New research on atheists by the Pew Research Center shows a range of beliefs. Eighteen percent of atheists say religion has some importance in their life, 26 percent say they are spiritual or religious and 14 percent believe in “God or a universal spirit.” Of all Americans who say they don’t believe in God — not all call themselves “atheists” — 12 percent say they pray.
Responding to this diversity, secular chaplains are popping up at universities such as Rutgers, American and Carnegie Mellon, and parents are creating atheist Sunday schools, igniting debate among atheists over how far they should go in emulating their theist kin.
Atheists deny religion’s claim of a supernatural god but are starting to look more closely at the “very real effect” that practices such as going to church, prayer and observance of a Sabbath have on the lives of the religious, said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for the secular advocacy group the Center for Inquiry. “That’s a big hole in atheist life,” he said. “Some atheists are saying, ‘Let’s fill it.’ Others are saying, ‘Let’s not.’ ”
Prominent atheists, including writer Sam Harris, are exploring the spiritual value of “non-ordinary states of consciousness,” he wrote in a recent essay. However, “there is a lot of resistance to that among other atheists, who think it sounds very hocus-pocusy,” Fidalgo said.
So, everybody feels the need to connect to something higher, atheists probably more than most. Looks like there's a little self-hypnosis going on here -- you want to feel better, so you put yourself in a state that makes you feel better -- sounds like a version of what happens with real prayer by believers. And the beneficial effects of gatherings of like-minded people can't be overstated.