Potentially inappropriate religious blessings
January 1, 2012 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Do you find it inappropriate for someone who is not of your religion to offer blessings from your religion?

Over the years I've taken to writing cards with what I consider appropriate blessings for my more devout friends on the occasion of births, weddings, etc, which is to say a traditional blessing from their religion. E.G.:

"May the God of love and peace abide in you, guide your steps, and confirm your hearts in his love, now and forever."
"May the Lord Ganesha bless you with all that is pure and beautiful."
"May Allah swt bless your marriage and keep you healthy and happy always."

The other day it was pointed out that this might be seen as offensive, or mocking, or at the very least inappropriate by the recipients. I've never had any complaints, but I'd hate to think I've been committing a faux pas all these years!
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's kind of strange, but I don't think it's offensive at all - especially since I'm sure your friends know that you mean well.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:22 PM on January 1, 2012

I don't know about inappropriate or offensive, but I would find it a little strange. There are all sorts of nice things a person can say without having to use the language of a faith community they aren't a part of.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:24 PM on January 1, 2012 [16 favorites]

I think most people will read it as sweet or "well-meaning," but it won't mean the same thing to them as similar sentiments coming from someone who actually shares their faith, and you do run the risk of missing some nuance that undermines the overall effect of your intention.
posted by hermitosis at 1:24 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I knew that you were generally an open minded person, who was knowledgeable about different faiths, and was accepting of my beliefs, I wouldn't be offended at all. But if I knew that you were the kind of person who had to google what the name of my deity was (or whatever), I'd think it was a little tacky. Most importantly, if the recipient hasn't discussed their religious practices with you, I'd avoid such a precise message.
posted by hasna at 1:26 PM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Personally, I would find it touching and thoughtful. Even if you made a mistake and it was obvious you sort of didn't understand the way blessings worked in my tradition, I would still take it as a kind gesture. I'll add that I also don't mind when people offer me blessings from their own tradition that is not my own, and I know that's not the case with everyone, understandably.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 1:34 PM on January 1, 2012

I'd continue let what you know about their respective faiths inspire you, but not try to be too literal when it's not your own natural language or faith. I'm sure that your friends are taking your wishes in the spirit they're intended, so I wouldn't worry too much, but since you ask -- and since I suspect that you're not literally invoking their God privately, on your own, as your words suggest -- it might feel more sincere to just write "wishing you everything pure and beautiful in your marriage" and the like.

Let your wishes come from where YOUR heart is. I bet that will convey even more meaning to the recipients.
posted by argonauta at 1:39 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the people pointing it out would probably be of the mind that you should offer religious salutations only from your own religion. If you are going to use religion, why wouldn't you use your own?
posted by rhizome at 1:43 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coming from a Muslim background, I generally find it very thoughtful when people think outside their own faith. No one knew a thing about Islam when I was a kid, so I'm always appreciative when people make the effort to get to know a little about other worldviews. No one knew a thing about occasions like Ramadan and Eid when I was in school, and i remember, one year, seeing things like little TV commercials wishing a "Happy Ramadan/Eid", and thinking it was the coolest and most neato thing - just to finally be recognized.

Granted, I'm an Atheist now and often times it can be frustrating when people presume that I am what my family is or what I was raised as, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment. I don't take offense to mentions of gods (and their respective names in various traditions) if that's what they think I am, as long as they don't do so, knowing that I don't believe in any gods.
posted by raztaj at 1:53 PM on January 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

I might think you were trying too hard, but I'd know you were coming from a good place.
posted by availablelight at 1:58 PM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a very literal mind so I would find it strange for someone who doesn't believe in, say, Lord Ganesha to wish me his blessings. I would understand and treasure the sentiment, but I'd also wonder why "I wish you many blessings" was insufficient.
posted by muddgirl at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless you believe in all of these deities yourself, I'd think it was sort of disingenuous.
posted by cmoj at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Remember in Star Wars when Han told Luke "The force be with you" right before everyone took off to attack the Death Star? It's kind of like that.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:09 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are willing to give the impression that you have converted or are converting to their religion, go right ahead. If you have not converted and admit this when cornered, you have also opened the door to a socially acceptable time to attempt to convert you and potential damage to your friendship if you refuse. This really only applies to missionary religions, but that's still the vast majority in the United States, Canada, and most of Europe.

I would not call it inappropriate, simply misleading and potentially troublesome.
posted by Saydur at 2:14 PM on January 1, 2012

I'm culturally Jewish and am always really touched when people know that it's a holiday that I might be celebrating or care about or have grown up with. So something like "happy new year" on Rosh Hashanah I always think is sweet. I'm a little weirded out when they use the terms of the religion when I know, for certain, that it's not theirs. So I'd understand that you were just trying to be inclusive or whathaveyou if you said Shana Tova. Also there's the possibility that you're sort of going overboard with the amount that they are actually devout and/or practicing because of not being able to suitably match the level of a blessing to their level of religious commitment. So I'm firmly in "no harm, no foul" territory, but I think I'd find it a little odd.
posted by jessamyn at 2:20 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been on the receiving end of this many times. I think that for the most part that it's a nice and inclusive gesture. Sometimes, some patronization is mixed in with sincerity. But, few things in this life are 100% noble. I don't really think it's strictly necessary, and a blanket non-denominational "best wishes/blessings" would be preferable.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:24 PM on January 1, 2012

I think it's sweet to offer good wishes, but if Lord Ganesha isn't part of your everyday vocabulary, it's a bit precious to inject him into wishing your Hindu friends happiness. Cultural tourism. On the other hand, don't tell them that Jesus loves them if you're a rock 'n' roll Baptist.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:39 PM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't really care all that much, but if you wrote something like "May Buddha bless you," I'd think you were ignorant. If you're not a practitioner, you might not be sure it's appropriate to the religion.

"Peace be with you" should cover everyone, imho.
posted by desjardins at 2:40 PM on January 1, 2012

Weird, but OK, in my book.

I'm far, far more used to getting greetings in the style of the person who sent them (generic peace and happiness from my humanist family members, old-school generic Christian stuff from the ladies at work who have pictures of kittens and copies of the friendlier Psalms on their walls, rather blunt salvation stuff from the Baptists who are worried about my eternal soul, etc.) So I have low standards beyond "try to do better than outright insulting me, please." Also, I'm Mormon with a UU and mildly Jewish background, and would frankly be amused at anyone outside my very close circle of friends trying to guess what to say to appeal to that.

Usually the people who do those sorts of greeting cards for me best are the ones who share one of those three pieces of background with me and just say whatever they normally would say. Or, who share some other thing (Star Trek fandom, Ohio State alumni status, etc.) who focus on what is shared, instead.

(Now I'm imagining my atheist friends sending me cards with random Mormon/Christian themes and I'm really finding it quite hilarious. And definitely weird. I'd probably spend a while trying to analyze their motives.)
posted by SMPA at 2:41 PM on January 1, 2012

I think this is extremely weird, although clearly well-meaning. Anything beyond wishing someone of another faith a happy [x holiday] just sounds really fake to me. Obviously you also don't want to go the other direction and start writing to Hindus about Jesus or whatever (your instinct to not do that is spot on). I'd say writing something sincere and non-denominational is best.
posted by naoko at 3:06 PM on January 1, 2012

Religion is a personal enough thing that there are a ton of ways to see this kind of thing; I once met someone who said he sincerely would prefer if someone from another religion than his wished him something from THEIR religion (i.e., he was Christian, but he'd prefer if a jewish person wished him "Happy Hanukkah") because he knew "that is a greeting with meaning to THEM, and if they said 'Merry christmas' it'd just be an empty gesture". On the other hand, a friend of mine held onto a Hanukkah card I sent him for ten years "because it was a Hanukkah card from a non-Jew". "Do you KNOW how many Christmas cards I get from my friends?" he said.

It's definitely a "your mileage may vary" thing. Maybe the safest way is to be low-key with the greetings until you know how it'd be received by the person (wait on the "blessings of Ganesha on you" until you know the person pretty well and know they'd be cool with it, in other words), but I wouldn't beat yourself up - you had a sincere heart and meant well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:31 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're not a follower of their religion, and you're also not a follower of some pan-theistic all religions are correct religion, then your blessings are essentially insincere. You don't really wish Lord Ganesha would bless them with all that is pure and beautiful, because you don't believe Lord Ganesha even exists. The attempt at cultural inclusiveness is kind, but simply avoiding the language of your own religion and otherwise offering your own good wishes would be equally kind and avoid an unnecessary bit of lying, however friendly and well-meant.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:33 PM on January 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

Coming from a multireligious family, I agree with raztaj that a lot of people will be touched that you know about their holidays. I disagree with the idea that this is cultural tourism. It's not like you're wearing a yarmulke or chador while making these greetings.
posted by dovesandstones at 3:57 PM on January 1, 2012

To me, there's no difference between you writing the sentiment and you buying me a niche greeting card with the same sentiment, except that you cared to take the extra time to hand-write the lovely and appropriate thing. It's certainly nicer than when I get a comment or blessing attuned to the SENDER's religion which he or she knows is not in keeping with what I believe. If you're sending me cards, you're cool. Anecdata point: 1
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 4:18 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also think it depends on how close you are. We're a small inclusive town, and it's important to know about many faiths, including None of the Above. My Jewish friends love the fact that a backsliding Presbyterian takes the time to make sure it's the correct greeting for the upcoming observance, but that's only with my close friends. And since they include me in social events that can happen in the Temple, I do own my own yarmulke, thank you very much.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:37 PM on January 1, 2012

I think it shows that you're considerate of your friends -- as long as you are getting it (basically) right. It shows a level of religious tolerance that a lot of people lack, and I think people would respect you for that. Personally, I find it irritating when people send blessings from their religion. I mean, I don't believe what they believe, so why are they acting like I do?
posted by DoubleLune at 4:40 PM on January 1, 2012

I found it a bit odd though essentially well intentioned (although perhaps insincere if I did not know you well) but not necessarily offensive or mocking, when I still religious. As an atheist I would never do this but that's a pretty different example, in my book.
posted by sm1tten at 5:36 PM on January 1, 2012

Awkward, but not a huge deal. Why not just talk to your friends?
posted by manicure12 at 6:29 PM on January 1, 2012

I think most people we meet are generally nice and will appreciate the good wishes of others in the spirit in which they are offered. I've wished my next door neighbours Eid Mubarak at the appropriate time of year and they've been (as far as I can tell) genuinely pleased to receive it. I also once said bless you to an elderly Sikh man, who thanked me for saying it, so passing on kind thoughts from your own belief system is just as appropriate in many cases. I think the good wishes are the thing and people will pick up on that.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 6:35 PM on January 1, 2012

"Happy {holiday that you don't celebrate, but that the person you're addressing does)" is really courteous and respectful. You're wishing someone joy on a religious/cultural occasion that is important to them, and it's all good.

Specific religious sentiments that you don't have, addressed to someone who does? Awkward at best, presumptuous and condescending at worst.

I am a pretty devout person despite my cranky-ass ways. I take that stuff seriously. If someone whom I knew not to be of my faith community (Episcopalian in my case) started spouting the party line at me, I would question whether they thought the whole thing was an RPG that they could play, too.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:43 PM on January 1, 2012

Annoying, inconsequential, well-meaning. Share your beliefs.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:48 PM on January 1, 2012

Agree that wishing them a happy their-own-holiday is awesome, but the sentiments you include as examples are a little weirdly specific, and come across a bit like you're speaking on behalf of their religion.
posted by desuetude at 7:50 PM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Awkward, strange, weird and odd appear to be the recurring sentiments here. So I guess I'll knock that off then.

Thanks everyone!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:39 PM on January 1, 2012

Agreeing that the awareness is awesome, why not try and find a wish or phrase that comes from their cultural/religion that doesn't directly evoke the deity in question? For example, say Happy Eid/Ramadan, or if you know that they speak Arabic 'kula sena w'enta tayib' (basically a health and happiness wish) rather than bring Allah into it.

You can touch them with personalized wishes without invoking their god/goddess/other form of worship. My husband and in-laws are Muslim, and this is what we all do on our respective special occasions.
posted by scrute at 10:49 PM on January 1, 2012

agree with desuetude- acknowledging someone's religious holiday is great and awesome (as I've said regarding the "Merry Christmas" debate: you don't go around saying happy birthday to people on YOUR birthday, you do it on THEIR birthday), but your examples seem like something one practitioner would say to another, rather than a more general blessing from an outsider. It has a slightly patronizing feel, in that what you are saying might not be the appropriate thing to say. Sort of like saying "Happy Ash Wednesday!" to someone.

Picture an atheist saying "Merry Christmas". Perfectly normal- they are imploring you to enjoy your holiday. But if that same atheist said something like "may the Pope bless you on the occasion of the virgin birth of Christ" it just sounds weird. A touch of "hey look at me, I googled for something that sounded right."

The right way would be to ask someone who shares their religion what the proper greeting/blessing should be for their occasion, from someone who doesn't share their faith. For example, the Catholics have prayer cards that you can buy for these occasions. Which are in essence paying a cleric to say a prayer for the recipient. You are showing your thoughtfulness by getting one, and the religious guy is covering the religious stuff for you.
posted by gjc at 5:27 AM on January 2, 2012

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