Do you ever fake your faith?

Mechanismatic sent me a link to a really interesting article by Stephen J. Dubner, one of the Freakonomics guys. The article features an email from a reader who says she and her husband pretend to be Christians in order to fit in with their community. She explains:

“We are agnostics living deep in the heart of Texas and our family fakes Christianity for social reasons. It’s not so much for the sake of my husband or myself but for our young children. We found by experience that if we were truthful about not being regular church attenders, the play dates suddenly ended... We are not the only ones. We have found a few other fakers out there.”

My first reaction was to be mad at the Christians in Texas who are too cliquish to arrange play dates with agnostics. But the longer I thought about the situation, the more I identified with the woman and her family.Because the truth is, sometimes I fake it too.

As you can imagine, Dayton, Tennessee is not the most convenient place to have doubts about your faith or questions about biblical inerrancy, religious pluralism, and homosexuality.  Home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, it’s one of the most conservative Christian towns in America. Sometimes I revel in the chance to rock the boat a little. But often, when I really want to be liked or included or esteemed, I pretend to be more at peace with my faith than I really am.

For example, a dear friend of mine had a strong negative reaction when I first began expressing doubts about Christianity. Our relationship has been a bit strained ever since, so whenever we get together to catch up, I make an extra effort to talk about church, drop some Christianese into the conversation, and mention my newfound love for liturgy. I really want her to respect me again, so I try to say what I think she wants to hear. I’m not exactly lying, but I’m definitely leaving out a lot—like the fact that there are still days when I’m not convinced that God exists, still nights when I lie awake begging him to “help me in my unbelief,” still mornings when I wake up mad as hell for not hearing back from him.

I fake it in other situations too. I’ll refer to my good fortune as “blessings” when I’m around Christians and “luck” when I’m around non-Christians, (when the truth is I’m not exactly sure why I have so many good things in my life while millions around the world are desperate, hungry and lonely). I’ll participate in religious activities even when I’m not feeling particularly religious. I’ll refer to myself as a “follower of Christ,” when Christ seems so far ahead in the journey, I can't even see the back of his head anymore.

I fake it for several reasons:

1) This is not a particularly hospitable place for agnostics
2) Nothing would crush my parents more than learning that their daughter has walked away from the faith
3) I have a book deal with a Christian publisher
4) I want to keep my Christian friends
5) My doubts come and go, so there’s no reason to unnecessarily drag the people I love through my drama 
6) If I fake it maybe I can convince myself that everything's okay

Christians talk a lot about counting the cost of following Jesus. But I often wonder if, in this particular environment, the cost of NOT following him is actually greater.  I'm not sure what that says about modern Christianity, but it scares me a little.

Still, I've found that there is a surprising upside to faking it.

Like the times when I reluctantly drag myself to our little church gatherings, only to leave feeling indescribably hopeful. Or the times when I begin the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that no one is listening, but finish it with the sneaking suspicion that I’ve just connected with the most powerful, beautiful thing in the universe. Or the times when I go through the motions—caring for the poor, showing hospitality, fellowshipping with believers,  praying, reading Scripture, trying to live like Jesus—to find that there is redemption in the motions themselves, that taking a step of faith does not necessarily require a desire to move. 

Sometimes faking it through one leg of the journey is what gets me to the next.

Do you ever fake your faith? What reasons do you have for faking it?

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