The skeptic's prayer

Dear Hannah,

A long time ago, I heard a story about an English skeptic.  He went into battle and was overheard praying
Dear God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul.
Nothing more accurately sums up skepticism than this -- especially not our modern skeptics.  Our modern skeptics are actually fundamentalists in disguise.  They have very real beliefs about controversial things, and they call themselves skeptics because it gives everyone the impression that they're still thinking hard about them.  In reality they've mostly made their minds up, and so have joined the ranks of the conservatives who want to change everything, the liberals who don't like liberty, the socialists who won't nationalize production, and the Christians who ignore Christ's teachings.  The skeptic's name means something, exactly like everyone else's.  It means something it isn't supposed to mean.  It most usually is a code for atheist.

I on the other hand am actually skeptical about the things skeptics pretend to be skeptical about, which happen to be religious matters.  Even my moral opinions are often taken with a grain of salt until it comes to to apply them.  When push comes to shove, I discover what I actually believe.  What I say, what I write -- these are what I want myself to believe.  What I do is what I believe.

On some days, what I think is much less than obvious.  We see men from the outside, and assume this is all there is to see.  On the inside of them a war is raging over what they're going to do; which is really a war over who they're going to be.  We often talk about the Founding Fathers as a homogeneous group because they created the American constitution.  But the constitution was a debate -- like the early Church was a debate.  The end of both debates could almost be described as an accident.  The product of every man, an indescribable convergence of points and counterpoints and incentives and morals and a personal history, is equally unlikely.  It has less to do with an ideology and more to do with an accident.  

Nothing has made this truth more obvious than my tendency to pray.  Anyone who's been paying attention to these letters knows that over the course of the last two years I've lost my religion; but in the strangest sense I've retained my faith.  Our "skeptics" say skepticism is the reason they don't pray.  My skepticism says why not?  A modern skeptic says he thinks God is dead.  I say what if He isn't?

I rarely pray, but I pray whether or not I believe it will do anything -- in the odd chance that it will.  I pray whether or not I believe God exists -- in the off chance that He does.  I want Him to know that I need Him -- that I care about Him -- that I'm grateful for Him, in case there's a possibility He might care about me.  I mostly wonder where He is.  I question whether Jesus is actually God, but I accept His forgiveness and thank Him for it if He really gave it.  I pray when I'm happy and I pray when I'm sad, because sometimes I don't know what else to do and I can't think of doing anything else.  I don't think He's going to do anything I pray about, so I rarely pray for anything other than for God to reveal Himself.   It's the only thing that matters.  Everything else is second-place.  Everything else we want is a shadow of what we need.

Some people have taken God's obvious absence as evidence that He doesn't exist.  The question that I have been asking myself is whether He wants His existence to be obvious.  Everyone talks about what life is like because God is gone.  They never think about what life would be like if God was around.  I wonder if we could live in the shade of an omniscient judge.  I wonder whether it could be considered life at all, considering the oppressiveness of our consciences alone.  I asked an atheist one time if he would rather have a God who was difficult to find or a God who was difficult to lose.  He chose the former.  I told him he should be thankful.

If God really does exist, there's a good chance that He's manipulating things in the most minor ways possible.  Maybe He doesn't send a flood -- but maybe He sends an idea.  Maybe He blew the wind a little to the left, and kept you from running over a nail, which kept you from pulling over, which allowed you to meet the love of your life.  This is why I say to always be thankful for everything good.  Christians say we ought to be thankful for even the things we perceive to be bad.  You don't know what you could have had instead.  You don't know where you could have been.  And you don't always know if anyone is responsible for getting you there.

Your father,

P.S.  Some people are going to read this and lump me in with the "spiritual" people.  For my sake I hope that they don't.  The defining characteristic of the "spiritual people" is dishonesty, because they pretend all the faiths are valuable.  A religious man knows if his faith is true then the others are false; but the "spiritual take any faith and love the faith itself -- or even just the mimicry of faith.  "Spirituality" is a religion for rich, weak white women who want the benefits of religion without any of the demands.  Count me out of it -- just as out of it as I'm out of Islam.  I'm going to be a skeptic or a religious fanatic.  It's one or the other.  A grown man must never think differently.

On that note there are few things stranger than a Christian obsessed with the second coming of Christ, and one of them is a Christian who isn't.  It’s almost as strange as a Christian who isn't interested in telling you about hell.  He claims to be loving because he feeds the poor, and cares about everything except the eternal security of your soul.  He cares if you're warm for the night but not whether you burn for eternity.  He says that telling you about hell would only turn you off.  He thinks letting you sleep in a burning house is more offensive than telling you your house is burning.  

One reason I left the church is because I became convinced that nobody was really in it, and I'm willing to venture that 90% of American Christians don't believe in Christianity at all.  Nothing less than an unconfessed apostasy can be responsible for their willful ignorance of Scripture and their almost incredible cowardice in evangelism.  They comprise the considerable bulk of the best American citizenry, and the greatest bulk of Heaven's worst.  The great value of the American Christian is that he takes Christianity lightly.  It gives him hope of heaven, without making him unmindful of earth.  His dishonesty does wonders for America.  But what will he accomplish for heaven?

On a completely unrelated note, it looks as though you've passed through the phase in which you always talk about vaginas, and into the phase in which you tell elderly people they're about to die.  I hear both of these are normal.  I believe the next stage is the one in which you begin pretending that we aren't all thinking of vaginas and death. 


  1. First of all, read Mere Christianity by C S Lewis. He was once a skeptic who became a fanatic. Also, you can't receive a gift from someone from whom you're not sure a gift was offered. God has offered the gift of forgiveness of sins. Only if you believe that and the fact that he loves us enough to do it can you receive that gift. Finally, thank you for inspiring me to "get out there" and live as a Christian should. Your blog and thoughts are much appreciated and well received.

  2. I love this! You should try reading some of the mystics. As to skeptics, I think you are closer to Jesus than most. I would so love to sit over coffee with you, and do a little granddaddy on Hannah. Dale

  3. This post is good, and I mean *really* good. But I don't "get" the final paragraph.

  4. HDR -- I've read Mere Christianity three times, and would own more of C.S. Lewis's books than anyone else's if it hadn't been for my massive collection of Chesterton. Good luck with the Christian lifestyle. Tried it for years and had a lot of fun, but the issue of evangelism and "taking it seriously" dogged me until the day I left the church. I was never satisfied that my behaviors reflected a totality of belief.

    Unknown -- I thought I was close to Jesus at one time. I hope that someday I can be again. The problem is that I'm not so sure the Bible is true.

    Ron -- don't worry about the final paragraph; it was intended to be humorous.

    Thank you all for reading!

  5. Jeremy: So all you've admitted to is that your are not perfect and that you are not comfortable with it. All have sinned and All fall short. Why should you even expect that all of your behaviors should perfectly reflect your belief? Your Creator steps in at that moment to forgive you and love you anyway. And if you're not so sure the bible is true, are you sure any of it is true? If you admit to even 10 per cent being true, then you understand that truth exists. The knowledge that truth exists is what keeps drawing us to it. Acknowledge truth where you find it and be honest if you find a ton of it in the bible.

  6. I think everyone has wished that God would reveal Himself, myself included... but there are problems with that. For one thing, we're talking about an entity that created galaxies by force of His will- He's not going to look like the paperboy. But more to the point, the Christian God claims that we come to Him by faith- the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. We are justified- set forth as righteous- by faith. I see it as a small step into the void... to trust something that isn't apparent, that can't be seen, that we don't understand. It takes away our reliance on ourselves. It's a risk. I believe it's the only way it can be, we being what we are. I think God reveals all of Himself that we can manage without distracting us from what has to come first. And it seems to me that as we become increasingly centered in what's important, putting away the self and maturing in love and faith, God reveals more of Himself to us. Something like that, anyway.


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