I'll admit it was an ironic smile, but still, it struck me as rather funny behaviour in a group that declares they don't believe in God, religion, or any form of Higher Power. Say what? Yes, the report in the Huffington Post says that a lot of Atheists pray. Under the title of "Atheist Prayer. Religious Activity Not Uncommon Among Non-Believers" the Huff Post reports on the interesting fact that many who claim to be atheists still resort to some forms of religious activity.
According to a survey reported in the Washington Post there are some 46 million people in the US (total population 349 million) who do not have any religious affiliation. This includes some 13 million who identify themselves as Atheists or Agnostics. According to the report a significant minority of those calling themselves Atheists 'pray' regularly, and the percentage is higher among Agnostics. It probably bears out my late grandfather's assertion from the First World War (he was seriously wounded on the first day of the Somme offensive and served the rest of the War in the Royal Garrison Artillery in various offensives along the Western Front) that "there are no Atheists in a shell hole or among the dying in the trenches."
It does smack of G K Chesterton's statement that the absence of faith does not mean an absence of belief. He added "it simply means they will believe in anything".
I confess that this report made me think of the retort made by an elderly priest I knew when he was confronted in a pub we had all resorted to after Evensong. The inebriated gentleman approached and loudly proclaimed himself an Atheist, saying, "I don't believe in any of this God nonsense - you lot are no better than anyone else." Our priest smiled sweetly offered the man a seat and replied, "You know, it's a funny thing, you're right about us, but, while you don't believe in God, He believes in you."
I think all of us go through periods when we look at what science is telling us and have our doubts about God. The thing is that when you look at what science can't explain, like how all the billions of atoms that make up the individual cells in our bodies take one form in us, another in other forms of life and even more miraculously actually manage to hold a shape and form, you have to ask some other questions. As the line from a show I recall from the 1970s on the Cosmos said, we are all made up of the dust of the stars. Fine, I don't have a problem with that, I know it to be true, because, under a microscope and in a laboratory with the right bits of kit, it can be demonstrated that my flesh and bone and even the liquid bits of me (around 80%) is composed of 'star dust'. And yes, we can say we believe it all holds together because of electronic and gravitational attractions between the atoms.
What we can't say is why one lump of 'star dust' is alive, and another inanimate.
As to the praying Atheists, I don't actually think God minds what the say they believe. He knows what they really do believe deep down, and when it suits Him, they'll probably get a surprise of the more pleasant kind. Keep praying people - it's good for you even if you aren't sure what or who is listening.