Humanist Responses to religious language

 File this under, questions I get asked a lot. For non-religious, but well meaning people like Humanists, the question is, how to respond to well meaning religious people who say religious things that don't make sense to an atheist.

In this case, the question is, how to respond when someone says, "I'll pray for you." 

First - let me refer you to a post from 2014 - where I address the problem of "forced" prayer. 

And this - also from 2014 -

This one from 2009 -

And this from 2017 -

As I said, this comes up. A lot. It's an ongoing problem.  

Now for the question I was asked. And yes, I do accept questions you want me to answer and give you feedback on. Just be aware, it will be turned into a blog post though I will change names to protect the innocent when I do so.


I would love it if you would address this concern in your messages sometime...

I am surrounded by friends who are quite religious, who pray a lot and study their Bibles a lot. They talk about it quite a bit and I am not pushy about my beliefs... no problem. BUT when someone sends a text to the group about an illness in the family (for example) my friends start texting comments like: "I'll keep you in my prayers." And when they get better some of them take credit for the healing. BUT my question - I need a response that sounds caring but isn't a lie. I can't honestly say I'll pray for them since I don't believe it does a bit of good. However, I think knowing friends are praying for you is comforting in itself. Any way... if you can give ideas of a humanist way to respond to such texts, or in person, I'd be grateful.

If there's a class that you have that addresses this question, let me know and I'll take it! I am on your mailing list and enjoy reading your posts. B. R. - Retired Elementary Teacher and ex-Presbyterian current-Humanist


What I do – is what your instinct is – To let them know you will keep them in your thoughts. 
I’ve never had anyone get mad that I’m not praying for them. As you said, it's comforting for people to know you care and are in solidarity with them. So, I tend to say, I’ll keep you in my thoughts and I hope you get better soon. 

And alternate is - I'm so sorry this is happening. I'm hoping for the best for you.  Or some variation on that. 

Being Human means being in a community. And we need that community, especially when something is wrong. Expressing solidarity is a loving thing to do and it does help people to know that people care about them. 

When I think back on the things that people did that helped me the most, it was the acts of kindness. Knowing people are concerned, helps. It really does. So - express that in language that works for you that is heartfelt. 

And if the person needs more than just good thoughts, see if you can help them in other ways. When I lost my child, the single best thing people did, was bring us food. It's an act of kindness that is really practical. It meant, I didn't have to spend any mental energy on making food. I could just start my healing process. It's a good practical standby and helps make sure the person going through a tough time doesn't have to deal with meal planning in addition to everything else they have going on. Having someone help coordinate it so that they don't end up with a ton of meals all on the same day, but that they are spaced out - is a kindness as well. Also, hint, I make food and then portion it out into individual servings that can be frozen and taken out and microwaved and eaten. Why? Because someone did that for me once and it was helpful for me to have health meals made with love, that I didn't have to worry about spoiling.  (Ok - I'm crying now remembering how helpful and important this was to me). 

My point is - just be a good kind loving person and do your best to be in solidarity with people. All the things you did to show love and solidarity while in a religious group, work for a reason. And we non-religious should do them too. The important thing isn't the words used. It's the love that you share in solidarity.

Good luck. 

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