Dear Dr. Dawkins,
I want to start by thanking you for giving me the courage to “come out” as an atheist not only to others, but to myself. My education has been something of a paradox: I was raised in the Jewish day school system but have always had an affinity for the sciences. My faith in God was strong throughout my youth, but as my scientific studies progressed I found myself constantly trying to reconcile the two. It was around the eleventh grade that I realized that God and science are not reconcilable. I immediately committed myself to doublethink in a way that would have made Orwell proud, sure that a life of pseudo-faith would be better than admitting to myself or anyone else that I am a non-believer. That same year in biology class is when I first learned the name Richard Dawkins, which led me to The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype. Finally picking up The God Delusion was nerve-wracking, but once I did I no longer felt the need to deny the nagging voice in the back of my mind, and over the past few years I have become totally open about my atheism. So for all of that, thank you.
My new problem is one of childhood indoctrination. Just a few years ago, I found nothing remiss in the story of Lot and his guests. It was an eye-opening experience to really examine that story for the first time and find not the kind-hearted host that I was accustomed to, but rather the horror of a father offering his young daughters for rape and brutalization. Science has definitely obliterated the hold that faith had on me and allowed me to see the world through a new lens. However, the hold it has been unable to shake is that of Zionism.
For eighteen years, I was immersed in a world where Israel was our own personal miracle. My peers and I are well-trained in Hasbara, and I can list countless bits of Israeli trivia designed to prove that Israel is in fact the “good guy” and most of the world just cannot see it. I could tell you that Israel has the highest number of scientific papers per capita in the world, and that Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East, and that all of this has been accomplished in under 70 years. I could tell you that Israel covertly airlifted over 20,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 80’s and 90’s when they were facing discrimination, and that Israel was one of the first countries to bring aid to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. I could tell you that Israel drops leaflets in Gaza before every attack to give civilians ample time to evacuate the areas being targeted, and that in response Hammas uses children and pregnant women to build human shields in those areas. And if you were to tell me otherwise, it would cause me physical pain, the way I imagine religious people ache when they hear people like you or I question their beliefs.
We are told that even though Israel is far from perfect, it is always on the side of “good” despite the occasional blunder now and then. Even though I know that most of the world disagrees with me and my viewpoint, I find it nearly impossible to distinguish between what I have been taught and what is true. It isn’t helpful that the countries who are most vocally critical are Muslim Arab countries, because how can places with such horrific policies towards women and apostasy be taken seriously?
I know that international politics is not exactly your domain, and unfortunately it is not mine either, or perhaps I would not find it such a struggle to feel better informed. I also know that posting anything Zionist online has potential repercussions, although I (maybe naively) hope that people will be respectful. I just know how passionate you are about raising children with certain beliefs, and I thought you might find this parallel between religious and political ideologies interesting. After reading The God Delusion, I found that for a while it was difficult to empathize with people trapped in their religions. What was so captivating? Why not just let go when science is so much more satisfying? It was not until somebody recently questioned my beliefs regarding Israel that I recognized a closed-mindedness in myself that scares me and yet feels unchangeable, even though I would like nothing more than to be able to examine the facts objectively.
Thank you again for all of the work that you do to encourage people like me to embrace reason and curiosity and ultimately live better lives for it.
The very best regards,