Dearest Professor Dawkins,
I grew up in what I will call a “Moderate” Mormon family in Southern California. I say “Moderate” because the attitude that my parents have on the doctrine was that it was kind of absurd, yes, but it gave us a beautiful family life (which we did have, but in retrospect it was more because of my parents being good people more so than the doctrine making our lives better), so we never really talked about the darker, more sinister parts of the Church (e.g. doctrine of polygamy, the true nature of Joseph Smith, the racism and bigotry well-engrained in the history and current doctrine). I would ask my parents about these things, and the answer would always be the same: “God and the Gospel are perfect, but men are not.” After a few times of getting the same answer (with some variations), I just stopped asking.
I was always curious as to why I could not “hear” the holy spirit, just as everyone else said that they could. When I was about ten, I asked my parents what the voice of the holy spirit sounds like, and they kind of dodged the question saying that it was more of a sense of knowing, rather than an actual voice. Like I said: “Moderate” Mormons.
But everyone else at church constantly claimed to be hearing it! Why couldn’t I?
I asked my bishop why I couldn’t hear the voice of the holy spirit, and the answer that I got was something akin to “if you can’t hear the voice of the holy spirit, then you are not being good enough to let him in.”
That instilled in me a sense of inadequacy that to this day is somewhat indescribable. Even now, after my complete rejection of religion altogether, I still get pangs of jealousy in the superstitious-monkey part of my brain when I hear that a childhood friend of mine “followed the spirit”, and is now happily married and extremely successful.
Amusingly enough, I remember when your book, The God Delusion came out. I asked my parents who you were, and surprisingly, they paired the word “evil” with your name. I have never heard my parents use that word to describe anyone except for Adolf Hitler! They never even used it to describe Marilyn Manson, like most Mormon parents I knew. That was somewhat shocking. So I tried to not pay attention to you and your works. My parents even forced me watch that piece of garbage masquerading as a documentary called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” just so we could “watch [your] smug ass get stumped.”
When I left home for college, I tried for a couple of years to be a good Mormon and go to the singles ward that meets in Cambridge. I never felt at home there. I never felt fully accepted, or as deliriously happy as everyone appeared to be. I always felt uncomfortable, but I still tried.
Now, for two of these three years, my best friend at school was a hard core atheist. He knew that I was Mormon (or at least Mormon-like, abstaining from alcohol, coffee, and sex), and I knew he was an atheist. At the beginning of our friendship, he asked me about my devoutness. What came out of my mouth in response surprised even me. I told him that I had not really taken it entirely seriously, but that I was devout enough not to have sex and drink alcohol/coffee.
“So you’re agnostic?” he asked.
“What?? No! I just never took belief very seriously, and I was never sure of my belief in God.” I stammered.
“Which…..makes you agnostic..?” he said.
I had no retort. We never spoke of the conversation again, but it did get me thinking. I decided to conduct an experiment.
I stopped praying, just to see if it had any noticeable impact on my life.
After noticing no change, I stopped paying tithing to see if THAT had any impact.
Finally, I stopped attending church.
Still no impact.
This experiment took me almost two years, and during these two years, I refused to speak of religious belief with ANYone. My brother, who I live with (and is an atheist), constantly tried to get me to talk about it, but I stubbornly refused. After realizing that I probably didn’t believe in a god, I was sad, and scared at the prospect of no afterlife. I dealt with bouts of Nihilism brought on by anger, fear, and sadness. Then I saw your program “The Root of All Evil?”, and my eyes were opened to the immense amount of beauty of this life. I realized that I should be enjoying and celebrating life, and that I should try to prolong it as much as possible. It wasn’t until I finally got the courage to buy and read your book The God Delusion that I finally was able to admit to myself that I am, in fact, an atheist.
I am so grateful to you, and your work. Could you could do me just one other favor? Just….never die. Please?