Sheehan’s “Sunday Sermonette” from an Atheist 

To my atheist friend, Bill Sheehan:

First, I travel in a Christian crowd, and we are of course all speaking from a common terminology. I’m betting most of my thinking brothers and sisters are running up against the same basic quandaries you list in this posting. I appreciate that you do so. You are simply stating honestly the case for doubt, and ironically, the case for faith.

But here is where I may take issue: we believe in order to self-comfort. I certainly see where you’re coming from in this hypothesis. There is validity to that conclusion for a class of Christians who haven’t “wrestled with God.” Yet, is the truth of a proposition determined by a popular count of the bootleg versions that are out there?

Is there comfort in knowing the love of God? Of course, but that may “beg the question.” Your argument is that we are motivated by “comfort” to believe, and thereby imply there are no other convincing motivators. I state this proposition for your consideration: followers of Christ enter more deeply into suffering, and experience more “deaths” everyday than the single physical death that ends mortal life. Christians are daily challenged to “die to self” and to “live for Christ.” Not “a piece of cake” as they say when you look at how counter-cultural and unpopular Jesus was in His time.
So “the simple, unchallenging hymnody and sonorous prayers and pompous circumstances of liturgy is comforting” is a statement of “religion” and not of the intimate relational faith that eschews religion, just as Jesus himself. Jesus was, after all, killed because he took on the hypocrisies and deceptions of “religion”. In my experience, this kind of relational intimacy is anything but a “quick fix”. It is the most discomforting and challenging experience of fallen human nature.