On the rare days when I check my email (read: I’m a lazy bum), I often find questions or objections that deserve posts of their own. I do not claim to be wise nor exhaustive in my ideas, but I hope my thoughts on these topics will be helpful to those who ask.
On Saying Grace
I read your blog post “Do You Participate When You Don’t Believe?” and I was wondering… I was brought up in a heavily Christian family and we always say Grace on holidays- especially Christmas and Thanksgiving. How can I avoid this politely and without offending anyone?
–Nicole (Colie the Magical Closet Atheist)
See my answer after the break.
Thanks for writing, Nicole! My family prays before meals as well (and sometimes after). I think there are a number of options you have before you. Here are a few:
- You could explain your objections respectfully to your family at another time in hopes that their understanding will help them not feel confused nor offended when grace time comes and you choose not to participate. Depending on your family, this could open doors for discussion and education or it could open a wider rift between you if they either don’t accept your non-belief or if they do not know you’re an atheist yet.
- You could leave the table during grace or join the meal after grace is said. There is a possibility this could be seen as a dramatic gesture of protest, and I would recommend this if you feel grossly uncomfortable about religious prayer and feel as if it violates you on a personal level. My guess is that you do not have those feelings.
- You could sit with them at the table in respectful silence while they pray. You could bow your head out of respect, habit, or just to fit in with the accepted gesture of reflection. Or you could keep your head lifted and eyes open, but show your politeness by not objecting, sneering, smirking, or otherwise mocking their practice while they pray.
- If you are expected to pray aloud, then I would do one of two things: Abstain respectfully (this will work best if they know you are not a Christian already) or speak your own thanks and hopes in a way that remains totally secular. You are participating, but you are not praying and will not be lying (in my humble opinion). Statements can be phrased like, “I’m thankful that we all arrived safely today and that I have always had a warm, loving home to return to,” or, “I hope that this food and our conversation will be uplifting to all of us, and I am so thankful to be here after such a busy week.” No deities, just your feelings!
- You could pray. I know you do not want to participate in this option, but I’m putting it out there for those who have no objections to participating in ritual when someone asks you to. Since you would not think anyone is listening, it’s not like you would be blaspheming or breaking any rules set by anyone else. You could think of it as playacting for your family (if you’re truly afraid to ever hint that you might not be a believer) or as simply meditating on good things.
My personal choice is #3. All but one member of my immediate family knows I am an atheist. I choose to sit with them at the table but keep my head lifted and eyes open. I sometimes put my hands in my lap, look around, watch the, or simply think on my own thoughts while I wait for them to finish. I always try to be polite and not make a fuss because I tend to be a peacemaker—I don’t enjoy arguing, debating, or making waves in my family life.
When I’m at work (a Christian company) and I am expected to pray aloud, I have chosen not to abstain, but to say my secular wishes and hopes for those around me and the company. This, again, is to keep the peace (and my cover, as I am at risk of losing my job if I am “out” as an atheist).
What you choose may depend on your relationship with your religious family. From your nickname, it seems like you may be fully closeted even to your family. How would they act if hey did know? If other relatives are around, would your behavior change in any way? I’m sure my readers might have other wonderful insights for you as well.
All the best!