Dear Prof. Dawkins,
Although I grew up in a relatively non-religious household in South Africa, I went to an Anglican primary school (for the quality of the education, not the religion) where we were unfortunately forced to sing prayers and hymns every day, learn about the bible and so on. By the time I was 7 years old, I had been successfully brainwashed into believing in a god, and a devil, and that the latter would hunt me down and throw me into the flames of hell if I didn’t finish my homework. I recall being terrified of taking communion on Ash Wednesdays, in case god (who was, in my mind, a bearded old man residing somewhere in the rafters of the charming Herbert Baker church the school was associated with) spotted me in the line, and picked me out as being a fraudulent Anglican because my parents weren’t also believers and I didn’t go to church on Sundays.
Despite all this, I always thought quietly to myself that there was something unlikely about stories of men walking on water, parting seas and surviving inside the belly of a whale. My doubts in god and the bible were greatly strengthened when my class (aged 10) was struck by lightining whilst on a school camp. Four classmates were killed, and instead of the grown-ups around us being sensible and acknowledging the horrific trauma and loss that we were all experiencing, they told us things like ‘God wanted four more angels to sing in his choir’. To which my resonse was ‘well did he really have to give the rest of us third-degree burns in the process?’.
Fortunately I moved on to an interdenominational high school, where the pressure to be religious was greatly reduced, and my fascination with the sciences was encouraged. I then met a group of fantastic, intelligent, free-thinking individuals (friends and lecturers) at university, with whom my inner atheist was finally allowed to flourish. Together, we read, watched, digested and discussed your, Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchins’ work. The more knowledge and inspiration I aquired, the more confidence I gained.
Today, I am finally able to declare that I am shameless, guilt-free atheist and a devoted believer in science (I’m currently studying astrophysics). I no longer shy away and mumble the word ‘agnostic’ when people ask me what denomination I am. And when asked how I can look at the night sky and not believe in a god, I tell them simply that the intricate beauty and endless unknowns of the universe are wonderful enough for me – I don’t need to throw in some batty, old, bearded man to complicate matters! Evolution and biology are so phenomenally profound. Even a ‘simple’ flowering plant is a marvel to behold. I’d much rather believe in, and be in awe of, the reality of the planet on which we live, than a collection of odd fairy tales that make the Grimm brothers’ stories look like a light and charming read!
Thank you most sincerely for giving me the confidence to throw off the shackles of my childhood indoctrination and accept logic, research and proven fact for the profound intellectual truths that they are! Not only has it enabled me to live and embrace my personal truth, but it’s also gained me a fantastically diverse, intelligent and thinking group of friends and colleagues, whom I cherish every day for their non-religious approach to life!