As a society, we have a warped view of what speech and actions qualify as “disrespectful.” Instead of viewing “disrespect” as an action or attitude that lacks respect, it appears to be any action that disagrees with the majority.
So what must one go along with to be respectful to the Christian majority? Three major complaints about nonbelievers by Christians include that nonbelievers refuse to bow in public prayer, make public statements at the expense of Christianity, and try to have religious materials removed from public.
As removing materials from public is more of a legal issue, I won’t be discussing it here.
I would, however, like to start with a common understanding of what prayer is. As an ex-Christian, I understand that prayer has many purposes, and that not all of those purposes are of the generic “We just want to give thanks and ask for help!” brand. Much prayer has a more religious and authoritative purpose:
- “ We should use God’s Word in prayer as an avenue for submitting to God. “
- “ We should use God’s Word in prayer as an effective way to be spiritually cleansed.”
- “We should use God’s Word in prayer to stand against Satan’s schemes.” (aka: “Spiritual Warfare”)
To someone who hasn’t been indoctrinated into an Abrahamic faith, it might not be clear of exactly what is meant by “Satan’s schemes”–one may believe this is code-speak for all of the evil in the world. In reality, “Satan’s schemes” refers to the mythical story of Satan’s tests of Jesus’s faith and the similar tests he supposedly uses on all mortals. The schemes of Satan: Reason, doubt and unbelief.
Please don’t be in shock about the faithful setting reason, doubt, and unbelief as the tools and outcomes of their ultimate bad guy. However, I encourage you to let the idea settle. If you are an atheist or an agnostic, you are considered to be someone who has been duped by “evil.” If you are outspoken about atheism or agnosticism, then, according to Christians, you are not only duped and hell-bound yourself, but you are also actively spreading said “evil.”
This fact is at the heart of the matter. Displaying doubt and unbelief and rebelling against God by refusing to bow is seen as an evil deed meant to draw even more people away from Christ–away from their religion. If prayer or even pretend-prayer and silence from nonbelievers can be coerced, then others will submit to prayer rather than being “fooled” by reason, doubt, and unbelief.
Contrary to the idea of demons supposedly possessing otherwise God-fearing men and women, however, nonbelievers simply don’t believe in prayer. Not only do they not believe in prayer, they shouldn’t be forced to maintain religious standards nor, especially in a country with freedom of religion, be forced to submit to a God they do not believe in. This is true for school children, teachers, and anyone at any gathering.
After all, freedom of religion cannot exist without freedom from religion.
Still worse for atheists and agnostics, the act of pretending to pray by atheists gives more authority to Christians who claim that atheists are evil, are fools, and will be in hell soon. Atheists bowing in prayer means they either accept God as real and deny him or will not voice dissent about the superiority of Christian values. By the acquiescence of atheists, atheists in our society are further marginalized and discredited.
Unfortunately, many atheists and agnostics believe it to be respectful–or, at least, less confrontational–to simply go with the flow.
These types of non-Christian arguments are sometimes indistinguishable from their Christian counterparts. “If bowing your head doesn’t mean anything to you, why not just do it?” “Why do you want to poke fun at Christianity with a Darwin Fish? That just seems childish!”
But there’s nothing disrespectful about not worshiping or submitting to a deity one doesn’t believe in. There’s nothing disrespectful about agreeing with the theory of evolution, nor anything disrespectful about stating your disbelief in gods by word or fashionable bumper sticker. There’s absolutely nothing disrespectful about mere disagreement.
What is disrespectful, though, is that Christians want to coerce nonbelievers into bowing their heads in prayer.
What is disrespectful is that Christians often display a Jesus Fish, which, unlike the Darwin Fish parody, tends to carry and announce a belief that nonbelievers are evil and will spend an eternity being punished in hell.
What is disrespectful is pretending to pray. Not only is it deceptive to whomever you pretend pray with, but it is disrespectful to yourself to pretend that your own beliefs make you morally inferior to the religious.
Before continuing to go along with societal norms, such as participating in religious rituals, give thought into whether or not that religion’s outlook on you, the nonbeliever, is something you want to own and “respect.”