The Atheist Prayer Experiment: or, Ginny loses her shit slightly

I’m feeling all fired-up after reading several articles on the dumbass “legitimate rape” quote, and then I read this ridiculousness: somebody wants atheists to pray, every day for 40 days (of course it’s 40 days) for God to reveal himself (their pronoun), recording their experiences and submitting them for inclusion in an academic paper.

First let me get through my rage that this is being considered an “experiment” and might be made the basis of an “academic paper.” P.Z. pretty much spelled it out: there’s no methodology here. The participant pool is entirely self-selecting with no (stated) filtering criteria; there is no discussion of what is being measured; guidelines for participants are so vague as to be meaningless; and no discussion is made of the researcher’s personal bias and how that might affect results (a particularly important piece to include in qualitative research, which this would be if it were research at all. Which it’s not.) It’s appalling from a purely academic standpoint.

Then there’s the personal hit. And excuse me, because this gets personal. Motherfucker, do you not think that people have tried this? Let me tell you about my three months (your 40 days plus another 50 or so) of asking God — begging God — to reveal his existence to me. It started shortly before Christmas, and I realized that the faith-bearing part of my brain, the part that believed in God whether it made sense to me or not, was gone. And I was devastated. I felt like I’d been left by the one person I had always counted on to be there for me. Because that was what happened. If God existed, he had withdrawn, for his own mysterious reasons, my previously unshaken belief that he was there, was real, would one day meet me face to face. For a long time that’s what I thought had happened, and I earnestly tried to submit to his will; to play the role which he had evidently asked me to play, as a non-believer who desperately wanted to believe. But I also prayed, often with tears, that if it was all a mistake, that if something had gone wrong and I had gone astray somehow, that he would lead me back. That he would give me back my faith. I prayed for three months; I let go of all reservations and expectations about what this God-being might be like or how he might manifest. After three months I felt I couldn’t keep up the pretense of being a Christian any more, so I told my friends and family what I was going through, but at the same time I kept searching. Kept praying. Kept hoping, because if there was one thing I didn’t want, it was to live in a world with no divine force in it.

And eventually my longing was enough to enable me to create a new imagined reality. I never got back the strong, tangible sense of God’s presence that had been with me for the first 25 years of my life. But I started interpreting everything I could as evidence that God was speaking to me, and I came up with complicated rationalizations for how the fact that I knew it was myself, and my own interpretations, was yet another way God spoke to me. I couldn’t recreate those mental contortions if I tried. If you want to believe something badly enough, you will find yourself a way to let yourself believe it. And always, always, I was praying — for revelation, for insight, for guidance.

So don’t fucking say that what atheists need to do is earnestly pray for God’s revelation. Not to me. It’s ignorant and insulting.

And don’t set people up for the kind of self-delusion that I engaged in: don’t tell them to look out for a sign, no matter what it is, and it could be anything, that God is responding. You know what will happen if you do that? The people who want to believe will find a sign. Because that is one of the number-one things human brains are best at: reading signal in noise. It’s a trait I love about us — sometime I’ll write about my experiences with tarot cards and why I find them valuable even though I don’t believe in any supernatural influence — but you can never let go of the awareness that the signal comes from ourselves, not from outside. Otherwise, you can so easily be exploited and manipulated, which is especially traumatizing when you’re the one doing the exploiting and manipulating.

The whole thing makes me sick and angry. I’m going to take a shower.

2 thoughts on “The Atheist Prayer Experiment: or, Ginny loses her shit slightly

  1. Maybe we need an “experiment” that has christians praying to Zeus for a sign that they are following the “wrong” religion. The first lightning storm would lead to a lot of conversions if this is a sound theory.

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