Most Evangelicals are taught that they should pray over their meals. The Bible commands Christians to thank God for everything, and that includes their food. I spent much of my life bowing my head and praying, either silently or out loud, before I ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Failures to pray were viewed as affronts to God, putting me in danger of choking on my food. So meal after meal I prayed, thanking God for the food I was about to eat. Even drive-thru food was prayed over, a quick mouthing of a few words of thanks for the Big Mac I was about to eat. I believed that not praying was a sin, a sign of ungratefulness. Whenever the subject of prayer came up in my sermons, I made sure to remind parents that they should be teaching their children to pray over EVERYTHING. In ALL things give thanks! Pray without ceasing! Much like an Aztec priest offering a prayer of thankfulness before sacrificing a virgin to his God, I would pray to my God, asking him to bless the food I was about to eat.
There were, of course, exceptions to this praying rule. Candy bars and pop bought at convenience stores required no prayers. Neither did ice cream at the local Dairy Queen or snacks after church. I look back on these exceptions now and see how hypocritical I was. Surely, Cheeto-eating should be prayed over just as one would pray over a five-course meal. Later in life, I would take to silently praying before meals eaten in public. I didn’t want to be associated with the Christians who made a spectacle of their praying, joining hands and praying in loud voices. My grandfather was one such pray-er. Not only did he pray over the food, he also used his prayer to preach the gospel to all who were sitting nearby. In his mind, it was important to let everyone know that Christians were in the house.
As an atheist, I no longer utter a prayer of thanks to a dead deity before I eat. I am still every bit as thankful and grateful for the food I eat. I know that I live in a land of privilege and abundance. I choose, instead, to thank the cook for the food. She’s the one who, from store to plate, prepared the food, and she alone deserves the praise for the meal. If it were up to me, I would try to live on Dr. Pepper and king-sized Snickers bars. I am so thankful that Polly cannot only cook, but that she is very good at what she does. She’s always busy refining her craft, ever willing to try out new recipes.
I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone does something for me, I thank them — no God needed. It is farmers, not the Christian God, who grow crops and feed animals so we can have food to eat. Yes, the sun shines and the rain falls, but if these things come from the hand of the Almighty, he sure is schizophrenic. Every year, the weather is different. One year it is too cold, other years it is too hot. Rarely does it rain exactly when crops need it. If there’s a God behind the weather, he sure is fucking with us. Perhaps, this God is like an abusive husband who gives his wife just enough money to keep her coming back to him for more. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, surely he is able to control the weather so that that crops will optimally grow and eight billion people will have enough to eat. Instead, farmers battle the elements, hoping that their yields will be enough for them to make a profit. Countless people will go to bed tonight hungry. Many of them live in countries plagued by drought or floods. If the Big Kahuna really is a God of love, kindness, and compassion, perhaps he can make it possible for starving Africans to have sufficient food to eat. Many of these people are Christian, yet their plates are empty. What does this say about their God? Should they offer up a prayer of thanks to the Three-in-One, thanking them for the 200-calorie bowl of U.N. gruel they are about to eat? I think not.
Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, said it best when he prayed:
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.
What are your experiences with praying before meals? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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