Let Us Pray
This morning, a Captain that used to work in my office returned for his promotion ceremony to the rank of Major. I decided to attend as soon as I found out about the ceremony, as the Major was always very helpful when we worked together and always threw me extra projects because he knew I wanted the work. The ceremony was very nice; short and sweet and heartfelt. It also was opened and closed by a retired Staff Sergeant leading the group in a prayer.
I am a former Catholic who is now an Atheist. There is no religion out there that satisfies me and my lifestyle. I celebrate Christmas and Easter still, but as family holidays rather than holidays based around God. The last time I prayed was when I was living in a shitty room for rent, working a dead-end job, and escaping an abusive relationship. It was one prayer at the end of many unanswered prayers. Countless times, I had turned to God only to receive a deaf ear. Countless times, I reached out to the church community only to have them judge me and tell me how wrong I was rather than offer guidance and help. As I educated myself further and looked into various areas of Christianity, I came to the conclusion that religion is a fairy tale. In my opinion.
When I am in a room and everyone bows their head for prayer, I can’t help but feel incredibly awkward. Out of respect, I don’t play on my cell phone, blow bubbles with my gum, or remain seated while everyone stands to bow their heads. Outside of standing and staying quiet though, I don’t participate. My head does not bow down, my hands do not clasp together, and I do not whisper an “amen” when the prayer concludes. I simple stand, casting sideways glances around the room, until the prayer concludes and I can sit back down.
This definitely could be construed as me being rude to the people trying to pray. I’ve had it said to me that I should “fake it” when caught in a group prayer, going through the motions and saying “amen” at the conclusion of the prayer. I don’t see abstaining in the manner I chose to do as rude though. On the contrary, I think I’m being quite polite. I didn’t storm out of the room or sit in my chair playing Angry Birds while the rest of the group spoke to God. I didn’t get offended that I was thrown into a prayer without my consent. I didn’t feel like religion was being forced on me and I didn’t make a scene. I was quiet and just ignored it all.
For me, the rudeness comes in when people demand that cashiers no longer wish them a Merry Christmas, when schools aren’t allowed to have fun making Easter baskets, and when fun holiday decorations become an offense instead of something fun and eye-catching. Freedom of religion is our right, and we can’t have the freedom to our own if we don’t allow everyone else the freedom to theirs. This is why I don’t understand why Christmas trees aren’t allowed in certain places; why not accommodate everyone instead of taking the joy out of everything? Why must people take offense to things that aren’t put into place for the purpose of offending? If it’s not causing injury and if it represents love, what is the harm?
I’m not saying it’s wrong to have an opinion of other religions or lack thereof. I fault no one for thinking I’m a moron or that I’m hellbound for being an Atheist. I don’t expect everyone to understand it. What I do expect is for them to have as much respect for me as I have for them. For them to confront me about my belief that there is no God is as rude as it would be for me to tarnish their prayers with words of my disbelief and preferences. Yes, I’m uncomfortable with prayer, but why should my issue be everyone else’s problem? What right is it of mine to take away from someone else’s experience just because I don’t like it?
I’m no saint, but I think this is one area where I shine a tiny bit. If more people just put their personal issues aside for a little while and have a little bit of respect for others, perhaps it would lead to more tolerance all across the board. Rather than snap at the cashier who wishes you Merry Christmas, telling her you’re Jewish, maybe just smile and say thanks with the understanding that she is being polite, not trying to insult you. Remember that you have the right to abstain from activities that don’t mesh with your beliefs, but you can do so respectfully; unless a survey of religious beliefs was taken beforehand, no one is trying to call you out or make you feel like an outcast. Maybe becoming tolerant of this and going back to a time where we could put up Christmas trees in public places without backlash from certain groups. Maybe it will bring on a tolerance for other things; sexual orientation, disabilities, race, social class. Hell, maybe it won’t do a damn thing, but at least at the end of the day it’ll leave you feeling like a good person because you had a chance to be an asshole and instead decided to act like a nice and normal human being.