Atheist 'would love to go back to church' after faith swap experiment

Published 12 February 2014  |  
Justin Brierley (c) with Simon Capes (l) and Bentley Browning (r)

A Christian and an atheist have shared their experiences of swapping lives for one month.

In January, friends and comedians Simon Capes and Bentley Browning each gave up their respective belief systems in favour of the other's, in the hopes of understanding one another's views more fully.

Browning, a committed Christian, stopped going to church and avoided prayer, while Capes, a self-confessed single-minded atheist, took part in what he calls "the rituals of Christianity".

The unusual experiment was promoted by Justin Brierley, who presents the 'Unbelievable?' show on Premier Christian Radio. 

Both Capes and Browning each blogged during their experience, and then met with Brierley to follow up once the experiment was over.

"We didn't really expect either of their lives to change dramatically as a result of the month-long switch but it has been interesting to see how they now view each other's beliefs following the experiment," says Brierley. "It was clearly a challenge for both of them."

Browning admitted to having 'cheated' three times during the month, when he found himself praying to God. "It's hard to get out of a habit of praying because it's naturally a part of your psyche," he said.

"But it was just those three times. It didn't make that much difference to my life, to be honest, but I wouldn't have liked to do it any longer.

"I had loads of time; it made me look at life in a different way because it made me look at how much time I spend praying and going to church, which ironically made me more reflective, so it was kind of like a bit of a retreat."

While Browning struggled to stop praying, however, Simon found it difficult to know how to start.

"I don't know how to do it, I haven't really ever prayed," he said.

"I asked someone how to pray, and he said his son was an atheist and he just asks his son to say this one prayer: 'God if you're there, reveal yourself to me.' He said, don't flower it up with 'thees' and 'thous', just say that, so I did."

Though he didn't find faith, Simon enjoyed being part of the Christian community, which he found to be much more open-minded than he had previously thought. "I would love to go back to church. What I found out was really lovely and broke a lot of pre-conceptions for me.

"Each person I met was searching, they had an idea that the world is a puzzle, and they'd decided that this way of believing made sense to them and they were sold on it," he noted.

"There isn't one idea of what God is, it's a very personal thing."

The two friends found that they understand one another much better now they have experienced the other's way of life.

"There's been an advancement in our relationship," says Browning.

"Maybe our journey's just begun.

"After what we've discovered, he's still very much still Simon in the way he thinks and I'm still very much me, but we're both really joyful at what we've achieved.  We've both learnt something and it's been a great journey. We've thoroughly enjoyed it."

Although Capes didn't become a Christian as a result of his experiences, he clearly used the opportunity to think more deeply about issues of faith and religion.

"I have a theory," he proposed.

"Christianity is like a curry.  Although it's very traditional, it's been changed – like the curry has been changed to suit the English palette.

"It comes from the Middle East, but a lot of the ingredients have been altered. Although it still nourishes you, it's not exactly as it was.

"The Church has changed slightly.  It's been adapted to fit the modern world. It has elements of tradition in it, but it's changed so I can enjoy it as a modern, western guy. So religion is like a chicken bhuna, or perhaps a lamb."

Laughing at his friend's musings, Browning gave me a tip just before we left the studio: "I've got a suggestion for the last line of your article: 'I still think Simon would make a good priest'."

To listen to the full interview with Simon and Bentley, go to www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable

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