Just to get this out of the way, I really, truly do not believe in God (I used to be Catholic). But I do care deeply about my friends.

Today, my friend's father suffered a heart attack. His brain hemorrhaged, and now he's in critical condition. I was one of the first people she texted about it and she asked me to please pray for her dad. She knows I'm an atheist but that's the way things are here--our country is about 80% (or more) Catholic, so sending messages to people asking for them to pray for a sick relative or friend is perfectly normal (at least, I'm not bothered by it).

Now I haven't been an atheist that long, and this is the first message I got since becoming an atheist asking me to pray for someone. It got me a bit confused about what to do. I really care about my friend and I know how devout a Catholic she is, but I am completely confident in my beliefs. In the end, I prayed anyway. Just a quick message saying something like, "God, please let so-and-so's father be OK."

I couldn't believe how difficult it was for me--I felt stupid doing it the entire time. I guess the reason I did pray was that I felt I would somehow be betraying my friend by not praying. People here take these prayer requests rather seriously and I felt it was sort of an act of politeness to do it if they asked. I knew that it wouldn't help, and that no one would know if I prayed or not, but I did it anyway. That's what made me feel stupid. But I couldn't help it because I felt that this is what my friend really wanted, and I didn't know what else I could do for her (I was still at school then, so we weren't together).

What about you guys? Do you ever feel the need to "pray" during times like this?

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I don't.  I see intercessory prayer as a way of satisfying one's urge to do something without actually doing anything.


As the old line goes, "all that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing."  Well, prayer takes good people's honest intention to do something good and turns it into literally nothing.


When I'm in an unpleasant situation, I don't want my feeling of powerlessness taken away unless it's because I can actually do something to help things.  Just soothing my feeling does nothing but kill my motivation to effect real change for the the better.


If your friend was right there in front of you and it would hurt her to see you not praying, then that might change things, but I personally never feel the urge to pray for prayer's sake.


However, I do have some sympathy for you as a former Catholic surrounded by Catholics.  Sometimes, old habits die hard, especially if you're still immersed in them in the society around you.  And if we demanded that every atheist act like a "perfect" atheist (if such a thing even exists) all the time, then nobody would ever leave religion for atheism.


Plus, it's not like anyone behaves perfectly rationally when they're under major stress.  I wouldn't worry about it too much.

I attend religious weddings, baptisms etc, and stand at the appropriate times, but that's about it.  Even that much acknowledgement of ritual is enough to have my religious relatives accuse me of insincerity, and one atheist friend accuses me of being a faith enabler, but I just see it as respect for my family's right to believe what they like, rather than a flaw in my own position.

Your prayer, particularly the fact that you couldn't just say you'd done it, is about your friendship.  You did something you knew had no worth and felt silly doing it, simply because your friend asked you to.  Don't let anyone pull you up about it - theists seeking to find gaps in your case for your atheism or atheists picking at the boundaries you set for your atheism.  Your prayer made you uncomfortable, suggesting you might refuse similar requests in the future, but your behaviour is your responsibility and yours alone.



I think that just having good wishes for them or compassion for their predicament is more powerful than praying to a fictitious being. Maybe next time you can just think good thoughts for their recovery.

I'm not going to tell you what to do.  If you feel an obligation to pray, that is your decision.


However, ask yourself this:  Which god are you praying to?  Why?  I presume you are praying to the Christian God.  Even if prayer did work, why are you presuming it is the Christian God that is receiving the prayers?  Is there any more reason to believe in the Christian God than, say, Allah, Thor, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  If you converted to Hinduism and became ill, do you think your friend would pray to Ganesh if you asked her to do so?

Back when I was shedding my spirituality I always tried to be respectful about prayer.  I went from bowing my head with eyes closed and reciting the same words aloud, to bowing my head with eyes closed and reciting the same words in my head.  Next I just bowed my head and closed my eyes.  Then I was just bowing my head.  A little further down the road I stopped doing that and just kept my head up with eyes open.  And now when it is time for the family to pray before a meal I actively take a step backwards and just wait for them to be done. 


It's so uncomfortable.  For the longest while I felt stupid with my head down and eyes closed.  Even just standing there being part of the group I felt wrong.  I realized that by trying to respectfully fit in I was ultimately betraying myself. 


I think it is important to be yourself and be true to yourself.  While I won't participate in prayer, I don't stop others from doing their thing.  I just remain quiet and think about something else, or my husband and I stare in each others eyes.  When it comes to the topic of prayer, I try to not make a big deal of my lack of participation when in a group and I don't acknowledge prayer requests in person or in text. 

I wouldn't.  I probably wouldn't tell my friend I wasn't going to either.  I do try and be respectful I suppose.  I'll still bow my head but won't recite any prayers.  If something bad happens I'll usually tell someone that they will be in my thoughts and that I'm hoping for the best for them.

Prayer is therapeutic.  It may not be answered by a supernatural entity but sometimes when people are confused or emotionally distressed, prayer helps to clarify one's emotions and give clarity.  Journaling also helps.




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