A relative forwarded a prayer to us just this last week, and it tends to raise a red flag, as we are not religious. We are atheists. The forwarded item was:
May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let His presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.
Dealing with family on such matters can sometimes be tricky.
Are they trying to lean on us?
Are they trying to evangelize to us?
Is this a criticism of our views?
Is there some kind of intervention brewing in the wings?
Frankly, I initially wasn't sure how to respond, but once I started writing I found I had a lot to say. ;) Just in case, I put my message in drafts and slept on it before taking another look and deciding to send it along.
I think I did a good job of explaining Ritchie's and my views. Here is what I wrote:
I appreciate the sentiment of good wishes that came with your forward of this prayer.
But I think it bears saying that Ritchie and I are atheists. We came to our views independently, many years before we ever met each other.
In the end, this ultimately means that we don't want to join in prayers or sing religious-based hymns because it just feels hypocritical. Religious belief is a strong statement about what you think is true, and all religions demand this acknowledgement. To participate in the expression of these tenets of belief, in prayers and hymns and services, is dishonest when you don't hold the beliefs in question. Ritchie and I value honesty, and seek to be honest in the way we live our lives. Our opting out of religious activities for us is "conscientious nonparticipation".
I have to admit, it took my mom a long time to understand my position, especially when I gently yet firmly let her know that I would not be attending church any more, including Christmas services. She took a long time to understand that this was no slight against her or her beliefs, but an affirmation of my own.
Perhaps you are wondering why we participate in Christmas at all-- it is because in this day and age so much of it is secular. If it was more strongly religious, we would choose not to participate. We also like the time off to cut ourselves out of the rat race for a while, take a look at our lives and families and friends, and just plain take the time to let them know, through words and time and gifts that say "I'm thinking of you", that we care about them and appreciate their presence in our lives.
There are a lot of those who are strongly religious who hear "atheist" and think something akin to "satanist" or "baby-killer" or "someone who believes in nothing and has no hope".
This isn't true. I look at the world around me with a great sense of wonder and awe, and I thirst to know more about it, and to experience what it has to offer. I see the good things and the bad, and I feel a great sense of personal responsibility to live the one life that I have as fully and as well as I can. I know full well that there are things I can control and things that I can't. I try my best to make the best choices I can in the things I can control, and roll with whatever comes my way with the things I cannot.
I do believe in things such as "treat others as you would have others treat you", but my belief in this creed has nothing to do with gods.
When I do good works, I own that, just as I own my mistakes.
I am charitable, kind, inquisitive, protective, fierce, loving, altruistic...
I feel love, joy, fear, despair, happiness, wonder, contentment, uncertainty...
I am a person in my own right, and I am a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a niece, a granddaughter, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a friend, a soon-to-be mother, a teacher, a scientist, a musician, an artist, a swimmer, a comedian, a researcher, a voracious reader, an animal lover, a dog mother, a traveller, a planner, a guardian and protector, a reluctant housekeeper, a great cook, a B movie lover, home renovator, a carpenter, a handyman, a gardener, a problem solver...
I wish for the best of everything for the people that I know and love and care about, and frankly I would want the same for everyone else too. When the negative blows of life touch people, I wish for them to come through their trying times with the sadness that acknowledges their experience, a greater appreciation for the good in their lives, and an ability to move forward wiser, with good priorities of what is really important to their happiness and an ability to share that with others.
When I leave this world, my legacy will be in the family and friends I have left behind, in the works I have chosen to enact in my life, in the many people I have touched.
I believe that my life, as all others, is part of the constant cycle I see in the world around me-- that when I pass on, all the parts that came together will no longer be "me" anymore, but that they will go out and cycle and recycle elsewhere.
As someone who does not believe in gods, I would say your prayer of good wishes more as follows:
May today you have peace within yourself. May you trust that the decisions you have made in your life up to now have put you in a place where you have belonging-- whether you be at a personal destination you will be for a long time, or whether you are currently journeying in your experiences to new places. Believe in yourself-- you are a unique individual with unique gifts, it is up to you to use them as you will. Know that there are people who care about you now, and there will be other people you will meet as you go along in your life that will care about you as you will about them. Find the things that make you happy and make them a priority in your life. Life has many wonderful experiences to offer-- keep your mind open and enjoy the ride. :)
*laugh!* I will bet you didn't expect this kind of a response, but it was meant well. I just thought that a clear statement of what we believe on our end was appropriate, along with some explanation.
If we are asked to participate in religious activities, our answer will continue to be a gentle but firm "no". If asked to lead a prayer, the most likely response will be a statement that we are not religious and therefore don't pray, but that we would be happy to share a statement of our good wishes with everyone.
Take care. We wish you love and good things too, just as we take your forward of this prayer to mean. :)
And the response from our relative afterwards? It was positive. :D
I am glad that it did turn out to be a more 'innocent' posting, especially in light of the Christmastime ribbing that some relatives can do without realizing that church for the nonbeliever is hypocritical, in particular in hymn-singing.
The views that this one relative holds are amongst the most humanistic, thank goodness. Believing that it's the same god no matter what the religion and using that as a point of unity with other religions is also something you get from the most moderate of Islam and Judaism. (I wonder how it would extend to Buddhism? :) It would probably also earn this relative the most horrid of tongue-lashings from Southern Baptists. I wonder if they have managed to avoid encountering the non-moderate believer?
I'm pretty damned proud of your measured and thoughtful response, my dear. It's just another reason that I think you're so cool :)