C. G. Boeree

Atheists don't pray. I'm sorry. I wish you all the best and if praying helps you to survive this incredibly difficult journey called life, then, well, God bless you. But atheists don't pray.

Atheism is not a religion. It is the absence of religion, the absence of any belief in God or gods. Religion doesn't make much sense to us, outside of apparently helping some people deal with all the pain and loss they experience. And if prayer is an appeal to God, that doesn't make much sense to us, either.

Our lack of belief in God and prayer has two roots. The first is empirical: We don't see much evidence supporting religious belief. For example, I know someone who, when she was a little girl, had a puppy. The puppy got hit by a car and was taken to the vet. The little girl prayed all night for her puppy. But he died. So where was God? Wasn't the little girl good enough? Were her prayers not sufficiently fervent? Did heaven need more puppies? This story has millions upon millions of parallel stories - many a great deal more serious than the death of a puppy.

Some atheists meditate, which is, on the surface, similar to some forms of prayer. If you repeat a sacred phrase or say the rosary, you may indeed find yourself becoming calm. But atheists have discovered that meditation works just as well without the other-worldy connection.

The second root of our nonbelief is a matter of logic: The very idea of an all powerful God that is at the same time perfectly good is irrational. There is a great deal of suffering in the world, no? If he is good, he would want to eliminate it. If he is all-powerful, he certainly could do so. And yet there is still a great deal of suffering in the world.  This argument goes all the way back to Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher.

Perhaps "he" is not all good. That would work. But atheists already acknowledge this god: We call her nature. All powerful all right, but with a heart of stone. Many atheists enjoy science; by understanding the ways of this "god", we may find ways to improve our lives here on earth. But nature seems deaf to our prayers.

Perhaps "he" is not all powerful - just good. Perhaps God is Love. That certainly sounds nice. Many atheists are what we call humanists. Humanism is the idea that, if we all join in and try to help one another, we might make the world a better place. This compassion that we sometimes find in the human heart is certainly good - but it is also, unfortunately, not even close to being all-powerful.

Some believers say that without God, we would have no morality, and therefore atheists are, practically by definition, immoral. It is true that we live our lives without the fear of hell or the promise of salvation. To us, those things don't seem like very good bases for morality anyway. Instead, we live by our instincts and reason. Our instincts have us loving and caring for our families and friends. Reason tells us that our lives and theirs would be immensely better if we don't do to others what we don't want others to do to us. No divine intervention required.

Many believers ask us: What is the purpose of life if there is no God or afterlife? Our answer is always the same: happiness. We want to be happy. It's true that, without the promise of eternity, our happiness is a rather small and short-lived affair. But to fall in love, raise your kids, laugh with your friends, take pride in your work, learn about the world, help the less fortunate, enjoy some music, have a beer - these are the things that a happy life is made of!

Be good. Have fun.

© 2013 C. G. Boeree