During lunchtime on Wednesday, I got chatting to my evangelical friend again. This time he brought along one of his colleagues, who was not so nice and seemed to feel (possibly correctly) that this ornery atheist was consuming valuable proselytising time with no chance of a conversion at the end of it. The result was one of the most rapid-fire religious discussions I have ever had.
It ended fairly unsatisfactorily - I felt that I'd fairly conclusively taken his (fideist) position to pieces, but of course there was no chance of him recognising that. However, he did extract from me a promise to pray to God, open my heart, yadda yadda. Yawn.
This always confuses me. They realise they're discussing something with a committed atheist, who knows his arguments and has thoroughly examined the evidence, yet they somehow think that I've never tried praying. I don't know what they're expecting me to say. "Oh wow, you know, I never thought of praying. I was planning on being a church-burning, Ebola-spreading atheist for the rest of my brutal, sex-obsessed* life, but now you mention prayer I just can't go on with that. I'm saved, hail Jesus!"
The truth is that pretty much every skeptical atheist in the world has tried prayer at least once. In my case, I spent seven years attending a Christian youth club, which meant weekly prayer sessions.
It gets to 4:00 on Wednesday, though, and I'm feeling knackered. The spreadsheet I'm working on is going to take at least another five minutes** to run, and I really cannot be bothered to find something else to do in that slice of time. So I figure, what the heck. I start to pray.
It's a fairly usual prayer session. I recite the Lord's Prayer a couple of times to get myself in the mood, and then go through the usual run of platitudes. I'm not quite ready to ask God to forgive my sins, but I strongly declare a general willingness to start up a dialogue with Him, if He's interested.
The spreadsheet finishes at 4:10, so I get back to work while I wait for a response from Yahweh. I figure that I probably won't feel a thing, but if I get any sort of positive rush then that would at least be worth investigating further. After all, it can't hurt, can it?
At 4:30 the panic attack starts. I almost never have these. I'm pretty sure that the attach was at least partially driven by my caffeine intake and general exhaustion - but hey, the evangelist did ask me to keep an open mind. Maybe it is connected.
So it seems I have my response from God. I ask for communication, and He sends me a panic attack. The solution is clear.
Next time I speak to that evangelist, I'm going to thank him for his useful suggestion - and tell him that I've converted to Satanism.
* They wouldn't necessarily be wrong about this bit, but I keep myself under better control than most nominal Christians. Whether that's a good thing or not is an entirely different argument.
** Premature optimisation may be the root of all ills, but it would sure have made my week more productive.