Dear Richard Dawkins:
Thank you so very much for your writings, tv shows, and website. It has helped my immensely. Let me tell a not so quick tale of how I escaped from religion.
I was raised in an evangelical Christian home. Not the crazy, bigoted, wacko type Christian home, but a very middle of the road, common sense type (this was no doubt because my parents are both reasonable people). Like most kids, I didn’t care about my faith too much, but I knew it was something that I should care about. I began to really care about god when I graduated high school and began to experience the outside world. I took an interest in philosophy, Christian apologetics, and “witnessing” to cult members (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.). As I read and learned, my faith was challenged, and I wanted more answers. I wanted to equip myself and other Christians with reasons to have the faith that we already had. A lot of the arguments for god’s existence were persuasive to me at the time, and I got to know them intimately. I also tried to get a feel for what the non-theists were saying about them. But I only gave them a cursory reading. From that, I was able to convince myself that they didn’t really understand the arguments in question. So there, I could sleep at night and feel secure in my faith.
But here’s the problem. I was too self-aware for the good of my faith. I was a skeptic at heart, and was always fighting against the immense amount of superstition and credulity within the church. I encouraged fellow believers that they had nothing to fear from questioning the reasons for their faith, and using good critical thinking waould only vindicate the truth of the gospel. This, of course, is a double-edged sword. I taught classes on defending the faith at church, and really tried to impart to them that critical thinking is a necessary part of living a good, Christian life. I was sick of the stereotype that Christians had to “check their brains at the door” when they went to church. I tried to walk that fine line between reason and faith, and find where they overlapped.
The Christian apologetic literature I read often demonized famous atheists like Carl Sagan and you, Dr. Dawkins. As a result, I more or less felt repulsed by you and Sagan, even though I had no idea what either of you were all about. You were considered to be enemies of that which I held dear, so that made me marginalize you. Boy, was I ever wrong!
As time went on, my black and white view of the world and Christianity began to allow more grey. A lot of the things I was so sure about seemed to be a bit more complicated then I had originally thought. I began to become more agnostic in my Christianity. That is to say, when I heard authoritative statements about what god is like, or what this or that verse definitely meant, I would raise my eyebrow. I started to think that such knowledge at such a high level of precision seemed so very unlikely. How could we know all these things that pastors were teaching which such certainty when the only way to know them isthrough the bible? These teachings were all but definitive.
Eventually more and more beliefs I took for granted fell to the cold steel of scrutiny and intellectual honesty, until all I had left were the core doctrines – god exists, Jesus was his son, and he was killed and rose again. I thought Ihad good evidence for this and could safely hold those things close to me. Moreor less, that is where I stayed, for a few years. I stopped going to church (itdidn’t really make sense for me to do so anymore), started spending more timewith my “secular” friends, and less time with my Christian friends. My agnosticism gave rise to apathy of religion – yeah, I believe in god, but I don’t go to church.
Then I read the God Delusion. It really called me down from my comfortable couch atop the philosophical fence that had divided my mind for so long. A lot of questions I had were answered, and the book said a lot of things I had been thinking for a long time, but with much more eloquence. At that time, I still had a lot of cobwebs and artifacts of my religious upbringing in the corners of my mind that needed to be cleaned out. The God Delusion really challenged me and allowed me to see that it was ok to not believe.
When I was still a Christian, I had a problem with science. I thought science was really interesting, but as soon as anything like evolution came up or anything else that seemed to challenge my biblical view of the world, it caused an internal struggle. As a result, I could never really enjoy science. Now, thanks to you, and the likes of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Steven Hawking, Neil Degrasse-Tyson, Donald Prothero, Charles Darwin, and countless others, I can find a deep feeling of wonder and bliss within science. The world around me is so much more wonderful and beautiful now than it ever was while I was a believer. And I am so much more curious about everything now. I finally feel free, in the real sense of the word. I am free to think for myself, free to embrace the consequences of that free thought, and free to revel in that freedom. Thank you so much for helping me open my eyes to the beauty of nature and the cosmos. The feelings of amazement, joy, and humility that I have when I really contemplate the world are so much more satisfying than anything I felt when I would contemplate god, because these feelings are actually converging on the truth.
Sorry this is so long, I feel so grateful I could just keep going and going…