I was raised in Bulgaria in the late eighties, a time of great change, lots of American pastors preaching the word. My mother was the most strict and devout Seventh Day Adventist and I was made to go to church. As a child, I did not have much say on the matter nor was I asked. Initially I was quite resistant (my mother was baptised in 1990 by one of the visiting pastors) but then subsequently I got used to it (brainwashed at the age of 14), formed friendships, etc.
I considered myself an Adventist until 2000 when a slow process of change began. I now think that probably the only thing capable of freeing someone is what a call a “catalyst” event, in other words when the particular set of religious rules all of sudden affects you personally and that puts a different prospective, gives you an impartial perception, makes you questions things and thus paves the way to freedom. There has to be some sort of personal catalytic event that carries substantial magnitude in order to eject people from the bubble they are in.
In my case, this occurred in the summer of 2000 when I moved to live together with my future wife. Under the church doctrine this was simply unacceptable as she was separated but not yet divorced, and they believe that whatever god unites, a human cannot separate (based on the most absurd interpretation of some jesus speech). She was a member of the church and they had to act, so they got together and decided to exclude her from the church member list and therefore preclude her from being saved for everlasting life with jesus. As an honest believer, I was quite shocked by the way the whole matter was handled and how quickly they saw to distance themselves from the “sinner” whom they knew to be a great person with very active participation in church life. I questioned many things back then and was extremely disappointed with their responses. I began to see things for what they really were, rather than what they interpreted them to be.
In the subsequent years I remained a believer in a god as a personal saviour, however I completely rejected the idea of any church as a physical organisation with pastors and members. That was the beginning of the transformation. Suddenly things were making perfect sense, instead of obscure twisted interpretations I was begging to adopt a more fact based scientific approach to all topics of life.
A dear friend of mine introduced me to R .Dawkins`s work in 2004 by recommending the Selfish Gene. This prompted me to go online where I watched lots of videos, many debates and interviews with Mr Dawkins.
Eventually, I read the God Delusion and that pretty much sealed things up for me. I now KNOW that there is no god, the whole concept of belief is utterly ridiculous.
The scientific method is the only basis for progress we have whereas the death of religion is the only hope humanity as whole has.
The interesting thing is that I have been on both sides of the argument. As a believer, I have had bitter exchanges with friends who did not believe, using the arsenal of perverted logic provided by the church. I know how the Christian evangelicals think and how they reason and that makes me much tougher opponent for them now, I hope. I am now having very bitter arguments the other way round, this time based on facts and proof, rather than a chosen set of imaginary beliefs.
So, I am now a changed person, for the last few years I have discovered a new life and as a result feel happier than ever. I can even show off with a convert, my first but most precious, my sister. (My father was never part of this nonsense.)
If I have to sum up the effects of religion in a word, it is GUILT, they make you feel guilty, they traumatise and brainwash minds with it, it is by far the most powerful weapon they have. I know many, many people for whom there is very little chance of escaping it. Of course, the indoctrination of children is something I have witnessed and can probably write a book about, it being one of their top priorities.
I would like to say that I strongly approve of the particular style and rhetoric adopted by Richard Dawkins, C. Hitchens and others. The brainwashing of religion needs the strongest possible counter action otherwise people stand no chance. Religious apologists need to be confronted every day and forced to explain themselves as that puts pressure on them and eventually exposes them.
I know from experience that the strength of the religious idea is powerful enough to keep minds imprisoned forever as I now have given up all hope for my own mother.
In regards to Richard Dawkins saying he would not debate with creationists, I would say that I know how frustrating it can be, but there are always people ready to open their eyes and exposing the creationists in public debates is a great way of showing people the truth and would help a lot someone who is locked in a religious circle and is afraid to come out. Debate, defeat them and put the onus on them to explain their superstitions.
With Greatest Respect for all you do,
Proud member of progressive ever more secular British nation.