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.


About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on August 24, 2012, in Life, Work and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I do that too. I will stand when people stand but I won’t close my eyes or fake praying. At the same time I only go far enough to not interrupt what they want to do without actually doing what they are doing. It’s simply being courteous and respectful of other people’s beliefs.

    Isn’t it so odd that of the other Athiests/Agnostics I have talked to, none of them have a problem with Merry Christmas, Easter baskets, a creche outside the city hall or Christmas trees in the center of town. Neither do we care if there are menorahs and I’m pretty sure most of us say, “Bless you” or “Bleshu,” at any rate, when someone sneezes. And yet you hear so much about people getting upset about it and trying to ban Merry Christmas and say Happy Holidays instead, or remove religious symbols from public spaces as part of the seperation of church and state which, I might point out, is NOT** what the Founders meant by that. Wouldn’t you think all that anti-religious hate would come from the Athiest/Agnostic group? And yet it ain’t us. lol.

    I think it comes from one religious group trying to remove the influence of another religious group by forcing everyone to acknowledge NO religion anywhere, ever. And yet here we are, the Athiest/Agnostic crowd stuck in the middle saying, “Hey guys! We are cooool with it. We love Christmas Trees AND Menorahs, we enjoy a day out chowing down during Eid and the kids in white shirts and black ties are really friendly guys! If WE can love everyone, why can’t Y’ALL!?” 😛

    **The Founders meant that the Government shall not create a National Religion to which all other religions are then secondary to. They came from a country where the Church of England was the religious law of the land, all other religions were not recognized nor respected, and they did not want a repeat of that. Putting a Christmas tree in a public park or a bible sculpture at the City Hall is NOT what they were concerned about. Everyone’s gotta stop listening to those 6th Grade Social Studies teachers in Government schools.

  2. TY JB.

    One more quick thought as I re-read this…my wife is Middle Eastern, so our wedding guests were a mix of Muslims, Catholics, Christians, Agnostics, Athiests, my mom is Protestant and my best man was Jewish. The father of the Maid of Honor was a Catholic Priest. When you hear all the religious insanity out there, my wedding should have been a WWF Smackdown cage match, right? Yet, not a drop of blood was shed that day. 😉 No fatwas were issued. No Korans were burned.

    Our wedding was a coming together of at least seven religions for one event. I wore a kilt as my Protestant mom is Scottish. My wife wore a white dress even though neither of us are Christian. We were married by a non-denominational Justice-of-the-Peace. We played bagpipe music for the ceremony. Instead of an open bar between the ceremony and the reception, we served tea and pastries, a Persian/Muslim tradition. For the reception we had Persian food which is traditionally served buffet style (we even had to pay a $1K penalty to the venue to be allowed to not use their preferred caterers). We also had an open bar during the reception serving beer and wine (most Muslims don’t drink alcohol). The dance music alternated between a Persian band and an American DJ. We had wedding cake, she threw the bouquet, we skipped the best man speech, well…speeches in general (we didn’t want anyone to feel pressured, but to just enjoy the party). We closed the wedding with a traditional Persian group dance but drove away from the venue for our Honeymoon in a classic 1950’s American car.

    As Athiests, we were able to thoroughly enjoy having ALL religions with us that day, and we were able to incorporate our cultures, both religious and non-religious into a wonderful event and party. We simply took what we liked from both sides and merged it together. Many aspects that are religious to the religious have simply become respected traditions to us, to be honored and handed down. This is why we don’t mind Christmas trees or bibles at City Hall or Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays.

    How odd. It would seem that the most religiously tolerant in America, are those without any religion at all. How fascinating is that? ;P

  3. Many atheists would cast you out as being a so called atheist for celebrating christmas…even if you’re doing it as a family rather than religious holiday…

    contradiction to ones lack of belief to do so….but I guess those could be the hoity toity atheists..

    it is pretty rude to not at least cast your gaze down or bow your head down when your in a situation where the vast majority of everyone else is doing so…but hey my what you do.

    • I don’t find it rude. I don’t pray, so I didn’t pray. I stood with them and that was enough.

    • Regarding Christmas, the true history of Christmas is quite revealing since Christ was not actually born on Dec 25 but that day was chosen because Christianity wanted to smother the pagan celebrations that were the popular thing to do at the time. His “real” birthday was sometime in the Spring.

      Then you have the Christmas tree itself which is not a religious symbol, but one from a tradition started in Northern Europe. Winter was seen as a time when food was scarce and survival was the most important thing, with all hopes tuned to Spring. The first feast of winter was accompanied by an evergreen brought indoors as a symbol of Spring, of renewal and of hope in having enough bounty to survive the winter.

      Santa Claus, stockings, Christmas trees, opening presents are all more closely associated with pagan rituals than anything to do with Christ. The fact that the Church wanted to replace what they considered the debauchery of the winter festivals of paganism which included alot of alcohol and sex and food (sounds like a great party to me), to the point of even adopting some of its imagery like Christmas Trees, just shows the lengths to which organized religion will go to in order to crowd out things it doesn’t like. Of course their efforts did not work, and there is still plenty of alcohol, sex and food going on around Christmas. I mean, how else are we going to make new little Athiests?

      The celebration of the pagan rituals at Christmas, if anything, should be looked at as an anti-Christmas celebration because we choose to continue the pagan party despite what the Church tried to do. If that’s not Athiesm…what is?

    • Regarding eye and hand control during prayer…who is to say what is rude and what is not rude?

      The Christian to my left may be upset we did not lower our head even though we left our eyes open. The one to our right might be upset we did not clasp our hands even though we didn’t lower our heads or close our eyes. I mean, the level of involvement that equates to being polite is going to vary from person to person. What if they start singing? What if I only lip-sync? What if I don’t know the words? What if I don’t sing as loud as them? What if I f*** up the words? What if I use the bible because I don’t know the words? Does that make me less polite because I should have known the words by heart? What if I don’t kneel and “cross” before I go into my pew? What if I don’t bless myself with holy water? What if I don’t tithe? What if I don’t tithe enough? What if I tithe too much? Are all of these “failures” to being polite? Am I being rude just by the very fact that I am an Athiest standing in the House of God? There is no way to know because everybody will measure it differently. So the best an Athiest can do is be quiet, be respectful, and not interfere with the goings on around them. As long as what I am doing, or not doing, does not interfere with what those around me are doing, then that is the most that should be expected of anyone.

      Besides, who are these people to my left and my right judging the sh** out of me like that? Don’t they have better things to do? Am I going to Hell because I didn’t clasp my hands or bow my heads? Are they going to shuffle a few inches away from me for fear I will explode into flames….hahaha.

      • why would you tithe anything? Never mind the fact why are you in the church if you’re an atheist? Different degrees I guess;;;; And yes I do understand you’re illustrating a point.

        Everything to the eyes of the beholder.

        I’m not a big fan of the impromptu prayer that happens at some events…but I think it would be rude of me to stand there and look around the room as the prayer happens…so I usually cast my gaze down or put my head down; Twas all of which my point was. If one enjoys eyefucking their surroundings while a prayer is happening more power to them; still comes off as rude.

        and no…judging is what most religious people do…so of course they don’t have better things to do 😉

  4. I wouldn’t tithe. That’s the point. I can just imagine the person to my left dropping a fiver, I take the plate and just pass it to the person on my right, who drops a fiver. Since as you say, most religious people judge, then what judgment will the person on my left and my right have on me at that point? Not a good one, I am sure. But I am not donating because I am an Atheist and I don’t support the church, I donate elsewhere, but they don’t know that, so I’ll just get evil looks.

    Oddly, Atheists do find themselves in various churches from time to time. Weddings, funerals, Christmas Mass with friends or family members that are religious, even as a goodwill gesture to friends whose kid is in the choir or whatever. I’ve been a couple times to regular services because a girl I was dating asked me to go with her. I’ve even been in a Mosque for a funeral, barefoot sitting against the wall with all the other Muslims. I didn’t pray or chant but it didn’t bother them and what they’re doing didn’t bother me.

    “Eyefucking” is interesting. I haven’t heard that one before. So eyefucking, or I should say simply, not looking down, comes off as YOU. I am sure you can’t speak for all religious people everywhere as to the fact that every single one of them also considers that as rude. YOU do, but I am sure you don’t intend on speaking for them. And since you can’t speak for them on if not looking down is rude, then you can’t speak for them on what each and every one of them, individually, considers rude, or not rude. Which means there is a possiblilty that anything I do, or don’t do in a church, that is not like what everyone else is doing, could be considered rude to someone, somewhere, at some time.

    Which is why Atheists can only do what they do since anything we do or don’t do is bound to piss somebody off somewhere. All we can do is simply not interfere in any way that would impede what they are doing.

    I mean hell, you might think its rude that I don’t bow my head, but the guy behind me thinks its rude that I am bowing my head because he knows I’m an Atheist so he thinks I’m not sincere, I’m just faking it, I’m just a faker, an evil faker man. You never know, what goes on in people’s heads.

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