The new school term has started, so I’ve been going through the list of suggestion posted here and at Mark Shea’s blog in response to my offer to let you pick my religion-related New Year’s Resolutions.
[UPDATE: The full list of suggested books is now up]
I’ve looked through all the suggestions, and, except for a few exceptions, they fall into two categories: try prayer and read [book]. I’m going to post the list of books I’m looking at (though I’ll probably have to cull) by morning, but, because so many Christians (both online and off) recommend prayer to atheists, I wanted to respond to that suggestion in a little more detail.
Last year, during Lent, I asked my boyfriend if there was anything he wished I would do with regard to religion. He suggested prayer, and I said I could try, but I really really doubted I could. We abandoned the experiment about half way through Lent.
The trouble is, atheists have nothing to say to God, by definition. The first time I asked what on earth I could pray about, my boyfriend suggested I should say anything I wanted, provided it was directed toward God. I could express my anger toward God, rail at Him, no concerns about politeness, as long as I was talking.
“I’m not angry at God,” I explained. “I don’t believe in God, so I don’t have anything to be angry at. A nonexistent being can’t upset me.”
In a spirit of experimentation, I tried acting as though I was speaking to God, but the whole experience continued to feel completely foreign and empty. I could do it inasmuch as I can play the devil’s advocate in debate or try to play a character in an improv game, but none of that feels genuine, and, when I try it with something that other people find sacred, it seems disrespectful as well as dull, and I’m not inclined to try it again.
An addendum: In perhaps the most ridiculous example yet of my fixation on social ritual and politeness, even when I tried to pretend to speak to God, I felt uncomfortably intrusive. I had to suggest to my boyfriend that he offer a heads-up to God in his own prayer, so that I was not presumptively addressing someone to whom I had not been formally introduced.