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An Atheist’s Prayers

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I am an atheist, and I pray. To many, my praying contradicts my atheism: How can I pray when I do not believe in God? Whom do I pray to? What do I pray?

It's not that I haven't experienced religious traditions. I grew up in a Hindu family, attended a Catholic school, and married a Jewish woman, whose conservative synagogue I attend and whose rituals I observe. For years I practiced meditation and read widely on religion. But I am an atheist because I do not accept the notion of a super-natural God who, having created the universe, guides our destiny, which to me is essential to being a theist. Under this literal definition of theism, I suspect there are many more atheists than people willing to call themselves as such.

So why do I pray? Why do I recite the liturgy that refers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Not because I ascribe any authority to the words of the Torah but because the ideas expressed in them-and in prayers from other traditions-resonate with me. Stripped of the reference to God, prayers are expressions of wonderment, of our aspirations and desires, and of contrition. This world is awesome and amazing, and I am thankful to experience it. I have aspirations. I wish I could be kinder, more loving, and less prone to anger. I wish the world were a more peaceful place. Occasionally when I find these ideas expressed in certain passages of liturgy, I get goose bumps. The feeling is real, and I want to experience it every time.

Friends have argued that this feeling is evidence of God's presence. But that feeling cannot be a proof of God's existence. It is just me wishing that God exists; and such an expression is a prayer.

With a Perspective, I am Ripudaman Malhotra.


Ripudaman Malhotra is a research scientist specializing in the chemistry of energy and fuels. He lives in San Carlos.

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