wanted to write a letter because I want to thank Richard Dawkins for The God Delusion. I don’t know if he will read this, but I must say thank you. Please excuse the long letter; I just want to explain a little about the religion and my up-bringing.
I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. Whenever I told people about my religion they would feel sorry for me for not being able to celebrate Christmas or Birthdays or Easter. I can honestly say that not being allowed to join in with those celebrations did not make me feel sad.
Rather my childhood was spent worrying about all my friends who were going to die in Armageddon, and that it would be my fault because I didn’t preach. I was terrified of my younger brother and sisters dying because I (being a less than enthusiastic Witness) was a ‘stumbling block’ and so would cause them to fall away from the religion, and to be killed in Armageddon. I was frightened that demons would come and posses me because I would think about bad things (i.e. being angry with other Witnesses) and then was twice as frightened as thinking too much about the demons also made them come.
I was often treated with indifference because I did not preach door to door. As a teenager, it seemed increasingly likely that I was going to die in Armageddon. And if I survived, I would have to spend all eternity in a ‘paradise’ with my spiritual brothers and sisters who ignored me and being constantly supervised by God and being under the threat of instant death for wrong-doing.
I never believed in Evolution because I was never really taught about it. My religion taught me that life was too intricate and complicated, that evolutionists had no proof and that the dating of the Earth was nothing more than guesswork. I was taught that the Bible made accurate predictions about modern day politics, that it was written by the authors of that time and that it was consistent with secular history.
However, one day, when I was around ten or eleven, (and watching ‘Jurassic Park,’) I suddenly realised that if the world was only six thousand years old, then when were the dinosaurs around? My step dad had believed that in the days of Noah dinosaurs had been too big to get onto the Ark. But that made no sense. I knew dinosaurs existed long before humans thanks to documentaries. Also, some dinosaurs were very little, so they could fit on. And it suddenly seemed crazy to think such a thing.
For years I was uncertain. I am not clever. When watching documentaries on evolution I didn’t understand what scientists were talking about. My science teacher is school tried to explain it, but I thought that he was describing adaption. At that time, I thought that adaption was completely different from evolution (I thought that adaption was a sensible process of small changes but evolution being some sort of magic that turned one animal into another animal.)
Like most religious people, I was very sensitive about my religion and couldn’t bear to read people criticising it, especially as I was afraid of Apostasy, the Unforgivable Sin. I was taught that Apostasy was a dangerous tool of Satan that would lure me away. Everyone was frightened of the Apostates, and they were everywhere, especially in literature against our religion. So by reading or accepting criticism, you would be part of the Apostate mission.
My life was very restricted. I shouldn’t have gone to University (it was looked down on) and I couldn’t travel the world for fun or as a documentary film maker (my short-lived dream career as a teenager) unless I was going to be a pioneer (after all, my mother reasoned that if I was travelling for fun or for a career, when would I have time to go to the meetings?)
From the age of fifteen I fell into unipolar depression and have struggled with it ever since. I often felt lost and worthless. I felt that the world had nothing to offer and that I was evil and ungrateful for finding no comfort in the promised next one. I couldn’t make any real friends because I knew they would all die. I couldn’t preach because I felt that it would be unkind to force people’s beliefs or to bring them into a religion that was so hard. Also, in my religion it was encouraged for you not to make friends in the ‘world’ (“bad friends spoil useful habits” was quoted to me very, very often.) However I couldn’t make friends in the congregation because I was still too ‘wordly’ for them (anyone who seemed like a ‘stumbling block’ was to be avoided until they truly became part of the Truth, i.e. baptised.)
I often felt very stupid because I could not grasp the Ransom Sacrifice; why did Jesus have to be tortured and killed? What was the point? Why did God need Blood? How did the adherence to his own nonsensical rules make him perfect?
I often was angry with God for using us as his pawns whilst trying to prove a point to Satan and the Angels. Would feel guilty for reading passages of the Bible and thinking God was cruel or thinking that Jesus was arrogant or dismissive. To think such things for spiritual creatures that did so much for me made me disgusted and angry with myself.
I began to have suicidal thoughts, but as there was a good chance I would be resurrected and made to answer to God anyway, it seemed useless. Even death is not the end in Christianity.
Finally, after returning home from University (the best thing I ever did as my beliefs were consistently challenged and my superstitious fears alleviated, something that the Witnesses had strongly warned me about but I was grateful for) I decided to be brave and read something against what I had been taught. I also decided to leave the religion, at least until I was decided (especially as ‘lukewarm’ or uncertain Christians are considered worse than non-believers.) Doing so got me thrown out of home.
I was homeless for a little while, but with help from my friend (who was atheist, coincidentally) I got back on my feet. The whole situation had offered me more proof that my religion was not kind or caring or good; it was as dogmatic and divisive as all the other religions it criticised.
At first I did not know where to begin, but then Richard Dawkins came to mind. His was a name that was infamous to the Witnesses. His was the only name I knew when it came to evolution. I knew of Darwin (of course) but I knew that it would be better to read modern works with up to date science.
I psyched myself up for several days before finally watching the documentary of ‘The God Delusion’ and ‘The Root of all Evil.’ I didn’t want to get the book The God Delusion right away because I was convinced that I would be too stupid to understand the science aspect within it.
When watching the documentaries I remember the one powerful feeling I had: relief.
I actually cried a little, realising that I was not alone and that I was not evil in thinking that the God I had been taught about was a cruel figure; someone who was inconsistent, violent and selfish.
I got The God Delusion the very next day and was amazed to find that (while I had to read it quite slowly) I did understand the evolutionary arguments! I wasn’t as stupid as I thought I was. And evolution itself made a lot of sense.
I went on to understand that evolution isn’t a theory as in guesswork, but is a theory in the same way gravity or atoms are. Moreover, I learnt that we already know evolution is happening! It’s a fact!
I learnt that humans had ancestors that died out (I dimly knew about ‘cavemen’ before but viewed it as fiction) which was pretty mind-blowing for someone who thought we had always looked the way we do now. I saw that the development of humanity was a long, interesting process. That everything had slowly evolved, throwing out what was unneeded but heaving itself onwards. Evolution is often imperfect, but this explains so much that Intelligent Design did not.
That the future of our and other species is full of excitement and wonder; we may join the ninety-nine per cent of other species and die out or we may continue to develop and evolve, who knows? I have gone on to buy The Greatest Show on Earth and Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne. I am still a novice at evolution (and the broad spectrum of science in general) but I am so excited! I am so keen to learn, I never could have dreamed that Life was so amazing!
Most of all, I have learned that I am so, so lucky to be alive. I have one life in this amazing world and I need to enjoy it. I’m sorry for wittering on about my life, but I want the massive change in my life to be understood. For many, The God Delusion is just a book. But for me, that book completely changed my life. My entire outlook has changed. I am no longer a special person who an Almighty God pays attention to. I am but one living creature in this great Universe.
My goals have been decided on. I am going on to do a Post Graduate (I no longer have to be ashamed of wanting an education) and I am saving up money to travel around the world (as I always wanted.)
I cannot articulate myself well, and I cannot express how thankful I am, but, to Richard Dawkins, thank you, thank you, thank you so much for The God Delusion; thank you for bravely putting yourself in the spotlight (despite all the abuse you receive) and standing up for rational, critical thinking. Through that act I could recognise you not as an ‘apostate’ but someone who knew about evolution and who I could learn from. Thank you for having the strength to stand up and speak out. Thank you for having the generosity to explain evolution in simple terms for people like me.
Most of all thank you for giving me the tools required to set myself free and to live, to really, really live.