How To Pray When You Don’t Believe

I get it. The way our world is spinning with chaos, division, hatred, and distrust we might wonder where God is. When you are confronted with the vacuum of nothingness which was once filled with a loving relationship, you question the existence of the God of love. Scott Hershowitz, professor of philosophy and law opined in a recent essay in The New York Times that the reality of evil has shut God out of his life forcing him to revisit the age-old arguments that say how could a God of love let all this evil of war and division exist hurting the good people who struggle to believe in Him and acquire some peace in the effort? In our personal lives and what we see happening all over the world sends tremors into our once solid belief system. After Hershowitz goes through the arguments of why God is passive about evil around us, he begins to see something beautiful in his son who is preparing for his bar mitzvah. His son is also a non-believer but he has a catchy thought that captivated Hershowitz. “I think for real God is pretend and for pretend God is real.” the boy said and went on, “God isn’t real but when we pretend he is.” Was the boy suggesting that when we pray we make God real?

That’s pretty deep thinking for a child and Hershowitz points out that philosophers call this ‘fictionalism.’ Hershowitz doesn’t buy all of this in other areas of existence but he does think it’s true of our belief in God. I’d love to have a couple of coffees with Hershowitz. I think he may be experiencing a growth in belief and isn’t fully aware of it. He is letting his son pursue his bar mitzvah and continue to attend services because he wants both of his boys “to feel connected to that tradition, so that they know the world has been falling apart from the start – and that there’s beauty in trying to put it back together.” To me, that’s the action of a believing parent.

If you and I attend Mass or pray together in a group and still have weak or questioning attitudes about our faith, we are not alone. Assurance will come eventually but not answers. That is the joy of faith; we keep finding out more about it. We keep experiencing it sometimes in surprising ways as did the woman at the well (Jn 4:1-42) or the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30) and so many others who met Jesus Christ on his journey. Or, from Hershowitz who laments that hearing the stories of the Hebrew scriptures in English when he prefers Hebrew, forces him to confront realities the old language must have blurred for him. “Still, I pretend. And I don’t intend to stop. Because pretending makes the world a better place. I learned that from my kids.” He concludes, “I seek refuge in religion, but not because I think my prayers will be answered.” That is a powerful reason to pray when you think God isn’t there! We can all take something from this man’s struggle to believe and remain open. Just keep going. Just keep praying. And praying while you don’t believe is still praying, even if you call it ‘pretending.’


God is patient with us. God knows how we struggle and go in and out of belief especially during tragedy and mayhem in life. But God cannot interfere with our free will to choose good or evil. Our choices bring us closer to God or they keep us from embracing God. Think of the Prodigal Son, a story where the choices went wrong for the young man but God knew he would return and they would embrace.

Take your scriptures to prayer this week. Reflect on the passages mentioned here. Ask your God – the Higher Power or Yahweh, or Allah, or Whomever – and that God will find a way into your heart.

Titles of books I promised

I promised you titles of books by the mystic-scientist, Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Chardin was a prolific writer so I will give you the titles of his most famous books. They are: The Phenomenon of Man, The Divine Milieu, The Heart of the Matter, and Hymn of the Universe. If you explore Google or Amazon under his name as subject, you will find the entire list of books. I highly suggest these books for a firm grasp of this man’s insights on faith and science.

All great writers, especially scientists, usually have some very fine editors or scholars of their work to assist in an understanding of their work. I really like Kathleen Duffy’s Teilhard’s Mysticism. I have not read her recently published, Teilhard’s Struggle: Embracing the Work of Evolution, which I understand is as thorough and readable as her previous book. Finally, I am told that two books by Louis Savary, a former Jesuit and a scientist himself, are quite good for explaining Chardin’s theories. They are: Teilhard de Chardin: The Divine Milieu Explained and The Phenomenon of Man Explained. Again, you can find these in a simple search on Amazon or Google.
Happy reading my friends!

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