Richard Dawkins, you saved my life.

Nov 7, 2016

Dear Prof Dawkins,

I see you have met my friend Melissa.  I’ve actually never met her, but nonetheless she is incredibly important to me.  You see, I became acquainted with her because of you.  And the two of you together (along with a small legion of people I’ve never met) saved my life.  Let me explain…no, that would take too long, let me sum up.

I was a conservative American evangelical pastor who accidently became an atheist.  I hated it.  I hated losing my religion.  Truth be told, I still hate it.

I didn’t chose to become an atheist, it was something forced upon me.  The Truth, which had always been knocking at my mental door, had forced it’s way into my life.  It stood there, naked, unwelcome, and immovable.  One day, I knew I didn’t believe any more.  That hurt.  It hurt probably more than you can possibly imagine.

I didn’t want to live anymore.

My entire life was wrapped up in my faith, in my god.  Realizing he couldn’t possibly be real was devastating to me.  As I write this now, tears well up into my eyes remembering the pain.  I know it must seem ridiculous, trite even.  But faith was not just my career, but my reason for living.

I was so fortunate that I heard about the Clergy Project.  A place for me, filled with people like me. I visited the page half a dozen times before I drummed up the courage to fill out the application.  And when they accepted it, and wanted to interview me, I had to sit in the parking lot of a local pizza shop to talk to a screener.  I told him my story.  I said, out loud, for the first time, I was an atheist.  And the man on the other end of the phone, the Clergy Project Screener, understood me.  He had been in my shoes.  He let me into the club.

He asked me what I wanted to be called?  I dared not revealed my real name!  So I called myself John Jameson, as in the whiskey maker.  I called myself  Jameson because my loss of faith made me want to crawl into a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey and drink until I died.

But once inside the Clergy Project, I realized how many people were just like me.  This inspired to write my story, which in turn lead to me live blogging my coming out experience.  This would later be picked up by Hemant at the Friendly Atheist blog, which brought tons of people to my blog, including Melissa which you have had the pleasure to meet.

The support and love my readers gave to me imparted hope to me.  I could hope that things would work out.  I could hope that there was life after faith.  I could hope that my wife would eventually understand me.  I could hope that I could my family together.  Eventually when I found myself without a job, readers like Melissa, personally gave their own money to me, every month, to ensure my family’s financial survival.

I the end Prof Dawkins, things worked out for me.  This was, in part, because of you.  Your foundation played a crucial role in the launch of the Clergy Project.  I have no idea how much of a role you personally may have had in this.  But it doesn’t matter to me.  You, in some part, saved my life and my family and I am in you debt.

I cannot possibly repay you for your help in the creation of the Clergy Project, but I hope you know that I am grateful.

And for any of my readers, especially for those who have kept in touch, and those who gave financially to my family…for as grateful as I am to Prof Dawkins, I am still grateful for you!

Things for me are better than I could have hoped!  I wish I could hug you all. I love you all.

Prof Dawkins, Melissa, Clergy Project members, and PNF supporters if you ever need someone to talk to…never hesitate to reach out.  I owe you all.

PNF, aka John James, but actually Brendan Murphy

31 comments on “Richard Dawkins, you saved my life.

  • @OP – I know it must seem ridiculous, trite even. But faith was not just my career, but my reason for living.

    Hi Brendan,

    It is not ridiculous, but it is a very sad feature of indoctrination, that a dependence on the mental crutch of religion is fostered, along with a religious denominational dependence on a social network committed to promoting that religion as a priority over all other matters.

    It has evolved over many years to make escape difficult.

    . . . Glad to see you made the move successfully!

  • 4
    Pinball1970 says:

    @OP
    I was hoping more people would comment on this when I read it as it deserves some attention and recognition.

    I think you may have been top Trumped on the timing of things a little bit.

    Someone said, “You don’t change the world with revolution you do it one person at a time?”

    It sounds good although revolutions do tend to shake things up too!

    You and people like you will make a difference is what I am getting at, if a Christian read your story and had only a smattering of intellectual honesty they should ask themselves the questions, “what if it’s not true?” “What if I’m wrong?” “what if there is no god?”

    One of the best parts of throwing off the shackles of religion for me has been the journey of intellectual discovery.

    Discovering what I don’t know and then finding out about it.

    No exams at the end, no qualifications and no one to impress or win over, doing it just for the hell of it and never again asking that frustrating question, “Why?”

    That is the best part, life just is without the why/god/Jesus watching, judging and marking me down for eternal damnation or eternal bliss whatever the hell that could have been.

    Eternal Bliss

    “By definition, Its eternal, which means you’ll get used it, which just means you’ll be f***ing bored.” Geoff James Nugent (AKA Jim Jeffries)

  • I have recently joined the foundation,and being married to a God fearing woman,whom I love dearly,has always prevented me from”coming out”in the fullest sense…
    Until I read this heartfelt message from Brendan,it made me realise how difficult it was for a pastor to finally pluck up the courage to confront the fact that he no longer believed.
    I have tried discussing my beliefs with my wife and her family,but as Professor Dawkins himself has said,if someone tries to talk with”believers”about anything to do with atheism,he or she is faced with a brick wall…I have seriously considered leaving my wife as my apparent”deceit”seems too much for me to bear,living in a house surrounded with religious artefacts and gullibility.
    In my case,it’s like the late Princess Diana said;she was enduring a marriage containing three people;my”triad”relationship also contains myself,my wife and…”god”.
    Of course I will not leave my dear wife,as we Love each other too much;but I feel so much more enlightened since discovering the beliefs of Richard Dawkins.I realise I am not alone here,and having been brought up by a staunchly Irish Catholic mother,I realise it’s time to shed the old guilt and smash the closet door down!

  • Neil

    I think you can work it out between you. You are still the same person that she fell in love with. She is alarmed. reassure her that nothing has changed then work out a compromise. Leave her family out of it. None of their business. You have a whole community here and elsewhere for support but she needs her support system too. Welcome to the reality club.

  • Hi Neil,

    I’ve always known I was atheist (pretty common here in the UK), though as a teen I did have a stab at seeming “spiritual” in a mistaken attempt to improve my attractiveness to girls. It was only much later that I decided I needed to identify as an Atheist. I decided I needed to do it because I began to realise I wanted to be the best person I could and it became obvious to me that the religious in all their varieties had two impediments in achieving this for themselves.

    Dogma and especially moral dogma cannot learn and may become the source of great harms to folk that were unrecognised when the dogma was formed. Second, being merely obedient is not being moral. We need to grow into and live our morality using all our wit and wisdom,all the resources of our ever evolving culture to make ever better choices for our mutual thriving.

    If this sounds like a good approach to living to you, then perhaps you can begin your conversations with your partner, about this, about wanting to focus on a life that feels more able to deliver a personal ethics, more tightly woven into your daily life.

    Many religious folk believe that atheists have no moral anchor. What we have found (through science!) is that we have evolved prodigious wiring and processes for mutuality, empathy, deep bonding and that with our evolving culture building on this, morality emerges and is the very root of our success as a species. Indeed Atheist Northern Europe enshrines morality in its very states. Its care for its people is in the starkest contrast to theocracies. If the moral argument overlaps substantially with your feelings in the matter, then leading with what might be the greatest fear and turning it on its head might help reassure your partner.

    A few religious organisations are as morally competent as this. I point to UK Quakers whose views on just about everything differ not one iota from mine. They understand that it is our day job to be the moral authors, that we must not hand this task over to others to do our moral thinking for us. With this I think they have unpicked religion’s greatest crime. Of course, from this morals-first stance they dispute no science (truth is a moral essential), they also respect the free choices of children and seek never to indoctrinate.

    My daughter in deciding for herself explored for a while Quakerism as a route forward. I mention this only as a possible route you may invite your partner along eventually. Half UK Quakers are agnostic.

    All the best to you both.

  • Well,thank you both for your thoughts which I appreciate very much…
    I have been here in the States for coming up to seven years now,originally from Edinburgh Scotland via London and San Francisco;I’m truly amazed at the seemingly fanatical way in which religion is adhered to here…
    Having been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith,I was used to the serenity and solemnity of the weekly mass.
    The services I attended since coming here,of the”born again”variety are loud,brash and spectacularly”in your face”,more of a rock concert than a religious sermon!
    The last week or so I have felt so much more at ease with myself inside,and I can only refer to my favourite quote via Ricky Gervais,”Thank god I’m an atheist!”…In this respect I really do feel”born again”!!!

  • I reckon the American way of expressing their opinions and outlook on life etc would explain my seeming bewilderment regarding the way in which Americans tend to go “go to the extreme”in all aspects…Unlike us reserved Brits,who tend to embrace failure and celebrate the underdog,the yanks are not afraid of sincerity and showing they’ve true feelings;did we grow up as young children telling our parents”I love you mommy/mummy?”…I can’t remember ever saying that to my parents,it was simply understood inside ourselves and we didn’t have to reaffirm it in any way.
    I am not in any way criticising the American way of life,but embracing it myself…
    Atheism is however not embraced in this as in many other countries,and we have a long uphill task ahead in which to overcome the barriers which have been raised over centuries by moralistic attitudes…

  • Neil

    America is a very very weird place as you’ve seen for yourself. For those of us who have lived in countries other than that of our birth, I hope we can take the good from each place and for those things that aren’t so good, either laugh it off or take it as a learning experience.

    Americans of a certain age and ancestral homeland (yours) are more emotionally reserved. Maybe too much so.

    I am always amused and interested in the minor differences in American/British English and perspectives on life.

    The mainline protestant churches are much more reserved than the evangelical variety. I find the mainline churches to be just boring but the evangelical variety frighten me. How did you stand it?! o_O Still, as a country we are much more overtly religious than the rest of the West. I’m hoping for the young people here to turn that around.

  • Thanks Laurie,
    I’ve been reading a lot of Professor Hawkins’s writings,watching his media appearances etc,and have realised just how much I have to learn about the disillusioned world in which we live…
    I realise it’s not my place to criticise any people’s beliefs,and I shall try not to put forward my own views,which I know to be the right one’s,along with the majority of people in this foundation.I want to learn and study more about atheism before I feel capable of expressing my own thoughts,and I’m very pleased that other foundation members can help to enlighten me…

  • Neil Patrick Cairns #12
    Mar 9, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    Hello Neil,

    I realise it’s not my place to criticise any people’s beliefs,

    While a certain amount of caution is needed because of reactionary reprisals in certain countries or certain parts of the USA,, feel free to criticise beliefs on this forum which look to be error or which are false .

    Respect for beliefs and views has to be earned rather than demanded, but you probably know some people who demand respect for their bigoted or ignorant views, simply because they have decided to stick a “religion label” on them! and then claim to be “offended” by ANY criticism!
    It is a weak, and usually indefensible viewpoint, which needs to be shielded from criticism!

    and I shall try not to put forward my own views,which I know to be the right one’s,

    There’s no need to be reticent. We like a lively debate.

    along with the majority of people in this foundation.
    I want to learn and study more about atheism

    There’s not a lot to learn about atheism!
    Atheism is a lack of belief in gods and the supernatural.
    It is NOT about “denial of someone’s pet god”, as some theists make out! – The religious are usually atheistic about all (the thousands of) gods (past and present) except their own. Atheists just belief in one less god than the monotheist others!

    before I feel capable of expressing my own thoughts, and I’m very pleased that other foundation members can help to enlighten me…

    I’m sure your confidence will build with time.
    We do not simply deny particular religions per se, but rationally study science and evidence, and then evaluate religious claims in relation the modern understanding of science, reasoning, and history.
    Many atheists hold to humanist values of reciprocal altruism and consideration of the best interests of other people.
    Religious dogmas which put the promotion of the religion and gods, before the welfare, health, or avoiding the suffering, of our fellow humans, inevitably come into conflict with those humanist values and objectives, and will be objectively criticised according to the merits of the situation.

  • Alan,
    of course you’re correct;atheism does not require a lot of study,it’s a belief that most of us have harboured for a long time,including myself of course!
    I am reluctant to express my feelings in the outside world,but that is something that should not have to happen in this day and age when freedom of choice/speech is an accepted thing…
    I’ve just watched”the God delusion”documentary again,and it is very frightening and leaves one incredibly worried about the future for all of us…

  • For those of us who were indoctrinated as children, I think there is good value in reading the works of Sagan, Hitchens, Harris and of course our host here, Richard Dawkins. It’s a weird feeling when an idea that has been firmly implanted in the mind is in one minute, explained, debunked and then eliminated. I’m not sure if it’s possible for us to do that thinking on our own. I couldn’t do it. I needed someone to point out to me that a dead guy nailed to the cross in agony is a hideous symbol for millions of people all over the world to live in thrall to and to get down on their knees and beg and grovel to the supernatural god who murdered him. What I once went along with as a child I now see as slavish adoration of a grotesque murder victim. As a teen, feminist authors explained how religion, monotheism in particular, controls women and reduces us to reproductive and domestic slaves. Before that I accepted the Christian line – madonna vs whore. Nothing in between.

    It can be a long road to reprogram a mind and throw off a pernicious mind virus. I haven’t suffered half as bad as some have.

  • Neil Patrick Cairns #14
    Mar 9, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    of course you’re correct; atheism does not require a lot of study,it’s a belief that most of us have harboured for a long time,including myself of course!

    I would say atheism is not even a belief – its a lack of belief.

    When I am asked by some theist “why I don’t believe in god”, I ask them: “Which one?” – there are and have been so many over the years and centuries! – all with devout and often sincere believers – or priests demanding an exclusive monopoly of views!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_deities

    Religious wars have been, and are being, fought over such matters! usually in the name of “goodness” and “morality” – with the TRRrroo gods amazingly usually supporting the winning side!

    If you look at the RDFS site’s NEWS index page, you will see that the Iranians have had to imprison one of those “immoral disgraceful women”, for taking her headscarf off in public!! Shock horrors!!! 🙂

  • Alan

    When I am asked by some theist “why I don’t believe in god”,

    My answer is, “They need me but I don’t need them. or God needs me to exist but I don’t need him. ”

  • LaurieB #17
    Mar 9, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    God needs me to exist but I don’t need him. ”

    Him? Have you forgotten Asherah, Aphrodite/Venus, Kali, ?? 🙂

    It’s so many decades since I matured beyond gods, that I would not know which one to not believe in! 🙂

  • Alan4discussion #16

    I would say atheism is not even a belief – its a lack of belief.

    Alan, I would even push back at the term ‘atheist’.
    There’s no need to describe oneself explicitly as an ‘afairyist’, or an ‘avampirist’, so why the need for a word that describes a similar default null state, other than the widespread but unwarranted assumption that theism requires special consideration. It’s that burden-of-proof thing.

  • I feel myself that atheism IS a belief…a belief in something we here all believe is true…my favourite quote from Richard Leakey,the great anthropologist;”did God create man,or did man create God?”…

  • Neil,

    I think that the words atheist and Atheism are manifold in their usage.

    My take is that the adjective “atheist” is at root that thing “lacking a belief in gods”. It very much needs to stay true to its etymology. It needs this because most who are atheist never, ever describe themselves or self identify as being atheist. (In cultural terms it is a word that has a best-before date.)

    “Isms” apart from a few medical descriptions (most often falling out of use like dwarfism or mongolism) are about political or social movements, conservatism, anarchism. Certainly those folk who wish to self identify as atheist will declare for Atheism, most often being a political or social interest in say defending the rights of those who are atheist (self describing or not) and against Theism, a political use of religion to prevail in the public square against all others by using arguments of authority from a God absent of any proof of that authority.

    Most who are atheist don’t subscribe to Atheism. Self identifying as atheist, by saying I am an atheist or Atheist implies an “ism” behind it. The actual details of that ism can be anything like those issues mentioned or simply the political act of self identification of being in a challenged minority in a country like the USA. It helps to be mindful of how you use the terms. Never use the terms to impute intentions that are not there or not shared. Identifying as Atheist is at base a reaction (entirely undefined and possibly only personal) to a perceived problem.

    Belief (like faith) is a word we (self identifying atheist folk) often try to avoid because it seems under-powered when compared with a statement like “having evidenced confidence in…” We strive to have evidence and reason for our actions and speech. The “problem” we perceive is precisely a lack of justifying evidence in the beliefs of others.

    Being atheist is either of no consequence, entirely personal, or a social/political stance of potentially absolute simplicity. Only the last demands identification as Atheist, the first never.

  • I sometimes enjoy the reaction I get by those who are religious that view atheism as being something dirty and threatening, to them. The only thing that is dirty is my enjoyment of it I suppose.

  • Olgun

    I love that reaction. The expressions that pass over their faces. Shock (sometimes with a high pitched huh?!) then that look of strong disapproval then sometimes an immediate denial of what I just told them. Sometimes they start to insist that I’m a very spiritual person. Then I laugh and say that I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. Then the inevitable explanation that I don’t need the Bible, God and Jesus to be a good person. I’m a better person without them. There are better sources of goodness in this world than that old cruel stuff. That’s how it usually goes. It takes some time for the others to reconcile the shocking new fact with the person they’ve always known. Strange process.

  • Neil

    The idea that atheism is a belief or religion is one that gets thrown at us often by theists who can’t understand the possibility that people go through this life without the same ideological framework that they have. They don’t understand how someone could be good without God and without the sacred texts to tell them what to do in any situation. They are usually ignorant of basic ethics and of how much their good life is thanks to the Enlightenment and secularism in general. That’s why you will find atheists in general are reluctant to say that atheism is a belief or religion or even that atheists have anything in common except for their lack of belief in a supernatural supreme being.

  • Well,I have returned!…After a prolonged period of time since March 10th,I have studied,watched and debated within myself regarding this fascinating subject called Atheism…I have read the wonderful writings of Hitchens,Dennett,Harris and of course”our own”Richard Dawkins…and I have come to the conclusion that what I believed since I was a child is the only conclusion I could have come to.I grew up not wanting to hurt my Roman Catholic parents feelings,so I attended mass every week wondering what it was all about;went to confession trying to think up some sins that I had committed(a wee Scottish laddie of 5-6years old,mind you);and it damaged me inside for many years,as I’m sure it has and continues to do so for countless millions.
    I grew up with a fascination for natural history in all its aspects;wondered and enthralled by Sir Peter Scott;Attenborough and dear old Johnny Morris.I somehow managed to get through Darwin’s origin of species as an eight year old,thinking this is the truth!…(but I better not tell mum and dad about it,or else I will be going to confession every day for the rest of my life!).
    I pity poor kids who are brainwashed in every form of religion from an early age and not just left alone to decide for themselves when they are able to reason it out.I found some of Professor Dawkins writing pretty heavy going,primarily the chapters on the evolutionary biology side of things;but this is how the man originally made his name,and I feel for him that it the atheism side that he appears to be most connected with these days…at the same time,in a way,it’s a good thing that more and more people are accepting the truth,the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

  • Neil Patrick Cairns #28
    Apr 19, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    I grew up with a fascination for natural history in all its aspects;
    wondered and enthralled by Sir Peter Scott; Attenborough and dear old Johnny Morris.
    I somehow managed to get through Darwin’s origin of species as an eight year old,

    If we work at understanding science – atheism is usually a natural consequence, unless cognitive dissonance or mental compartmentalisation kick in, – because of the strength of the earlier indoctrination.
    That is why most of the world’s top scientists are atheists!

    Eminent scientists reject the supernatural: a survey of the Fellows of the Royal Society

    Overall, the majority of Fellows indicated lack of belief in God, with 78.0% strongly disagreeing and only 8.1% strongly agreeing .
    Disbelief in a personal God was even stronger; 86.6% strongly disagreed and 5.3% strongly agreed . Belief in consciousness surviving death was reported at a similar level; 85.0% strongly disagreed and 8.1% strongly agreed

    Are most scientists atheist?93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most elite scientific organizations in the United States, do not believe in God.

    thinking this is the truth!…(but I better not tell mum and dad about it,or else I will be going to confession every day for the rest of my life!).

    Over the years and centuries Catholic dogma has become progressively less credible in the spotlight of enlightenment by science, so the Vatican has systematically been fence-sitting and replacing denial with invented fudge, to pretend the science is compatible with dogma, and that scientific methodology, is compatible with “faith-belief” for which there is no evidence.

    You seem to have done quite a lot of reading on the subject so perhaps this history will fill a few gaps about the Catholic posturings under different popes, and the “WE-BELIEVE-IN-EVOLUTION-BUT-GOD-REALLY-DID-IT-ACCORDING-TO-HIS-PLAN” preaching! (Even if that is totally incompatible with the scientific evidence of evolutionary mechanisms.)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_and_the_Catholic_Church#Catholic_teaching_and_evolution

    The claim is:- that “dogma trumps science” and “evidence cannot conflict with faith” – which is of course nonsense!

  • I have come to realise that my early atheism was because I lived in two different cultures. One at home and one at school. I heard different versions in both and just had to find out who was right. When it came to religion, I found it was neither. I have spoken out against “history” as well and my dislike stems from the same place I think. I grew up hearing that Turks invented everything or, at school, the “west” did. I found discrepancies in both so take “history” with a pinch of salt. Freedom from both is the only way for me.

  • Olgun

    I know what you mean about living in two cultures. In a way, I felt that too although mine was maybe more like a culture and a subculture. In the late sixties and first half of the seventies in America there was an irresistible pull of the hippie feminist subculture against the staid, boring, restrictive culture of the New England Methodists. The second wave feminists offered up an ideology that, as I saw it then, promoted, validated and liberated me from a life of domestic and reproductive drudgery lived under the control of my parents and other authority figures. I feel lucky that this choice was right in front of me at that time of my life when as an adolescent, I was open to a wide range of ideas and was actively creating myself as an independent person. It’s the kids who are blocked from ideas, options and choices that become stunted adults with limited viewpoints and opportunities.

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