object to this sentiment, and I can understand that. However, I'd like to bring out another point - that one can pray as an atheist, and still be an atheist.
First, a quick aside. I deliberately titled the post "Praying as an Atheist", and not "Davening as an Atheist". Davening is something that nonbelievers in the Jewish world do as a matter of routine, because it's such a central part of Jewish ritual life - going to shul, hearing the Torah reading, saying the Shemona Esrei, saying Kaddish, etc. What would a nonbeliever get out of an experience which ostensibly is "all about God"? Plenty. Shul/davening is a multi-layered experience. It has a certain rhythm to it, specific melodies, things you have to do at certain times. And those familiar words, tunes, procedures, places and faces can give a person a much-needed sense of stability and comfort. Davening at shul also has the obvious social aspect, as well as the communal cohesion aspect. You start to feel "out of it", out of sync with the community, if you don't show up in shul from time to time. There's the "getting away from the house" aspect (come on, guys - we've all been there!). There's going to davening because something else is going on at the shul - a shiur, an event, etc. And of course there's also the possibility of introspection and focus - either on what you're saying or in general on things that matter. There's taking a few minutes out of the day just to breathe. (Of course, when davening is fast there is no chance to breathe or unwind. In fact the davening itself can be stressful. But then again, when it's slow enough to breathe, and you just want to get out of there already, that's also stressful. So take your pick!) Anyway, like I say, there are lots of layers to be found - even before you get into matters of "belief". So yes, nonbelievers "daven" all the time.
But what about "praying"? What about asking for help, expressing joy and gratitude, awe and amazement, etc.?
For quite some time, I was "anti" the idea of praying. After all, if I've come to the intellectual conclusion that the God of the Torah, alleged to have given the Torah, is not a historical reality, how can I in good conscience pray to that God? And if I've come to the conclusion that we have no evidence to believe that God (or anyone) responds to our prayers, or that our prayers do anything apart from the effect they may have on ourselves or those who know we're praying on their behalf (not to minimize that effect), then how can I in good conscience join the ranks of people engaged in mass delusion? And if I know how ridiculous and cruel it is that God should answer the prayers of some but reject the desperate pleas of others, innocent people suffering in untold ways, why would I want to pray to such a God, whose morality I consider to be majorly suspect?
Yet of late I've been praying from time to time. Mostly it's at times when I'm worried about some specific thing in the future and pray that everything turns out alright. Just something very short - as in, "Please let X go OK." As I say, I used to deny myself that indulgence on intellectual grounds. But then I realized - if it's something I truly feel the emotional urge to do, why am I denying myself? It's not as if there's some sort of "atheist's code of honor" that I'd be breaking. So I just do it.
Ah, well, doesn't this reveal the truth that I'm not really an atheist after all?
I thought you'd ask that! Nope. No, it doesn't.
It's not that I don't believe most of the time, then switch over momentarily (and conveniently)
to being a "believer" when I have something to pray about, and then go back to being a nonbeliever. No, it's me the whole time - just that the thinking me expresses itself one way, and the emotive me expresses itself another. And when I'm emoting I'm not "believing" or "not believing" - I'm out of the intellectual/belief frame entirely!
Who says that when someone expresses themselves emotionally that it somehow has to "fit" with what they believe intellectually? Yes, internal consistency on an intellectual level might be something to strive for, but to demand consistency between one's intellect and other aspects human expression? I think that's where we've got it wrong. To me, that's imposing the intellect into areas where it doesn't necessarily belong.
Now, that doesn't mean there's no place to "think" about one's prayer, to evaluate it on an intellectual level. Of course there is - just not while it's happening, and not at the expense of it happening. When the intellect starts to interfere with or mute other essential, healthy parts of our humanity, that's when we might want to "rethink" what we're doing. At least I have, at any rate.
So I'd even go so far as to say that it's possible for an atheist to pray "to God" and still be an atheist. God can exist for a person in the emotional domain without existing in the intellectual domain.
For me though, the prayer "Please let X turn out OK" is something I simply release out into the ether. I'm not directing it "toward" anyone or anything. The "God" thought doesn't even enter into my head. I couldn't care less
if anyone's actually listening or I'm just saying it to myself. It's like saying "Ouch!" or "Wow!" or "Damn it!" or "Woo hoo!", any spontaneous verbalization of an emotion. It just feels right, helpful to do at the time.
So yes - I agree that the "no atheist in a foxhole" idea is a fallacy. But so is the idea of there being "no atheist who prays".