Letter to a Brilliant Atheist
In 2008, I wrote the letter below to Richard Dawkins after reading his book, The God Delusion. His writings on evolutionary biology are critically important, the most famous being The Selfish Gene. So, too, his writings on religion.
If you have read some of my previous essays, you probably know that on rational grounds I distrust rationality as the ultimate description of our world. Reason, though indispensable in our daily lives, defines its own limits and falls far short of being all we need to live and to thrive. (See “Reality, Part 4 – Impossible Things” from Pencils 2019)
Atheism usually argues against religion from two points of view. The first is that religions are the main sources of violence and injustice in the world. The second sets up a fundamentalist view of religion and then logically takes it down. Neither addresses reality. First, as I have said before, the ultimate source of human violence and injustice is tribalism (which often masquerades as religion but not necessarily), and second, fundamentalism is not the whole story on religion by a long shot.
There is a third viewpoint that I accept totally: religion, in any form, simply does not speak to some people. It informs nothing of value for them. I have no argument with them until they try to evangelize their personal experience as a guide for the rest of us. I think Dr Dawkins is one of those, so I counter with my experience, not trying to convert anyone.
Having said all this. Here is my letter. I urge you to read The God Delusion. It is brilliant.
February 27, 2020
To Richard Dawkins
RE: The God Delusion
April 3, 2008
After 59 years and change, I am still learning that my upbringing was not like most others. I was raised in a healthy, growing Presbyterian church in Fort Worth, Texas, in the 1950s. The pastor was a large robust man, a voluntary celibate, who did not brook fools and had no problem letting us know who they were from the pulpit. He, like you, did not see why God should need protection from humans, and encouraged all of us to read, to learn, and to question everything, knowing that God was up to it.
As a result, I am a Christian with a great deal of confidence in why I am. I pray, I immerse myself in the love of God, and I am strengthened and made joyful. There are no voices in my head. I experience God the way a fish experiences the river. There is a current that touches me, that is not me, that is pure love, and that guides me. I suspect you experience this also. You demonstrate too much joy not to. You have a different paradigm. To me, your joy is a worship of God, and God accepts your worship and blesses you. No matter what the books say, God is not mean, not jealous, and not small. The love of God shows us how to understand the books, not the other way around.
I accept there may be a neurological explanation for all this, but that does not change my experience. It would be foolish of me to deny my own experience just because someone else understands it differently. You must realize that science is “indistinguishable from magic” for most of us and so also a matter of faith and personal experience, even though it isn’t magic to you. Miracles are not magic to God either.
I believe that religions must be transcended not defeated. If I can show other Christians that they have no need to defend or protect God, that all are neighbors and all who pray are praying to the same God whatever name they use, that even atheists worship God in their own way---then I am working towards a day when we can all discuss our different beliefs as calmly as most Hindus discuss their individual personal deities, or Catholics their saints. I am not the only one who feels this way.
Thanks for your challenging and truthful book. We will get through this age of religious insanity by working and thinking together.