The greatest gift a Christian can give an atheist is prayer. This might seem counterintuitive for me as an atheist to say, because I don’t have “a god belief,” and therefore I don’t believe anyone is “listening on the other end” when someone prays. So how would someone help me by praying for me if I don’t even believe that intercessory prayer works?
From the Christian perspective, prayer is the most effective and powerful tool that exists. When someone says “I’ll pray for you,” a lot of times people will take that to mean, “I’m brushing this off because I can’t think of any concrete ways to help.”
I used to think that way too. In the last two or three years, however, I’ve realized that in most cases it doesn’t mean that at all. It means “I care about you, so I’m going to use the most effective tool I have; it helps me, and I think it will help you too.”
I’ve noticed that Christians will often wonder if their actions were the reason that someone left the church and became an atheist. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself and for most atheists I know, that has nothing to do with it. I’m an atheist simply because I lack a god belief. While I may have had a few negative experiences in religious communities (as well as many good ones), the single deciding factor in rejecting religion was that I no longer believe in the existence of a god.
Accepting the gift of prayer
At the beginning of my college career, I was honest with my professors about being an atheist. I didn’t want to “fake” a god belief, or even take a neutral position, because doing so would make my papers inauthentic, and I certainly wouldn’t enjoy writing them. The vast majority of my experiences with professors at Union College have been positive. I’ve never had a professor treat me unfairly or make me feel unwelcome in their classroom; in fact, when they discover my atheism, it’s mainly just met with curiosity.
This fair treatment often comes as a shock to nonreligious people. When the subject comes up, it’s usually assumed that my parents forced me to go to an Adventist college (they didn’t), that all of the teachers suddenly start giving me lower grades when they become aware of my lack of religiosity (they don’t), and that I “want to get out” (I don’t). I’m at Union College because I want to be.
Attending a smaller college has given me more opportunities. I’m able to engage with professors on a personal level, and considering the fact that I’m majoring in graphic design, it’s extremely valuable to have regular and in-depth feedback.
Above all else, attending an Adventist college has exposed me to people with different world views, backgrounds, and beliefs, and this has been one of the best things for my personal growth. Considering and listening to contrary views has led to the refinement of my own, and I’ve gained a greater understanding of the people I interact with on a daily basis. All of these things have helped me to accept the gift of prayer.
5 Misconceptions About Atheists
Understanding more about people who self-identify as atheists can lead to better conversations between individuals who are on different life journeys.
- Atheists have nothing to live for.
Since atheists don’t believe in an afterlife, or any version of a heaven or hell, many atheists are very aware of their mortality and the preciousness of life. There are no second chances and no opportunities to see loved ones after death. Consequently, atheists tend to focus on the present. According to a 2017 study by Pew Research Center, atheists were far more likely than Christians to describe hobbies as meaningful or satisfying (26% vs. 10%). Atheists also were more likely than Americans overall to describe finances and money, creative pursuits, travel, and leisure activities as meaningful.
- Atheism is a religion, or in some way similar to a religion.
Atheism simply does not meet the definition of a religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal god or gods. There are no rules or common creed tying atheists together.
- Atheists are angry.
The “angry atheist” stereotype exists because there is a widespread misunderstanding of atheists in religious communities, not because atheists are actually angry. Most Adventists aren’t taught enough—or at all—about atheists. This causes misconceptions, which in turn can make conversations difficult.
- Atheists are morally depraved.
Atheists believe that morality exists independently of any gods. Actions that contribute to human well-being are morally right, and actions that cause unnecessary harm to humans are morally wrong. According to a 2014 study “Morality in Everyday Life,” religious and nonreligious people commit similar numbers of moral and immoral acts.
- In order to be an atheist, you must assert that there is no god.
This is false. All atheists don’t believe in any gods, but this does not mean that all atheists assert that no gods exist. The term “atheism” is polysemous.
Jackie Shoghi is a senior studying graphic design and fine art at Union College.