When I was a believer, I was an active and enthusiastic one. I attended church nearly every Sunday, I went to Bible studies, I volunteered for numerous committees. I even chaperoned two mission trips for our local Youth Group. And I talked about God. A lot. I would say with total sincerity that I would pray for you if you were going through a difficult time, I would murmur blessings, I would say that God had been good to me…and it never occurred to me that my comments might not be welcomed by those around me who were listening.
I used to think that when others (non-believers) were on the news talking about how they didn’t want others praying for them or that they were tired of having to endure long, prayerful benedictions at public events that those people were a radical fringe. They were the ultra-liberal zealots who had a chip on their shoulders. They were people who had an axe to grind and I dismissed them as angry, bitter people.
Fast forward to now. I’m discovering my own irritation with the constant litany of blessings, praise-the-Lords and hallelujahs that I hear around me. No, I’m not angry. And I’m not bitter. I’m just irritated because no matter how well-intentioned the people speaking are, they are making assumptions about me and others around them. They are assuming that, since I haven’t said otherwise, I must be Christian like them. I often find myself feeling defensive when someone says, “I’ll pray for you.” I know I shouldn’t feel like that, but when so many people offer prayers and blessings and make so many assumptions about me, I can’t help but feel like I’m an imposter if I don’t go along for the ride. So now I understand how those people on the news feel. I never understood it before, but now I’m more sympathetic. I still won’t go on television and decry public prayer – I think anyone should be able to pray in any manner they wish – I just get tired of having it imposed on me during my daily life.
How about you? Do you feel guilty if you’re irritated by the prayers of others? I do. I feel badly when others offer their prayers because I don’t believe those prayers are effective in any way except as a sort of emotional panacea for the person praying. I don’t like being the kind of person who begrudges someone else’s beliefs, but honestly, sometimes I think to myself, “Can we get on with things already without more prayers and the endless hallelujahs? Can you stop reminding me that I don’t share a belief set with you?” I guess I need to work on my tolerance of believers. I wish that those believers would have the same tolerance for me, but I just don’t think it would happen. I think that if I came out of the “atheist’s closet,” they’d really start to fire up those prayers. God (or not) help us all!