It’s not every day that I get awesome letters like the one I posted last Saturday, but this makes two weeks in a row now. If this keeps up, I may have to make it a regular feature!
This letter is from a commenter who’s posted here in the past as 5acos(phi/2). Although it’s from a country I don’t have first-hand experience of, it has a lot in common with the kind of letters I get more frequently, just with a different set of culturally dominant religious beliefs in place of Christianity. It just goes to show that religion causes the same kinds of harm wherever and whenever it becomes the dominant political power in society, and that every society has a need for secularism. Thankfully, it also shows that every society has skeptics and freethinkers to hold the torch of reason up high!
I noticed your latest mailbag post and felt compelled to finally write you a thank you note and share my story, after I have been lurking on your site for so long. Unlike other great personal stories that have been posted on your blog, I think mine is in no way emotionally moving, but I suspect that you might find it a bit unusual considering the context of your site.
I come from Thailand, where the majority of the population identify as (Theravada) Buddhists, and so did I. So by definition, I have never been a theist, nor did I know what it is like to live in a theist-dominated country. And although everyone in my family is a Buddhist in name, we lead a mostly secular lifestyle. Nevertheless, I was not a skeptic – I accepted things that were taught to me without much questioning, and though I questioned and rejected some fantastical claims, I still occasionally fell prey to some of the benign ones.
Before coming across your site, I have already rejected or treated as allegory most of the absurd claims that are rampant in my society, such as reincarnation, karma, the Hindu gods that Thai people still worship, etc. But I did not take the next step to declare myself nonreligious, nor did I feel the need to do so. Being used to a secular life, religion simply was not a big issue to me. I still went along and participated in Buddhist ceremonies and prayers when it would seem rude not to.
Then one boring day at work, I stumbled upon your “Carrot & Stick” essay after clicking through a few links on morality without religion. I found your argument extremely compelling, and by the end of the essay I had crossed over the fence to nonreligion. I then continued reading further into both of your sites, and then I perused the links to discover other atheists’ and skeptics’ sites, as well as ScienceBlogs (long before “PepsiGate”), and have diligently followed them until today. I have learned how to truly think critically. I have learned what the scientific method really is when school have failed to make that point clear to me. It was perhaps only a chain of coincidences, but you were my gateway to science and skepticism.
Thanks to you, the other bloggers, and the Internet, I have come to realize that there are so much brilliance in the world, but also so much insanity. I read about the religiously-driven conflicts in the US with amused curiosity like I would observe an alien life form, but it was not long before some parallels are drawn. I realized that my country is also full of craziness, from the mostly harmless astrology to the Dhammakaya Movement, our Buddhism-flavored counterpart of the Church of Scientology, but the most fearsome and influential of all are the ultra-loyalists. They are, in many aspects, the Thai equivalent of the American religious right. Politically powerful and active, they may not oppose science, but they do try to support absurd political agenda and silence dissenting opinions, and at least for a while they infected most of our brainwashed middle class, including myself. I also have to thank someone else for deprogramming me, but it was no less helpful to read about similar conflicts from abroad, which I could objectively evaluate and compare.
Thanks to you, I am now a skeptic, and I will try to spread rationality into my part of the world.