I offended a religious friend of mine, and I have to admit that I regret it. My friend offered a joking, “I’ll pray for you,” and I offered a casual, humorous (I thought) blasphemy in return. I forget that religious people are actually offended by blasphemy, and my friend was a little hurt. I must admit that I can be too quick with “religion is a load of shit” talk, and there’s no reason to walk around offending otherwise pleasant, kind people.
However, atheists like me are not the only people who say routinely offensive things, and many religious people have no idea how often they offend agnostics, atheists and even members of other religions. Let’s reexamine the idea of a “prayer offering” to perhaps help my religious friends to be more inclusive in their lives.
If I say: “My feet hurt, I have the flu,” or “I haven’t had a good BM in days.”
My religious friends can answer: “I’ll pray for you.”
That’s a nice gesture by religious people to express concern, even though I don’t share their values. It doesn’t mean anything to me, but it doesn’t offend anyone either.
However, “I’ll pray for you” can be (and most often is) used offensively.
When someone finds out I’m an atheist, they might say that “they will pray for me.” This offer of prayer is a whole different animal than my first example, and it’s one of the most offensive things one person can say to another in this context. If I don’t share your beliefs, it doesn’t mean something is “fundamentally wrong with me.” There is nothing wrong with me (other than the 200 things that are wrong with everyone else).
It goes much further than the “pray for you” riff. I’ve been told that “god will change my mind” and that “god will intervene” in my life. When people have said these things to me, it’s an attempt to delegitimize my personal beliefs and choices. It’s an attempt to make my personal opinion meaningless and invalid. It’s a weapon.
The intervention of someone else’s god always leaves me in the same place: God will (somehow) punish me at some point. (I only hope god has enough time between letting children starve and electing a new pope to do something bad to me). In America the people who most often offer up god’s punishment are fundamentalist Christians of one stripe or another.
Christian fundamentalists are funny, because not only do they think I’m broken for rejecting their religion, but they also feel the same way about billions of Buddhists, Wiccans, Hindus and countless others. God will punish them too. Heaven is a sparsely populated place for the people who buy into the “wrathful god” concept.
When I’m confronted by an unkind “offer for prayer,” I take offense to it. Yup, I do. And if someone says something offensive to me, I might reply with something equally (or more) offensive to them. It’s childish I know, but I’m raising awareness the hard way, one clueless fundamentalist at a time.
For those moderate, kind and liberal religious traditions, I’ll try to remember the spirit in which a prayer offer is given. I won’t take offense if none is given. I’ll work on that. However, for those less charitable, I’ll twist the golden rule to my own use and treat you how you treat me.