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Austin Cline

Forum Discussion: Atheist Etiquette Advice

By December 5, 2012

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Most atheists have religious families and the religion in question is usually some form of traditional Christianity. At some point, this leads to traditional religious rituals and practices which the atheist doesn't want to participate in - practices like saying grace and prayer before meals. What's the best way for an atheist to deal with such situations?

Thanksgiving Dinner Prayer
Thanksgiving Dinner Prayer
Photo: Photodisc/Getty

This issue is probably most important this time of year when there are so many traditional holidays. Families which don't do anything very religious the rest of the year may at least want to say grace before a holiday dinner and may even want to go to church services.

This means that atheists who don't even have to think about dealing with religion with their families the rest of the year are faced with serious decisions. But how should they make their decisions? How should they balance keeping peace in the family with being true to themselves?

A forum member writes:

I see holding hands as an act of human fellowship, and I have no problem with it at all. (But expecting me to bow, close my eyes, or say "Amen" is asking too much. Sorry, Dear Abby.)

I might add that I'm a former Catholic, and my favorite part of the mass was the sign of peace, during which one is expected to shake hands with the people around them. I understand that some people don't like this, and likewise, some people might not like holding hands.

It seems to me that, in most cases, passive "participation" is a minimum that most atheists should be willing to accept. It doesn't take anything to be quiet while others are praying. It doesn't even take much to hold hands with a family member - you do that at other times, right?

Extra things that require more active participation which implies acceptance and agreement, like saying "Amen," is another matter entirely.

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