I’m an atheist. And sometimes I pray. Weird, huh?
I was raised in an unreligious household. That felt normal to me. Other kids I knew grew up with unquestioning belief in God because that’s what their parents believed. For me it was the opposite. When my parents finally introduced me to the concept, it sounded strange and implausible — just as a godless world sounds strange and implausible to the faithful.
My real introduction to religion came when I was 9 and was accepted into a top-flight boys’ choir at an Episcopal church. They never pushed religion on us, but it’s almost hard not to believe when you’re sitting in the chancel of a century-old church, gazing at the Tiffany windows as Bach’s “Passacaglia & Fugue” thunders from the 4,600-pipe Aeolian-Skinner Organ.
I got myself baptized and confirmed at the Episcopal church, then, shortly after my voice changed, began attending an evangelical church that had a remarkably successful youth program. I went on a retreat, and for a while I believed with a fervor I think is only possible for someone who really wants to believe but isn’t quite sold. Within a year or so the fervor burned itself out. Over the years I toyed with godless New Age hippy spirituality and Buddhism. But eventually I accepted myself for what I am: an atheist. (I still kind of dig Buddhism since it doesn’t really require a belief in God.)
Faith (or faithlessness) is a lot like love: It’s something you simply feel in your gut — whether it plants itself early on and takes root over the years, or suddenly falls down from the heavens when you’re least expecting it. It’s something you know.
So why pray? I pray for my friends, my family, and those dear to me, when they are being tested. I don’t really believe God or some intermediary will intercept my prayers and act on them. But I don’t completely exclude the possibility, either. And it therefore seems selfish to leave open the chance that my loved ones will suffer because of my lack of faith. And I believe that like so many religious rituals — confession, communion — prayer is healthy, no matter what we believe. It may or may not connect us with divinity. But it definitely helps us connect with ourselves, and others.