Via Leah Libresco
Over in the Atheist channel, Bob Seidensticker of Cross Examined is experimenting with prayer. He’s signed up for an experiment run by Justin Brierley of the Unbelievable radio show (which you may remember from the time Hemant and I tangled on air). The program is asking for atheists to try praying for at least two to three minutes a day for God to reveal Himself to them (if he exists). After 40 days, the atheists are going to share their experiences and, if applicable, conversions.
Bob’s a Patheos blogger, and he’s been blogging about his approach. It’s hard going, which doesn’t surprise me. When I was an atheist, I didn’t find suggestions to pray particularly helpful (though the results of experimentation were sometimes farcical). I was curious what Bob would do with such an intractable problem, but I was given pause by this comment of his:
Okay—I’m in. I don’t expect that I’ll be able to be all that earnest—frankly, I don’t have much expectation of anything supernatural happening or even much desire for God to exist—but I’ll have a go. To any Christian who says that I’m not approaching this with much sincerity, you’re right. As I read it, none is required—as it should be. Sincerity comes after the fact; sincerity is earned.
As she notes:
It’s hard to get much out of something you can’t approach with sincerity. It’s not helpful to pretend you believe something you don’t believe, but it’s also not that helpful to just go through the motions of a religious ritual if you’re heart’s not in it. So I started trying to think about what, if anything, Bob or anyone else could do honestly. And I think the key is curiosity.
You can talk about trying to put God to the test or how Jesus related why he did not perform miracles for those who lacked faith. Herod certainly wanted some demonstration as a curiosity possibly inspired by his own interest in John the Baptist. In contrast I would note that Jesus also said “I have stood at the door, and I knock;” and so initiates the conversation waiting for a reply. God’s love for us even allows less than serious attempts of prayer as an opening to that door.
As an atheist coming to faith oddly I never even thought of praying as a way for God to reveal himself to me. Prayer was just so alien for me since I had never prayed even as a child and even the idea of prayer rather scared me like a supernatural invocation.
But this type of atheist prayer reminds me of this part of SF author John C. Wrights’ conversion story.
Being a philosopher and not a poseur, I put the matter to an empirical test.
For the first time in my life, I prayed, and said. “Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.” — and then my mind was at rest. I had done all I needed to do honestly to maintain my stature as someone, not who claimed to be logical, objective and openminded, but who was logical, objective, and openminded.
Three days later, with no warning, I had a heart attack, and was lying on the floor, screaming and dying.