Take, for instance, crossing a road. You will never see a religious person standing at the roadside praying for the road to be clear, then just stepping out into the traffic secure in the knowledge that their god has stopped the traffic and made it safe for them to cross. Instead, they behave exactly like an Atheist would. They check first and wait for a safe gap, or wait for the lights to change. They even behave like Atheists and bet their life on the absence of evidence being evidence of absence just as Atheists do with cars and gods - which is why Pascal's Wager fails to work on people who aren't already afraid of a god.
What would we think of religious fundamentalist parents who taught their children just to pray then walk across the road, instead of doing what normal people like Atheists would do and teach their children about road safety?
Take the example of people on a sinking ship. Religious people might take a moment to say a prayer then get into a lifeboat. Atheists of course will already be getting into the lifeboat. It might be that a few honest religious people who haven't thought things through properly will refuse to get into a lifeboat but will just rely on prayers, thinking their god is going to miraculously lift them off the boat and put them on dry land. There is no record of this ever happening so they will drown unless they abandon their touching but futile faith in time and realise the Atheists are right after all.
The other day I was in Tescos buying the weekly shopping and a woman in a burkha paid for her shopping with money from her purse, just like I did. I expect the woman with the large and conspicuous cross on a chain round her neck did the same thing. It's a good bet that their money came from earnings, just like mine did. None of it came from prayer and Tescos won't accept prayers in lieu of money. These two religious women had had to behave like me, just as though they were Atheists too. In fact, just like any Atheist, they actually went shopping and didn't just pray to a god to have food appear in their cupboards. Obviously, like Atheists, they know that wouldn't work.
I suppose it's possible that a religious person, especially one like a Christian who believes they just need to say sorry to their god and all wrongs are forgiven, could have tried stealing the shopping and confessing in church on Sunday, so there is that. Fortunately for civilised societies, not that many Christians seem to believe that part of their faith so it isn't a major, major problem. It could explain the disproportionately high numbers of religious fundamentalist and the disproportionately low number of Atheists in prisons, and the fact that atheistic societies like Sweden are the most law-abiding whilst the most religious tend to be the most criminal. To be fair to most religious people though, this probably isn't a significant advantage to them.
You're probably thinking now about that old chestnut that religious people always spout when the prayers they believe will work don't - "God helps those who help themselves" (which is a really useful slogan if you have an indifferent or an absent god). But, if you think about it, that's just like saying God helps those who behave like Atheists. Strange then that all preachers and holy books tell their followers to behave exactly not like Atheists and no religious person would ever admit to doing so, even though we can see them doing so nearly all of the time in order to lead a normal, independent life, free from constant adult supervision.
So, what could religious people be getting out of their otherwise bizarre occasional religion-inspired behaviour which doesn't seem to produce any tangible benefits and just adds a lot of overheads and extra effort?
That will be the subject of another blog, about motivational psychology.