Praying for others

How our words lift the spirits of those around us.

Key benefits of group prayer:
  1. Psychological benefits

  2. Generous acts

  3. Demonstration of solidarity
Psychological benefits
When believers pray aloud for others, in their hearing, they bring about the advantages mentioned in the section regarding prayer in general- we verbalise our thoughts, visualise the future, outline our hopes and dreams, cast off our burdens, and give thanks for our blessings.

Even if the people whom we're praying for aren't believers, as long as they don't mind listening to someone else praying for them, they're likely to benefit by hearing their problems articulated and plans described, and by receiving verbal assurances of support.

Many events in the secular domain are preceded by a verbal recitation, intended to prepare participants’ minds and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. On these occasions, an underlying belief in the existence of God is optional, and God’s presence is not invoked.

Think about meetings held by business associates, by students who are collaborating on projects, and by team members of various sorts. Quite often, the main point of the meeting is to discuss an issue or engage in some activity- but instead of diving straight into the main topic, participants start off with a few morale-boosting sentences, along the lines of:

“We’re gathered here to tackle the challenges ahead of us. The situation is far from optimal now, but we can visualise how much better it could be if we remain open-minded, focus on resolving our differences, and really believe in and work towards our common goal. Many of us in the room will have disagreements, but that’s ok. In fact, it’s better, because it brings a diversity of opinions on board. So let’s begin this meeting, maintaining an awareness that we’ll run into difficulties and probably encounter new problems to sort out, but keeping in mind the fact that a solution is possible, and, moreover, sincerely believing that one will emerge, as long as we set our minds to it. Thanks to everyone for coming by the way, and here’s to a successful outcome.”

Such speeches confer the benefits of prayer, without any mention of religion.

(For more on the characteristics of prayer, refer to the section on Rituals.)
Generous acts
When believers feel that their duty to God includes helping others, then those around them benefit from their concern, dedication, warmth, altruism, and patience.
Religions often stress the importance of putting others before oneself. Many believers think of all humanity as being part of God’s creation- each individual is a child of God, regardless of that person’s faith.

This is particularly so for religions which encourage proselytising. Each individual is deemed worthy of love and respect, and there is no person so wicked nor any act so wrong that the perpetrator lies beyond God’s redemption.

Some religions preach that we're all are equal in God’s eyes- that each life is important and represents a soul worth saving.

As a result, many believers are extremely open-minded, accepting, and compassionate towards others, and their unquenchable faith in God truly brings out some of the best qualities in human nature. Upon introduction to a moral code that includes such magnificent, edifying creeds, it's unsurprising that many are drawn to and humbled by religion and its accompanying beliefs.
Demonstration of solidarity
For any group of people, the adoption of a common set of behaviours and beliefs is a sign of unity and harmony within the group. (For more on the social benefits of religion, view the section on Community.)

When several members of a biological family, for example, are of the same faith, they gain the approval of fellow believers. The fact that family members share the same outlook indicates that they communicate closely, support each other, and help to strengthen each other’s faith.

The appearance of solidarity reflects well on the family, and attests to God’s ability to unite families. This holds true between friends who are not biologically related. In such relationships, however, a divergence of beliefs is more acceptable and expected.

When parents are devoutly religious and their children demonstrate their faith in God, the parents are proud of their children for following their parents’ example. A devoted child is a blessing from God, bringing happiness and satisfaction. With a faithless child, however, no matter how blessed a parent may be in other respects, that ‘disobedience’ will always remain a source of regret.

For some, it may be all about their loved ones, not about God
This presents a dilemma for people who are no longer religious, or have grown less so over the years, but who have family and friends who are religious. In many cases, to display one’s lack of religiosity means to cause pain to loved ones, to sow incomprehension and dismay, and to bluntly demonstrate one’s rejection of the beliefs of loved ones.

Furthermore, it can be difficult for a closet atheist to find adequate sources of encouragement and advice. Other atheists, who have not been immersed in religion, and who do not have religious companions, may not fully appreciate the extent of this difficulty. They may feel that closet atheists should act purely as logic dictates, whatever the cost, even if that means hurting one’s family and friends.

With personal relationships on one side, and disdain or sheer obliviousness on the other, the life of a closet non-believer can be extremely hard.

If you're in this situation, I offer my encouragement and best wishes- I hope that time and careful negotiation will gradually allow you to reveal your true beliefs and that you’ll eventually be able to represent yourself, instead of the religion you no longer believe in.
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