May 24, 2016

On Prayer: Why can't you atheists just sit quietly in your own home while someone prays?

Carolyn Hax has an interesting question today. Let me share it:

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have just purchased our first home. We are excited to finally host all the friends and family who kindly fed us over the years. 
My husband is agnostic, I am atheist and we do not say grace. My father-in-law always says grace and insists everyone bow their head and participate. I have always respected this in his home, but I do not want this in my own home. 
How do I explain our “house policy” without causing a rift? Husband thinks we should just go along, but this makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Ironically, my father-in-law does not practice what he preaches and will easily hold a grudge for 50 years. 
The logical solution would be to have my husband speak with his father, but he is unwilling to do this. How can a daughter-in-law ask her father-in-law not to pray? Seems like a cold request, but I’m genuinely uncomfortable with the practice. I am also very bad at having difficult conversations and will stutter, sweat, flush and basically panic before strangling out the words.

Naturally, I empathize, so let me admit that bias upfront.

I liked Hax's answer. I believe that people should feel comfortable in their own homes, and that includes nonbelievers.

I was shocked, then, by this response that Hax lists later in the letter:

Re: Prayer: In my opinion it’s as wrong to insist that the faithful not pray as it is to insist that the non-religious participate in prayer. Why can’t they sit in respectful silence while the father-in-law says grace?

Uh, I don't know. Maybe because it's their fucking home, not the father-in-law's?

I have to wonder how this responder would feel if someone barged into their home and demanded that they ignore their own religious practices in favor of those of the guest. It's not wrong to ask the faithful not to pray. They can pray in their own home, at their own table, any time. Depending on the father-in-law's flavor of grace, this can be an incredibly long time to sit in silence. I know, I have family members who pray for nearly half an hour before you can eat, and when I am in their homes, I sit quietly and wait with everyone else.

But in my home? Nope. Fuck that. It's my home, and my values come first. Full stop.

I would never--never--imagine walking into someone else's home and imposing my values unilaterally. Don't get me wrong; I'll counter prejudice, bigotry, and wrong thinking, but if I am a guest, I'm going to do so as respectfully as possible. When it comes to religious observances, I will wait respectfully until my host is finished. It's not a problem.

And it's not too much to ask for people to respect my home too.

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