The Atheist Prayer Experiment

I listen to an large number of podcasts. In fact I’d go so far as to say that when I’m working from home or out and about with my iPod, my listening is 99% podcasts. They vary from music podcasts to comedy and audio stories right the way to science based. There are some atheist podcasts and there is a sole Christian podcast in the list.

That Christian podcast is Unbelievable? (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/unbelievable/id267142101) From UK Christian radio station Premier. The basic format is that the Christian host takes a subject each week and generally chairs a discussion between a theist and a non-theist. Usually the theist is a Christian. I find the show is generally well balanced and I appreciate the honest discussion that follows. I think Justin (the host) does a very good job.

Now that the plug is out of the way; last year they ran An Atheist Prayer Experiment (http://www.premier.org.uk/atheistprayerexperiment). I’m so far behind on listening to the podcast that I’m only just catching up with the results shows. The basic idea was to challenge Atheists to pray daily for 40 days asking God to reveal Himself to them.

My Thoughts

When I first heard about the challenge, I did consider if I would have taken part. The experiment was already over by the time I heard the first podcast advertising it. My conclusion was that no I would not take part because I would more than likely be guilty of not being open enough to pray the prayer and mean it. Surely that would disqualify me as I could not be objective.

The conclusion from that was that if the only people would be able to take part where those who were considered open to their being a god, then surely they can’t call themselves atheists can they? While I applaud the sentiment behind the experiment I do see it as being a bit valueless.

Testing God?

Having ruled myself out of taking part, my next thought was that surely this would come under the banner of testing god and the Bible specifically warns against this doesn’t it. I had a brief conversation with my pastor (since I no longer attend the church is he still my paster? Who cares, he’s a good chap and a good friend so for clarity I’ll refer to him as my pastor) on this and we both seemed to agree that it did get close to falling foul of that.

Rather naughtily I asked the question “In that case, isn’t all prayer testing god?” Hmmm, I think the answer to that is a whole blog post on its own. Anyway, we agreed that the boundary was more a fat grey line than an absolute boundary.

Later I would discuss this with my wife and while we too agreed it was a largely valueless experiment, her answer to the testing god question was that the warning to not test god was more about seeking a bargain than it was about praying this sort of prayer. I asked her if Jacob and the Fleece was a test, she said yes. We agreed that since the command came much later than Jacob’s bargain that we’d let him off on this occasion.

Praying on Video

In order to protect himself from accusations of not being sincere, one participant recorded a video of himself praying. Christians commented that the prayer was genuine and complimented him on his prayer. The participant reported that he felt humiliated by it. I wondered why they were complimenting him on the words he used, surely it’s the state of his heart and mind towards god that is of greater importance!

It’s a Christian Win-Win

Regardless of the results, Christians can claim a win here. If there were many converts, well the answer is obvious. For each of those who don’t convert, well they were clearly not open to god’s message or the time wasn’t right for them, or any other apologetic reasoning.

As it happens, there was a tiny number of converts out of the 70-odd participants.

 

Surprised by My Reaction to Worship Songs

I managed to surprise, even scare, myself this week when my wife played some worship songs at home.

Before I get onto that, first some background and context.

Its been about 5 months since I last went to Church, some of it is because of legitimate reasons like being away, but also, some of it is simply because I don’t want to. There have been times when I have been prepared to go, as in not actively revolting against going, but its not happened. The result of this is that I have not heard a worship song for that entire time. The last time I went to church I was quite happy benignly singing the songs, just not engaging with the content.

Last week my wife quite her job, this was planned as in a couple of months we relocate to a town 100 miles away so keeping her job would have been impossible. This is all part of the bigger picture of the limey family changing its lifestyle and removing the necessity of my wife having to work is part of that.

This past week, I was working at home for a few days and my wife was at home doing some of the chasing that is required to keep our move on track. We’ve not had the two of us at home alone during the working day for a very long time. It was a bit of a novelty to be honest.

About mid-morning I came downstairs to make a coffee to take back to my office, the wife was in the conservatory and as I approached I could hear a well known worship song playing from the iPod dock in the kitchen.

My instant reaction was to think, “urg, turn that awful stuff off”. It come so naturally and so quickly that the only conclusion is that I really don’t like this kind of music anymore. If I’m honest, my reaction was almost anger at having to hear it.

A second later, as I realised my response, I was shocked by what had happened. I am still processing my thoughts and I am still a little unsettled by the event. Though I can’t explain why.

Historically I have always been the kind of person who cares about the lyrics of the songs he buys. I have spent a lot of time in record shops reading the lyrics of songs before making the choice of whether or not to buy a particular album. Just liking the music was not enough, I had to like the lyrics too, or at least not object to them. Part of me is wondering if this is the reason for my response.

Worship songs represent a belief system I no longer accept and so I can’t engage with the intent and therefore its hardly a surprise that no longer wish to hear them. But why so vehemently? Or am I just overreacting to what was really a mild reaction and its only my being taken by surprise that has made to seem such a big deal? Either way, this is a very new feeling for me, its surprising and unsettling, but work through it I must.

Thoughts, opinions, suggestions and insights most gratefully received.