As many as 6% of atheists pray, as many non-believers seek the benefits of religion without, you know, believing in it. Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post talks to some of them.
From the Washington Post:
Each morning and night, Sigfried Gold drops to his knees on the beige carpeting of his bedroom, lowers his forehead to the floor and prays to God.
In a sense.
An atheist, Gold took up prayer out of desperation. Overweight by 110 pounds and depressed, the 45-year-old software designer saw himself drifting from his wife and young son. He joined a 12-step program for food addiction that required — as many 12-step programs do — a recognition of God and prayer.
Four years later, 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 be characterized only as a “miracle.” His life has been mysteriously transformed, he says, by the power of asking. . . .
Pete Sill, a 79-year-old from Arlington, attended weekly Catholic services most of his life, was a parish Scout leader and considers himself “very spiritual.” He meditates or does yoga for at least five hours a week and embraces various religions because he sees them as an expression of the most biological of human instincts: the need for survival. They provide a way to relate to one another and grapple with the fear of being alone, of dying. He thinks more atheists pray than the Pew statistics reveal, though he defines the word as encompassing the deep contemplation of ideas and philosophy — and, most of all, living.
“I think prayer is important because it takes your mind away from the horrible aspects of everyday life.”
Vlad Chituc, a 23-year-old manager of a social neuroscience lab at Duke University, said he started college thinking religion was a negative thing but now wants its benefits. He’s working to start a regular meditation practice and seeks out places where he can pick up “that energy you feel when you’re in sync with a group of people,” such as at dance parties.
He wrote in an e-mail that he was open to the word “spirituality,” which “really is just kind of shorthand for feeling a deeper connection to something greater than yourself.”. . .
Gold’s ideal is embodied by a female image he began drawing decades ago, a 15-foot-tall goddess he named “Ms. X” after Malcolm X. There are drawings of her around the house, as well as spiritual pieces of art. His two children have middle names taken from Greek Gods, and he is open to someday changing his mind about the existence of God.
He even prays about it.
“God, if You want me to actually believe you exist, I’ll do it; I’m not married to my intellectual pride; You’ve given me so much, just give me a little whisper,” he wrote in a prayer included in a recent essay about his journey.
“But God has maintained her stately silence.”
It would seem that human beings are hard wired for religion. But notice how Mr. Gold came up with his. He thought of a deity, made an image of her, and started to pray to her. This is precisely the Biblical description of idolatry. Compare Isaiah 44:
12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”