Dear Mr Dawkins,
It is Christmas morning in Australia as I write this, my family hasn’t woken yet and I’m excitedly awaiting their greetings so that we might sit down and ogle at the gifts we’re giving each other. My younger brother, who has Asperger’s syndrome as I do, will be getting from me The Magic of Reality. I have already read it and given it my seal of approval; I was so pleased to find that something exists out there for children that answers the real question with real answers. I always get a chuckle when people get terrified of truth telling to children; as though nothing could damage a young person more than honesty.
I was meant to be spending christmas with my grandmother this year, but she passed away not long ago. She was a devout catholic which meant I had to sit through a mass; I had to listen to a man who barely knew her tell her dearest loved ones that she had ascended into celestial North Korea (thank you, Christopher Hitchens, for that phrase) and that much of the kind things she did were motivated out of a love for god. I had to get up and read that the keeper of Israel would always keep Israel (what the United States has to do with my Nan I’ll never know.) I wanted to scream out to them that my Nan would have done nice things (she looked after orphans almost all her life) whether she was a catholic or a jew or a hindu, and that she was constructed that way because her mother was constructed that way and her mother before that. I wanted to point out the satisfaction that could be gained to know that she probably passed that on to her four children and her thirteen grandchildren and her two great grandchildren through her real, tangible DNA. But I didn’t. Instead I resolved to give my little brother your book; no greater consolation than truth can be given to an intelligent child.
I didn’t know who you were for a very long time; I was raised catholic and was quite devoted myself. I read the bible cover to cover, adored psalm 23 for it’s lyrical value and then came to detest it most of all for implying that I am a sheep and shouldn’t fear death. I want to fear death, I want every human to fear death and relish our attempts to push it out of our minds or face it head on in all out medical war. But as a child and adolescent I never questioned until I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
I’m sorry Mr Dawkins but your books didn’t appeal to me then, but this masterpiece of wit and fantasy and high concept did. Particularly the description of space; the scale has never really been captured for me the way Adams did. After that I chewed through the rest of the book series, the radio plays and Dirk Gently. Douglas Adams was my first and, remains to this day, my best intellectual hero. I was determined that we would meet and talk at length about life the universe and everything; this was around 2003. I was quite upset in 2005 to see the Salmon of Doubt on a bookshelf; my first hero was dead and I had never even bothered to find it out. So I read it cover to cover, savouring it as I had never savoured words before. I was left unsatisfied, but he had mentioned your good self and when I later came across A Devil’s Chaplain I had to buy it.
Lament for Douglas broke me; it sunk my chest and burned my eyes I was so deeply moved. Such a shared love of everything I had come to hold dear. Such friendship that I have only ever found with my brothers. In fact, the sense of brotherhood you conveyed was what did it to me. It cemented my world view and my intentions; I will fight and fear death but I will die before my brothers. I never want to lament like that; experiencing it through the words of others is quite enough for me.
I would like to be a writer of fiction and a journalist myself one day; something between Hitchens and Adams is what I’ll aim for. But I want to champion science; nothing can dismantle the hurtful or ill advised teaching of a prophet better than the provable teachings of someone who actually gives a damn. It is my dream to one day win the Richard Dawkins Award. And to own an octopus.
I’ll get down to finishing this letter by saying how much I have come to love your work. How much easier it’s made life for me; how much freer and happier it’s made me. Atheism was scary to me; I was terrified that by smartest person believed that I would stop existing after death and that he had stopped existing. And then I find this compassionate, intelligent and correct man who was dear friends with my favourite author and suddenly because it all made sense it was all made alright.
Douglas taught me to fear death.
You taught me that it was alright to do so; that those who reamin shall lament.
Thank you so much. Have an e-hug on me.
And Merry Christmas!