Talking To A God You Don’t Believe In

A WaPo profile outing Sigfriend Gold as a nonbeliever who finds solace in prayer drew the ire of fellow atheists. Gold defends his place among the godless:

To the charge of not being an atheist, I reply that, while I do pray to a figment of my imagination that I sometimes call God, I completely reject supernatural explanations for why things happen in the world and in my life. I use purely psychological explanations to understand the effects I notice as a result of my prayers.

I would ask those who want to boot me out of the atheist camp to explain what qualifications are needed beyond a rejection of the supernatural. Is there some code of mental conduct for atheists that I have managed to violate? Could I be reinstated as an atheist by admitting that I’m not really praying?

Atheist blogger Herb Silverman on the electronic pages of the Washington Post says, “Atheist prayers sound a lot like what I would call focusing or meditating, which some also view as a transcendent or spiritual experience.” My daily regimen includes 30 to 45 of meditation in addition to prayer, so when I claim to be praying it’s not because I just don’t know the difference.

Meditation involves various forms of relaxing or focusing the mind, focusing at times on the breath, physical sensations, thoughts, sounds, etc. Insofar as mental speech arises in meditation, it arises as a phenomenon to be observed, not as an intentional activity.

Prayer, on the other hand, is intentional speech, silent or aloud, addressing a benevolent listener who is not physically present. Recitation or chanting of mantras or repeated prayers form a gray area between meditation or prayer, but outside this gray area, the two are clearly distinguished by the active use of speech, not by belief in the entity addressed when speech is used.

Hemant Mehta shrugs:

It’s easy to mock Gold, but let’s give him some credit. He admits he’s talking to an imaginary friend. He acknowledges that he’s just succumbing to a powerful placebo effect (while knowing it’s a placebo). That’s more than any religious person has ever done.

Previous Dish on atheists who pray here.