I feel compelled to commit my own personal testimonial as it were to writing. Despite its addressing to you, and the small likelihood of it being personally perused by a in individual as busy as yourself, I feel almost as if I am writing this to myself and/or others like me. I have not had the pleasure of reading your most recent book, but I anticipate it greatly. I do wish to remain as concise as possible so I’ll simply add that it is my very real hope to meet you in person some day as you have impacted my life in ways I cannot begin to express in words alone. Thank you, sincerely.
I was born some 26 years ago into a deeply religious family in Illinois, USA. As a part of the Pilgrim Holiness church (a derivative of the Wesleyan church), I was raised from birth to be an upstanding member of the church and find my place ‘in the world, but not of it’, a philosophy that holds new meaning to me as of late. Indoctrination seems almost to civilized of a word to use when I relate to the ideology that was forced upon those of us unfortunate enough to be born into such religions. It is quite literally brain-washing. I was ‘fortunate’ to face some harsh realities at an early age and it ever changed my outlook on the only people I had known my entire life. There were influences here and there, but a last impression was the loss of my grandfather at about 9 years old. We had been very close and it was hard to come to terms with his passing, but it had a direct impact on my relationship with my uncle. They had never been close (for reasons I had not yet come to understand) and with the loss of my grandfather, Uncle David was there to take his place. My Uncle David was an agnostic and in him I found a new teacher. He introduced me to programs such as NOVA and Jeopardy, in fact he was the first person I knew to actually own a television! (I remember begging him to watch Marty Stouffer’s Wild America! (I obviously had no concept of programming.)) We used to go outside at night and he’d show me different constellations, explaining to a simple minded child that they were ‘giant balls of gas’, some with planets of their own. I was instantly a jr astronomer. Unfortunately, this new world would be put on hold for a while as we moved soon after, but the light in the attic was still on.
Fast forward to 18. I graduated from a private christian high school, though long since having lost interest in the religion of my parents. I was now a baptist, or a ‘rebellious sinner’ if you asked my parents. Severely depressed, taking a cocktail of pills to attempt the semblance of a ‘normal’ life, and holding tightly to this mortal coil to avoid the eternal damnation that suicide would surely bring. I’ve found that years of living in fear can do that to a person. I clearly remember the fears of impending destruction I felt during those years. Hearing that Y2K was the end of the world, hearing people in church earnestly pray for the end of the world, 9/11 was surely the beginning of Armageddon. These mix and meld with a child’s mind and give way to fears that on one hand seem stupid and pointless, and on the other horrible and tragic. Afraid that I’d never know what sex was like, or ever get to drive a car, or have children, or get married. I feel cheated out of a childhood. No child should have to live with such irrational thoughts.
Fast forward 8 years. I’ve since moved to New York City, NY, USA (as if there was another). I live with my fiancee, and work full time at a dead-end job. Life isn’t perfect, but there are rays of sunlight to be found. I’d remained conscious to the idea of God up until about two months ago, at which time I first watched your talk on TED.com entitled “Militant Atheism”. Admittedly I went in with thoughts of ‘oh boy, can’t wait to see what this is about /sarcasm”, but when it ended I hit replay and watched it again. I then proceeded to look up as many lectures as I could find with you speaking on sites such as youtube and google video. Following those, I found myself looking up people you had referenced on occasion, everyone from Douglas Adams, to Neil Tyson, to Carl Sagan (also an absolute genius). I spent an entire weekend at my computer listening to these absolutely brilliant people make all of the sense in the world and share it without any strings attached. I went out that Sunday and bought The God Delusion. It honestly is the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt to be so certain about EVERYTHING. I don’t feel afraid anymore and I owe that entirely to you. Thank you, Professor Dawkins. (Also you, Uncle David.)