When I think back on my time as a Christian, the most overwhelming feeling is one of embarrassment. Knowing everything I know now, it’s easy to see how completely blind, ignorant, and arrogant I was as a Christian. I’m sure many former Christians can echo this sentiment, or can see this type of profile in some of the religious people they know (Some- but certainly not all). Becoming an atheist was quite an amazing transformation, though I didn’t realize it until long after it was already done.
Something that always perplexed me as a Christian was prayer. I did it, probably as often as any other Christian, but it always left me feeling a bit empty. I’d speak to other Christians and they’d go on and on (and on) about all of the ways God was working in their lives; all of the things he was speaking into their minds and hearts during prayer. At that time, this is what I longed for. Some sign from God that he heard me. I believed in my heart that he did, but I’d never experienced the feeling that I’d truly HEARD God.
When I was 15, at bible camp, we had a sermon one evening about our future career paths. The pastor told us God was speaking to him, and saying that we were all being called to have our careers revealed to us, by God. My inner obsessive compulsive planner rejoiced at the thought! The pastor told us to spend some time in prayer, and not to leave the chapel until we’d received word from God about what we should do with our lives. So I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I listened so hard for something, anything, that could be God giving my life a direction. And I was met with what I had always been met with- complete and utter silence, punctuated with my own desperate thoughts. Slowly, people started trickling out of the chapel, as they apparently received their messages from God. Before long, it was only me and a few others left. I couldn’t understand it. How had all of these other people managed to hear what God was telling them, and why hadn’t I? I was so ready to hear and understand and finally know what my life plan would be, and got nothing. My heart was as “open” as it could be, I was being as silent as my mind would allow, but still, I got nothing. I tried not to be disappointed, but what I felt more than anything was confusion and sadness. What was I doing wrong? Why did God not want to speak to me, as he apparently had the other 200 teenagers who had happily left, happily chattering about how God had told them they’d become doctors or nurses or pastors? Eventually, I got up and left too, no more wise and much more troubled than I’d been at the onset.
I’ve decided to share this story for a few reasons. The first is to give those of you who may never have been real believers a bit of insight into how troubling and, frankly, insane, religious belief can be. I am a happy person, and I was a happy teenager. But the times in my life where I was most unhappy were times like I’ve described above- where I was left wondering where God was, and what I was doing so wrong that he had left me alone. It seems strange to me now, but as a teenager, who had been brainwashed into believing that God loved me, and wanted to have a relationship with me that would ultimately result in a ticket to Heaven… well, hearing nothing but silence in response to your prayers and cries for love is unbelievably upsetting, confusing, and disappointing. This feeling is only made worse when constantly surrounded by others who apparently do have wonderful and fulfilling relationships with Jesus.
The second reason I’ve shared this is to get at the real heart of the lunacy of prayer. This was something I struggled with through all of my time as a Christian. Everyone I talked to went on and on about how God spoke to them and answered their prayers, and it always puzzled me, because I had never experienced something like that. Never once in my life had I had a moment, no matter how long I was still and silent, where I thought God had given me a message, of any kind. I remember getting really angry about it, and asking God, “How can I do your will if you won’t tell me what it is?” Looking back years later, it’s a rather amusing thing. Even when blinded by faith, my brain was still unable to allow me to sink completely into mind-numbing intellectual mediocrity. I realize now that I wasn’t a good enough Christian- I couldn’t be feeble enough to convince myself I was hearing God, when I was really hearing myself. At this time, the punch line of the joke is finally clear- “hearing” God requires nothing else than a rather large ego and a good imagination.
The idea of prayer in itself really makes no sense if considered with the qualities of God that we “know”. We know that the God of the Bible is all knowing and all loving (well, if you ignore all those people he killed, and the endorsements of rape and slavery… but anyway…). People pray for healing, for guidance, for happiness, success, love… people pray for things they want or need. An all knowing god would of course be well aware of the things you want or need. An all loving god would likely be quite interested in giving you the things you want or need. So why pray? Are we really so egotistical to assume not only that this god has created an entire universe just for us, but also that we have some sort of impact on what he decides to do? If God is listening, and hears you begging for healing for your illness, and he heals you, well that’s fantastic! Until you think about it. Why did God heal you, and not millions of others who are suffering? If you hadn’t asked him, would he have continued to let you suffer? Does God just sit there in Heaven, listening and watching while people are raped, murdered, or die of hunger or illness, waiting for the appropriate prayers to allow him to intervene? If he can intervene, but chooses not to, how “loving” is this God, really? Or, is it possible that, rather than a miraculous healing from God, there is a much more reasonable medical explanation, we as of yet do not understand, or you are simply unwilling to hear?