|Prayers at the entry of the Jokhang temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
When I nervously expressed these questions to members of my family and people at the church I had been forced to attend, I received vague reassurances and drivel about "mysterious ways." These were not satisfactory answers to such important questions. All they did was raise more questions and encourage me to blame myself.
In a fleeting moment of clarity, I wondered, "What if I had been praying to the wrong god all these years?" What if the Judeo-Christian tradition in which I had been indoctrinated was the wrong one? Maybe one of the other world religions was correct, and I had been mistakenly pursuing this one. But that didn't explain why so many of my fellow Christians claimed that our god had responded to them, answered their prayers, etc. The moment of clarity had passed. I had to have the right religion.
I quickly concluded that I must be the problem. It had to be my fault that I'm getting no response. I must have disappointed this god in some way I hadn't been able to detect. As a result of some sort of transgression, my god had abandoned me. But this didn't make any sense. It wasn't like I used to receive responses and they stopped. What could I have done as a small child to disappoint this "loving" god so much that it decided never to have anything to do with me? And no matter how much begging I did, I still couldn't get a response.
The clarity returned gradually. Maybe the reason I hadn't received a response was that there's nothing out there listening. What if there is nothing on the other end of my prayers? What if this god doesn't exist at all? Maybe there aren't any gods. Humans have worshiped countless gods over the ages, and almost nobody takes the vast majority of them seriously today. Maybe none of them should be taken seriously.
But what about the Christians who kept insisting that they received responses to their prayers? Maybe some were lying, and maybe others were deceiving themselves. Maybe they were misinterpreting the sort of experiences we all have as evidence of the divine when they were clearly nothing of the sort. I could call my inner voice "god" and pretend that it originated from outside me, but I knew that wasn't true. What was clear was that these Christians did not act like they really believed their prayers were effective. Maybe there weren't any gods answering any prayers.