Monday, May 3, 2010

An Atheist Who Prays

I don’t believe in God. At least, not in any God I’ve ever read or heard about. The Gods I disbelieve in range all the way from the cranky Santa Claus that the people at Bob Jones University seem to believe in all the way up to that vacuous ‘ground of all being/god beyond god’ bullshit that Karen Armstrong is selling.

That being said, I have an admission to make.

I pray. Regularly.

Now, I’ve documented some of my tortured relationship with prayer in a piece of pseudo-fiction that can be found here. When I was a religious person, I took religion very seriously. I didn’t understand how a believing person couldn’t. I shot prayers of thanksgiving up the mail shoot all day, every day. While I was walking down the hallway. While I was driving (yikes, I know), before meals, and whenever else the celebratory urge of blessedness would hit me. Not too bad, you might think, to be so constantly aware of the good things in your life. I agree. Unfortunately, there was a dark side to my constant prayerfulness too. I was always praying for forgiveness for silly things, always fearfully rearranging the words I would use in prayer so as not to upset the deity, constantly using my conversations with the invisible man as a cudgel against myself, and a request for protection from evil forces that I believed in very much (perhaps more so than I believed in God).

Luckily, I’ve beat faith in God. I used to say ‘I lost my faith’, but that sounded like faith was something I should want to get back, or might need help searching for. ‘I’ve beat faith’ works better for me. It’s less like, ‘I’ve lost my car keys’, and more like ‘I’ve beat cancer.’ I didn’t give up religion because it was bad for me; I gave it up because I realized it didn’t make sense. That giving it up improved my overall well-being was secondary to the fact that as a person concerned with what is true, I could no longer justify espousing nonsense to myself and others.

So, my faith is gone, but my sense of blessedness is still very much present in my life. Actually, I feel even more blessed without religion. I feel a deep and profound awareness of how lucky I am to be here, how precious the people in my life are, and how duty-bound I am to try to make this world as good a place for both them and myself as I possibly can, especially since I can no longer bank on round 2 in heaven.

Giving up religion and the poisonous, self-marginalizing beliefs about innate sinfulness has opened my eyes to how much potential mankind has, and how much inherent worth each of us carries.

The love I have for my family has deepened incredibly. I have a wonderful, beautiful, smart, clever, funny, practical, sympathetic partner in my wife, and we have two gorgeous, curious, compassionate, creative little boys together, and a third baby on the way. I feel so honored to be here, and so happy to be a part of my family’s unit.

And so—probably because of the self-training I did in my religious days—I pray. I pray very conventionally, like I taught myself. ‘Dear Lord’s’ and ‘Amen’s’ included. I just feel overwhelmed with gratitude to be where I am in my life, and with the people that I am. To not offer thanks for these things would feel like the height of bad manners.

I’ve read and appreciated Dan Dennett’s ‘Thank Goodness’ essay. It’s an uplifting piece. I’ve tried to honor it’s advice, but just walking around with a sense of peace inside of me, and an awareness of good fortune and human possibility doesn’t feel like enough . I want to explode with joy if I try that for too long.

So I send prayers of thanks to my inner-cosmic mailbox, or wherever it is that prayers go. Maybe it’s paradoxical, but it’s where I’m at.

cross posted at Kos.


Daniel Tricarico said...


This is a beautiful essay--deep, wise, reflective,and well-written.

I've always said that I see a HUGE difference between being religious and being SPIRITUAL. Sure, sometimes they overlap. But I've met very few people who are spiritual that I can't stand and a whole boatload of (supposedly) RELIGIOUS folk that I want to throw off a building.

And being the spiritual (and not especially religious) person that I am, that's saying something, because I'm probably one of the least violent and aggressive people on the face of the planet.

Thanks, as always, for sharing your very perceptive thoughts.

Dan Tricarico

Spencer Troxell said...

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Dan.

Viva Litsnack!

Lodo Grdzak said...


Spencer Troxell said...

I'm glad you liked it.

Willie Y said...

Well put Spencer.

Spencer Troxell said...

Thanks, Willie.

Steppenwolf said...

Beautifully put Spencer. I always felt the the entire purpose of life (for a human being) is wrapped up in other human beings, not up in the sky. Kahlil Gibran once said that if we are looking for God, we would find him playing with our children. There is much that is 'miraculous' but there is no 'supernatural' how could there be?.