Should an Atheist Pray?

Should an Atheist Pray? September 10, 2012

Praying personI enjoy polite (or spirited) conversations with Christians. As an out atheist, I’ve attended church small groups and chatted with “Repent or Else!” sign carriers on street corners enough so that I’m rarely surprised by new arguments in favor of God’s existence. Still, the debate keeps me on my toes, and a well-educated Christian can teach me a lot about the church.

When the conversation turns to my atheism, I’m occasionally asked if I’ve ever asked God into my heart. The question never makes sense. Granted, a visitor at my front door ought to wait to be invited in, and perhaps God ought not barge in and force his way into my life. But that’s not the first step. In the case of the visitor at my front door, I have no doubt that that person exists. The Christian always glosses over that first step. Sure, I might ask God into my heart … after I know that he exists.

I don’t ask Osiris, Shiva, Xenu, or Quetzalcoatl to come into my heart (or anywhere else) because I have no reason to believe that they exist and cornucopian reasons to believe that they don’t. The same is true for the Christian god.

But my antagonist persists. “Have you tried it? Just try it. Just ask God into your heart.”

You mean, like, right now? Okay—so I try it. I think: God, if you exist, please make yourself known. And nothing happens.

I’m told that I just wasn’t sincere.

Well, yeah. Of course I wasn’t sincere. I ask God into my heart with the same sincerity as the Christian would ask Odin into their heart. Why would either of us do that with sincerity or enthusiasm?

But what if we dialed it back a bit? Drop the demand for sincerity and just pray. This is the upcoming project of the UK-based Unbelievable radio show and podcast. The instructions for participants are here. In brief:

We are asking each atheist who wishes to take part to pray for 2 to 3 minutes a day for 40 days for God to reveal Himself to them.

I presume the subjects are to go through a test for 40 days to parallel Jesus’s 40 days of trials in the wilderness (40 having the numerological meaning “lots and lots”). The experiment is to run from September 17 through October 26.

But what about that sincerity thing?

The prayer should be kept as open as possible, e.g., rather than “God of Christianity; if you’re out there, turn this water into wine for me”, “God, if you’re out there, reveal yourself to me” would be better.

We only ask that anyone taking part commits themselves to finding a quiet meditative “space” and praying there for two to three minutes each day as earnestly as they can for any God that there might be to reveal himself/herself/itself to him or her, and that he or she remains as open as possible to ways in which that prayer could be answered.

Okay—I’m in. I don’t expect that I’ll be able to be all that earnest—frankly, I don’t have much expectation of anything supernatural happening or even much desire for God to exist—but I’ll have a go. To any Christian who says that I’m not approaching this with much sincerity, you’re right. As I read it, none is required—as it should be. Sincerity comes after the fact; sincerity is earned.

Let’s take a step back to consider this interesting approach to evangelism. It’s different. More typically, a Christian will advance a particular logical argument for God, and I’ll ask if this is what convinced them that God exists.

“Oh no, of course not,” they’ll usually say.

Okay, if it didn’t convince you, why expect that it’ll convince me?

They almost always became a Christian either because they were raised that way or because they had some sort of mystical experience. They give me intellectual arguments because that’s the best they’ve got; they can’t give me the mystical experience. Maybe we have a parallel with a Zen koan—the koan doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s the point. Words are an inept vehicle for conveying the truth of Zen. Are Christian apologetics an inept way of making the case that God exists?

This prayer experiment follows the road less taken. I’ll probably have more to say about walking the walk and whether that’s a reasonable request as I get into the experiment.

Will I do a Leah Libresco? Leah (of the Patheos blog Unequally Yoked) dramatically switched sides, from atheist to Catholic, in June.

No, I don’t think that will happen to me. I don’t read her blog as regularly as I’d like, so I don’t understand her position well, but if I may speculate, I think her personality is such that Christianity appealed to her in a way that it just won’t with me. (And I could be totally wrong in that guess.)

Not only do I think that I won’t convert, I think that that’s impossible. My hypothesis is that atheists like me are stuck in atheism once they get there (I’ve written more here: “I Used to be an Atheist, Just Like You”).

I now have a chance to test that hypothesis.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
— Psalms 34:8

Photo credit: Wikimedia

"Huh? I'm not sure what you are getting at with this comment. Are you suggesting ..."

500 Eyewitnesses to the Risen Christ? ..."
""And yet it was"OK"So wide that Alexander the Great would be trivial by comparison."By what ..."

Gospels vs. the Perfect Miracle Claim
"I will thank you to not call my favorite metal band "adorable"."

Gospels vs. the Perfect Miracle Claim

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Wollie

    Hi, I came upon this post at around 12pm browsing looking up stuff about Jesus…. I’m a theology student enjoying the world loving every moment of the grace we lie in.

    I don’t know who you are or what has happened to you if something ever did happen to you…. But allow me as a believer in Christ to welcome you into the family of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ of Nazareth….you got full membership He came to save us all including you…. famous verse time (John 3:16)

    I can only say is this.

    The only way you can ever get an answer to all these questions about Jesus,God prayer etc. are from God (That is Jesus, i believe in the trinity- God the father, God the son Jesus and the God the Holy Spirit)

    Only the Spirit of God can reveal to you what the truth is (1 Corinthians 2:10) He reveals them to whom he chooses (Matthew 11:27) I suggest: just pray to Jesus and the Father in one small prayer daily, with a sincere heart and wait He’ll show up that I can say…. through my own experience… I called His name and he heard my prayer… only later I saw this scripture (Jeremiah 29:13)

    You see I can make statements and share all my knowledge about my Saviour and the Bible and God until I go blue… I can even describe the methods and reasons for prayer as well as go into evolution, which is a fairytale according to me and my Lord, but if the father does not allow the truth to penetrate your heart through the son (Jesus) you will always find faults where there are none (you’ll find faults in the Bible in People that claim to be christians in Creation etc)… Now I know there seems to be faults everywhere in the Bible etc, but there aren’t. I do not have time to prove everything like creation….prayer….etc. and I can’t prove every little thing but I know this take any avenue Jesus will be present….you’ll bump into Him all over because everything was made through Him the word Jesus. I done some research on Creation and found stuff in Nature that will blow your mind…. but we’ll share that later….

    Now do not take me wrong i do not mean to make offence in any way, I only want you to see the truth, o how I hope that Jesus can touch you through this post. My life has changed so much…. it took a while to get out of the old life…. but Jesus showed me the way…. you know I use to be a naysayer and believed pretty much only what I wanted to….anyways I’ll give you a piece of my personality now hahahahaha

    The reason why many prophecies are misread or misunderstood by the people and world today is because the people of the world (unsaved or without Holy Spirit) can’t understand them because they have not the Holy Spirit in them.

    This statement in itself I understand is a mouth full and seems silly. Basically what I’m saying is you can’t see the truth without first believing in the truth? right?

    Sounds like crazy religious talk again….hahaha it’s not it’s just not that logical, Jesus is wider and higher that anything we as humans can imagine (Isaiah 55:8-9 ) … I believe he made the Gospel easy to understand but hard to believe for a reason…the reason is so that those who believe can have a journey, the aim is to build a loving relationship with God…. if everything was easy it wouldn’t have been special or fun…. We love people because we choose to…. it’s all down to choice.,…. we choose to spend time with someone and get to know them better after a while we see that we actually love them and then we see sides of that person we never knew….. I know of a couple that was married for 30 years and they still learned about each other …..

    The same rule applies to God we choose to accept Him and trust in Him then the journey starts and after a while we notice that we actually Love Him and then stuff starts to get really weird we start seeing problems and truths and then understanding secrets that seems plain and simple to understand but for years we couldn’t grasp it yet after a while of knowing God He reveals those things and they seem simple (those things can be a reference to all sorts of difficult questions)

    The Bible is written by the Holy Ghost through chosen people, with that said take in mind the Bible is also written on three levels or dimensions….. The Soul (Emotion,Mind,intellect, Will) dimension, Body (Senses, brain, Sexuality) dimension and Spirit (Conscious, unconscious, subconscious) Dimension.

    It’s impossible for one to identify the scripture according to the dimension without the Holy Spirit abiding in Him/Her.But to get the Holy Spirit in you you first need to accept and choose to believe in Jesus yes there might be doubts etc. but that fades away the more God reveals to you the less doubt becomes…..YODA Stuff hahahahaha

    Some verses are written in 3 dimensions and mean multiple things and some only mean one thing or meant for one dimension only to be discovered to mean two things at a later stage (Revelation by God to People). God is above our ways and we can’t understand the scripture fully it will take man too long to understand in completely. With that said I think God created it this way to help us grow in understanding and faith, to build our relationship with Him by studying the Word that is basically impossible to fully grasp…..we strive to know more about Him the more we learn about Him and the more our relationship grows the more he reveals Secrets.

    You should remember we are dealing with God, He is a being a ‘person’ with feelings and emotion etc. O boy I wish I could tell you what I found out about Jesus and the Creation etc. so amazing not enough time….

    This post got weird real quick, I always like to read the post and take it from a perspective of a non believer and reading this I can see now that it looks like jibberish religious talk, without understanding this basically is a post without meaning. I guess that is exactly what happened with the Bible once the Holy Spirit starts working Jesus is glorified in Strange ways….that reminds me worship is a very interesting topic….. prayer is also a form of worship that can change a heart super fast…… that leads me to the enemy with a whole range of interesting stuff I can share…

    Ok let me break for now….. I know there will come conclusions and statements based out of the post above…. I invite you to share them with me I do not have all the answers but God does and we’ll figure this thing out together….we’ll ask God and answers will come….in the mean time I’ll pray for us…. my brother through Christ….. chances are we’ll never meet in this life, but i would love to have some coffee with you in heaven some day…. SEE you THERE keep searching Jesus will show up He always do….prayer and scripture is a very good place to start….

    All Praise to Him the KING OF KINGS JESUS



    • Wollie

      o P.S. you as atheist are welcomed by Jesus….the church is a physical place…. Jesus is spiritual and abide anywhere if a church can’t accept you I recommend trying another one…. we as real believers in Christ should accept all and everyone…. who are we to judge?….. I apologize if my fellow believers ever treated you in a negative way….

      Taking my post into account please forgive me English is my Second language…. I noticed I said it’s difficult to understand yet I also said it is easy to understand….. this is one point I know many atheists hammer on the reason is at some times it is easy at others it is hard….

      for one maths are easy another struggles with it… same thing with scripture some find it easier to understand some can’t understand and lash out toward it for this very reason…. saying stuff like it’s easy then in the next paragraph the same thing is hard… I know…..crazy talk form a believer again…. it is what it is but that is what the Spirit led me to write read it read again and read it again sometimes it takes a while to understand how the spirit works….

      Pray about it….

      • Greg G.

        It is not the way other believers have treated us. It is a matter of the lack of evidence for Christianity. Many of us are former Christians who have abandoned faith.

    • Come at reality without the Christian presuppositions and you may see things as the rest of us do.

      If you want to wrestle with atheist arguments against Christianity (or for atheism), browse with the All Posts button above.

    • Pofarmer

      “it took a while to get out of the old life…. but Jesus showed me the way….”

      Let’s hear more about that.