I’ve known for a while that the percentage of people who pray doesn’t necessarily make sense given the percentage of people who are non-religious, but I always reconciled that discrepancy by reminding myself that a lot of non-religious people still believe in a higher power.
Now, the Washington Post‘s Michelle Boorstein profiles an atheist who prays to a fictional deity:
Four years later, [Sigfried] Gold is trim, far happier in his relationships and free of a lifelong ennui. He credits a rigorous prayer routine — morning, night and before each meal — to a very vivid Goddess he created with a name, a detailed appearance and a key feature for an atheist: She doesn’t exist.
While Gold doesn’t believe there is some supernatural being out there attending to his prayers, he calls his creation “God” and describes himself as having had a “conversion” that can only be characterized as a “miracle.” His life has been mysteriously transformed, he says, by the power of asking.
Eighteen percent of atheists say religion has some importance in their life, 26 percent say they are spiritual or religious and 14 percent believe in “God or a universal spirit.” Of all Americans who say they don’t believe in God — not all call themselves as “atheist” — 12 percent say they pray.
I don’t get it. I don’t get how prayer (and not just secular “meditation”) helps you when you know nobody’s on the other end of it. It’s like taking a sugar pill knowing that it’s not going to make you feel better.
The only explanation I can offer is that prayer, like an atheist “church,” is a word that means different things to different people, and a lot of atheists are using that word to stand for a kind of introspection that looks and sounds like prayer, but still shouldn’t be classified as such.
If you do need an atheist prayer, though, may I suggest this one?