Dear Prof. Dawkins,
As soon as I entered college the fascinating world of evolution was laid out before me and I was in awe. In my small public high school in rural South Dakota, we covered the topic of evolution for about 10 minutes, our teacher basically telling us that the theory of evolution existed (not explaining at all how it worked), and that so did the theory of creationism. We then moved on to basic biological structures and functions, ignoring the question of how they got to be there in the first place.
I was brought up Catholic, and though my father did not attend church, and I wouldn’t describe my mother as religious, I nevertheless had an intense faith in God as a young child. Rather than comfort me, it tended to torment me. I would worry myself sick about the souls of my father and my older brother, who to my horror actually declared himself an atheist. I also worried about my own afterlife, feeling guilty for “sinful” thoughts, hoping that feeling mad at my big sister and being mean to her wasn’t enough for God to put me in hell.
As I grew older I realized that a lot of things didn’t really make sense. How did God get there in the first place? Why didn’t he just not put the apple tree there if he knew Adam and Eve would eat it anyway? If God is good, then why would he want to send anyone to hell? Even I would think it much too harsh and evil to send any human being to hell, and who am I but a lowly “sinner” by my very nature of being human. Surely God has to be more compassionate than me, right? As I moved into college and realized that the Bible was not to be trusted, nor was the church, I still did not have the courage to call myself an atheist. The very sound of the word made my stomach churn with guilt. (It’s hard to avoid when you’ve been brought up to believe that God is always listening and those are the kinds of thoughts that will earn you eternal suffering.) So I took the easy way out and called myself an agnostic, and left it at that, trying to avoid thinking too hard about the subject, lest I might find myself dangerously close to atheism.
Then one day I was at the library, looking through the audiobooks to find something to listen to on my long drive back home. I saw your name, and in my quest to be a well rounded, educated person, I figured it was about time I read (or listened to) one of your books. It was The God Delusion.
What you did was gave me the courage to ask the questions that had been lingering in the back of my mind. You made me realize that atheism wasn’t as “dangerous” of a belief system as I had thought. In fact, it was a lot less scary than Catholicism, for example. You helped me let go of whatever it was I was clinging on to, and now it’s hard to say why I was even clinging on to it in the first place.
I feel like I’ve found freedom, and I’m thankful that I came across your book now, instead of 20 years down the road, or worse, never at all. I know you get a lot of these letters and probably have little time to read them, but I still felt compelled to write you to express the deep appreciation I feel. You’ve helped me to open my eyes and to breathe easy. I cannot thank you enough.