Back in April, the post “Out of Respect” inspired a discussion about what an atheist host could say at a meal as substitute for a prayer. This is, I think, an important question, and one worthy of an answer. I have written before about the importance of spirituality, even to a nonbeliever. Just because we are atheists does not mean that we cannot find symbolic significance and meaning in the small rituals that we all undertake every day. Indeed, I would argue that human life in a sense needs rituals; however, these need not be specifically religious. It is not supernatural belief that we require, but rather the comforting rhythm of the familiar which calms us and gives order and structure to our lives.
However, although there are some invocations by famous atheists that might be suitable for the purpose, I know of no secular benedictions specifically written to be said at mealtime. Perhaps I can supply one. As always, I make no claims to speak for atheists, and the following piece certainly should not be viewed as authoritative or graven in stone. I would encourage anyone who desired to use this one to adapt it to fit their own purposes and needs. However, it can, perhaps, provide a framework for the general kind of thing an atheist might say at mealtime, whether a formal or celebratory dinner with friends and colleagues or simply a quiet meal with family and loved ones. I encourage my readers to suggest modifications and improvements in whatever ways seem best to them.
As we come together to share this meal, let us first remember how it came to us and be thankful to the people who made it possible.
This food was born from the bounty of the Earth, in warm sunlight, rich earth, and cool rain.
May it nourish us, in body and mind, and provide us with the things that are good for living.
We are grateful to those who cultivated it, those who harvested it, those who brought it to us, and those who prepared it.
May its consumption bring about the pleasures of friendship, love, and good company.
And as we partake of this food in each other’s company,
as what was once separate from all of us becomes part of each of us,
may we also remember what we have in common and what brings us all together.
May this sharing of food foster peace and understanding among us,
may it bring us to the recognition that we depend on each other for all the good we can ever hope to receive,
and that all the good we can hope to accomplish rests in helping others in turn.
May it remind us that as we reach out to others to brighten their lives,
so are our lives brightened in turn.