In an age of functional atheism, ‘tis the season for traditional fasting and prayer.
“I’m giving up God for Lent,” said the post on my social media feed.
I had to reread the line again while my brain did a bit of reorienting. Wasn’t the person who posted this a Christian?
For some believers, the argument goes like this: By intentionally “giving up” God for a season, we give ourselves the chance to put to death any inaccurate idols we may have unintentionally created out of him.
Engaging in this practice, they argue, allows us the chance to see what life would be like without God—and that, in turn, should make us want to draw closer to him. The principle goes that by choosing to lean away from God and depriving ourselves of his presence, we can learn His true value in our lives.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this practice is also promoted by atheist philosopher Peter Rollins, who is offering an online course called ‘Atheism For Lent’—aiming to critique theism and set aside “questions regarding life after death to explore the possibility of life before death.”
As a native and resident of the Bay Area in California, none of this is shocking to me. But what’s intriguing to me after searching online is that so many Christians, and even some churches, are intentionally engaging in this practice as a form of spiritual formation.
My question is this: Aren’t most Christians already “giving up God” in their daily lives?
Many of us are living our day-to-day existence without reference to the Lord instead of involving him in the day-to-day choices and decisions we make. Some have called this “functional atheism,” which I find a fitting phrase. Parker Palmer defines this concept as “the unexamined …