I don’t pray. I don’t pray because I don’t believe in god, and without detailing the particulars of my beliefs, my atheism is not a religious hiatus, or something I’ll “get over”. Because I do believe in treating people politely and respectfully, I refrain from thrusting my atheism upon others. However, I get asked to pray quite frequently, which has resulted in a long-standing private practice of mine.
I understand the intentions of someone requesting my prayer – people in pain want and deserve comfort, and to know that they are loved. I refuse to deny anyone comfort, and in the past I have taken the option of the polite lie many a time; I will say “yes” almost automatically to the request of prayer. I will hug and console. But when I am alone, I will not pray.
I do, however, believe in performing good deeds for those in need, and when someone is asking me to pray for them, I know they are needier than ever. If I cannot perform a task directly for a person, if someone is in pain and I cannot be there, I take my good deeds to the streets.
I believe in performing small but meaningful tasks – donating money to the homeless or some other worthy cause, complimenting someone, taking the time to quiet my inner voice and really listen to a stranger and encourage them. Sincerity is key. These may be little things, but little things accumulate – seconds swell into centuries – and these small, privately executed tasks of encouragement and optimism have their own type of fallout. I know from personal experience that random acts of kindness from strangers have inspired me in a myriad of ways; to go on loving, go on living, go on believing in people.
Because yes, I believe in people. We may not be inherently good, but our species certainly has an uncanny sense of justice and proportion. We understand fairness, and we know when we aren’t getting enough of something. With a well-nourished sense of empathy, we can in turn perceive the needs of others.
I don’t ask to be rewarded for my good deeds – I don’t need a pat on the head for what I’ve done. However, I hope that in the future what I do in private may be appreciated and respected as an appropriate alternative for prayer. I want to comfort without having to lie, or awkwardly unpack my atheism every time. I want to be there for you, and when it comes time for me to ask for help, I may request a good deed or two, and find so much comfort knowing not only that I am loved, but that we all are.