A simple question.

In general, what is a secular person, an atheist even, supposed to tell a religious person, or anyone really, in lieu of ‘I’ll pray for you’?

23 thoughts on “A simple question.

  1. Thank you Acartia. It occurred to me to come here and ask precisely because that specific phrase was too weak for my taste. I was hoping for something stronger.

    Joe, there are personal consequences involved. Please save the flippancy for something better suited to it?

  2. It depends on context. In the case of someone who has lost a loved one, I use “you and yours are in my thoughts”. In the case of someone who is undergoing a surgery or sickness I’ll say that or I’ll say, “Wishing you much courage and patience in the days ahead.”

  3. You misunderstand ‘secular’ or have an understanding that misses the main point that Charles Taylor showed in his profound “A Secular Age”. ‘Secular’ is not necessarily ‘anti-religious’ or even ‘un-religious’. Thus, the notion of “a secular person” does not make sense in contrast with “a religious person” when one can be both at the same time. Cf. recent thread on Swamidass’ peculiar notion of ‘secular scientist’ in contrast with ‘confessing scientist.’

    When someone says they’ll pray for you they mean you the best intentions. There is usually no insincerity in expressing this to you, as if they are selling you something only to profit themselves. That you seemingly don’t believe in (doing) prayer might just mean you’re a relatively uncultivated person, untaught, not necessarily self-absorbed & callous. If the question masks a desire to always have a comeback for proselytizing evangelicalists or rather to reject any goodwill shown towards you by majority religious persons in your locale with greater spiritual sensitivity, then your gesture will be futile. Perhaps your intentions are not as genuinely good-willful themselves if you are having difficulty finding a polite ‘secular/atheist’ response to someone in a public situation about prayer, as if religion weren’t a ‘cultural universal’.

    Marx wanted to eradicate religion from the public atmosphere, such was his promotion of disbelief. “The struggle against religion is … indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.” – Karl Marx

    Such was Marx’s conflict-orientation on display, his ‘what are we fighting for,’ in some ways not too dissimilar from Darwin’s ‘struggle for life’ metaphor & personal worldview.

  4. Aardvark:

    Joe, there are personal consequences involved. Please save the flippancy for something better suited to it?

    It depends on the situation. I was thinking of someone who was just telling you that they would pray for you just in response to hearing that you were were irreligious. Obviously in more serious situations it would be important to be more diplomatic and considerate.

  5. If someone says I’ll pray for you I take that as a statement of wishing me well. It’s like saying “if it were up to me I’d make you happy” or something like that. “I wish you well”, or “good luck”, or “hope for the best”, “have a nice day” etc. etc.

    I don’t have to believe that someone praying for me, or saying they will pray for me, will actually work, to appreciate the sentiment, like I don’t have to believe that someone saying “Have a nice day” will make my day nice to appreciate the spirit of it.

  6. Hilarious that Gregory misread the question

    What is an atheist supposed to say in lieu of ‘I’ll pray for you’?

    as the question

    What is an atheist supposed to say in response to ‘I’ll pray for you’?

    The persecution complex is strong in this one. He’s never been to a wake with an non-theist, I guess. Should get out more.
    My answer to aardvark’s question: in addition to KN’s excellent recommendations, I say “If there’s anything I can do, just ask.”, although it is generally my lovely wife who follows through with the ferrying to and from chemo and the home-cooked-meal delivery service…

  7. May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide you all the way on.

    –Mike Heron, Incredible String Band

  8. If I am undergoing some personal issues (health, family crisis, etc) and one of my religious friends says that they are praying for me, I appreciate it as they are being sincere about it. If my religious friends are undergoing some serious personal or family issues, I see nothing wrong with telling them that I am praying for them. Am I being hypocritical? Probably. But my friends’ well being is more important than my pompous belief system.

  9. Acartia:
    If I am undergoing some personal issues (health, family crisis, etc) and one of my religious friends says that they are praying for me, I appreciate it as they are being sincere about it. If my religious friends are undergoing some serious personal or family issues, I see nothing wrong with telling them that I am praying for them. Am I being hypocritical? Probably. But my friends’ well being is more important than my pompous belief system.

    Agreed. Even if I’ll never actually pray at all, it’s just a helpful white lie. The motivation is there all the same.

  10. walto: –Mike Heron, Incredible String Band

    Used that song fragment at my wedding. I believe it’s an Irish blessing, but maybe not.

    ISB fans are rare birds.

  11. Acartia:
    If I am undergoing some personal issues (health, family crisis, etc) and one of my religious friends says that they are praying for me, I appreciate it as they are being sincere about it. If my religious friends are undergoing some serious personal or family issues, I see nothing wrong with telling them that I am praying for them. Am I being hypocritical? Probably. But my friends’ well being is more important than my pompous belief system.

    Agreed — I have no problem with someone telling me that they’re praying for me or telling a little white lie in doing the same. I sometimes say “God bless” in saying good-bye when I know I’m dealing with a Christian. (I do live adjacent to the South, after all, and I know how to adhere to the relevant social conventions.)

    Generally speaking, I have no interest or need in disclosing my non-theistic status to anyone beyond a close circle of friends. My students probably assume I’m a Christian and that’s fine with me.

  12. petrushka: Used that song fragment at my wedding. I believe it’s an Irish blessing, but maybe not.

    ISB fans are rare birds.

    Right on.

  13. Secular person is a recent other dumb tag, there is no such person or concept. whoever uses it mEANS someone not influenced by conclusions based on a God/ideas from the invisible world of beings.
    who voted for these terms/ not me!

  14. Robert Byers: Secular person is a recent other dumb tag,

    Joining such misnomers as “barfly” and “tushy-face.”

    Robert Byers: who voted for these terms/ not me!

    That’s pretty weird, because I’ve got your ballot right here. Maybe you made a mistake?

    Anyhow, don’t despair: another plebiscite is planned for this October.

  15. walto: Joining such misnomers as “barfly” and “tushy-face.”

    That’s pretty weird, because I’ve got your ballot right here. Maybe you made a mistake?

    Anyhow, don’t despair: another plebiscite is planned for this October.

    barfly seems more ancient i think. precedent? Naw!

  16. Gregory: Marx wanted to eradicate religion from the public atmosphere, such was his promotion of disbelief. “The struggle against religion is … indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.” – Karl Marx

    Marx argued against the “New Atheists” of his time who thought that a critique of religion was sufficient. His whole point was that a critique of religion had to become a critique of society. Without markets and states, there would be no need for organized religion, either. As Bakunin put it, “No Gods, no masters.”

    But that’s an entirely separate issue from how secularists might express their concern or gratitude in non-religious terms.

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