Updated: Aug 31
Most of us have been there before: we’re sat around some huge table, shimmering with silverware and wine glasses, whiffing a savoury life-impaired beast that’s been basted to perfection, when the head of the table pipes up and asks you, the sole heathen at the feast, to say grace.
You’re like a deer caught in headlights. What do you do? If you say no, will you offend people you care deeply about? Are you selling yourself out, not to mention your fellow atheists, if you don’t protest? Do you just laugh it off and suggest someone else?
How should an atheist who cares about normalizing atheism deal with this situation?
Well, in my opinion, there are five ways you can deal with it and the one you choose will be entirely dependent on your specific situation. Here they are:
Just say grace. You have to trust me on this: you will not burst into flames. As atheists, we don’t believe in god, prayer, or that there is any deity, anywhere, able to hear your words of thanks. The words are empty, shallow and mean nothing, and it’s just like saying “When the Cleveland Browns win their next game.” It’s just not reality. This option is appropriate in many situations. Maybe you’re amongst strangers, or your boss’ family, or somewhere where rocking the boat could see that the evening does not end well for you. Consider whether or not this is the hill you want to die on – is it worth it to argue? Or is this maybe not the time or place to be outing yourself as an atheist?
The Secular Concession
Accept and give thanks for your food to the farmers and grocery workers and cooks who provided it. Now, this has the potential to go bad – Uncle Donny up there at the head of the table might slam his fist down, sending your cutlery sailing through the air, and damn you to eternal hellfire, all because you didn’t mention his Big Daddy in the sky. Best to be careful with this one.
The Charming Let-Down
Saying no when you’re asked to say grace doesn’t always mean you have to descend into a Bill O’Reilly-style fit. There are ways to say no that most people will find polite and acceptable. For instance, you can say, “Thank you! But I am not religious, and I feel like saying grace is really important to you. Do you think me saying grace might be disrespectful? Perhaps grace is better said by someone more devout?” There aren’t a ton of people who are going to press you on this.
Just say no, tell them you’re an atheist and roll with the punches. I mean, you have just as much right to not believe as your tablemates have to believe and the more you say it out loud, the more normal it will become, paving a far less bumpy road for atheists who come along after you. You might piss someone off, but in the long run, is that really someone you want in your life? Someone who is going to become irate because you don’t share their ridiculous delusion? Nah. There are billions of us meat sacks on this planet. It won’t be hard to find new people to eat roast beast with who accept you for who you are.
This is where you get up, immediately, and run far away as fast as you can. It’s like that old Beastie Boys sample, “If I had known it was going to be this kinda party, I’d have stuck my dick in the mashed potatoes.” You’ve found yourself in a situation, where, had you known there was going to be people bowing down to mythical beings in the sky, you’d have never shown up. This is probably best used when you don’t know these people, you’re just kinda trying them on for size, to see if you can be friends. No shame in pulling a Houdini and getting the fuck out. We don’t need to be friends with everyone we meet.
Each of these options come with their own risks, so choose carefully the next time you’re asked to say grace.
Which of these would you choose? Let me know why in the comments!