To bow or not to bow, redux

I covered my view on group prayers (saying grace, etc.) in an earlier post, but there’s one aspect I left out — what if they want you to join hands? Does that change the equation? To me, it doesn’t. If you’ve already decided that being polite is more important than standing on principle (which is, of course, a whole other issue), then joining hands isn’t any more insincere than just bowing your head.

A Christian prayer uttered in a group holding hands is just like any other prayer — it’s not a frickin’ seance. Nobody’s pretending that there’s some magical “circle of faith”-type power operating and that you’re somehow violating their pseudo-magic if  you’re a non-believer. It’s just a gesture of fellowship.

The other people don’t believe their prayer won’t “work” if someone in the circle isn’t a believer — or if they do, and they find out, and they give you a hard time about it (i.e. if they’ve stopped being polite and started being rude, thus ruining any chance of maintaining a polite atmosphere at the gathering), just tell them that if it was so all-fired  important to them, they should have taken steps to determine that everyone was a believer, rather than arrogantly assuming it.

You’re not being any more insincere by holding hands than you’re already being by bowing your head and not making trouble. So don’t sweat it.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Good advice. Too bad it’s needed.


  2. Posted by Gbgprof on May 20, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    I guess to me the hand holding moves the hypocrisy from passive to active, which makes it that much harder to stomach. In a perfect world a host would not put a guest in that situation unless they were sure that the guest shared their enjoyment of such “fellowship”. I admit that, when faced with this, I hold hands like the well trained Catholic-school product that I am. But it makes me feel terrible every time I do it because I feel like a sham for pretending a belief system I do not adhere to, even if I’m not really so much pretending to believe as just avoiding an awkward social situation.


    • Posted by brachinus on May 20, 2009 at 5:37 pm

      That’s part of why I started this blog — to explore the ways we atheists accommodate ourselves, and whether there are any “issues” raised by it. And also to try to show that in situations such as this one, being polite or considerate isn’t the same as being cowardly or dishonest.

      And of course, I probably should have pointed out that it is indeed a bit rude of the hosts to start the prayer without first asking if it was OK with everyone — but if they did, would you (or I) really reply by saying “actually I’m an atheist, so how about we skip it”?


  3. Posted by Jeannie in PA on May 25, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    I have had relatives come to my home for dinner and do this holding hands/grace before meals. They know I am not a believer. It had never happened in their home. I held hands politely, but I was shocked to be put in that position.


    • Posted by brachinus on May 25, 2009 at 10:54 pm

      They didn’t do it in their own home, but they did it in yours? That’s weird.

      My first thought is that you’d be within the bounds of politeness to say something like “we don’t do that in our house,” but then it occurred to me that maybe they didn’t do it when you were a guest in their home because, well, you were a guest in their home. But when they were guests in your home, and a host is supposed to accommodate guests, they felt it was their prerogative as guests to do it.

      Or maybe they’re just assholes. You never know.


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