One of the most wonderful things about my recent trip to Australia was meeting people who have read my book. I’ve had emails from ex-Muslims and other atheists who have simply wanted to share their own stories of how and why they came to leave religion behind. Below is an email from Juris Jakovics whose story deserves a book of its own. He’s kindly let me reproduce it here. Juris and I met at a “Skeptics in the Pub” session in Canberra, where we disagreed on why we might choose to describe ourselves as atheists or agnostics. I’m glad we disagreed, because it led him to write this to me:
It was a pleasure to meet you yesterday at your book reading and to engage with you in the ensuing discussion. You asked me inside the cover of my copy of your book to forgive you for being a little harsh on “agnostics”. I didn’t, and don’t, take offence.
I’ve read your book from cover to cover since then. It was compelling reading. I disagree with none of the points you make in the book, although there are some things I could add to, but then so could you, as you so clearly state.
Having thought a bit about why I disagree with you on what you said at the pub about agnostics, it probably stems from our differing life experiences, even though we have some startling parallels in our life stories. I could engage with you in an almost page by page discussion of the points you make in your book, agreeing with or embellishing what you say, but I doubt that you have the time or that that would necessarily be productive.
So I’ll try and paraphrase or distill some of my thinking for you, if you’re interested, as to why I differ with you on the one issue – the issue of how I label myself.
I think I’m old enough to be your dad, but I consider myself your equal, probably not in terms of intellect, but as a human being. I have a lot of friends of both genders, some of whom are much older or much younger than me, but I give all my friends equal space and appreciative attention. As you can imagine, I abhor ageism, sexism, racism, homophobia and prejudice of any kind against anyone (and indeed against any being, such as occurs with an anthropocentric view of the world). That’s not to say that I don’t recognise my own propensity for prejudice, because, as you yourself say in so many words, none of us is actually rational. In fact there have been carefully controlled scientific studies that have shown that we tend very much jump to conclusions and are incredibly adept at instantly finding convincing justifications for those conclusions.
A little background about myself. I’m Latvian of origin, born in Riga, Latvia, two years before the end of the Second World War. A year later my mother took me as a babe-in-arms to Germany, fleeing from a return of Russian troops to Latvia under fear of persecution and possible deportation to the Gulags of Siberia. My father turned up in Germany and found my mother in a refugee camp when the war ended, having spent most of the war years on the Eastern Front, fighting the Russians with the Germans. My sister was born three years after me in Germany. In my teens I discovered that my mother had miscarried a child before me. She was a very attractive woman and must have also suffered a lot of unwanted attention and who knows what else in Germany, under constant bombing attacks while travelling across it by train with me as a sickly baby.