDS (Mormon) church in the town of Bountiful, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City. I was indoctrinated from the time I was 2 years-old to believe the peculiar religious beliefs of my people. I was a good Mormon. I was baptized at the age of 8 years-old, making a covenant with Jesus Christ to be his disciple and in turn, he would atone for my sins as long as I continually repented, so that I could return to live with my Heavenly Father. Many whimsical and peculiar practices were added from there. I cannot say it strongly enough how pervasive and shameless the indoctrination apparatus is at work in the Mormon church.
In high school, I got up an extra hour early (0530) just so I could attend seminary training, as my regular school workload was too laden with biology (though I now realize the lectures on evolution were hopelessly insufficient), chemistry and history. Thus, my religious indoctrination continued.
At 19 years of age, I learned Spanish and headed out to Sacramento,
California and taught the Mormon gospel to the Spanish-speaking peoples of that area. There I “labored” for two years, teaching and baptizing. I always had a difficult time, personally, resolving the issues of my faith.
I largely kept these struggles private, knowing that if I made them public, I would be told the things that I already knew I needed to do and was already doing: read more scripture, pray more, fast more, sing more hymns, etc. Because it was nearly impossible for me to consider a problem with the system of belief, I thought that the problem had to be with me – my indifference or lack of furtive effort (perhaps a reason people are driven to zealotry?).
I came home from the church mission, and wanting to make my faith more
perfect, I attended Brigham Young University. The struggles of faith only became more desperate as my confidence did not sustain the incongruence that I recognized in the doctrines as compared to the observations I made of life around me.
Just before graduating from BYU, I was just about ready, I believe, to
accept other alternatives to the Mormon church. I realize now how hard it was to deprogram my brain that was so indoctrinated, to possibly accept an alternative explanation to reality. I could say the words, “Maybe the church isn't true,” but the confidence in those words was not really there. I still had the pathways wired to believe, thereby laying the problem of disbelief and subsequent blame for failure, resolutely upon my shoulders. At that time I met a wonderful girl who was deeply religious in the church. I decided that, as the church placed so much emphasis on families and “eternal marriage,” that the “A-ha” feeling that I was looking for confirmation of belief) would come perhaps when I entered into the most sacred church ordinance of marriage. We were married after six months of dating and engagement (as is quite common in a young Mormon courtship).
I was very honest with my wife, Ruth, so she was aware of my struggles with faith. As our marriage progressed, we were great friends and loved each other; however, my faith continued to dwindle and I eventually could barely stand to even attend church services, for I saw the content as too counterintuitive and nonsensical. It was at this point that I was able to finally come to this conclusion: the church was not true. This time, I knew it. I was honest with myself. I felt so strongly about this, I would not allow myself to be a “token” member of the church just to keep my marriage. I had to go public with my liberating disbelief. Well, the pressure from
friends and family was intense. Ruth and I felt like we could make it as a “zebra” relationship: her as a believer and me as a non-believer. It was the issue of children that struck the fatal blow to our marriage. Ruth was determined to raise our children in the church, I refused. I even conceded that our children (hypothetical still, since we did not have any) could go
to LDS church services, but would then have to attend other churches, or have alternatives explained to them. I would not let them be baptized while they were children. Then, was my reasoning, if the child reached 18 years of age and wanted to be baptized a Mormon, why, I would be just fine with that. Well, Ruth could not possibly agree to such a heretical upbringing.
We divorced after only 3 1/2 years of marriage: childless, still in love,but deeply frustrated on opposite sides of the issue of religion. After many years, I did not even want to talk about religion and just considered myself a “spiritual but not religious” person.
It was not until I recently started a journey alone through Europe after a career change that I was prepared to seriously introspect again about belief and the “great” questions. Being an avid reader of non-fiction, I was stocking up on books in Manchester, England as I prepared to head to Spain to continue both my “spiritual” and my physical journey. I ran across your book, “The God Delusion,” in the bookstore. I read the first page and I knew this book was going to be good, but I was a little apprehensive about atheism (I held the not-too-uncommon misperception that atheists were evil, hollow, rather nasty people). I devoured the book in a matter of a couple
of days. I read it again. It changed me. Through that book and subsequent study, it is so clear to me. It was very vindicating and it articulated for me all that naturally bothered me about my struggles with faith throughout the years.
I am now 33 years-old. Sometimes I am ashamed that it has taken me this long to discover something that seems so simple and plainly visible to me now. I am quite certain that as an impressionable young man capable of critical thought, I would have most likely responded quite favorably to a strong voice of reason had I had it in my youth. Alas, I really did not have anyone to tell me that there were other possibilities. Other times, I am just too grateful to criticize the timeline of how I came to be where I am today. I have seen a lot of pain caused by religion. I have experienced it. I have personally experienced the indoctrination, the protection of the
“flock” from heretics, and the emotion of fear that largely drives the
I am so confident now in my realistic, rational view, and I'm in so much wonder of the beauty of it all, that I find it deeply ironic and marvelous that all the confirmation and peace that I was hoping to find inside the church, I found only when I stepped outside of it.
Thank you for not giving up on your cause. Thank you for being persistent. I imagine that you get a lot of these kinds of letters, but now I know that you have received at least one. You have inspired me to know as much as I can about the world. I intend to be a life-long student of the natural world and to follow my “natural” tendency to defend truth.
Salt Lake City, Utah
(currently in Marseille, France)
PS – I loved your concept of the Flying Spaghetti Monster so much, that I thought it would be a great learning tool to parody some of the zealotry of religion in a fake church of the flying spaghetti monster. Sadly, I found (after purchasing the websites, of course) that somebody had the same idea. Now I am the somewhat disinterested owner of www.spagmonster.com/net. In the true spirit of religion, however, I may start my own Reformed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster where we denounce the authority of the church of the FSM and lambaste its membership in sermon.