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What should I do about religious practices?

I’m planning on spending a couple of weeks with an orthodox Jewish couple, and their children, who are probably too young to be informed enough to assent to Judaism.

I’m worried about what I should do if they ask me to participate in any religious practices that I don’t respect, like putting on a hat or talking to someone I don’t believe in. I think that “moderate” religion legitimizes wishful thinking and group mentality. On the other hand, I respect them as people and don’t want to insult them. What would you do?

Posted: July 22nd 2010

Paula Kirby www

I would never join in religious observances, but it’s perfectly possible to handle the situation without insulting your friends. How about just saying, 'No, I’d rather not, but don’t let me stop you’, or 'No, I’m not a believer, I’ll sit this out if you don’t mind’, or something of that kind? Being friends with someone doesn’t mean having to adopt their practices if you don’t want to – anymore than it means they should have to waive their practices whilst you are staying with them.

Really, it’s no different from if they were to offer you a cigarette (assuming you’re a non-smoker): presumably you wouldn’t feel obliged to take it – you would just politely decline without making a song and dance about it. There’s no reason to treat religious practices any differently.

Posted: July 23rd 2010

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

Blaise www

I think you need to separate religion from culture in your mind. It’s not an ethical dilemma to respect someone’s culture, even if you don’t accept it yourself. Things like clothes, food, and rituals are cultural requirements, even if religion is used to frame them, so there’s no conflict there. It’s like taking off your shoes in a Japanese home. It’s completely appropriate to do these things to honor your host’s hospitality.

In fact, even taking part in a ceremony/ritual, and speaking your part, is still fine. No one would accuse you of being a Nazi just because you played the part of one in a pageant, would they? Heck, you might even learn something. On the other hand, there’s a big difference between participating in a ritual or ceremony, and being forced to say or do something that violated your own ethics.

Just be sure to politely but firmly make it clear to your hosts where your limits are ahead of time, and you’ll be fine. If they can’t accept those limits, you should probably rethink your stay….

Posted: July 22nd 2010

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logicel

If I was close emotionally to them, I would probably joke and say you know I am an atheist (and they would know, because I would have told them) and that my doing whatever you ask me to do is just going through the motions so as not to upset you and your household. However, I probably would never be that close emotionally to anyone that religious.

Because of my husband’s passionate interest in the history of computers, we are often given housing and food from very nice people throughout Europe which enables him to pick up important documentation and machines for his private collection and work-related research. Not once, did anyone ever expect us to do anything but secular things. True hospitality is secular.

I can understand religious people insuring that their religious practices will be allowed if they visit someone. If I ever was asked to accommodate such religious practices, I would decline and recommend the best hotel nearby for them. You can check them beforehand and ask if your continuing your secular activities at their household is possible. If they say no, then stay at a nearby hotel.

And I agree with you that 'moderate’ religion does the things you say it does. Therefore, there is no reason to feign respect for the practices, just respect their right to do the practices (without you).

Posted: July 22nd 2010

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