What is prayer within religion? Also, what is the usefulness or utility of prayer? As I’ve been thinking about this more lately my view is becoming more varied and multifaceted, just as this issue truly seems to be. For instance, can an Atheist pray on a regular basis? I don’t see why not. All one really needs to do is to define their own terms for what constitutes as prayer.
Prayer in and of itself does not need to be Theistic in its intentions. At the most basic level it can be viewed as a way of expression. A very human desire to invoke goodness and wellbeing even if it is not directed toward a deity of some kind. An Atheist views and defines religion as originating within human minds across the span of culture and time. Since this is the case, we actually find ourselves at a rather large buffet when it comes to how we want to live and express ourselves within the world.
Posturing our lives in such a way that involves invoking wellbeing via reciting prayers and seeking psychological resolve may very well be what gives prayer utility and purpose. The aspect of prayer that I personally reject as having any form of efficacy is the kind that believes a God to be present and involved. For ten years I viewed that form of prayer as being meaningful until I was brought to conclude that never had I reliably gained anything from that view. Praying to the Christian God, at least for me, was no different from invoking a lifeless rock to guide me through the struggles of life.
In terms of what prayer is psychologically speaking, I see no reason not to try it out if the very expression or posture is found to be therapeutic. I’m actually considering the benefits of meditation and various strategies for mindfulness as another possible avenue to alleviate stress and anxiety. So, just remember, if you encounter an Atheist like me that is willing to use the phrase, “I will pray for you,” in their mind they are expressing a desire for your wellbeing rather than a belief that a God is somehow present and involved in the world. There’s a difference friends!
As a final thought, would I personally use the phrase, “I will pray for you,” around my friends? Being that I still have a lot of Christian friends who believe that a God exists, I would refrain from saying it so as to avoid confusion about what that process really is. I find these kind of ideas to be fascinating!