One in five adults admit to praying despite saying they have no religion, a survey has found.
More than 10 per cent of self-described “non-religious” people say they pray in times of crisis, while another nine per cent pray at least occasionally.
The poll by ComRes for Christian charity Tearfund found just over half of all British adults pray, including a third who do so in a place of worship, and one in three who pray before bed or after waking up.
However, fewer than half of those who pray say that God actually hears them, while only a quarter say it makes them feel better.
Nearly three quarters say they pray for their family, followed by thanking God for something (41 per cent), and healing (40 per cent). Only 24 per cent say they pray for global issues such as poverty and natural disasters.
The amount of prayerfulness varies considerably by Christian denomination. Only 42 per cent of Catholics say they pray regularly, while 13 per cent say they never pray at all.
The figures are even worse for mainline Protestant denominations. Just 23 per cent of Anglicans pray regularly, and nearly a third say they never pray even in times of crisis. In the United Reformed Church, 44 per cent say they pray, while 17 per cent pray regularly.
In comparison, members of Evangelical and Charismatic Protestant churches pray much more regularly, including 86 per cent of “independent” Protestants who pray at least once a week.
The Observer quotes a 64-year-old man named Henry who says he prays every night despite not being religious.
“I worry about it quite a lot – is it some kind of an insurance policy, is it superstition or is it something more real?” he says, adding that he would not classify himself as religious.
He says he starts by silently reciting the Our Father and then asks for his loved ones to be kept safe.
Henry, who requested anonymity, also said he prayer did not make him feel better. “I wonder why I don’t stop doing it. Sometimes I feel it’s a kind of hypocrisy,” he said.
The results echo a study by the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion, which found a quarter of non-religious Britons pray at least occasionally.
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said the findings were “fascinating though not surprising”, while Ruth Valerio of Tearfund called on people to pray for bigger issues: “While it is often easier to pray for issues closer to home, we want to encourage people to continue to engage with global issues and pray for an end to extreme poverty.”