When I tell believing Christians that I don't believe that God exists, but that I still practice Christianity, they often tilt their heads or cross their eyes. I explain that, for example, I still pray. 'Who do you pray to?' is a question I get a lot. I suppose my prayers go the same place as my believing friends' prayers. If God's not real (and I think he's not), they go nowhere, and if he is (and I hope he is) then I'm sure he can hear mine and theirs without straining; God is the one who makes prayer work. If prayer depended on the strength of one's belief, no one's prayers would do any good. I admit that I don't pray as much as I used to and that it is a little painful now that I don't believe that God exists. Even so, prayer doesn't feel terribly different to me now than it did when I was a believer.
I know that it sounds like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth. I'm confused. The thing that holds faith and doubt together for me is the sheer fun of Christianity.
Jesus mocks Pharisees and hangs out with little kids. The most beautiful songs of worship are bound together with horrible, vile, racist, infanticidal anger. Jonah runs from God and God keeps catching him, with a storm and a monster and heat and a bug.
I'm a scientist, I spend my workdays laboring slowly and methodically, a small mistake I made once set me back a year. I like how Christianity doesn't bother to make much sense. Even so, it doesn't make sense in a sad and beautiful and good way, in the sort of way that people listen to jazz for fun and not experimental music.
I practice Christianity because I want to. I think that's why most people who call themselves Christians do so; in one way or another, it makes them happier. This is why it confuses me when Christians do evangelism by trying to make a hard sell, running up to someone on the boardwalk and accusing them of unspeakable acts or leaving cartoon booklets as tips in a restaurant or nagging or yelling or pulling a bait-and-switch or going door to door like cultists or putting irritatingly cute bumper stickers on their cars.
Some people like to argue that God exists by the anthropic principle, that if certain fundamental properties of the universe were ever so slightly different, then life as we know it wouldn't exist. Finding God in finely tuned numbers says nothing about whether God is interested in us, and if he isn't, I suppose the feeling would be mutual on my part.
I'm a scientist, I've spent a third of my life in college, I make charts for fun, I play with supercomputers on Friday nights, and I can't work out the numbers to see if it's even the case that fine-tuning is so special. Should only people smarter than me be able to know for sure that God is there?
However, the real reason why I think the anthropic principle is bogus is that it's boring. If the most persuasive way to know that God exists is by doing physics calculations, then I'm going to tell Grandma that I love her by sending her a copy of my simulations code; I'm sure she'll be impressed.
I used to be an obnoxious evangelist, and then I was a nerdy evangelist. I quit both when I couldn't annoy or convince myself into belief. Even when I was a believing Christian, guilt and certainty weren't enough for me to follow Jesus.
Christianity is a word for how I want things to be, and I don't simply mean 'love' or 'peace'; I'm not using Christianity as an old-sounding word for modern intellectual hipster virtues. When I talk about Christianity, I mean the historically grounded theologically orthodox Christianity.
I want a new world with no thorns and disease, where the ground is no longer toil to till. I want a city with a stream that runs through it, the Tree of Life growing on the bank of the stream. I want the lion to lie down with the lamb. I want people from all ethnicities living in peace and singing songs to God in their own languages.
Although I'd prefer hell to be empty, I want a place for free people to run from God. I want to sing songs that I don't like with some people I don't like every week. I prefer organized religion to disorganized religion, because, even if Christianity was made up by nomads suffering from heat stroke and mirages, they came up with something better than I would on my own. My religion would involve a lot of puns and math and Danish philosophy and it would probably kill me. I like the parts of Christianity that I don't like, because all the parts I didn't like I found out weren't really Christian or weren't really bad, difficult, perhaps, but not bad.
I like judgmental religious people, but I'd rather they figure out who to blame for 35,000 kids dying every day from hunger and preventable disease, and who to blame when my little brother gets made fun of. I even want them to blame me when I'm doing something wrong, and maybe I'll do the right thing instead. I like to talk about sin and despair and hubris because I know they're real for me, and not talking about them won't make them go away.
I don't want a Christianity in which I can just say a prayer or show up on Sunday morning or not cuss and be okay; I don't want a watered-down Christianity. I want Christianity to be as hard as it is, with Jesus calling me to death and sacrifice because I know that the things that are killing me aren't worth living for. I want Jesus to make it as easy as he can, though, because I can't fix me myself.
Enthusiasm about Christianity isn't the same as knowing that God is real, it doesn't do nearly as much to help me sleep better at night, but I don't know what I'd rather be enthusiastic about. Television is boring.
I used to tell people that I'm a vegetarian because I'm opposed to American over-consumption and mistreatment of animals in factory farms, but now I think I'll just say that I like to eat plants.