1 in 20 Atheists Prays Daily

I know we like messing with Internet polls… but real ones, too? Or is there an explanation for this?

The Pew Research Center reports on what percentage of adherents to various religious faiths pray daily:

dailyprayer

Unaffiliated is at 22%.

Specifically, among atheists, 5% of us pray daily.

Stuart Bechman, president of Atheist Alliance International, gave a couple possible explanations:

“It’s more likely [atheists] enjoy messing with the people doing the survey,” [said Bechman.] “Maybe they are talking about grace at dinner with a religious family.”

Or some people are just really confused by the term atheist…

Or they’re praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster…

  • Josh J

    Whoops! I thought they were asking if I preyed daily. My mistake!

  • PHS Philip

    My bet: people mean different things by “pray.”

  • http://blaghag.blogspot.com/ Jennifurret

    I only pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster when eating pasta with other atheists, which isn’t a daily occurrence.

  • http://www.themadandwild.wordpress.com NiroZ

    I really want to know what exactly the question was. Chances are it’s confabulating the results.

  • The Vicar

    Actually, I am inclined to interpret that as people who view “unaffiliated” to mean “I do not attend a particular church”, which would include atheists, agnostics, and the sort of person who thinks religion is fine but hates organized ritual. The article doesn’t give the wording of the question where “unaffiliated” is determined.

    (That is, it isn’t that 22% of atheists pray once a day, it’s that [at least] 22% of people who self-report as “unaffiliated” are not atheists.)

  • http://fernandoipar.com Fernando

    Like it happens with most polls, it’s probably a wrongly written question (whether on purpose or not, I leave that to you).

    A more proper question would be “Do you faithfully pray daily” or something along those lines.

    I’m an agnostic atheist and I don’t pray at all. However, if I’m involved in a family situation where other people feel the need to pray (i.e., a funeral) I wouldn’t mind joining them, just to be supportive. Still, I wouldn’t be praying in the traditional sense (I wouldn’t be trying to contact any kind of deity), but if asked the straight question “Have you prayed today?”, my honest answer would have to be yes.

    Polls are usually this bad. On top of that, the results are manipulated afterwards by people who know nothing about statistics, so taking this with more than a grain of salt :)

  • http://noadi.blogspot.com Noadi

    I’m going with either the wording of the question skewed things and unaffiliated doesn’t mean just atheists. Though I wouldn’t discount some messing with the poll takers or possibly lying because religious family members were around at the time.

  • Eliza

    In the Pew study, only 24% of the “unaffiliated” group were atheist.

    Fourteen % considered themselves Christians, 10% were some other faith, & 35% were “nothing in particular” (“spiritual but not religious” kind of people).

    So daily praying by 5% of the “unaffiliated” group could still be completely consistent with the expected finding of 0% of atheists reporting daily prayer.

    See this interesting Pew pie chart: http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=265.

    Or, they could have been messin’ with the pollsters. (Like the time I told the “pro-life” pollster I was “pro-death”.)

  • Brian C Posey

    Can anyone else find these stats. I’m looking through the full report and can’t find it anywhere?

    My gut it telling that the author of the story conflated or combined two numbers mistakenly. The survey in almost all questions didn’t even ask if someone was an atheist. They simply lumped us in with unaffiliated.

  • http://rgzblog.blogspot.com rgz

    Actually none of these theories are mutually exclusive.

    1) Unaffiliated includes theists, agnostics, and misc besides atheist.
    2) Some atheists are forced to pray
    3) Some do it for the lulz.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Praying. It’s something I did out of habit and to be socially “in place” when I belonged to an organized religion. Now, as an agnostic/atheist, I don’t feel it’s something I need in my life. Who am I praying to? What am I praying for? Why am I asking for something from someone or something that may or may not exist? And if I’m asking for something, what is it about me that I am not capable of handling it myself?

    If there’s someone that needs comfort, I do my best to pass positive thoughts and vibes towards that person.

    I would be curious to find out who these 5% atheists are praying to and what they are asking for.

  • Atheist

    It is simple as that, that means, if you pray then you are not atheist. Lot other ‘st out there to include you, like deist, agnostic,…..
    How silly is that first of all to ask an atheist ‘Do you pray’ ? Its like asking miss california by a judge “Do you have penis” ?
    or
    Its like a man saying ‘ I am man, if I get laid, would I get pregnant ? How pathetic is that if its said by a gay ?
    This post is such pathetic crap….

  • Hank Bones

    I’m with The Vicar.

    As to me: I pray zero (0) times per day.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Nope, the 5% comes straight from the report, looking at the population identifying as atheist, it’s not some dubious inference from the unaffiliated group. The table is on page 45 of this report:

    http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2religious-landscape-study-chapter-1.pdf

    The phrasing of the question seems reasonable:

    Question: People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, do you pray several times a day, once a day, a few times a week, once a week, a few times a month, seldom, or never?

    5% of those identifying as atheist picked one of the first two choices. From page 26 of the same survey, I see that 21% of atheists, and 55% of agnostics answered yes to ‘do you believe in God or a universal spirit?” 3% of atheists stated that they were absolutely certain that a personal God exists.

    A fair percentage of people answering any survey are just confused.

  • Me

    Am I the only person who finds it odd that none of the groups have 100% daily prayers?

  • Stephan Goodwin

    Prayer doesn’t have to mean prayer to a god either. Some might call it meditation, or simply organizing your thoughts for a day, and others might look at it as prayer. My feeling is that a lot of “recovering religious” folks that are now atheists might still pray. I find nothing odd about the concept, even though I don’t pray.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    I am an atheist and yes, I pray. Often I do this after my morning swim where I sit quietly and “pray” that I do my job to the best of my ability that that I be a little less selfish that I was the day before.

    No, no deity is going to strike me with virtue, but I find that it calms me down and helps me with my attitude.

    I see this as a purely secular and naturalistic practice.

    Another example: I practice yoga a couple of times a week.

    No, I don’t believe in Chakras nor do I believe that, say, stretching your chest prevents a cold (yes, I’ve heard a yoga teacher say this). But I do know that a regular practice of yoga keeps my back from aching and keeps me from pulling my hamstrings when I run.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    The “unaffiliated” category is a joke. And as for the question, it should be asking if you pray to a personal god who answers prayers, not “do you pray”.

  • James H

    Perhaps they’re atheist unitarians?

  • Luther

    Some may confuse hope with pray…actually they are about equally effective, like when the phone rings and I hope it is not a telemarketer or a pollster.

  • Jodie

    Every now and then I will pray for one of my clients, when I feel there is nothing useful left to do. I don’t believe my prayers are heard nor answered, but it’s more of a responsibility to do something….It’s not everyday, but I certainly don’t regret one last attempt at helping someone out.

  • http://www.ziztur.com Ziztur

    The actual pew forum question was “Do you pray or meditate”

    When they published the results, they removed “meditate”.

    Now, I can’t find the PDF of the actual survey to prove my point. Grr. I’ll do a little more looking.

  • http://www.ziztur.com Ziztur

    Well, I looked through the whole survey and did not see the question where it asked “do you pray or meditate”, but I know I have seen it before. Perhaps it was that way on an older version of the survey or a different religious survey.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Nope, the 5% comes straight from the report, looking at the population identifying as atheist, it’s not some dubious inference from assuming unaffiliated=atheist. The table is on page 45 of the Pew forum “Report 2: Religious Beliefs & Practices / Social & Political Views,” which I for some reason cannot link to without being classified as spam.

    The phrasing of the question seems reasonable:

    Question: People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, do you pray several times a day, once a day, a few times a week, once a week, a few times a month, seldom, or never?

    5% of those identifying as atheist picked one of the first two choices. From page 26 of the same survey, I see that 21% of atheists, and 55% of agnostics answered yes to ‘do you believe in God or a universal spirit?” 3% of atheists stated that they were absolutely certain that a personal God exists.

    A fair percentage of people answering any survey are just confused.

  • Mike Lauer

    I am a vegetarian and when I talk to people they will say that they are vegetarians as well except that they eat chicken or fish or wood-cooked venison or whatever. Some of it could be people calling themselves atheists without knowing exactly what it means.

  • EdWest

    Before I jumped feetfirst into godlessness, I had a “prayer” that I still mumble to myself every now and again. If anyone’s out there, all I ask is this: help me see by the light of truth, so I can look at the world with eyes unclouded by ignorance.

    Perhaps some of these atheists are praying: “Hey God, knock if off. Seriously.”

  • Erp

    I suspect some is godless prayer/meditation. I also suspect some self-defined atheists are using a different definition of atheist than lack of belief in a god.

  • jemand

    Minors who are atheists are regularly forced to pray aloud, not just participate in listening to prayers. I was one of these, it was VERY unpleasant, but I very much was an atheist, and I very much prayed every day so that my parents did not throw me out of the house.

    Eventually they let up.

  • http://omega-geek.blogspot.com Spook

    Based on the anonymous drug polls in high school and the various satisfaction surveys we get (from some corporation outside the school…) in college, I can say that may people taking these polls don’t take them too seriously and are likely to just make stuff up.

    I know I do.

  • Ian

    I’m also a praying atheist, and it also has entirely secular force for me (I don’t pray to anything or anyone).

    > I see that 21% of atheists, and 55% of
    > agnostics answered yes to ‘do you believe
    > in God or a universal spirit?”
    I can believe some of that. I know atheists who believe in a universal spirit (I don’t, not at all, but I’ve met some who do). And who couldn’t be described as deist. People who believe in something akin to the Force in Star Wars – not a universal divinity, but some universal spiritual reality.

    > 3% of atheists stated that they were
    > absolutely certain that a personal God
    > exists.
    That’s got to be trolling.

    I’d be very tempted to give wacky answers too if some researcher, having found out that I was an atheist, then chose to ask ‘do you believe in a personal God’.

    There wasn’t an answer for “duh, is the pope muslim?” I notice…

  • new reader

    Socialization also probably plays a role in determining if/how/how often atheists pray. I’ve never believed in, well, anything really, and as a kid always sort of thought having a religion was sort of like having a favorite color or favorite food (a mostly aesthetic choice, a statement about something you enjoy), but I do pray sometimes. Not daily (as the poll asked), and not in the hope that what I’m thinking/asking will be heard, headed or granted, but because sometimes it eels like the right thing to do at the moment.

    I was raised by agnostic lapsed-Catholic lesbians, who are convinced that my life is less fulfilling then it could be because I don’t meditate or believe in “spirituality” of some sort. The Dan Savage statement about hiding out in Catholic churches in Downtown Seattle during a recent Episode of “this American Life” resonated with me for this reason. I find the concept of a god of any sort to be ridiculous, but I cross myself on airplanes.

  • Alan

    I am an atheist.
    I live in Utah.
    My daily prayer is, “Oh my god, this is an interesting place!”
    Does that count?

  • Rennek

    I’m an atheist, and I pray sometimes. Not daily, but sometimes I catch myself doing it out of habit. And then I always go “Who the #%&@ are you talking to?” Old habits just die hard …

  • blackskeptic

    Or maybe they don’t believe in God, but they’re praying just in case there is a god.

  • http://atheistsandchristians.com Mike aka MonolithTMA

    I like what ollie had to say.

    The closest I come to actually praying is the occasional “Hey, um God, all these folks I love and respect seem to believe in you, and I used to as well, are you there?”

    Unless the sound of a lone cricket chirping is God, I haven’t received a response yet.

  • IST

    In other news, at least 5% of the people surveyed were completely illiterate?

  • RTod

    I was just sent a link to this by a friend; after considering, I have decided to post (even though probably no one at this point is reading the thread). But I think I might be Mr. 5%.

    I am an atheist and I do pray; I try to pray at least 30 minutes every day. I did not grow up in a religious family and never prayed as boy, so its not a comfort from childhood. And I do on occasion (wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, etc.) go to services, but never pray or take communion. (This, by the way, is as much out of respect for my friends’ beliefs as anything else.)

    Even though I do not call out to God, Zeus or the FSM, I choose to call what I do prayer, because I do look for both guidance with my own “shit,” as well as health, happiness and better days for those I know (and many I don’t) in pain and need. The construct and semantics of it, even though I do not believe in any kind of higher power or supernatural consequences stemming from my actions, seems to me to be far truer to what we think of as “prayer” than “meditation.”

    I find that this has three positive impacts on me. The first is that having a space to consider my own “shit” in a way that is not in problem-solving mode… and that can be helpful.

    Also, stacking up my issues (Did I lose the big account? Do the people under me at work respect me? Will my kids survive having me as a parent?) against those in true need has a way of putting things into perspective, and grounding me.

    Lastly, being aware of others through prayer carries over to the rest of my day, and makes me far more empathetic and far less solipsistic than I might otherwise be. I have found that this makes me a better person… or if not better, closer to the kind of man I want to be.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X