Is it possible for skeptics to pray? Regardless of whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, this is not a simple question.
From the skeptical perspective (perskeptive?), there may or may not be anyone there to receive the message. Must communication take place (i.e., a sender and a receiver) for it to count as prayer? If there is a receiver, does it make a difference to them how fervently the praying person believes someone is listening?
My sense is that most believers think prayer doesn’t count unless one has faith (believes) that there’s a god up there listening. By this definition f someone prays who is 100% sure that there are no gods, it would be impossible for that person’s action to be counted as “prayer.”
To what degree is belief necessary, therefore, before it can count as prayer?
To my knowledge, no human being thinks that the act of believing occurs with the flip of a switch. We don’t immediately accept or reject every new idea that comes along. New ideas that fit our expectations are easier to accept, but when a new idea creates dissonance, it will take time to sort out.
An example of this might be a time that a trusted friend tells a story we probably wouldn’t normally believe. Cognitive dissonance ensues. We may “take it on faith” pending further information that the friend is telling the truth, but we will still have questions that demand answers, if only in our subconscious. Is the story true? Did the friend have some sort of psychic break? Do they have reason to lie? Was the friend never as trustworthy as we once thought?
It goes without saying that the act of prayer creates cognitive dissonance for a skeptic. He might say in his mind, “I’m doing something that has no purpose and no meaning. This is silly.” Is there a slight chance that the prayer “microphone” into which we speak is active and broadcasting to a listening audience capable of respondining? If so, what percentage of likelihood must we believe in order for our prayer to be a prayer?
From the believer’s perspective, the question is just as valid, but for different reasons. Believers often behave as if unbelief is both a choice and a sin. A believer whose doubt overcomes his or her belief has not just changed his mind, he has failed. Even in the Bible, we have the man who beseeches Jesus, “I believe Lord. Help my unbelief!” Clearly, disbelief is something to be avoided, being in and of itself a bad thing.