'Keep me in your prayers' How would you respond?

As an atheist, I’m occasionally presented with uncomfortable situations with respect to religious people (as I’m sure you’re all aware).

The other day however, I was presented with a question and situation that made me uncomfortable enough to come here and ask for input:

I work as a bank teller and, the other day, a religious elderly lady in poor health asked if I would keep her in my prayers. I felt that if I informed her that I didn’t pray, she would simply take it as a rejection and feel offended.

So, I said yes I would and smiled.

But, this made me equally uncomfortable – as I am usually very honest and open about my lack of religious beliefs.

I’m not looking for answers, but I would certainly appreciate any input on the situation – or any similar situation that you feel could add value to my thought process.


Posted: August 27th 2010

flagellant www

It is one thing to have an argument with someone about prayer and its effects. It is entirely different when someone mentions prayer almost as an aside, in a way which discomfits you.

We often have to do things with which we’re uncomfortable and, because you represent your bank to its customers you will, from time to time, have to be nice to people who have bizarre ideas. Your first duty is to be civil and accommodating to customers. However, you should find it comforting that, while you may feel hypocritical, you are doing your duty.

If you look at this article , you will be convinced, if you are not already, that prayer doesn’t work. It isn’t as though you endorsed the lady’s prayer(s) – you simply reacted appropriately to a situation that arose. I think you behaved extremely well.

And, as you probably know, the well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens has cancer of the oesophagus. The religiosi, have reacted in different ways, but to those among them who told Hitchens that they would pray for him, Hitchens replied with good grace and with thanks. There will, no doubt, be other times and places for him to argue that prayer is an activity that, while appearing to do something is, in reality, doing absolutely nothing.

Posted: August 31st 2010

See all questions answered by flagellant

Dave Hitt www

This can be a tough one.

A good friend of mine asked me to pray for him while I was visiting him in the hospital. We both knew he was dying, and only had a week or so left. I felt crushed, but he was too good a friend to lie to. I told him “I’ll keep you in my thoughts.” That was a promise I could keep – ten years later I still think of him regularly.

In your situation I would have felt more comfortable just nodding and saying “OK.” It’s a small, harmless lie. I’d put it in the same category as saying “thanks” when you sneeze and someone says “God Bless You.” It’s polite and friendly and a better alternative than being a dick about it. (And no matter how carefully you explain yourself, the other person is likely to think you’re being a dick.)

Posted: August 31st 2010

See all questions answered by Dave Hitt


I would have responded with something like, “I’ll be thinking of you” or “you’ll be in my thoughts”.

Posted: August 31st 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

George Locke

I don’t think it’s wise engage on political or religious issues with customers, generally speaking. It’s inappropriate for anyone to make assumptions about your beliefs, but working with people means you have to tolerate a certain amount of rudeness.

Posted: August 31st 2010

See all questions answered by George Locke


I would have done what you did, but I would not have felt uncomfortable about it! Essentially, you are doing what she is asking, you just have different language for it. You would have felt worse if you non-intentionally snubbed her. Using her language, saying that you will pray for her, made sure that did not happen. Your smile was the real communication anyway, and perhaps it would not have done its good work if your words caused problems. You did well. Pat yourself on the back.

Since praying is wishing and hoping, you can say if in a similar situation, “I am hoping and wishing with all my heart that you will be fine/that you will cope with this problem.” But, I would think, that in such situations, it is best to use the language that is most meaningful and comforting to the person and as the majority are religious, that language is usually god soaked. You just need to do the translation inside your own head, that you are not praying to god, but you are hoping and wishing that things will turn out for the person.

Posted: August 31st 2010

See all questions answered by logicel

Paula Kirby www

I agree. It can be very awkward when put on the spot like this: you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings or make a mountain out of a molehill, but you don’t want to be dishonest either.

I like SmartLX’s suggestion very much. Or you could achieve the same kind of thing without drawing attention to the not praying bit by simply saying, 'I’ll be thinking of you and hoping things get better for you soon.’ If you said it with a warm smile, chances are she wouldn’t even notice that you hadn’t responded directly to her request.

Posted: August 31st 2010

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

SmartLX www

“I don’t pray. But I’ll be thinking of you.”

Posted: August 30th 2010

See all questions answered by SmartLX


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum