The real question is would an atheist be offended if you told them that you had prayed for them? The answer depends on the sensibilities of the person concerned, but my attitude is it cuts both ways. So pray it if it makes you feel better. The only harm may be if prayer stopped you from doing something more useful for the atheist. Like calling for an ambulance, or performing CPR. Less drastic, do something for them they would appreciate.
Once a student showed me their pendant that said “I am a Catholic, in an emergency please contact a priest.” This provoked the quip that I needed a pendant that said “I am an atheist, in an emergency please contact the appropriate emergency service.”
The focus for an atheist is on this mortal coil of flesh rather than the safety of their immortal soul finding heaven. To my aid, I shall not limit myself to people cut of a certain frock, ideology or particular hobbies. Key is that they can perform the necessary life saving procedure due to their expertise and training. Hopefully, I will have the chance to thank them. Rather than first thank someone I never thought was there to begin with. The reserves of mental strength to be called on will be the positive reinforcements of memories of those I love and future plans, rather than a call to the mystic forces of the cosmos to see my hour of need. We all know though that at some point, our course will be run. While the energy never dies, what made up this carbon based entity will be spent in this incarnation.
My gratitude, beyond thanking those responsible for helping me pull through, would be to thank goodness. As Daniel Dennett mentioned on recovering from a life saving emergency operation:
Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now. [Source]
The late Christopher Hitchens on Christians organising a prayer for his soul:
“I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries,” the atheist author wrote in a first-person article for Vanity Fair’s October 2010 issue.
“Unless, of course, it makes you feel better,” he added, echoing a past comment. [Source]
That last point is the thing. By all means pray. But rather than offer just them to the person, give something more tangible. Goodness is goodness whatever we think happens after this life.
Related Blog: Say a Little Prayer For You
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog