Wuhan Crisis Is Producing Praying Atheists

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by Paul Murano  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 1, 2020   

Pandemic prompts major changes in Americans' temporal, spiritual lives

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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - The viral pandemic has been a life-changer for many Americans, both temporally and spiritually. 

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases skyrockets and public places across the United States continue to shutter, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that the outbreak is having a profound impact on the personal lives of Americans. Nearly 90% of U.S. adults say their lives have changed as a result of the virus outbreak, with 44% of those saying their lives have changed in a major way.

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A Naval hospital ship near New York offers COVID-19 relief

With regard to religiosity, 64% of Republican/Republican-leaning respondents said they have prayed for an end to the spread of the virus, while 46% of Democrat/Democrat-leaning people have done so.

"Evangelical protestants" edged out "historically black protestants" 82% to 79% in the percentage of those who have prayed for an end to the outbreak. 

Of the six categories of religion included in the poll, Catholics came in fourth with 68% praying for an end to the virus, and Jewish people came in last, with only 35% praying for its end.

In what some regard as the most interesting statistic of all, 36% of those who consider their religion "nothing in particular" have prayed for an end to the pandemic. Additionally, 6% of those who specifically call themselves atheists or agnostics have prayed for a halt to the virus' spread. To whom they consciously pray was not asked in the survey.

These results echo the findings of a 2018 Savanta ComRes-Tearfund poll of U.K. residents, which showed that, in what seems like an inherent contradiction, one in five non-believers pray to God. Among the nonreligious, personal crisis or tragedy is the most common reason found for praying, with one in four saying they pray to gain comfort or feel less lonely. The present pandemic is considered such a crisis by a growing number of people.

An anonymous man named "Henry," 64, was surveyed in the poll. Henry said he prays every night, kneeling by his bed, despite not being religious. "I worry about it quite a lot. Is it some kind of an insurance policy, is it superstition or is it something more real?" he asked himself out loud. 

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Asked if he believed in God, he replied: "I don't know but I would describe myself at the skeptical end of agnosticism. I certainly wouldn't classify myself as religious." 

Henry said he starts by silently reciting the Lord's Prayer and then asks for his loved ones to be kept safe and well. "Sometimes I include other specific people or suffering groups." He claimed he had no idea if God heard his prayers and admitted, "I wonder why I don't stop doing it. Sometimes I feel it's a kind of hypocrisy."

Likewise, Psychology Today notes that an earlier Pew study found that 6% of atheists pray every day to a God they claim not to believe in, while 11% pray weekly or monthly.

I wonder why I don't stop doing it. Sometimes I feel it's a kind of hypocrisy.

More recent Pew surveys found that, of the people who usually attend religious services, 57% now watch them online or on television. For Catholics in particular, the number is 46%. 

In other pandemic-related findings, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they have been feeling psychological distress; young adults are considerably more likely to go out to a public gathering than older adults; and more women than men say their lives have changed in a major way, 47% to 41%. 

Additionally, the more formal education and the higher income level one has, the more likely they say they've been affected in a major way by the crisis. And while most Americans are not comfortable going out to public places, 57% are okay with going to the grocery store and 62% are comfortable visiting a close friend or family member at their homes.

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