I am more than lucky to have a group of acquaintances and friends with whom I get to discuss God, god, and morality on a weekly basis. It’s such a big part of my life that when people ask me what I’m doing with my life, the first thought to come to mind is this group.
A few months ago, I brought up the topic of atheistic prayer. This confused (and I think agitated) my fellow conversation partners. Who would an atheist pray to? Why and how would an atheist go about that? Perhaps it can only be the churched atheist who finds the desire compelling, but it seems that prayer should not be reserved for the believing. Perhaps it’s semantics and perhaps it’s just the fact that I can’t imagine a life without the option of prayer…but it seems a little persnickety to chain prayer to religion.
Take this tweet from Donald Miller that has rubbed me the wrong way since he posted it right after the tsunami in Japan:
If anything bad happens to me, I can’t use your thoughts but I could use your prayers.
This has been stuck in my mind since I read it. I enjoy Miller’s books, but rarely his tweets. I assume that he is referring to the phrase “Our thoughts and prayers are with you”. When I read this my conversation about atheistic prayer came to mind.
If you can’t use someone’s kind thoughts when you are in a terrible place and situation, what then do your friends who do not believe the same as you have to offer you in the way of consolation?
The purposes of prayer as I am familiar with it are: thanksgiving, supplication, and praise. (There used to be an acronym that preaching students would always use at devos, I tried to remember it, but apparently it didn’t stick.) By most definitions, prayer must be addressed to God. I would argue though, that since prayer can exist within various religions (and be addressed to serveral differing gods) that it can exist without a higher power.
It won’t look the same, but it’s no less valid to the people praying. In this context, the purpose of the prayer would definitely be focused on others or self, not a higher power.
Why would we deny people the ability to be able to supplicate on behalf of those hurting? If I no longer believe, yet I still want to offer you some sort of consolation beyond what I am able, I will give you my thoughts. If I have no prayers to offer, do not reject my noble intentions.
What do you think? Can prayer exist within an atheistic narrative, or am I stretching the semantics too much?