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Non-believers turn to prayer in a crisis, poll finds

Non-believers turn to prayer in a crisis, poll finds

From The Gardian 14th January 2018

By Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent    

Family and friends top the list of reasons to call on God, rather than global issues such as poverty or disasters

For many non-believers, it is an instinctive response to a crisis: “Please, God.” So perhaps it should not be surprising that a new survey has found that one in five adults pray despite saying they are not religious.

Just over half of all adults in the UK pray, and they are increasingly likely to call on God while engaged in activities such as cooking or exercising, according to the poll. Although one in three people pray in a place of worship, and a third pray before going to sleep or on waking, others combine prayer with daily activities. One in five pray while doing household chores or cooking, 15% pray while travelling, and 12% pray during exercise or other leisure pursuits.

Just under half of those who pray said they believed God hears their prayers, which suggests a slim majority feel their supplications are not answered. Four in ten go further, saying prayer changes the world; a similar number say it makes them feel better. 

Family tops the list of subjects of prayers at 71%, followed by thanking God (42%), praying for healing (40%) and for friends (40%). Way down on the list comes global issues such as poverty or disasters, at 24%, according to the poll carried out by ComRes on behalf of the Christian aid agency, Tearfund.

Among the non-religious, personal crisis or tragedy is the most common reason for praying, with one in four saying they pray to gain comfort or feel less lonely.

Henry, 64, 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?”

Asked if he believed in God, he said: “I don’t know but I would describe myself at the sceptical end of agnosticism. I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as religious.”

Henry, who requested anonymity, 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. Then I have a fuzzy moment about me – not concrete thoughts, and I don’t ask for specific things.”