An atheist praying?

Sometimes I remember a writer, I can’t recall who, describing a friend who though atheist, sometimes goes into a church and prays.

photo by SeekerFive

The writer had noticed this about his friend and was perplexed: How, or why, is he praying, if he does not believe in a god to pray to?

His friend explained that although he does not believe a god exists, he still likes to pray, because he finds the act of praying makes him feel somehow better. The mater of how the writer’s friend prays, however, was not addressed, and I’ve been curious about it for years.

Was it prayer in the most literal, or perhaps I should say strictest, sense of the word?

Was he, that is, asking for something? Or was he reciting a series of specific prayers? Was it prayer as a sort of unplanned conversation? Or was it rather a more wordless prayer, contemplative, simply resting the mind in or on something (and what?), or even sitting thoughtlessly inside a church building?

Of course it could have been something else, and may well have been more than one sort of praying. I still have no answers to those wonderings.

What about you? Do you have any knowledge, whether firsthand or indirectly, of prayer by atheists within theistic settings?

Besides writing, SeekerFive creates visual art and designs under his Leaf Town brand. Some of these can be seen on Instagram @leaftowndesigns, Currently he is emphasizing face mask designs.

32 thoughts on “An atheist praying?

  1. Some have argued that atheists tend to be more spiritual than church-goers. That’s plausible, in that many people seem to simply accept belief as handed down rather than making conscious decisions about what they believe.

    1. That’s interesting, I suppose going to church could be not more than an “external” ritual, whereas personal spiritual connection might happen anywhere.

      1. Quite so. There is a passage in the Bible which talks about having a relationship with the Deity via praying in private, not public worship in front of others. Obviously not a popular passage for those trying to build an organization.

  2. I’ve actually met a person who doesn’t believe in god in the generally accepted sense of the word, but a disembodied force of cosmos.

    She prays in the temple, and calls it a neutral submission, absorbing the calm energy of the place and nothing more.

    And i think that’s pretty interesting.

    1. Yes, I think that makes sense. Again, I do much the same and feel much the same. As an apostate member of the church of England, I spend much time in our beautiful churches. Equally, I am just as happy in a Zen temple, a synagogue or a Muslim place of worship. Or in the latter case I used to before the whole Muslim world went off on such a tangent.

      1. That’s very relatable. I am of the belief that being one with a higher energy has less to do with worship and more with the peace one feels within.

        So any place that sets your mind at peace, will feel divine. I think religion is just a medium humanity has designed to create communities.

  3. It can be the ritual, not the actual belief, that is comforting and empowering. It’s like a nonbeliever who performs an earth-based ritual to be grounded, not because they believe in the supernatural.

    1. Thank you, that’s a great point also on the importance ritual can have for us. I really like that you used the example of grounding and groundedness.

  4. I think spirituality is encoded in our DNA. There’s a reason serving a purpose beyond ourselves and helping others makes us feel whole – why it gives us a lasting sense of happiness and fulfilment. Perhaps it’s got more to do with this? This idea that you are giving yourself to something bigger? Understanding that we are all part of something bigger? I’m not religious but I have a spiritual practise of sorts. I meditate and then ask myself how I’m going to serve others today. What my purpose is today. This rarely fails to make me feel more peaceful.

      1. Perhaps you and I are thinking along the same lines but through a different frame? Whether we are looking to become better ourselves or help others the result is often the same. Helping others helps you and vice versa. Asking how you can limit the ways you might harm the world is a way of serving others if you ask me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Anthony 🙏

      2. Yes, I think your point has much merit. Perhaps I sometimes feel guilty that I have nit done enough to better the world. But each in his own way……?

      3. I would be surprised if most of us, if not all of us, didn’t feel guilty for the same reason. We can always do more, be more right? It’s tricky for many of us to live with that knowledge of course. We immediately beat ourselves up when we haven’t lived up to our own impossible standards. From experience this only makes things worse. Compassion expressed inward most definitely extends outward. Wishing you well Anthony 🙏

  5. I meditate with Zen Monks once a week and do the recitals of the sutras with them. I am not religious and I don’t believe a word of these texts. But it is sort of hypnotic and makes my mind clear and quiet.

    1. Hmm, so maybe a combination of calming/concentrating practices and ritual? I could see that being a big part of it, and the value of mental clarity and quietness is obvious.

  6. I’m not an atheist so I can’t speak on behalf of atheists. But I I do believe that certain concepts that we’re used to defining very narrowly – atheism, prayer, etc. – that they might be more fluid and broader than we give them credit for. Prayer could be a meditation or a conversation. Ritual could have meaning outside the context of organized religion. Atheism is not necessarily the absence of spirituality. The world is full of possibilities.

  7. I find a satisfactory answer in Dan Brown’s Angels n Demons. In it a scientist and a God’s man explains to his daughter why he prays despite being a man of science. He says that prayer helps one to get into a different and a much calmer state of mind, which helps in solving the various problems of life.

      1. Yea somewhat. You should actually read his books they’re really cool. The general theme is always this ever raging dilemma around science and religion.

      2. I’m not sure there needs to be a tension between science and religion. Both build understanding based on hypothesis. Science tests these hypotheses where testing can be done, and testing includes Einstein’s thought experiments. Religion tests based on one’s comfort level with the dominant hypothesis, and people change when that comfort is lacking. Science enables development. Religion enables comfort, focus and social control. Conflict occurs when someone is stubbornly dogmatic. Humbly, I suggest that conflict should occur when someone uses science or religion as a tool to manipulate others. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples.

    1. So perhaps some prayer, and perhaps the praying of the atheist I wrote of, is above all an enacted impulse expressing a deep and sincere heart desire?

  8. Though I consider myself a secular humanist, I learned those lines from a church hymnal when I was a child. They made a lasting impression. I reasoned at that time that if God is all-knowing, I don’t need to tell him anything.

    I would agree with your definition of some prayers.

  9. Thank you for this post, friend. As an atheist, I find tranquility in nature, and among works of art. Given the bigoted and murderous history of religion, I want absolutely no part of it. 🕊

  10. I learned through personal experience and talking to literally thousands of others, that prayer is bullshit plain and simple. And then Christians will play games with you when you state your reasons why you do not believe in the power of prayer through either your personal experience or the personal experience of others.

    There have been literally hundreds of thousands of us, who as children, were brutally raped by Christian priests and pastors in churches (and this does not include all the children raped by Muslim imans or Jewish rabbis and that number is staggering). I am one such person.

    I prayed that night for god and Jesus to stop what was happening to me by the three priests gang raping me. Nope, guess god and Jesus were too busy either watching the live kiddie porn or are not real huh? And if you talk to all the victims and survivors I have talked to? They would tell you the same story. Some even prayed for years to have their pedo priest or pastor stop raping them and again? No results.

    The mind games Christians play on this is amazing.

    First response is? You did not pray right.
    How the hell do you pray right when someone is raping you?

    Second response: You did not have enough faith.
    Ok, how does a say 6 month old have enough faith to pray to god and Jesus while being raped by a Christian pastor? How about deaf/mute children? How about other handicapped children like ones with Down’s Syndrome? What about the victims raped in hospital beds while in comas? Or a 9 yr old girl being raped on her fathers grave the day of his burial by the pastor who held the funeral services for her father? And I could go on with all kinds of horrifying stories. But the truth and fact is? Telling a person they did not have enough faith while being raped by a Christian priest or pastor is pretty twisted and sick.

    So this is what taught me that prayer is bullshit and that Christians will come up with all kinds of lame excuses for why prayer does not work.

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