You know that saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes”? I find it a bit ridiculous for two reasons. The first is that I imagine (though I do not have any firsthand experience in this area) that few things would divest one of theistic commitments more quickly than witnessing and being caught in the middle of warfare. Second, and I think more significantly, I find it to be fairly patronizing toward non-believers. It fits so nicely into that attitude that most evangelicals (and many other Christians) have that people who do not actively believe in God are actually profoundly miserable, or are outwardly rejecting theism like a petulant teenager rejects sound advice, but will surely come around when they hear death knocking.
That being said, I find some truth in the adage as well. Given that, for me, Christianity was as much a culture in which I was raised as it was a set of tenets I professed, there are certain habits from it that (a) I still find myself returning to, perhaps because (b) I have yet to adequately replace them with other things. Sometimes I still show up at church, for instance, but that dilemma presents itself only on the Sunday mornings I’m not otherwise occupied--so, maybe once or twice a month.
The primary post-Christian addiction I have yet to kick, though, is prayer. When I get anxious, I pray--and I get anxious a lot. When I fear for my physical or financial security, I pray. When I feel bored with my current location or occupation, I pray. When I don’t know what to do in a romantic relationship, whether to stay and try harder or cut and run, I pray. When I find out about people who are sick or in distress, I pray.
I don’t actually believe that there’s anyone listening. Sure, I guess there may be; but I can’t, after all that I’ve learned and conceded to, buy into God being on the other end of the line. Yet still I feel the need to express--even silently, only in my mind’s voice--my desired outcome, or my question. It’s hard to describe what a comforting and empowering thing it is to have that deity to cry out to or to query or to thank, and thus how strange it is to not have that tool in the belt anymore. Is it because I have an innate need to control that I miss it so? Or am I just well-trained? Maybe it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation at this point, but the truth is that I do feel a significant loss in this regard.
My guess is that someone who was raised without religion, or someone who walked away from church at a much younger age than I did, simply doesn’t have the prayer compulsion. That would make sense. It’s also something I envy, as it can be pretty existentially uncomfortable to sit with my anger, my anxiety, my uncertainty, or, at worst, my despair and not turn to God. I could go back to theism as a security blanket in the moments that feel like an emotional free-fall, I suppose, but that seems like an easy out and kind of infantile. It’s not that I think that everyone except me has somehow figured out a neat, non-religious formula for dealing with these troublesome feelings. I just worry that, in the end, I’ll be the one in the ditch, crying and shouting at the sky, not because of some sincere conviction I have but simply because I can’t self-sooth.
Help me out, readers. Those of you who have journeyed out into agnosticism and atheism from the simpler comforts of Christianity, do you still find yourself praying, or is it just me? Have you found actions or ideas to replace prayer, or do you just keep doing it ‘cause it feels good and it doesn’t hurt anyone? I’d love to know.