Praying my way to losing faith
There was a lady in our church who developed a mental illness. She was a terrific gal and, of course, I prayed diligently for her. So did a lot of folks. However, she did not get better. For whatever reason, at the time this struck me hard. As a result, I began to carefully sift through 25 years of praying. Not just my praying, but prayers of others also. And I realized that, as far as I was aware, no prayer had ever been answered in a clear, unmistakable way. No cripple ever walked, no blind person gained sight, no deaf person started hearing, nothing. Oh sure, there were some folks who beat cancer and other things like that but nothing outside the realm of medical probability. There were other coincidences too but nothing one could put a finger on and say, “There! That was outside the realm of the natural or possible.”
It became obvious to me that I was talking to the air- no answers, no response of any kind. Initially I read several books on prayer, on the existence of God, and on struggling with unbelief. None of them dared to go where I was. They all pulled up short and scurried off into comforting, yet unsatisfactory answers.
Being a scientist, I dug into the literature for any studies on the efficacy of prayer. Lo and behold, there were actual, controlled studies that had been done. And the result? Drum roll, please….. nada, nil, zip, zilch, zero… no efficacy at all.
I started to look at the lives of Christians compared to the rest of the world. I looked at things that could be distinctly measured like comparisons of divorce rates, criminal activity, overall health, family feuds, you name it. No difference could be found between any group of Christians and any group of non-Christians. Wait. I am lying. Catholics did have a lower divorce rate- not hugely lower, but significant. However this is not surprising given their stance on divorce. I can’t think of any other differences that were notable.
In short, I couldn’t find anything to indicate any substantive reality behind the Faith. No changes in the lives of believers compared with non-believers, no miracles, no answers to prayer. Nothing.
[A short interlude to say something about the way I am deep down:
- I have an inability to lie to myself. If something seems wrong, or is wrong, I just can’t ignore it or sweep it away or tell myself it’s really all right. It would stick in my mind and not go away. By and by, I’d have to deal with it, whatever it was.
- I always wanted to know what was true about everything and anything. I didn’t care what the truth turned out to be, I just wanted to find the truth and then try to get on the right side of it.
- It seems I’m possessed of a strong streak of skepticism about almost everything. Mountains of evidence are often needed to convince me of just about anything. And once I adopt a position it’s no light task to dislodge me from it.]
So now I was facing a mountain of evidence that I’d accumulated. Then came the critical question for me – would I accept what I now saw as the truth or would I push it away? I couldn’t push it away, so I was stuck. In an ironic twist, I found myself in a version of Martin Luther’s “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Over a number of weeks, I slowly let go of the Faith. I “prayed” a bit. Those “prayers” all said, one way or another:
“God, if you’re real, do something. Anything. You ought to have no trouble showing me something that will convince me beyond doubt. Heck, I’ll gladly toss my mountains of evidence, my doubts, all that stuff, if you’ll just do anything.”
Even after letting go of the Faith, I continued saying that “prayer” from time to time. I still wanted there to be a supreme being who will, in the end, take care of us and deal with all the things too big for us. There was still a longing for something eternal, and of ultimate, universal significance. But since I’m now sure it’s not there to be had, I find joy where I am and don’t think so much for what another day has in store.
So here I am. I cannot believe anymore. Fortunately, once I accepted this new life, it was fairly easy to build a life without an “invisible friend”. The future isn’t frightening and life goes on.
[Adapted from From Fundy to Orthodox to Apostate]