Dear Mr. Dawkins,
My interest in your work grew exponentially since I first picked up a copy of The God Delusion. But I have to explain why I was so interested in your work so quickly.
I was raised with no religion. I went to a public elementary school. My parents weren’t religious, and didn’t want to impose any sort of religious thought on my or my sisters, because they wanted us to choose for ourselves. We were not taught anything about God or religion, or even atheism. It was a concept that was to come later.
Some of my first encounters with religion were in my school, and they began to happen when I was about 8. The Pledge of Allegiance contained the word “God” which I didn’t hear anywhere else. Soon I started to notice my parents said things like “Oh my God” and “Jeez.” When I asked about these things, they didn’t want to answer my questions. But in time I came to understand the meanings of these phrases, and I was aware of a concept called “God” and a man called “Jesus.” When I asked my older sister who Jesus was, she thought I was stupid for not knowing, and explained the whole story to me. I always thought it was just a sort of strange, ambiguous fairy tale.
This was the sort of knowledge I had going into junior high. There, I learned about Christianity’s history, and my understanding of religion became a bit wider. One of my classmates was Jewish, and another one, an obnoxious class clown, pretended to be Muslim during our moment of silence after the Pledge. And he would say “One nation under Allah.”
After junior high, I made the choice to go to a private school for a better education, and a new start. It was a Catholic school, and I told myself I didn’t mind, because if I affiliated myself with any religion it would be Christianity. I thought it wouldn’t make a difference at all. When I entered St. Mary’s, an all girls school, it was a dramatic change from my public education. I enjoyed the environment, and figured the religion classes wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
But I started to fall behind in religion. My teacher was concerned about me. Back then, I referred to God in my essays as if he were real and had an impact on us. I don’t know if I really ever believed that. I questioned my teacher constantly, asking her what happened to people when they died before Jesus, why animals allegedly aren’t capable of love, and why she thought angels were once real, living humans with wings. I was completely confused by Christianity at this point, and considered I might decide I was Jewish instead. I still had a respect for Christianity, but I knew it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
The subsequent religion classes were things like Hebrew scriptures, where we learned about the Old Testament, and Christian ethics, where we were taught how to tackle moral dilemmas. I wasn’t offended by the overall teachings of the classes, but I continued to question the little inconsistencies or things that didn’t make sense. The high point of my year in Hebrew scriptures was when I compared the justified genocides in the Bible (by God’s order) to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and dominated the argument with the teacher.
One of the other religion classes was Contemporary Social Issues, which we abbreviated as “CSI.” This class, though it may have seemed meaningful and helpful on the surface, was nothing more than an excuse to talk Jesus. This was the class where we learned abortion was wrong (using the classic Beethoven argument), capital punishment was wrong, and the most ridiculous confusion I’d ever seen, when one of the students thought Scientology was synonymous with choosing science over religion. Another class was Christology, where the teacher was utterly deluded, arrogant, and unforgiving. She believed in the literal truth of all of Jesus’ miracles, and taught us strange philosophical concepts such as morality. In this class, we dissected the New Testament, and memorized the inconsistencies between the four gospels.
By senior year I knew I was an atheist. That was the year I had my favorite teacher twice in a row, the one who refused to lose an argument. The first half of the year was Christian lifestyles, a course of complete BS that had nothing directly to do with Christianity. And the second half of the year we had an elective religion course (religions of the world, philosophy, or death and dying). Although I was a huge fan of philosophy, I knew I would never survive in that class as an atheist. So I chose death and dying, the textbook for which was called The Mystery of Suffering and Death. By the time this class came around, I had already started on The God Delusion. It was the first atheist book I had read. I dominated that class, bringing my views against the teacher’s as often as possible. I tackled the “mystery” of suffering, the reason people die (evolution), and the ethics of euthanasia. I left that class on a high note, writing the essay of my final exam on why Christians are forever stuck in the psychological stage of death of denial, because they believe that death is the beginning of everlasting life.
And at the end of my senior year, I decided I would never go back to religion. I never had to deal with it ever again if I didn’t want to. No more ridiculous religion courses for me. I bought The God Delusion, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ancestor’s Tale, The Blind Watchmaker, and On The Origin of Species. My little sister bought God is Not Great and Unweaving The Rainbow. I have gotten my family and friends interested in Richard Dawkins and other atheist material. My experiences with religion have affected me deeply, and I want to learn as much about atheism as I can now, and about the fight against religious influence. I hope someday I will become an atheist activist, and that my beliefs will make a big influence in the world, or at least on other people.
I now have my own YouTube channel, which I use to express my views on all sorts of things, from Christianity to creationism to why Edward Cullen is an abuser. I guess I’ll be working my way up from there.