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Faith / God & Christianity

Why do atheists pray?

Why do atheists pray?

What is prayer to you?? Is it a worship of a higher power? A thought of gratitude? Is it a request for a need fulfilled? And if you pray, who are you praying to?

Just as religion is interpreted, each individual will interpret prayer differently. For some, it is a strict set of verses that were written long ago. For others, it’s a conversation with God. There are even those who don’t believe in a higher power who pray in their own way, and for different reasons. In this way, prayer becomes a very personal act, and not always a religious one.

It Gets Personal

A friend of mine has a son who fell on hard times. The son is an extremely intelligent man of about 24, he’s a talented writer and musician, but he suffered some major losses and heartache at a young age. Since he never dealt with those things head-on, he turned to heroin to numb the pain. His father, an outspoken atheist, realized that he no longer had the answers. He felt guilty for all the things he never did for his son, and he didn’t know what to do to save him. So he started praying.

I don’t know the details or wording of his prayers, but I do know he was asking for help, asking for guidance, and asking God to heal his son. What would cause someone who doesn’t believe in God to ask God for help? Was it an act of desperation, or maybe there’s a part of all of us that believes?

There are many atheists—and even some believers—that will tell you that even in desperate, life-threatening situations, they still didn’t pray. Yet others, like this father, pray to someone that they don’t have faith in. I’m more interested in what people get out of this type of prayer, rather than what causes it. The cause seems fairly straight forward: I don’t have answers, no one has answers, but there must be an answer. “Hello, God.” The benefits, however, are a bit tougher to grasp. So the question needs to be asked: what do you get from prayer?


For some, the act of praying actually yields results. Their faith is so strong that they believe that when they ask God for something, he will deliver it. Almost like a direct request line that depends on how strongly you pray, and how deeply you believe. If you need an answer to a question, God will give it to you directly. If you want a physical object, somehow that object will be given or presented to you soon, as long as you ask God and you believe that he will deliver. If you ask for someone to be healed, through no act of science and only through an act of God, this person will be healed. Through faith, people believe they are actually getting a question-answer type result.

The Act Of Prayer

Believing in the act of prayer means that answers come from the simple act of praying, and not through an act of God. This puts a lot more control in the hand of the person praying. It means that it’s their belief, their thoughts, that create an attraction to the thing they desire. This is where the “law of attraction” and “praying to the universe” come into play. The belief is that the thought, the actual intention behind the prayer is what causes change, and brings about the thing that was prayed for. There is evidence now that thought waves can change matter, so there may be some scientific truth to this prayer theory.


Comfort may be the biggest reason for prayer of all. When you’re desperate, when you don’t know what to do, at least you can pray. For those who feel helpless, it can lend some relief to know that you did something, even if that thing was just to pray, and not to act. I remember, being in situations where I didn’t know what to do, it felt like a huge burden off my shoulders when I let go, and let God. This thing was no longer my problem. I believed a solution would present itself because I prayed about it. Was it God that eventually answered my prayers? Was I simply allowing myself to let go of worry while the answer was manifesting? Or did my thoughts attract a solution? I’ll never know for sure.

Each individual situation may call for a different type of prayer, and a different solution behind it. Knowing how prayer works is much less important than knowing that it works. I don’t know why it works — if it’s God, the act of prayer, or the comfort it brings —  but I know that it does. And as long as your prayers are positive, you should always expect that everything will be OK.

This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Mika Cohen is a world traveler based in St. Louis, MO. Her passions for coffee and culture allow her to connect people across the globe. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she looks for any excuse to find adventure - and write about it. Share a virtual cuppa Joe via Instagram @thegoodgrind.

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