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Ask the Patriarch 65
Can I Pray?

from Paul K.F.

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I have a question, is it okay for an agnostic to pray? My family are all Roman Catholic, except for me, and I was wondering if it was still okay for me to pray with them.

The Patriarch replies:


Whether it is OK or not to pray is really up to you. But you should really make sure you understand why you are doing it.

Are you really praying? Or are you just pretending to pray?

If it is just a pretense, remember that many people go through the motions of religious practice just to keep peace in the family. I think this is reasonable behaviour, particularly if you are still dependent upon your parents. But, when you strike out on your own, you may find it possible to drop the façade. And if you are married - well I think it best to drop any religious hypocrisy - particularly to provide your own children with a valid alternative to blind faith.

However, if you are praying for real - consider who or what you are praying to. Is just some kind of Pascal's wager type of prayer? What do you think you are achieving through such prayer?

Consider alternatives where possible. For example, silent meditation or reflection is an ideal substitute for silent prayer. Or if you have to take your turn saying grace prior to a meal, it can be achieved without any religious reference; consider, the old standby: "For what we are about to receive, we are truly thankful." Alternatively, direct your thanks to those responsible in various ways for bringing the food to the table.

Don't let yourself get to 75 years old - dutifully having followed along all your life - only to find out through someone else's confession that everybody else in the family has been faking it all along, just in the hopes of keeping peace in the family.

And if you really must pray, consider Zelazny's Agnostic Prayer.[1]

Best wishes


  1. Zelazny's Agnostic Prayer

    Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I have to say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen
                              Roger Zelazny Creatures of Light and Darkness 1969