Crossing oneself is ritualistic […] the soccer player then performs on the field as if he and his team alone determined the outcome of the game, which is to say that—in a sense—he performs as if God didn’t exist after all. In “How God Becomes Real,” Luhrmann calls this the art of possessing “flexible ontologies,” because “people may talk as if the gods are straightforwardly real, but they don’t act that way.” A driver who prays that the car will stop without his using the brakes “would seem mad, not devout.” The real world, dependent on the laws of physics, runs easily alongside a highly elaborated and imagined belief-world, which shares several of the properties of fiction-making and fiction-reading. The Vineyard believers, Luhrmann discovered, learn how to “pretend that God is present and to make believe that he is talking back like the very best of buddies.” As with a fictional character, this God is at once absolutely real and not quite real. Luhrmann likens the capacity for imaginative absorption to being “engrossed in good magical fiction of the Harry Potter kind.” One of the spiritual guidebooks she consults suggests that worshippers relate to God not as an “Author,” a view that will make you “go mad or despair,” but as a “character.”

Does Knowing God Just Take Practice?