Atheists routinely attempt to skewer the efficacy of prayer. However, there’s another side to this issue that doesn’t receive the same attention:
In January 2004 the independent opinion research company ICM conducted a survey of 10,000 people in 10 different nations for the BBC programme What the World Thinks of God.
The countries surveyed were the USA, UK, Israel, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and Lebanon.
The poll did reveal however that nearly 30% of all atheists polled admitted they prayed sometimes.
I suspect this figure underreports the percentage of atheists who sometimes pray. After all, if a pollster asks you about your religious affiliation, and you tell him you’re an atheist, then you have a disincentive to admit in the very same poll that you pray. That’s obviously inconsistent. An admitted atheist who says he sometimes prays is going to lose face. So he’s motivated to keep up appearances by denying that he ever prays, even if his denial is false.
Although a praying atheist is clearly incongruous, it’s not surprising. First of all, it tells you that a lot of atheists are not as confident about their atheism as they advertise.
Moreover, unbelievers have the same emotional makeup as believers. The same hopes and fears, needs and yearnings. Yet, they, like the rest of us, have the least control over what they most cherish. For all their pride and boasted self-sufficiency, they know very well how helpless they often are. How vulnerable they and their loved ones are. They get desperate, too. They despair.
Furthermore, they can pray in private. Their lapses from the gospel of godlessness go undetected.