Hold the prayer and pass the potatoes
December 24, 2007 9:56 PM   Subscribe

How do I respectfully yet firmly request that a member of my extended family not say a prayer before a meal in my home?

I'll be having family over informally on xmas day and we'll be eating sometime in the afternoon. My wife and I are not religious yet my mother-in-law and her husband are in-your-face-born-agains. Their brand of christianity compels them to wear their spirituality on their sleeve. I've asked politely in the past that they give the before-the-meal prayer a rest when in my home and it's always uncomfortable.
posted by photoslob to Human Relations (85 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I would just let them do it. What's the big deal?
posted by Estragon at 10:02 PM on December 24, 2007

It's not clear to me from the question what you're looking for. You've asked in the past, has it not worked? How did you ask? Are you looking for something that won't be uncomfortable?

As long as I'm asking questions, how would you feel about a moment of silence so they can pray to themselves?
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 10:02 PM on December 24, 2007

I would let them do it, but don't participate or even pretend to participate. Don't close your eyes, hold hands, or anything else that they might do. If they say anything, you can always respond "we don't do those kinds of things in our home".
posted by deadmessenger at 10:07 PM on December 24, 2007

You have asked how to politely and respectfully ask a devout person not to pray before meals.

You cannot do what you are asking. It is neither polite nor respectful to ask this of a devout person. There is no way to word your request that can change this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:09 PM on December 24, 2007 [33 favorites]

Someone who believes that they need to give thanks before a meal needs to either give thanks before a meal, or they can't in good conscience eat.

They're expressing gratitude for what has been given to them. What's so offensive about that? Goodness.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:11 PM on December 24, 2007

Explain that you respect people of all faiths, and would therefore appreciate it if they did not offer a prayer out loud. But make it clear that they are welcome to pray silently before the meal instead.
posted by junkbox at 10:14 PM on December 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

You could pre-empt them with a message of thanksgiving and joy to be given the gift of life and friendship with all present. If they don't consider that enough, I'd just accept their offering with gratitude for the opportunity to expand my experience.
posted by MiffyCLB at 10:15 PM on December 24, 2007

Perhaps you could just deny them the chance to impose their beliefs upon you? Expedite the beginning of the meal to go straight from seating to serving to eating without a long enough break to begin prayer. Do you normally have long, silent periods before your meals, anyway?

If they object to the meal commencing without prayer, I would simply explain to them that this is how dinner is done in your household, and that you will respect their traditions at their meals. So long as you promise not to preach about your lack of faith in their house, they should respect your desire to not have your dinner interrupted by their faith.
posted by explosion at 10:15 PM on December 24, 2007

Asking a Christian not to pray on Christmas day is per se impolite and uncivil.
posted by The World Famous at 10:15 PM on December 24, 2007 [5 favorites]

If you really don't want them to pray, you're going to have to put your foot down. You could try something like, "If you want to pray, you can pray silently".

Obviously the prayer itself isn't what's really bothering you. Stopping them from praying will most likely lead to either confrontation or resentment, which may or may not be what you want.

Could you say a non-religious form of grace yourself? "We thank the animals who gave their lives for this meal", etc.
posted by null terminated at 10:16 PM on December 24, 2007

I disagree with the other posters. They can still pray silently, so the issue is not about their own beliefs or whether they'll be able to eat the food. The issue is about a public prayer, "the prayer" of the meal that effectively imposes the religion of the person praying on everyone at the table.

It's your home and your right not to have their religion imposed upon you, in the same way I assume they disallow all over forms of religion expression in their house.
posted by null terminated at 10:21 PM on December 24, 2007 [11 favorites]

You have asked how to politely and respectfully ask a devout person not to pray before meals.

You cannot do what you are asking. It is neither polite nor respectful to ask this of a devout person. There is no way to word your request that can change this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:09 AM on December 25 [2 favorites -] Favorite added! [!]

Explain that you respect people of all faiths, and would therefore appreciate it if they did not offer a prayer out loud. But make it clear that they are welcome to pray silently before the meal instead.
posted by junkbox at 1:14 AM on December 25 [+] [!]

These are the only amswers that you need. Anything is noise. To expand upon the second: explain that while you respect their beliefes, you would ask that they respect yours, and conduct their prayers in silence. Add that you will be thinking of them as well (which is, one would hope, true, whether there is anything God-related in your thoughts or no). If they don't respect this, then they are uncouth people, and responding to them with respect and civility says wonderful things about you.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:25 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Asking a Christian not to pray on Christmas day is per se impolite and uncivil."

There are a large number of us who celebrate the secular/Yule aspects of what is called Christmas. If someone wishes to pray, there are plenty of opportunities, including Mass, and pretty much any given time as God is supposed to be omnipresent and omniscient.

Praying out-loud and specifically before the meal in an atheist's house is just as rude as in a Jew's or Muslim's house. When you are a guest in someone's house, you should respect their culture, including not only what they do, but also what they refrain from doing.
posted by explosion at 10:26 PM on December 24, 2007 [16 favorites]

As others have said, simply ask them to keep it silent, while you and others simply go about eating or serving the meal.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:36 PM on December 24, 2007

My parents are extremely religious and this has been an issue for me in the past. But it isn't anymore. They don't insist that I say grace before meals, all they ask is that they be able to pray themselves before they eat. I just start eating. I don't see the big deal anymore, unless they are insisting that you participate too, what's the difference? You're allowing them to do something really very small that is very important to them. I used to think otherwise, but now I'm of the mind that if it helps them, and doesn't interfere with what I'm doing, then what does it matter? It has nothing to do with you or your house, they are just practicing their beliefs in your vicinity.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 10:38 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's your house. Sit at the head of the table and make a little announcement about being glad everyone is there and can share in the Holiday and etc. Conclude by saying "lets eat!".
posted by sanka at 10:41 PM on December 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

It is rude to force your religion on me. I have made my choice after a lot more thought and education than most Churchy folk put into their religion. I made a choice, I went out and learned, I read more than the one book. So its extremely obnoxious of you to tell me that I *MUST* let you pray.

Why is it only the non religious that are forced to respect the religious, but the "good christians' are welcome to be rude and obnoxious all they want???

Print em out a list of churches in the area and let them know they are welcome to go to church before or after the meal, but leave their imaginary friend there.
posted by legotech at 10:42 PM on December 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

Lock the door, turn off the lights and don't answer the door when they knock.

I can't imagine anything ruder than trying to stop a devout family member from offering a prayer of thanks before a meal on Christmas Day.

You don't have to respect their beliefs, but their is no way to respectfully ask them to refrain from praying. They will be offended. There's a big difference between not being religious and being so offended by other people's religion that you fee compelled to prevent them from practicing it in your presence. (virgin sacrifices and self-flagellation excluded).

Choose one...either let them pray or demand that they do not do so, risking a fight in the family which will put your wife in an uncomfortable position of choosing allegience between her mother and her husband.

In the spirit of harmony, let them pray, enjoy your meal and be thankful that they aren't regular guests in your home.
posted by MCTDavid at 10:46 PM on December 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is it worth 60 seconds of your discomfort to allow family members to practice their beliefs in a peaceful and welcoming environment on a holy day of theirs? If you're only going to practice the secular aspects of the holiday, you may as well start with accepting your family.
posted by kcm at 10:53 PM on December 24, 2007

Just tell them you're not comfortable with it. That phrase is valid and works in so many situations. After all, it's your home. I like everyone's idea about taking the moment of silence so you are including their custom and they can pray, just not out loud.

It's your mother-in-law, I see -- can't your wife talk to them beforehand? If they insist on behaving like braindead slugs who can't comply with a reasonable request and compromise, just shake your head and let it go. It's not about you. (Unless you want to have a good relationship with them, in which case it's about communicating with them, but I think I'm going off on a tangent here.)
posted by Listener at 10:59 PM on December 24, 2007

I like the idea of offering a form of grace you are comfortable with.

My father did this in his own way once at a Thanksgiving dinner, and I think it went over well even among the religious members of the family. (He read a piece about FDR choosing to reset the date of Thanksgiving for economic reasons during the Great Depression, btw. No invisible sky beings involved, but plenty of thought about how small changes can have large effects.)

You might also consider leading with grace you are comfortable with, but then giving time for a moment of silence so family members can (hopefully internally) follow their own traditions. The idea is to make everyone feel comfortable, but this includes you and your wife as well as your in-laws.
posted by nat at 11:01 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh geez, the atheist/agnostic part of me says, "hell ,yeah, tell 'em to stuff it!" but the experienced-with-awkward-religious-family-gatherings part of me says, "just let them pray and refuse to participate in it in your head."

Seriously, for a devout Christian, this is one of the holiest days of the year and asking them not to pray is likely to go down as well as a turd milkshake.

It's your house and you're absolutely justified in asking them to respect your non-belief but will it really wreck your Christmas if they say grace? Will it wreck theirs if they don't? Does it really affect you either way? If you don't believe then their prayers are about as important and meaningful, and therefore offensive, as a child's wish to take a meeting with Santa.
posted by LeeJay at 11:04 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Would you be saying the same thing if it was a Church of the Aryan Nation member wanting to spout his drivel in the home of an African American?

Then why is it ok when its a mainstream church?

Its his house, he doesn't want it there, he shouldn't have to suck it up and deal.
posted by legotech at 11:16 PM on December 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

It's Christmas, and it's your family. If you can deal with it for one day, it should be this one.

In the future if you don't want religion in your house, maybe don't invite religious people over. It will be more comfortable for everyone.
posted by hiptobesquare at 11:30 PM on December 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

I grew up in a household with lapsed Catholic parents who were so used to saying grace that we would always say *something* before the start of a meal. I found it quite jarring to be eating at a relatives house where they just sit down and dig in without saying anything. It leaves a bit of a vacuum that I can imagine some would be tempted to fill. Regardless of the religious component there is something nice about the little ceremonial touch you can add by thanking everyone for coming and thanking those who provided the food (by which I mean those who cooked it).

As the host I think it should be your role to introduce the dinner, so to speak. I think careful wording might achieve your goals with minimal awkwardness. Just say a few words expressing how happy you are to have everyone together enjoying a meal. Perhaps a toast as well. If you were to add "let's have a moment for those who wish to say a silent prayer" I think it would go pretty smoothly.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:32 PM on December 24, 2007 [8 favorites]

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. It's a Christian holiday. It's fine to celebrate it for non religious cultural reasons, but you can't invite people to your home for a holiday that celebrates one of the two most important events in Christian history and then get mad that some people actually celebrate it as the religious holiday that it is. I mean I can't stand having religion shoved in my face more than anyone else, but I also don't show up at a Church and then get mad that there are crosses hanging around everywhere.
posted by whoaali at 11:33 PM on December 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

If you were to add "let's have a moment for those who wish to say a silent prayer" I think it would go pretty smoothly.

Excellent idea.

"Wow, I am so thankful that we have been able to have such a feast. It really is amazing that we are so lucky to be able to have this. If anyone here would like to have a moment of silent prayer, please do so now. ... Excellent, thank you. Could someone pass the mashed potatoes please?"
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:43 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

You haven't mentioned what your wife's position on this is, and whether you and she are on the same page about it. These are her parents. Does she agree with you that they should not be allowed to pray aloud before meals? Has she spoken to them about it in the past?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:46 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Would you be saying the same thing if it was a Church of the Aryan Nation member wanting to spout his drivel in the home of an African American?

Then why is it ok when its a mainstream church?

I hope you're not directing this toward me. I hope you're not suggesting that a devout Christian couple wanting to say grace is the same as a skinhead wanting to heil Hitler over the scalloped potatoes. Because as aggravated as I am by the Christianization of the culture I don't think "please bless this glazed ham" and "power to whitey" are the same thing. If the OP does then, as I said, he is justified in asking them to refrain. However, you are not justified in making this comparison. Although it was an awful pithy quote, I guess. Congrats on that, at least.
posted by LeeJay at 11:55 PM on December 24, 2007 [5 favorites]

Ask yourself these questions:

If you had a guest who was Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim, or some other religion, and they wanted to pray before the meal, would you refuse them as well?

Is it specifically because it is your in-laws, and you feel like they are trying to take over your home by expressing their beliefs?

If a friend or neighbor who was a Christian wanted to pray before a meal, and you did not already have a judgement that they were wearing their spirituality on their sleeves, would you be seeking a way to refuse them?

Is this really about wanting your guests to honor the rules of your home? Yes? And you are not willing to tolerate a brief prayer?

If that is true, then here is what you must do: Call ahead and tell them exactly what you think. Tell them that you do not want them to pray aloud before the meal in your home, that it bothers you for them to pray aloud in your home, and if they come to your Christmas meal they are not allowed to pray before the meal. And then just be accepting if they decide not to come, and cry to your spouse and maybe not come to your home again. And if you have children, now or in the future, they may not see their grandparents as much as they would have otherwise. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but this is all very likely.

I understand your desire to have your beliefs and customs (or lack of) respected in your own home, but you are asking for a way to tell someone something that is offensive to them in a non-offensive way. I'm not sure if there is a way to do that. Good luck, though.
posted by The Deej at 12:06 AM on December 25, 2007 [7 favorites]

The Deej is off on this one. What he's suggesting is a quick way to turn a small hill into a mountain. Don't call them ahead and create tension in advance. That's asking for it. Presumably, your wife is already aware of your stance on religion. What good is it going to cause to rile her parents up by phone first thing on the holiday? Absolutely none. They will feel like you're some sort of aggressor. Don't ruin the holiday by coming off that way. Simply offer your in-laws the option to pray silently if they wish, while you and any other nonbelievers dig in.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:13 AM on December 25, 2007

Personally, I can't even enter the frame of mind where I would forbid, or even suggest, that anyone in 'my' home not pray, however you define that word. Does prayer frighten you? I guess I don't understand, but a few times in my life I've had people ask to pray for me and I welcomed it.
Or maybe they pray for 15 minutes?
I'd just start eating, but surely a bit of 'grace' before a meal on Christmas day is acceptable. Of course it is your house and, as it follows, your kingdom.
Maybe I'm too liberal. I'd probably allow animal sacrifices.
posted by dawson at 1:15 AM on December 25, 2007

I think it's a bit like not letting someone smoke in your house. I'd certainly put up with someone doing it, but would consider that person rude for not asking if it was acceptable or not. Someone who is truly considerate would ask before performing religious ceremonies in your house.

So, I wouldn't say to explicitly tell them they can't do it, which is rude on your part, but to treat them with disdain if they don't bother asking themselves. Of course, you should let them do it if they ask, because that's just politeness, but it demonstrates you are not inherently open to religion, while tolerating it in small doses.
posted by wackybrit at 1:36 AM on December 25, 2007

I don't think that the poster is asking whether or not it's ok to request that the prayer not be said, and a lot of the answers here sound like people just airing out their own beliefs without consideration for what the poster is asking.

If you can't relate to what the poster is asking, can it be said that you don't have much to say on the subject?

There is a big difference between public and private prayer. photoslob, it's your house, and I see no reason that something that makes you uncomfortable should continue, particularly when you invited them and hosted them in your home.

I agree with some of the other posters who have suggested asking for a moment of silence so that the devout may pray to themselves, or perhaps reciting some form of thanks without a religious connotation.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 1:43 AM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

The only way to be respectful is to actually respect their beliefs and wishes, at least insofar as it does not negatively impact you to any great degree. I think that the "silent prayer" idea is good, but if that is not acceptable to them then I would also suggest that they could perform the rite in another room, or give them a heads up 15 minutes before others come to dinner so they can do it then. But unless you have impressionable children present whom you are trying to shield from the religion meme, I would consider accommodating their superstition a way of participating in the generous spirit of the season.

"It's a Christian holiday."

It is a mishmash of pagan, christian, and modern consumerist ritual. In my experience the christian aspect is the least significant, manifesting only in the name, a couple decorations, and some music.
posted by Manjusri at 1:52 AM on December 25, 2007

How do I respectfully yet firmly request that a member of my extended family not say a prayer before a meal in my home?

That depends, why do you object to them saying a prayer?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:06 AM on December 25, 2007

Yar, pretty much your only half-decent option here is an attempt at preemption with a nod to the moment. Call for a moment of preprandial silence and just hope that they don't assume that means they get a turn at their own thing afterwards. If they do, well, just be respectful and try not to audibly grind your teeth.

I completely understand where you're coming from, by the way, but Christmas really isn't the time. I mean, they're your in-laws. Your wife's parents. Maybe your kids' grandparents. You're stuck with 'em. If this is the only way in which their religion is significantly harshing your mellow, really you should count yourself lucky. They could be earnestly secreting pamphlets about your home, testifying for your benefit at unexpected times, and publicly praying for the spirit to move you to accept the Lord. Really, a moment at the onset of Christmas dinner is nothing compared to what they could feel obligated to do on your behalf, you lucky son-in-law you.
posted by mumkin at 2:07 AM on December 25, 2007

An audible prayer imposes their beliefs only on the air and your ears -- your heart and your mind remain your own to command. Hearing their prayer on a day holy to them really doesn't do you much harm in the long run. If you've conviction in your beliefs, then a couple minutes of thanksgiving won't dislodge them, right?

Much like having a feast day in the deep of winter, the practice of giving thanks for a meal predates Christianity by quite a few centuries. I think the consensus suggestion of a plea for silent prayer that's arising is of quality, and stands a chance of working. Let all gathered at the table give thanks in silence, in their own fashion.

If they insist upon praying out loud, and seem likely to make a stink about it, then really, you'll have a much better day if you just let the babies have their bottles. You need not listen to their words -- just for them to stop talking. And if you can't reduce their voices to white noise, then just pick and choose the bits you agree with. Treat the prayer like Bush treats legislation and pick it apart with ecumenical signing statements. Christianity has some useful bits of philosophy, really -- who can disagree with a hope for peace on Earth, and goodwill towards all? Silently filter out the mumbo-jumbo, and have a nice day with your family. Of all the factors in this scenario, your own reactions are what you have the most control over.

Basically, don't be a born-again atheist. After all, an atheist has a clearer idea of how short life is, right?

Now, it'd be helpful to know if there were children involved. Specifically, children of your own. That changes my answer entirely, because it's not cool to go flinging Serious Beliefs around small, impressionable ears -- especially if you intend to raise them as atheists. Praying and proselytizing around adults with well-lodged beliefs is one thing, but kids who haven't had a chance to know better are quite vulnerable to such talk.

So if kids of yours are involved, then yeah, your foot has to come down, and you must make clear that you intend to rear them without god. In such a case, a silent prayer for them is the limit of the concessions you can offer.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:13 AM on December 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

What he's suggesting is a quick way to turn a small hill into a mountain. Don't call them ahead and create tension in advance.

Nope. Apparently it already IS a mountain to photoslob, or we wouldn't be here. The way to molehill-ize it is to let them say their prayer and not make it a big deal. But since it IS a big deal to photoslob, I also think it's fair to be told ahead rather than feel ambushed about it upon arrival. The earlier efforts did not work, and if it really is that big a deal, photoslob needs to communicate it as such. I just have my suspicion that it's not specifically about the prayer. I have had in-laws, and there is always more involved than the matter at hand. Everything takes on greater meaning and significance when dealing with in-laws at your house, on holiday, when you want to establish your own traditions.

To be clear, my opinion is to suck it up and be gracious, and let them say the prayer if they want, without even one mention about it. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the host take control of the situation by just saying "George, would you like to give thanks before we eat?" That would entirely change the dynamic, show a huge amount of grace, and relieve a lot of tension for everyone. And it does not have to go against his own beliefs. It's called being polite. Yes, the in-laws are probably being rude, and even unscriptural, by making an issue about prayer. I give thanks before every meal, and no one even knows it. They can't hear me. I'm not talking to them. But even if the in-laws are rude in their insistence to pray publicly, answer it with kindness and the tension will deflate.
posted by The Deej at 2:23 AM on December 25, 2007

You might ask how they feel about Matthew 6:5-6... I mean, if they value the pagan food-blessing rituals more than the words of their own messiah, that's cool, but...
posted by Orb2069 at 2:31 AM on December 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

The silent prayer thing is a great idea. But I have to say that if you say that, and allow them the silence to pray, then it would be really really really really awful to just bog in to the food.

We were taught that you don't start eating till everybody is ready to eat. Well, at formal functions anyway. If someone is in the kitchen, or someone else is tending to a baby, or going to the loo.... well, you just all wait till they've finished, and you all start together.

I reckon you should wait till the moment is up and then start.

I've never really understood what passive agressive really means. (And I studied psych at uni!) But I reckon starting before they've finished their silent prayer could be construed as passive-aggressive or just plain hostile.

I feel for you. I'm very intolerant of overt religion. Some people pray elegantly and stylishly and you get the warm and fuzzies just being at the table. Usually it's an opportunity to preach to a group of people that can't respond and it's farking revolting. I gather the parents-in-law are more the second type.

As a fellow atheist (card carrying, proselytising variety) you have my commiserations.

Best of luck, possum. Oh, and let us know how it goes.
posted by taff at 2:44 AM on December 25, 2007

While the Aryan Nation analogy may seem a bit of a stretch at first glance, it really is not that unlike how I relate to many born-agains who are homophobic, intolerant of other beliefs and just don't generally agree with my viewpoints. Much like I wouldn't feel comfortable going into their home and criticizing their beliefs, I wouldn't want them to do it to me.

I say the moment of silence is a fair compromise.
posted by atomly at 4:42 AM on December 25, 2007

a moment of silence would be fine if this was tuesday night dinner, but it's christmas. why not instead go around the table and everyone contribute something to the grace. you can give thanks for the food, they can adore god, uncle morty can express his hope and joy that indy makes it to the super bowl. there might be more god than you bargained for, but at least they won't be usurping your meal like that.

i presume that's really what the issue is. if you had close friends who were religious, i imagine (hope) you wouldn't object to their saying grace before meals in your home. i am assuming that the problem is really that you feel your in-laws bully/guilt-trip/bombast you into it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:05 AM on December 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

OK, you've said this is an informal gathering, so maybe the solution is to make the meal casual, buffet-style, "eat when you feel like it," where people fill plates and then go sit here and there chatting rather than gathering as a group around a set table at one time. That de-formalizes the proceedings and could discourage ritualistic displays. If the in-laws get their grub, look around, and realize everyone else is doing their own thing in little clusters, perhaps they'll go with the flow and do a quick silent or murmured prayer to themselves rather than their usual performance art. If they do try to grab the podium, then it's much easier for everyone else to ignore them and go on about their business.

Sure, it's important to be a gracious host, and if some guests have special needs of whatever kind, one should give them space for that, but that doesn't mean subjecting the other guests, who are equally valued, to awkward displays that make them uncomfortable, and public prayers often do include an imposing "shut up and go along, you sinner, because we are right and you are wrong" element. How rude would it be if you went to their house and made every other guest listen to you declaim a poem in praise of Darwin before anyone could eat?
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:07 AM on December 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

Did they force you to pray when you visited their home? Were you denied food until you accepted Jesus into your heart? I doubt it.

Is it the words that they say that bother you? Perhaps they say something along the lines of "Please Jesus, let these hell-bound heathens see the error of their ways. May all Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Homersexuals, and Democrats be cleansed by the flames of the wrath of the Almighty. Amen" If so, the polite and respectful thing to do is ask them to focus their prayers on thanks and themselves only, and not to bring up anyone else.

Also, go ahead and eat while they're praying, if waiting for the food is what is bothering you.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:10 AM on December 25, 2007

I think it's a bit like not letting someone smoke in your house. I'd certainly put up with someone doing it, but would consider that person rude for not asking if it was acceptable or not.

Second-hand smoking causes cancer. If you're the sort of person who doesn't like prayer, odds are you're also the kind of person who believes it does nothing...so, no second-hand praying. The analogy falls flat.

A better analogy might be insisting that no one sings Christmas carols in your house because they really bug you. An understandable position, but very Scroogelike. Letting them sing the carols silently? Genius.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:20 AM on December 25, 2007

Just bow your head and think dirty thoughts while they're praying.

Seriously. It's CHRISTMAS...let them pray. Them praying before the meal isn't a big deal unless you make it a big deal. They aren't enforcing you to believe what they believe by saying those words. There's really no reason to pee on their belief system on what is a huge day in their worldview. In fact, if you let them pray - they'll probably think it's one of the best gifts you could give them on this particular day.

If you request that they not pray - you really are peeing all over their beliefs and probably ruining a big day for them.

The prayer will likely only take 30 seconds-5 minutes. Ask yourself if you'd rather have that quiet time in your head OR if you'd like them to hold this against you for the rest of their lives - during which time they will also pray for you extra super duper hard on account of not letting them bless the meal.

(My aunt and uncle ALWAYS bless the meal/pray before meals. It used to annoy me. However, it's an important ritual to them and it costs me nothing to let them do it. )
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 5:30 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think a moment of silence would work if it was phrased like, "Before we eat, let's take a moment to silently give thanks for the food and for our family."

But...damn. Is this seriously the biggest issue with your in-laws? Are you really willing to battle them over this, thirty seconds of prayer before dinner? I can understand how it can be symbolic of them forcing their religion on you, and how it can remind you of all their in-your-face efforts, but realize what it actually is. It's giving thanks before a meal which is very common.

I don't know...if it were me, I'd save my battles for the big stuff.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:50 AM on December 25, 2007

I'm not a religous person, but I really, REALLY enjoy talking to people who are. I'm that guy who invites Mormons and Witnesses inside to ask them 10 million questions. Their prayers are meaningless to me, and I look at their texts as first-person fantasy-history books. However, simply BECAUSE their prayers are meaningless to me, they cannot OFFEND me the same as they cannot SAVE me.

If you're not religious, then you've got nothing to *lose* by listening to a 30 second prayer. Would that you were X religion and they were Y religion--then certainly I can see being upset by it. Also, if you had kids and they said things like "God, save these beautiful angels from their ungodly heathen parents", then I can see that bothering you.

Being pithy about this is petty, and is *certainly* unbecoming of a host at a special gathering, regardless of the time of year.

Also, fwiw, I sense an overt "this is MY home, this is MY wife, this is MY table" sentiment in your feelings...regardless of your faith, imo, Christmas should be a time of coming together, dropping your differences, and coming together over a feast with the people who are important in our lives. You may not like them, but why cause drama where it's *really* not needed?
posted by TomMelee at 6:22 AM on December 25, 2007

Good luck with whatever happens, but I have to ask if this bothers you so much; why have a Christmas dinner at all? This is like waiving a red flag at a bull. Yes I know you like to get together with family and friends, but aren't there 364 other days on which to do that? It seems that you have succumbed to the purely secular notion of christmas (small c). No problem there, as it keeps our economy going, but I don't think you can have your fruitcake and eat it too. Not everyone is in it for the presents. Some actually celebrate Christmas (capital C).

The real problem is not the prayer per se, but the public aspect of it. The key answer is how to ask them not to include you in their prayers. The answer is to confront them and ask politely that they pray without you. Don't tell them how to pray, just that you should not be included in their prayers. If they ask, and they will, then you suggest that they pray silently to themselves during a moment of silence before the meal.
posted by Gungho at 6:24 AM on December 25, 2007

Along with all the other let-it-go folks, this assertive atheist suggest not dying on this hill.

But if you do plan to die on it (which I understand is very tempting when confronted by the Grand Delusion in person) why not follow their little ritual with your own call for a ritual 5 minute open discussion about what we humans can do for all our fellow humans suffering in the world whom "god" has thus far failed to help, starting with the children of Darfur and Iraq? Makes the point nicely. Watch them gag on that.

A Modest Proposal sort of suggestion. I know how you feel, but it's easier just to laugh about it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:27 AM on December 25, 2007

Look, the rudeness of asking the in-laws to tone it down versus the rudeness of the in-laws praying at the table is dependent on how they pray. If it's a bowed head, a moment of silence, or a quiet prayer, then the OP is being inconsiderate. But if this is the sort of loud, in-your-face prayer that is full of sinners being cast to hell and meaningful glances at the non-Christians, then yeah, the in-laws are over the line.

OP, I suggest you take control of the situation. Instead of waiting for them to start prayer, ask to lead a moment of silence in which everyone at the table can contemplate what the meal means to them/the joy of family/whatever. Or just ask for a moment of silence, period. Then they can think about Jesus, and you can think about anything you want to think about. Moments of silence can be anything for anyone, but give enough religious leeway that the devout would be happy with it. And as soon as the moment of silence is over, start digging in.
posted by schroedinger at 6:31 AM on December 25, 2007

Maybe I'm a bad atheist/agnostic, but having someone pray near me, for me, or with me not only doesn't hurt me, I really appreciate that in doing so they feel that they are giving me an important gift from the depths of their heart. I guess that it is an imposition in some way -- five minutes of my time are gone forever, never to be reclaimed, and I've had to hear a few more religious words. But what an easy way to make that person feel valued and heard! All I have to do is sit there, maybe cast my eyes downward and look a bit solemn? Sign me up.

I really like the suggestion of taking control of the situation, and starting the meal with a request for one of your in-laws to say a couple of words of thanks for the meal and being together as a family. It will make them happy, it will make your wife happy that you are not fighting with her family on Christmas Day, and you can just say "la-la-la" inside your head and ignore the religious words.

The other option is to go ahead and say grace yourself, keeping it subtly ecumenical. I've done this before -- sometimes people like to ask the guest to say grace, and I've always found a way to do it that was kind to my hosts and honest to myself. Start with "I'd like to give thanks for..." and end with "Amen" and it seems to work ok. At least, I've never been hit by lightning for saying "Amen" as a non-believer.

I've encountered the silent moment before eating in some Quaker families; it usually goes along with holding hands around the table during the silent moment. It's nice enough, but not any less religious than listening to a prayer. So if that is the compromise everyone can live with, it won't hurt you any more than other forms of prayer will.
posted by Forktine at 6:45 AM on December 25, 2007

Quote Matthew 6.6 "But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" to convince them that you believe in prayer, but silent and private prayer.
posted by francesca too at 6:55 AM on December 25, 2007

Religious rules, such as the rules regarding kashrut (the kosher preparation of food), stylized prayer (whether it be covering your head, doing it five times a day, etc.), and even the branding of different Christian food blessings (Catholic v. Protestant, etc.) were all designed by people with one specific goal in mind: to divide people. Catholics would gather only with other Catholics on Fridays in Lent. Jews would eat only with other kosher Jews. And so forth.

Rise above this.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:33 AM on December 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

I agree with nat. Think up a few words of thanks that you can truly believe in. When it's time for dinner, say "I'd like to say a few words before we eat." (or something to that effect). If you need help (too late for today's meal but something you might enjoy exploring) there are a number of books at Amazon that might be of help. Here's one I got my mother-in-law one year as a present. If that doesn't fit the bill do a search on Amazon for books on "grace."

I also agree that being respectful of someone else's beliefs is a good thing. And I think one can do that without sacrificing one's own feelings. Takes a little work sometimes (including putting away an "sledge hammer" you may have around ;-)
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:37 AM on December 25, 2007

nTHing the moment of silence thing.

And those of you who think that Christian dinner prayers are by definition innocuous blessings of food are engaging in some wishful thinking. No one is welcome to sit at my table and call people wicked or ask for God to smite anyone, I don't care what their beliefs are.
posted by tkolar at 7:40 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

i truly do not understand all the people who are ragging on the original poster. frankly, even the moment of silence would make me uncomfortable. it's his house and he can do as he damn well pleases. guests are just that - guests - and they should respect his wishes. so what if it's christmas? if it's that holy of a day, they can spend it somewhere where they can pray all they like. or they can get all of their praying out before they come over for dinner.

perhaps that sounds truly atrocious to some (or even most) of you, but i am sick and tired of secular folks having to bend over backwards for the religious. we have to walk on eggshells, lest we offend some poor delicate god-fearing individual. why don't we deserve respect and cultural sensitivity just as much as anybody else? why does religious belief always trump everything else?

my point is this, OP: tell them gently but firmly that this is your home and you feel extremely uncomfortable with any religious expression. explain that you are perfectly fine with participating (or looking on, i suppose) while you are at their home, but now it is your turn to host and you would really appreciate it if they followed your traditions for one night. be nice.
posted by timory at 8:28 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the answers - I've apparently struck a nerve.

Here's the background - yes, I'm an atheist and I've gotten to the point in my life where it's hard for me to tolerate the religios because the religious folks in my family find it hard to tolerate my lack of faith. The in-laws are always pushing religion in some way, shape or form on my family and especially my daughter and it drives me a little nuts. I'm very good at just letting it slide due to the fact that I've gotten into some blow outs with these particular folks in the past and it's just not worth the energy.

But....and there's always a but, they are messianic "jews" and I happen to find this particularly distasteful as I have several close friends who are jewish and I try and respect their faith. My in-laws are certifiable wing-nuts.

I'm going to attempt Sanka's suggestion and make a short statement before we eat along the lines of I'm happy everyone is in the hizzy and I hope we all have a great 2008. My guess is that will satisfy them and it will also be taking the high road instead of me being the asshole.
posted by photoslob at 8:34 AM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Tell them clearly and succinctly that prayers are unwelcome at the table.

I'm not a christian. A bowed head is fine. A moment of silence is fine. A simple "thank you God for the food" is fine. Using prayer as an excuse to insult people, at the dinner table, is reprehensible. I'd also be inclined to "top" the Christian prayer with a Buddhist chant, or something. Just out of spite. :D

I worked hard to prepare that food, and I don't want to start the meal with a strained atmosphere just because someone feels the need to proselytize.
posted by Solomon at 8:42 AM on December 25, 2007

Advise for heathens or how to say grace without thanking god.
posted by photoslob at 8:45 AM on December 25, 2007

I've read some of posts, and I am unclear if your relatives insist on the open form of prayer before meals where they all hold hands, or it's the silent kind where they bow their heads. If it's the former, then I'd ask them to do the later which should be fair for all parties involved. I think the best way would be to kindly ask them before everyone has gathered in a non-confrontational manner to silently pray before meals as an open prayer makes you uncomfortable and it is your house. As a Catholic, I wouldn't find it rude.
posted by jmd82 at 9:18 AM on December 25, 2007

It's the let's hold hands and carry on at length about the state of the world kind of prayer. If it was a quicky with an amen I'd be OK. I can't stand going to dinner with them in public because they insist on this type of prayer at every instance. It makes my skin crawl.
posted by photoslob at 9:43 AM on December 25, 2007

Oh, and because someone asked, my mother-in-law's fundamental religions (yes, plural) over the years has completely turned my wife away from religion. She's not an atheist but certainly agnostic. She also has dealt with this type of behavior from her mother for a very long time and she chooses to just ignore it.
posted by photoslob at 9:47 AM on December 25, 2007

I like the non-religious statement idea quite a bit, but if you want to acknowledge the spiritual needs of those at the table (the need to thank God for the food, not the need to preach to the dinner guests, mind you), this is what works for my family: My (born again Christian, for what it's worth) Dad will often handle the prayer before a meal by saying, "Shall we have a moment of silence?" followed by his bowing his head and everyone else doing whatever silent reflecting they feel like doing, followed by his cheerfully announcing "let's eat!" It feels more religious than doing nothing, but doesn't introduce any specific religious rhetoric or message to the meal.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:28 AM on December 25, 2007

I'm glad you replied in the thread, photoslob, because the sole best answer really reads like one of those "Hey, they agree with me! Best Answer!" efforts, but you sound much more reasonable in person.

Why should the way a religious person wants to start a meal always trump the way a nonreligious person wants to start a meal? It shouldn't. Lots of nonreligious people just plain don't like hearing prayers. To me, the inlaws are the ones being incredibly rude. As a nonreligious person, I would never ever ever go into someone else's house and insist that they change up their shit just because I was there.

Why should the way a woman wants to use the toilet always trump the way a man does? It shouldn't. Lots of men just plain don't like putting the seat back down. To me, the women are the ones being incredibly rude. As a man, I would never, ever ever go into someone's house and insist that they leave the seat up just because I was there.
posted by bonaldi at 10:28 AM on December 25, 2007

In the past, I've treated this a few ways. I come from a mildly religious family - this might not work with dyed-in-the-wool believers.

Option 1: The inevitable look-around to see who is going to lead grace. In a pleasant, light but firm tone, I'll say:

"Good food, good meat, good God, let's eat!"

Everyone has a small chuckle, and the eating commences.

Option 2: Again, the look around. I lift my glass and say:

"Rather than grace, I'd like to make a toast to those around us, and for those who couldn't be here today."

I'll follow up with something heartfelt and secular. Everyone else raises their glasses in a kind of autonomic response, takes a sip, and the feeding begins.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:41 AM on December 25, 2007

Since they are Jews for Jesus, maybe go preemptive with this:

Pick up a piece of bread and recite:

Baruch atah adonai,
Elohaynu melech ha'olam
Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz
Merry Christmas.

Then take a bite.
posted by Dodger at 10:45 AM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

If that's what you meant, I don't think your example means what you think. You asked why the way the religious want to behave should always trump the way the non-religious want to behave.

And the reason is similar to the oft-battled Case of The Toilet Seat. Somebody is going to be inconvenienced: let it be those whose inconvenience will be less. It's generally not much for a non-religious person to put up with a reasonable prayer, while asking a religious person not to pray can be a Big Deal. If they're devout, it's hardly an unnecesarry imposition to ask that their religion be respected; equally, it's not an imposition to ask them to do it silently.

The converse is not true.
posted by bonaldi at 2:32 PM on December 25, 2007

I like the idea of offering a form of grace you are comfortable with.

Along the lines of using humor (as per Bora Horza Gobuchul's suggestion): "Rub-a-dub-dub-dub...thanks for the grub! Yeah, Santa!"
posted by ericb at 2:43 PM on December 25, 2007

Please meet more good hosts.
posted by bonaldi at 3:20 PM on December 25, 2007

Here's what I did: I toasted to friends, family and a happy and safe 2008. It was a hit with my inlaws!

Way to go AskMeFi!
posted by photoslob at 4:16 PM on December 25, 2007 [5 favorites]

Kudos to you photoslob. I deal with this very issue (not very successfully), at EVERY family gathering chez moi, not just Christmas. And I think many of the posters are missing the point: it's not the prayer that's the problem, it's when your relatives are the kinds of religious fanatics where every word they say is directly aimed at exposing YOU (or ME, as the case may be) as the kind of hell-bound heathen that all right-thinking, God-fearing people should avoid. I'm a quasi-spiritual, all religions are sort of okay kind of person, so I really don't have a problem with the before-eating prayer -- it's just when my step-mother gets on her holier-than-thou soapbox that drives me up the f*cking wall. Not because she's religious, but because she's a complete hypocrite that gets off on trying to make people feel guilty and uncomfortable. That's the bit I just can't stomach at all.

Anyway, good job.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:27 PM on December 25, 2007

Kudos to you photoslob.

From me as well. Like bonaldi, I got a bad feeling from your Best Answers, but you seem to have done fine (and once you mentioned they were Jews For Jesus I felt a twinge of severe annoyance with them myself). Glad it worked out!
posted by languagehat at 5:53 PM on December 25, 2007

You could use the universal Jewish pre-meal prayer:

They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat!
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:40 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Did they force you to pray when you visited their home?

I am essentially agnostic these days, and am not Jewish. Nevertheless, when I attended Sader (I hope I'm spelling that right!) at the home of friends, I recited along with them and read my parts, just as I did while sitting Shiva (sp again?) after the death of a family member.

I did so out of respect. Life is full of rituals that are important to some people, and if we love those people we respect their rituals.

The key thing here is that your beliefs are not at odds with those of your relatives; the opposite of a religious belief is not a lack of belief, but an opposition to it. If you truly resent and despise religion, or at least actively oppose it, you probably should not have these people in your home, but if you are simply someone who does not believe as they do, what harm is it to wait patiently while they attend to their ritual?

It's easy to say "well, it's in my house, and they should respect my non-belief", but as I mentioned above, your non-belief is not in opposition with their beliefs; would you stop them and ask them to stop discussing UFOs* at the dinner table if you did not believe in them? Certainly you might if politics were being discussed, but not if you were non-political (which is not in opposition) -- just if you were in opposition politically.**

*Not equating belief in UFOs with belief in religion; just demonstrating how non-belief is not in opposition to belief in a general sense.

**Of course, you might have guests that are in opposition politically, religiously or otherwise, and then as a good host/ess you might want to pull the plug on such topics right off the bat, but then you've got larger problems to deal with at your dinner party.
posted by davejay at 10:19 PM on December 25, 2007

Followup on my comment, missed this one previously:

...it's when your relatives are the kinds of religious fanatics where every word they say is directly aimed at exposing YOU (or ME, as the case may be) as the kind of hell-bound heathen that all right-thinking, God-fearing people should avoid.

Yeah, then we're talking about a straight oppositional relationship, not you vs religion, but you vs holier-than-thou. In which case you treat it like people who want to smoke in your house when you're a strict non-smoker: set a boundary or keep 'em too busy and distracted to smoke. Sounds like you did the latter, well done!
posted by davejay at 10:20 PM on December 25, 2007

Good job,

(Poem copyright 2007 The Deej.)

posted by The Deej at 11:08 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well done, photoslob!

Also, thanks for coming back with the update. It's nice when a thread has closure.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:12 AM on December 26, 2007

I agree with explosion on this one, but also want to comment on something thehmsbeagle said - That it is rude to not let them give thanks for the they have received.

This may be the case, but might it not be civil of them to thank their hosts for the food, rather than their deity?
posted by opsin at 4:17 AM on December 26, 2007

I am not a rude person and did not automatically assume that people would not thank their host for a lovely Christmas dinner if they didn't include said thanks while saying grace.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:45 PM on December 27, 2007

"It's a Christian holiday."

It is a mishmash of pagan, christian, and modern consumerist ritual. In my experience the christian aspect is the least significant, manifesting only in the name, a couple decorations, and some music.

Thank you. I'm sick of hearing that Christmas is a "Christian" holiday when most of the traditions were stolen from the pagans in the first place. It's a Christian holiday only because the Christians co-opted a celebration that was already in place for the celebration of the birth of their lord.
posted by agregoli at 2:02 PM on December 31, 2007

(Also, good job, photoslob!)
posted by agregoli at 2:06 PM on December 31, 2007

(Also, good job, photoslob!)
posted by agregoli

You will be hearing from my attorneys regarding copyright infringement.
posted by The Deej at 7:11 PM on January 1, 2008

It's not exactly an original thought. I didn't even read your comment.
posted by agregoli at 6:57 AM on January 2, 2008

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