How Do You Tell Your Family You Don’t Want to Pray with Them?

Jane and her husband from Oregon don’t see their extended family very much, but when they do, it seems like a group prayer (say, before dinner) is always involved.

Jane’s not hiding her atheism — she’ll answer honestly if questioned about it — but that doesn’t remove her from the group prayer situation.

She writes:

At public events, I just stand off to the side during the prayer, and no one cares. At Girl Scouts, I don’t say God during the promise, and no one seems to care. But with the family — what’s the best moment to say it’s not appropriate for us to participate in the big group prayer?

What’s the best course of action?

Do you leave the room while others pray? Stand off to the side? Hold hands and just look around while others pray?

Can you do anything that won’t offend the family?

  • Thegoodman

    @MaryLynne

    I feel like Christians (every single person I know is either Christian or atheist, I don’t know any other perspectives) often view atheists as rude/satanic/non-conformists. I feel this couldn’t be farther from the truth and I personally feel like I have to represent my own lack of belief with dignity and humility. I don’t know everything, none of us do. I happen to not believe that God exists. For me to scoff at someone else for their own beliefs(or lack thereof) would make me exactly what I despise. I wish to be judged by the content of my character, not my religious preference.

    I don’t mind when my family prays and I don’t mind when they ask me to join. I have been asked rather pointedly by my brother-in-law to say the family prayer and I respectfully declined and suggest he do it because he is better at it than I am.

    Atheists are people too. I think ALL PEOPLE should be respectful and tolerant of all other people so as long as they are not physically/emotionally/verbally assaulting you with their beliefs and ways. A family prayer is a tradition in most homes and is not the place for your soapbox.

    I was also assuming that Jane and her husband do not live with mom and dad. This means that they are guests, but they are also family. For mom and dad to foot the bill and feed/house you the least you can do is be respectful to THEM (not Christianity) while they pray. If it is that big of problem, get a hotel room and buy your own food. You don’t have to start going to confession or even church, but if they want to pray, don’t rain on their parade.

    Like I said, all people should be respectful and moral, especially Atheists. We have no one to whom we can ask forgiveness. We have not eternity to bask in heavenly glory. We only have right now and we only have 1 chance to do it right, so we damn well better.

    Atheism honestly doesn’t mean a lot to me and too many atheists put religion level stock in it. You can’t revolve your life around something that isn’t. Revolve your life around something that IS, like your loved ones, your career, your hobbies, etc. Defining yourself by you atheism is not something I wish to do.

  • Dhes of Yuggoth

    If I’m in somebody else’s home, I respect the fact that it’s their space. If family (or step-family) has a “house rule” that it’s a “Christian household” and that everybody has to hold hands during grace and they get all seriously childish and emotionally manipulative if people don’t wish participate (been there – it’s very ugly, as we found out), then the options become either making a big, silly scene that makes people feel like they’re being stabbed (or whatever), or just letting them have their little words and be done with it. It doesn’t kill my dad, my brother, or me to just wait it out in silence. After all, it’s not our home this occurs in, anyway. I feel it’s more important to earn respect by demonstrating it than making some kind of point and being a disruptive and rude guest.

    Doesn’t matter if we hold hands, though. They can’t actually make us pray, no matter how much they may think otherwise.

    In my home (or Dad’s), however, there is no grace led or organized. If somebody feels as though their food will turn to ashes in their mouths if they don’t bow down and subserviently thank their deity for it first, then they’re on their own and free to lower their heads and think their words, but this has never been an issue, as far as I know.

  • HankTheCowdog

    When you’re asked to say the prayer, decline politely. Maybe suggest that one of the children (nieces, nephews, grandkids?) be allowed to offer the prayer.

    Unless you’re looking for a family fight, this isn’t about you (as I realized as I read through the comments). There’s nothing wrong with standing there and letting the rest of your family have its prayer. You might get asked soon after about why you declined, and then go ahead and answer. At least at that point you’re not holding up the general rush to the mashed potatoes.

  • abby

    i certainly don’t think there is any harm in praying with your family. prayer isn’t just about praying to some God, it can be a form of bonding with people you love, part of a tradition. anyway. i am atheist but i always pray with my family, and with the community i am living in. it doesn’t seem contrary to my atheist ways. when you pray for specific things, just think of those things in your mind, and remember them in your thoughts. it is a good way to think of others, and to remember the plights and difficulties of others. and if people are praying for forgiveness… its the same deal, just pray to see your own weaknesses more clearly, so that you can be more accepting of your own weaknesses, and in turn be more accepting of the weakness of others, so you can love and understand others more deeply.

  • Thomas

    I still participate in the “blessing” of food. I just look at it as customary.


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