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Bruce, Would You Pray if Asked To?

atheist prayer

Andre asked:

Suppose you were at a dinner party and the host puts you on the spot to pray for the meal in front of 10-20 guests. Do you be a good sport and make up a prayer or politely decline, creating an awkward situation.

This is a great question, one that can be answered several different ways. Since all of my family and friends know I am no longer a Christian, I doubt any of them would ask me to pray. I can’t think of any social setting where I would now be asked to pray. Everyone knows I am an atheist, so I doubt they would want a godless heathen blessing their food.

Each of us must determine how we would respond when asked to pray. If a person is an atheist or an unbeliever, but hasn’t come out yet, then it might be appropriate for them to pray if asked. No harm will be done since the God they are praying to is a fictional being. Their prayer, like every other prayer, will hit the ceiling and bounce right back. No harm, no foul.

A dinner party is not a good place to declare to the world that you are an atheist or that you are no longer a Christian. Such a pronouncement will surely dampen the spirit and you will be blamed for ruining the party. The best advice I can give is to size up who is there and act accordingly.

Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist


  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    The only large family sit-down dinner in recent years has been Thanksgiving at my in-laws (and that won’t happen again; Mom can no longer manage it.) But when it dawned on her that several family members are no longer believers, she changed the requisite pre-meal prayer to insist that everyone go around the table and say what they are thankful for. The really religious ones can give thanks to their deity, and the rest of us can just talk about the things that trigger our gratitude. (For example, the year I got my MS degree, I talked about being grateful for all the family support in encouraging me to see it through.) I thought that was really classy of my mom-in-law, who is strongly Christian — but she loves her family and doesn’t want to distress them.

    People issue requests for prayers all the time, not to me directly but to, say, all friends on Facebook. If I want to respond with concern, I’ll reply with virtual hugs and good wishes. No one has rejected them (yet). Good friends would never ask for prayers in seriousness, but the nerdier atheists among them might ask for prayers to the Flying Spaghetti Monster in partial jest. That’s usually also actually a request for comforting and/or encouragement, so I try to offer that.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Our first Thanksgiving after we deconverted didn’t turn out as nicely as yours. I decided we would not pray and told everyone they could pray silently. My one daughter-in-law piped up and said, how about everyone go around the table and say what they are thankful for? I replied, I’d rather we not do that. She then, under her breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear, said asshole. It was not a nice Thanksgiving.

      In the six Thanksgivings since then we have had Polly’s preacher Dad say a prayer. We don’t like it, after all it is our home, but we allow it for the sake of family peace. We subscribe to the maxim, when in Rome do as the Romans do. Evidently, this maxim doesn’t apply at our own home. It seems Christians always want their way…even though most of the people sitting at the table are either nonbelievers or nominal believers.

  2. Avatar

    I like your phrase how it’ll hit the ceiling and bounce right back.” My employer asks me to pray with her often (I’m a private duty nurse) and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. If I tell her I’m an atheist it’s guaranteed I’ll be fired. If I look at it like I’m just saying empty words to the ceiling, I might be able to swallow it better.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Better to pretend than lose your job. While firing someone for being an atheist is illegal, if someone wants to fire you they can easily find a reason. It’s sad this is how it has to be, but as long as King Jesus rules America atheists will have to decide when and when not to wear the red A.

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    I’m out to no one except here. My MIL would usually ask me to pray at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. She doesn’t do the big thanksgiving to-do any more either, so last year my SIL took over. I was looking forward to not having to come up with a prayer full of buzzwords again. Totally surprised me when she asked me to say the blessing. I guess she thought she was doing it to promote peace with me. Little does she (or anyone else) know….

  4. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    I don’t see it as a particular big deal. I have a single, classical mealtime blessing committed to memory (it was my father’s go-to blessing in my childhood) and — much to my surprise — it turns out that I don’t actually catch fire or lose my voice if I say it. So, on family occasions with either set of parents, I have occasionally used it. Mostly it doesn’t come up, since pretty much the entire family knows that I’m not a believer.

  5. Avatar

    Richard Dawkins:

    “At a lunch party I was placed next to a well-known female rabbi, now ennobled. She asked me, somewhat belligerently, whether I said grace when it was my turn to do so at High Table dinner in my Oxford college. “Yes,” I replied, “Out of simple good manners and respect for the medieval traditions of my college.”

    She attacked me for hypocrisy, and was not amused when I quoted the great philosopher A J (Freddy) Ayer, who also was quite happy to recite the grace at the same college when he chanced to be Senior Fellow: “I will not utter falsehoods”, said Freddy genially, “But I have no objection to making meaningless statements.””

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    Ah the memories…After I de-converted I was visiting an older couple for a few days. These people are very close friends and also very religious, as had I been. They had a very small dinner party with others from the church and after everyone was seated, the man of the house called on me to say grace. They knew I was no longer a believer, but forgot. I looked at his wife and she had the most embarrassed expression on her face and so to save further embarrassment I said quick prayer. I do know the words after all! My friend apologized profusely after dinner and I assured him it was no big deal. I was just going through the motions and words of the tradition and it has no meaning or effect on me. We remain close friends to this day even though he is still a strong Christian.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I’d probably pray in that kind of setting too, not wanting to offend my friends. Of course, now everyone knows I am no longer a Christian so asking me to pray would never happen.

  7. Avatar
    Matt Martin

    From time to time I’ve been asked to pray for people I know who’ve encountered misfortune (when else?).

    My response is always “Well as an atheist I don’t pray but I’ll certainly keep you in my daily anxieties.”

    Generally speaking it works a treat.

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