Why Do We Pray?

My parents weren’t particularly religious, but as a young child, I was encouraged to say my prayers every night before going to sleep. You know the sort of thing. “God bless mummy, God bless daddy and God bless the cat”. Every night I said them without fail. It became a ritual.

As I grew older, my prayers became a little more sophisticated, but it still remained a nightly ritual. Get in bed. Say my prayers. Turn over. Go to sleep. This ritual continued until I was about twenty three. Then, for some reason that now eludes me, I started to question why I did it. I wasn’t religious. I didn’t go to church. My parents didn’t go to church. Nobody I knew went to church. So why did I say my prayers every night without fail?

Eventually, after failing to come up with a reasonable explanation, or even any explanation, I did the only rational thing. I stopped praying. Or to be more precise, I tried to stop praying, because as I immediately found out, it wasn’t that easy. Whereas I previously just said my prayers, turned over and went to sleep, I now found myself feeling very uncomfortable, even guilty, about not praying, and I used to toss and turn for some considerable time before finally drifting off to sleep.

It gradually got better with time, and after a few months I barely gave praying a second thought. I had gone cold turkey and weathered the storm [bit of an over statement, but you know what I mean]. Looking back, I now realise something that didn’t occur to me at the time. I now realise that prayers are not for the benefit of those prayed for. They are for the benefit of the prayer. They make you feel better about your-self, and feel more comfortable about things, and if regular prayers doubts this, then stop praying and see how you feel.

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16 thoughts on “Why Do We Pray?

  1. Hi Ken, I think you had an unfortunate experience of ritualised praying, and your conclusions are quite correct based on that experience. If there’s no God, then prayer is like meditation or calming and focusing of the mind, and of little benefit except to oneself.

    But my experience is quite the opposite. I didn’t grow up in a christian family and I don’t ever recall praying, or my parents praying, when I was a child. But I started believing in Jesus in my later teens, and came over time to believe that I was praying to a personal God who was really there and really interacting with me. So now my wife and I pray together every day, at the start of the day (not at the end) so that we commit our days to him.

    I believe he answers often, though to be fair, I am sometimes disappointed he doesn’t answer more! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Eric, Thanks for dropping by. Glad praying works for you and your wife. I don’t suggest for one minute that you do stop praying, but unfortunately, you won’t know if I’m right about the benefits of prayer unless, and until, you do stop praying.


      1. Hi Ken yeah, I reckon you are right, but I don’t intend to stop! But equally, maybe you won’t know if i’m right unless and until you start praying as a believer. 🙂


          1. Yes I did find that interesting. I have seen similar research results from Justin Barrett and Andrew Newberg. But I think the research suggests something very interesting. Instead of children being blank slates onto which religion has to be imposed (as Richard Dawkins implies with his comments about teaching religion to children being “child abuse”), religious belief comes quite naturally to children (though specific creeds still have to be learnt), and it is non-belief that has to be learnt.

            None of which, of course, says anything about the truth or falsehood of God belief.

            I would think that for someone like you (as I think probably for someone like me) God belief needs to be based on evidence, not “need”. You don’t think there is evidence, I do. Perhaps I have looked harder, perhaps we have different criteria, who knows?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I query “it is non-belief that has to be learnt”. I find non-belief is the natural default position, and I have found nothing to make me want to change this position. Quite the opposite in fact. Having looked closely at first century Christianity, I am now convinced that Christianity is all down to a simple misunderstanding, made 2000 years ago, by simple unsophisticated people, who today we would regard as little more than children. I have published my findings and my views in The Christianity Myth by K.A.G. Thackerey if you are interested.


              1. Hi Ken, it seems to me that your comment “I find non-belief is the natural default position” is contradicted by the reference you gave, yet you don’t seem to think so. Can you explain how the two fit together in your mind? Thanks.


                1. Hi Eric. Sorry for the confusion. Should have made clear that my reference to “non-belief being the natural default position” was alluding to me personally. I didn’t intend to imply it was the general position. I am one of the minority who don’t appear to have any predisposition towards religion.


                    1. That’s a most interesting link, Ken – thanks. The human mind is certainly very strange at times!

                      And I’m sure you are right, there are many differences in brains as well as minds, but I’m not sure if we can say that some people were born without “any desire or need to believe in gods” as if that’s the end of the matter. Our choices cause our brains to change, and so the brain of an atheist becomes over time different to the brain of a theist.

                      I don’t feel any inclination to believe in God either, and I was quite opposed to the idea as a teen, but I have made that choice and stuck with it because I believe the evidence points that way. So I wonder whether your current lack of interest in God is as much choice as inclination. I’m sure there are other aspects of life where you have overcome disinclination because of reasons.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. My current lack of interest in god(s) is a definite choice on my part, and like you, I made this choice based on evidence.

                      For most of my life I was an indifferent agnostic. Didn’t know & didn’t care sort of thing. In 2012 I decided to educate myself about early Christianity, hoping that a better understanding of the facts would enable me to finally become a Christian i.e. accept that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. It didn’t work, because I eventually realised that there was no credible evidence for this resurrection, only the stuff you find in the Gospels.

                      Like all Christians, you accept that the Gospels are historically accurate eye witness accounts. I disagree. I accept the more independent scholastic claims that the Gospels were written well after the death of all concerned.

                      Based on this, I further claim that the Gospels were written by well intentioned, but nevertheless misguided people, who simply believed what Paul told them about the Jerusalem resurrection. In essence, my research led me to conclude that the origins of Christianity are better explained without resorting to super-naturalism and divine interventions.

                      My more pragmatic version of events forms the basis of my book The Christianity Myth. It’s a 21st century re-interpretation of 1st century events and it explains why I am now an atheist..


                    3. Hi Ken, I think we may be diverging from the topic now. I think I have said all I want to say on the topic, but I must say that you are mistaken about one thing. You say: “Like all Christians, you accept that the Gospels are historically accurate eye witness accounts.”

                      That isn’t actually the case. What I accept is what the best scholars say, and by “best” I mean the best secular scholars. I suspect you may not, so that might be another source of our disagreement. But that is probably for another day. Thanks.


  2. I was born into a High Anglican family Ken. When I was seven, while attending a service at the private school I attended as a day boy, I made my mind up that I’d had enough of the hypocrasy, fairy stories and medieval mumbo jumbo that is the church. Since then on I’ve steered well clear of any kind of religion.

    PS – I’m up to page 12 in your book (I don’t speed read).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have mixed with Christians for over 30 years and remained “untainted” so I sought of assumed that readers would have a general awareness of Christianity when they read the book. Sounds like you escaped very early on, so not sure what, if anything, you already knew about Christianity before reading it? Hope it makes sense as a stand alone.

      Liked by 1 person

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