How do atheists pray when they need support?

I have been an atheist since i started thinking rationally.

My professor asked me a difficult question that I couldn’t answer. He asked me what would I do in situation where theists pray to god, like when someone is dying or when fate has been harsh on you?

Posted: April 25th 2011


Talking out loud works for me. Talking to yourself increases mindfulness (per research). Since talking quietly to yourself is so much like prayer, I like to do it out loud, but I will self-talk silently if I have to as society seems only to feel comfortable when people are talking on their own if they are speaking into a mobile phone.

Increased mindfulness (can happen with prayer also which is really just self talking) supports effective problem solving and reduces anxiety. However, self-talking supports a non-rational state while praying flirts with the irrational.

Posted: April 30th 2011

See all questions answered by logicel

Tauriq Moosa www

Your title is different from your professor’s question. Your title indicates already that praying is an option, which it is if you are self-absorbed enough to think the Creator of the Universe will bend to your will, but not to to others’. Indeed, there is little more insulting than, for example, people who say their children were cured because they prayed to god; what about all the other children that god let’s die and who were also prayed for? Were they not prayed for hard enough? Were they not worth his time? However, since you’re an atheist, I imagine this is not the question you’re asking.

Life is not a magical, happy place or time. It can be, and then only at times, but it often isn’t. Our lives are filled often with suffering, hardships, disappointments. If not one’s own life, then certainly a great number of other people who suffer in conditions few of us could imagine. Here the word “life” means not just one’s own life but every human and animal life currently existing. To expect that life works out for the best, to embrace this existence as the “best of all possible worlds” is a juvenile dream, if not optimistic delusion. You don’t need organised religion to maintain the dogma that bad things only happen to bad people, because for some reason these bad people deserve it: We all know bad things happen to good people – but, importantly, this is to be expected.

It is to be expected because, as I’ve said, our existence is not one filled with constant happiness and joy. It simply is. More often, counting not only our own lives but others, it is a horrible existence – if not because of human bigotry then because of our fallible mortal coils, often riddled with cancers and viruses. There is no “fate” here; just existence, just life.

Don’t expect life to be cushions and rabbits and you won’t be disappointed. It is harsh, brutal, unkind and unfair. There is often nothing for us to appeal to in cases of unfairness, since we are not of the type to assume we are the centre of the cosmos or some Divine Plan or Supernatural Sky Dad. Realising this, we can do the more important job of ameliorating the suffering around us, dealing with it in a more efficient way, since we can prepare for it. And we prepare for it by realising life or existence, left to its own devices, will not become easier. Prayer is the ultimate cop out. What you need to do with your hands is not push them together and mutter to yourself, but put them against the earth and fix it.

Posted: April 29th 2011

See all questions answered by Tauriq Moosa


You deal with it, with the help of friends and family.

My mother is dying right now. Her quality of life is deteriorating every day and she’s been praying to die, but she will probably last a few more months. I went through a similar thing with my father a few years ago.

It’s very painful to watch and if she wasn’t so religious I’d discuss assisted suicide with her (it’s legal in my state), but I know that she wouldn’t agree.

Watching your parents grow older and eventually die is part of being human. All you can do is honor their wishes and help them deal with it as gracefully as possible.

I don’t understand how theists deal with it. God didn’t have to afflict my mom with a disease that will kill her body when her mind is still functioning well, nor did he have to afflict my dad with a disease where he knew his mind was going and that he would eventually die not as a human but as an animal. And he chose to make those diseases be long and painful (both mentally and physically). Sure, there is that “better place”, but I don’t think that offsets the suffering beforehand.

If I honestly believed that, I’d have a much harder time dealing with it than I do as an atheist.

Posted: April 29th 2011

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Reed Braden www

I agree with Paula that, “We just deal with it,” but sometimes there are problems you feel are too stressful to deal with alone, but are also too personal to share with others. This is one of the reasons, I think, why religion is so popular: It gives you an imaginary friend to work out your personal problems with, and then it surrounds you with other people who have the same imaginary friend so you don’t have to feel so silly about it.

Even without prayer, you can reach the same “realizations” Christians have with basic meditation. (Not in the spiritualistic sense of the word.) Just find a calm time of day and a quiet place and relax, mulling the question over in your mind. If it is a problem that you, yourself, can solve with your given information, you will most likely come up with that solution if you remove the stress and background distractions for a bit. If you don’t have enough information to solve the problem, go do more research and try again.

Many Christians do the same thing with great results, they just don’t realize that’s what they’re doing when they do it and they call it prayer for some silly reason.

Posted: April 29th 2011

See all questions answered by Reed Braden

Paula Kirby www

We just deal with it. Wailing to an empty sky (to borrow a friend’s expression) doesn’t help. Friends do. And a bit of backbone does. As does the acceptance that there’s no reason why any of us should be immune from the troubles that life can throw at us. It’s all just part of the adventure of being alive.

Posted: April 29th 2011

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

SmartLX www

Rather than ask someone who isn’t there for help and support, I ask people who are there: my wife, my family, my friends (even the pseudo-friends on Facebook). They might not be able to help the situation directly, but they’re willing to offer emotional support – and that’s all most Christians would really expect to get in return for a prayer anyway.

Posted: April 29th 2011

See all questions answered by SmartLX


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum