Atheists tend to think that prayer amounts to having a conversation with yourself in your head, even though you "believe" you are actually asking an all powerful imaginary friend to do some favor, say thank you, or just say hello.
Studies have been done on the effects that such prayers may have on sick people, for example, and, depending on who you listen to, such "payers" have demonstrable effect, or they have no effect at all. I, of course, think most studies show the latter.
But what is overlooked much of the time by these studies is the effects that "prayer" have on the people praying. While I doubt prayer has any effect whatsoever on changing anything (besides, as George Carlin pointed out, "prayer would just be a way of refusing to accept God's plan), I'm willing to bet that it does have a great deal of effect on those who pray, personally and socially.
The communal aspect of payer should not be overlooked, as old people who may have no other reason to associate with each other, may find plenty of reason to come together and interact with each other in all kinds of ways, out of a desire to "pray." And even if they are having no effect at all in saving the universe from evil, or clothing the naked or caring for the sick, while they sit in the comfort of their own living rooms praying, at least the activity gives such people a sense of purpose.
Of course, while such activities may provide a social and personal benefit to one's health, it may also only foster prejudices that "beliefs" tend to prey upon, and the fears of others and hell that one "hopes" and "prays" to God to be saved from.
So, there are benefits to prayer, even if they are not the ones those praying may think. But it's a trade off either way.
Tied to this is the irony of how the pursuit of perfection, whether through combat, sports, or in philosophy or religion, can actually produce all of the very imperfections it is designed to overcome. But that is for another post.
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