Saturday, 22 September 2012

Atheist Prayer Experiment: Days 5 & 6

To be honest, day 5 was a bit meh.  In terms of the praying, that is.  The day was alright.  The prayer time was difficult because my cat, who - like all cats - thinks she is God, was loudly demanding that I pay attention to her.  So I was unable to settle into it.

Today, I felt a lot of things.  For the first time, I got on my knees, in the hope that it would help me concentrate.  It kind of did.

I began with the usual prayer for revelation.  "God, you know me, you know I used to believe in you.  If you're there, please show yourself to me."

I felt fear.  What if God was there?  What if it was the God that I abandoned in my 20s - the God of the Bible?  A homophobic God who would demand that I dissolve my civil partnership (or at least never do anything more than hug my wife) and who thought, on balance, that it was better for me to go through three transplants than to heal me?  Not to mention a God who is happy to sit back and watch millions of people die of starvation, drown in floods, be crushed in earthquakes etc only to punish most of them for eternity for failing to believe something for which the evidence is pretty shoddy?  I really don't want that sod to be real.

Also, as a matter of personal pride, how bloody embarrassing would it be to discover I'd been wrong all these years?  How my atheist friends might mock me for so easily succumbing to auto-suggestion.  (I'm a suggestible person and I was aware, coming into this experiment, that I'd need to be wary of this.)

I also felt sad.  I have depression, which is treated but I've been ill this week and that often aggravates it.

A voice in my head seemed to speak.

"Would you like me to help your sadness?" 

"Yes please."

"Be thankful."

Was this God?  I'm pretty sure the Christians reading this will be thinking "Yes!"  Sorry, guys, I don't think it was.  I suppose it could have been, but I think it's far more probable that it was a part of me - a wise part to which I listen far too infrequently.  I used to spend more time in contemplation and often heard a wise voice.  Moreover, the idea that gratitude can help combat sadness is something I learned a long time ago, from friends.  I think the human brain is very good at digging up answers, given time to forage. 

My conclusion from the experiment so far is that while I am still an atheist, a few minutes' meditation at the start of each day is a worthwhile habit.



  1. Hi.

    It's funny how God so often sounds like the best of ourselves. Funny too how the answer changes everything unexpectedly. I was once struggling with how to go forward with a relationship and I said, vaguely upwards, "The trick is not to care" (because if you don't care about the the result, you make far fewer mistakes). Instantly came that same clean, clear thought, like a splash of cold water, "No, the trick is to trust."

    I was stunned and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was right. Trust allows you to relax, while still caring. It could have been me, but, actually, am I generally that wise? On demand? Actually, no, not really. The more I thought, the more certain I became that the voice had come from outside.

    The interesting thing, both for me then, and you now at this moment is, what are you going to change? Research shows clearly that if a new revelation (from God, you, or another person) is not put into practical form almost straight away, it is never done.

    Why not spend a minute of your three minutes tomorrow morning, in thanking God for everything you can think of, and make it a deliberate habit? After all, it is as much of a shame to waste your own wisdom, as that of God's!

    Listen to the voice, wherever it came from, and follow it. Think of it like a treasure hunt - you've had the first clue to change in your life. You don't get to the next until you follow this one. Who knows what the next clue will be - what fun!

    (P.S. Put the difficult questions about war and famine to one side. He hates them more than you - He sees it done to those He loves, while you only read about it, and the reasons He cannot intervene more directly MUST be answered, but not in this time. For everything there is a season - stay in the one you're in.)


    Robin Aldersey-Taylor

    1. Hi Robin,

      I spent some time today thinking about all the good things in my life and being grateful for them. I don't see the point of thanking Godfor them because I don't believe I God, but I can nevertheless appreciate them and be thankful.

      I'll blog again in a couple of days.

    2. Hi Paddy

      Cool, well done!

      I look forward to reading it.

  2. Did your brain dig the difference between solemn prayer versus morning meditation?

  3. You said: "Not to mention a God who is happy to sit back and watch millions of people die of starvation, drown in floods, be crushed in earthquakes etc only to punish most of them for eternity for failing to believe something for which the evidence is pretty shoddy?

    Aren’t there too many assumptions, extrapolations in that statement? For example why assume that God is happy to watch suffering? This is an imperfect world, where the highest problem is sin and highest good is reconciliation with and love of God. In our own lives we allow physical suffering for a higher good - like say surgeries, working hard to excel in sports/academics, choosing to suffer/die in the face of religious or political persecution etc. You may ask why God who is all powerful lets suffering (as seen from Adam/Eve itself, where God actually says that there will be suffering), but thats a different question from saying that God is "happy" about suffering.

    You said "only to punish most of them for eternity for failing to believe something for which the evidence is pretty shoddy". Again, why assume that anyone will be punished for 'failing to believe something for which the evidence is pretty shoddy'? Punishment, if there is, may be on the basis on deliberate and ultimate refusal to see truth/morality etc considering what is available/known to the person (remember, God can see the heart)? Why assume that God condemns a honest mistake or a innocent/ignorant error etc?

    "A homophobic God who would demand that I dissolve my civil partnership"

    Well, you may be mixing up all the demands of preachers etc and "demands" of God? Why not deal with the issue directly with God? If God is a God of perfect love, God will help you have your answers, which I am sure, can be more insightful/helpful than what preachers etc say.

    Regarding the 'voice in head', you are right, an isolated idea/feeling etc that may pop up in mind is not enough. Working of God, perhaps is more to do with conviction of inadequacies/shortcomings, need for forgiveness, praying to God in repentance and to restore relationship with God, gaining an assurance of forgiveness and restored relationship etc and seeing that workout intimately on a daily basis in a myriad ways.

  4. It's been my experience that sometimes God does speak in a simple and subtle way into our own thoughts. Let's assume that God did offer to heal you of depression, why not make that a request in your prayer time. By the way I have some personal history in this area and I know something about the way God removes the difficult layers in our lives. Thanks for your honest post.

  5. I would like to correct/modify my last paragraph above. I said that "isolated idea/feeling etc that may pop up in mind is not enough". But that may be a hasty conclusion too.
    As Humphries indicated, God can deal with each person in various ways. It may be a beginning for example, like what Humphries said "Let's assume that God did offer to heal you of depression, why not make that a request in your prayer time". I agree with that fully.

  6. Yeah, I don't have a good history with the healing thing. It'll be in the series on losing my faith.

    I'm going to keep on being open to whatever happens. I don't need to label or understand it.

  7. McGingersnap! I came across The Atheist Prayer Experiment through a friends facebook page - wowee you are so brave and I have enjoyed reading your blog so far. I decided 14 years ago to find out for myself whether God was real or not. Prayer was not something that I was used to as my family were not believers and church was not somewhere I felt that I would fit in either. So looking foward to reading how things go - I'm praying for you xx

    1. Hi, thanks for commenting. Do you blog anywhere?

    2. Sorry, ignore the question about your blogging. I was being dense!

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Prayed for you earlier today and thought I would pop by to see how things were going. Yes I do blog - just started last week - mine is a rather dull one I'm afraid but I do hope it will improve in time with practise lol.
      You speak in tongues? Just last week a close friend came over and told us that he lost his faith years ago and was an atheist now yet he too could speak in tongues! He explained he had been prayed for many years ago by folk in his church and found himself speaking in tongues. We had an epic God chat that afternoon! I will share your blog with him - I think he will be very interested in the whole atheist prayer experiment. x

    5. That is interesting. Another former Christian, now atheist, has said that she can still speak in tongues.

      Whatever it is, I find it quite relaxing. Not that I do it very often.

      Best wishes,

      Paddy (a.k.a. Rachel)

  8. Just came across this and was really encouraged, thank you for posting!

    I'm a christian but don't have a very good prayer life. I'm a way too busy character, always on the run, yet I'm encouraged by you to stop and take a moment and pray today. I heard once that God, as a father, wants to spend time with us - the same way we (if we're parents) want to spend time with our children. It's a hard concept for me to get, not having had a close relationship with both my parents as a child.

    I too have experienced that clean crisp voice - like a splash of cold water as one poster put it. Very rarely, but sometimes, a thought cuts through the moment so cleanly. Was it mine? Was it God's? I or rather "we" christians wonder the same things you know.

    Rather than was it mine/God's, this is what to ask when or if you have a moment again like this:

    - What was said, was it true? Was it good? Was it loving?

    This is a better question to ask - we get all sorts of thoughts pop into our heads and some ought not to be listened to. The ones that are good, truthful and loving can be discerned over time and as we respond, act accordingly, good things often happen!

    PS: About depression, I have been there, I know how dark it can be. I had on/off manic depression for a few years. I have to say, I am healed of that now. I don't know how or when, it was a slow process. I am very thankful these days, mostly because I had such a dark time and now am through it! I believe that becoming a Christian and learning about the Lord through a great church and wonderful people played a big part in that psychological healing.

    1. Thanks Andrew. Your advice on what to do if I hear that voice again is very wise. I'd already decided that it would be better to go its suggestions that seemed good rather than fretting over their origin.

      Fortunately my depression has been pretty mild for a number of years. It just gets frustrating when I get ill or my energy levels plummet. But I definitely have a lot to be thankful for. I'm glad that you've come through your dark times.

  9. My prayer is one of thanks. I am thankful that you have been set free from the God of your 20s. That is not the God I know. I pray for peace, love and joy to fill your life. I appreciate your honest seeking. It is a lesson to us all.