I don’t believe in belief. Here’s why.


Arnie (not his real name) has been the sole student of my course on effective prayer.

Sunday after church he told me he’d found a couple online resources about effective prayer, that he hoped we could review together.  Each of them begins with the necessity of “belief.”

When he said this, I became nervous.  There are many such sources online, but I’m not comfortable with them.  On the one hand, trying to make myself “believe” that the outcome I pray for is inevitable, feels too much like wading into the world of delusion.  On the other hand, although there are many New Testament references to “belief” in connection with prayer, I’m convinced that either (a) those expressions don’t come from the historical Jesus himself, or else (b) Jesus used that term to mean something very different from what we normally take it to mean today.

None of those whom I regard as experts in the field ever refer to belief this way.  Never.  Not once.  Ever.

By Monday afternoon, I would feel my reservations had been powerfully confirmed.

Related:  From my diary: Learning to pray
Related:  I will not be disappointed
Related:  When prayer backfires

Arnie joined the church a couple months ago.  He is a “dual diagnosis” person, with a long history of drug abuse and also several mental illnesses.  He’s mentioned ADHD, and I’ve had occasion to recognize that in him, but I don’t know his other psychiatric diagnoses.

He’s been “clean” now for a significant time, and is very well versed in the Twelve Steps.  As a recovering alcoholic myself, we’ve had occasion to talk “program” a good deal, and he’s got a lot on the ball.  Notwithstanding his other diagnoses, he also has seemed to me to be growing significantly, thanks to the course, in his understandings of how prayer works.

He lives in a halfway house.

He left me a voice mail at 16:17 Saturday.  Given conditions at the shelter where I stay, I am unavailable by phone from roughly 15:00 any afternoon until 7:30 the next morning.  So I found the voice mail Sunday morning.  He’d said, as usual, that he needed me to call him back right away.  He’d said, “I’m in fear for my life.  I’m afraid I’ll get locked up.  I’m afraid I’ll get kicked out of the church.”

I called him back at about 8:30 Sunday, and got his voice mail.  Our next contact was when he showed up for church.  He now seemed to be in no distress whatsoever.  The conversation I first mentioned occurred after church.

He was wearing mascara and lipstick.

Monday afternoon he called again.  This was at 14:45, just as I had to pack up and leave from where I was, urgently, to return to the mission.  Now he went into some detail about what he’d been distressed about.

He believes he fell in love with a woman he met in the congregation.  He has never named her to me or pointed her out.  He believes she asked him out.  He believes they went out, but made no progress toward the physical intimacy he desires.  He believes he later learned she’s dating other guys, which notion put a damper on his zeal; but not enough of one.  He believes he sent her a number of lewd texts.  He believes she told him to stop doing this, lest she contact the police.  He believes he may get expelled from the church if Pastor catches wind of this.  (Not likely.)

He believes she’s “in a day program” — all-day outpatient treatment for mental illness and/or drug abuse — “just like I was.”

I’ve attended this church for 30 years.  As a normal male myself, I can’t help noticing all the eligible females who attend each week.  I’m more or less familiar with all of them myself.

The woman he describes does not exist.

Here belief = delusion.

The New Testament word most often translated as “doubt” would be better translated as “waver.”  Optimally, in one’s prayers one will be “heart and soul,” unwavering in one’s hopes and one’s desiresBelief, however, isn’t in the picture.

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