When I was well into my teen years, I started to notice that God was getting praised for things that came about though human effort or chance event. For instance, when the church raised the money to fix and expand the parking lot, God was thanked. Stuff like this puzzled me because I could see that this accomplishment required no divine intervention. We would praise God when someone was sick and the medicine made them feel better (why not praise medical science?). If a member of the church with cancer had a good day, we would praise God (even if the person was not actually healed). I even heard a few people thank God for parking spots and I thought then as well as now that they must have been joking. All these believers seem to set the bar incredibly low for what they thought Almightily God could do at their request (and didn’t Jesus promise that he would accomplish what they asked in his name, like in John 14:13?). I praised God when I was admitted to Trevecca Nazarene University, but no supernatural intervention was needed there. However, when I got a whole group of men at a church convention to petition God to heal a friend of mine who was blind, nothing happened. My general observation was that asking God to accomplish anything that was not relatively probable to happen anyway tended to have that same result: nothing unusual would happen. I would never even get a “no” or “not yet,” (as the apologist would say), but total silence. As if I had prayed to a jug of milk.
What bothered me the most about this was that I could not see what God had to do with any of these occurrences for which he was given “the glory.” If the work was accomplished by humans, the believers would say God used them to accomplish his purpose. It’s not to say the human workers where never thanked in some way, as they often were. But I couldn’t see God or his purpose, so why not just thank the human workers for what they accomplished? Time to apply Occam’s razor and stop multiplying entities where they are not needed.
I wasn’t trying to use God like Santa Clause or praying for material things, in fact I had a high degree of scorn for people anyone who prayed like that (sure, I was probably a bit of a spiritual snob). I wasn’t complaining that God didn’t grant me a pony I prayed for when I was three (or something like that). But it bothered me that I was not observing any kind of response to any of my prayers. By the time I was in college the lack of any hint of the supernatural eventually lead me to seek out other variations of Christianity (a Baptist church, Catholicism, and Episcopalianism) to try to find what I was missing in my home church. I seriously considered Catholicism for a while and really tried to believe that the host cracker became the real body of Christ and prayed the rosary every day for about a month. I would join the communion procession at mass, even though I would signal to the priest that I was not Catholic so I would get a blessing but not a cracker. I almost was convinced by the Catholics that the Holy Spirit guided their selection of priests, a process which endowed the priests with spiritual authority, but that was about the time the sexual abuse scandal broke. That stopped me cold with the Catholic Church. I didn’t find any other variations of Christianity any more believable either, but even then I would still go to an Episcopal Church for a while just in the attitude of celebrating “mystery.” Finally I stopped fighting my doubts and learned to embrace them.
When I stopped praying completely it surprised me just the slightest bit to realize that the things I wanted to happen, things that I would have prayed for in the past, came to pass with pretty much the same regularity when I wasn’t praying at all. The prayers hadn’t been making any difference, other than helping me calm down if I was upset, though I have other means of accomplishing that goal now. Also whenever I found out more about other people’s supposed answered prayers, it generally turned out to be something entirely mundane and probable to happen anyway. This lack of any hint of the supernatural or of real action by God is one of the reasons that I am an atheist today.