“Should atheists pray?” the paper asked
And commenters all had to share…
Seems nobody knows what an atheist is,
And nobody understands prayer
At the New York Times, the “Room for Debate” opinion page asks “Should Atheists Pray?”.
With atheist church services this month in Louisiana and New York, nonbelievers are borrowing some of the rituals of believers: gathering, singing, sermons.
Would it be fruitful for atheists to pray? For believers and others, what is the point of prayer?
They ask 5 people, only one of whom is an actual atheist (Hemant Mehta). The others include a professor of psychology and former pastor, a professor of preaching, a visiting professor of the new testament and co-pastor, and (naturally) Deepak Chopra. Of course, the real fun is in the comments to each essay.
We find, among essayists as well as commenters, that there are myriad understandings of just what atheism is–from simply not believing in a god, to specific denial of a god even if evidence for one was shown, to those who specifically hate the Christian god, to frankly incoherent quasi-descriptions. Oh, and it takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe, but you already knew that.
There are also a wide spectrum of beliefs about prayer. Now, atheists are sometimes accused of being the only ones who really take the bible seriously (thus, our claims about what believers believe are simply straw men), but honestly, there is no perspective of religious belief that I can conceive of that doesn’t have its manic proponents–from Chopra’s new-age touchy-feely amorphous blobby bullshit to prosperity gospel “god wants you to be rich, so ask him for money” to “prayer is not asking for anything, it’s thanking for everything”, to “prayer is the same as meditation” to anything under the sun.
So, should atheists pray? Near as I can tell, That’s about a thousand different questions, with about ten thousand reasonable answers, and about a hundred thousand unreasonable ones. Me? I have had more than a handful of occasions when I would have prayed, back when I was religious. Some of you know. I have had occasion… but I have not prayed in over 25 years. Never had the slightest inkling. My parents have prayed, my sister has prayed, and I don’t think any less of them for it. Not in the slightest. There is every reason for them to believe in prayer. Every reason but the right one–that it works. I know the studies on intercessory prayer. I know the evidence. I’ve pissed off my whole family by correcting my sister, in her hospital bed, when she credited prayer for her recovery. My own opinion–should atheists pray? No; nor should anyone.
Do I think any less of anyone for praying? Absolutely not. Depending on your own views, and your own definitions of prayer, there are maybe a million reasons to pray. None of the good ones involve there being a god, though. All the good reasons to pray involve us being human, and frail, and scared, or hopeful, or happy, or angry, or… oh, yeah, there are probably a million or so bad reasons to pray, too. So like I said, on the whole, my own opinion is anti-prayer.
But any question that takes a spectrum and requires a black or white answer is a bad question. And that is what the NYTimes has done.
Maybe they should have asked more atheists.
Maybe they should have asked me.