Religion is a difficult subject.
Whether we have faith or not, what that faith is and how we feel about that faith are all deeply personal questions that can be painful to answer in the wrong crowd.
Particularly when that crowd is family.
So, what happens when a family member tries to make you feel bad for not voicing those beliefs in public?
That was the issue facing Redditor and Original Poster (OP) Cautious-Damage7575 when she came to the “Am I the A**hole” (AITA) subReddit for judgment.
WIBTA for refusing to say, “I’ll pray for you”?
OP began with…
“I grew up in a deeply religious family.”
“Many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins have their own ministries or are pastors of churches with large congregations.”
“To describe them as ‘very Christian’ would be an understatement.”
“Me? I’m not particularly religious—or unreligious—one way or the other, and generally take a ‘you do you’ approach to life.”
“As is the case in all families, tragedies and crises arise from time to time.”
“Although I’ve run across this dilemma many times in the past, it’s weighing more heavily than usual on me this time around.”
Then she got specifically to the issue at hand.
“About a month ago, a beloved uncle was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and isn’t expected to live much longer.”
“His three daughters and I grew up together and are more like sisters than cousins.”
“We are very close in age, having attended the same schools and even having gotten married at about the same time. We all were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings!”
“Over the years, we scattered and now live in different states.”
“We’ve grown apart to some degree, but still see each other at family reunions and maintain a strong bond.”
“We also keep up with each other via social media and regular emails, text messages, and phone calls.”
“The youngest sister, ‘Tori,’ and I share a birthday and are the closest among the four of us.”
“One of the ways Tori is dealing with her father’s impending death is by making daily postings on Facebook, asking for prayers.”
“Literally every single person in our family (except me) replies with messages like, ‘I’m praying for you,’ and ‘Sending prayers your way.'”
“So far, I’ve managed to keep my replies warm and loving, without mentioning prayer. (Note: I never ‘send good vibes.’ That’s the cringiest phrase I know.)”
“Apparently, this has been a topic of discussion behind my back among the family.”
“I know this because Tori’s oldest sister ‘Tami’ just sent me a text message, demanding to know why I ‘refuse’ to pray for their father. I don’t know what to say.”
“I have discussed this with friends who are neutral on the topic of religion.”
“Half of them say it would be hypocritical of me to ‘be a sheep’ and promise to pray for my uncle, unless I actually intend to do it.”
“Others say that since I don’t have particularly strong feelings one way or the other, I should suck it up and offer her the words of comfort she needs to hear from me.”
“This is something that has been bothering me for years.”
“It’s not going to hurt anybody if I promise to pray (except me, when I go to Hell for lying), but it seems hypocritical when I know it’s not going to happen.”
“Alternatively, I could just close my eyes, whisper a few words, and go about my day. That way, I’ll have kept my commitment and will feel like less of a hypocrite.”
OP was left to wonder,
“WIBTA if I refuse to tell my cousin I’ll pray for her father?”
Having explained the situation, OP turned to Reddit for judgment.
Redditors weighed in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- NAH – No A**holes Here
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
Redditors decided: NTA
Some offered their own scripting.
“NTA just say ‘I’m thinking of you”‘~ Susccmmp
“NTA. I’m a pagan and have deeply Christian relatives. My go to response is ‘I will light a candle for you”’.
“It’s fairly generic, all it means is that I’m keeping someone in my thoughts.” ~ Morrighu87
“I know this isn’t going to be a popular response, but a little white lie to make someone grieving feel better isn’t a bad thing.”
“OTOH, you could say that ‘Uncle What’s-his-name will always be in my prayers.’ The fact that you don’t HAVE any prayers is neither here nor there.” ~ Pencils_
Commenters got inventive.
“I would text Tami back like ‘I’m really confused. What are you talking about?”‘
“Just play dumb about why Tami would think such a thing.”
“Act like it’s really weird when she texts back things like ‘you never offer prayers when Tori asks for them on facebook”.
‘”Wow, Tami. That’s a really strange way to take my responses.”‘
“If your family is Christian, you can always bring Matthew 6:5 into play and say it’s confusing to you that she needs you to publicly state you are praying when Jesus says not to do that.” ~
Others suggested there might be alternative motives.
“Sounds to me like Tami may be taking out her anger at her father’s illness on you.”
“If that’s the case, try not to take her anger too personally.”
“It’s really not about you at all.”
“She may just be looking for the most convenient outlet for her feelings. If you want to play shrink, you could see if you could get her to dig into why this matters so much to her.” ~ MadScientist603
“‘Welp, dad’s dying, let’s turn this crisis into an opportunity to figure out whether our cousin is religious or not”‘
“If that’s what they’re doing then that’s despicable.” ~ SerpentWrites
“The preacher at my husband’s grandmother’s funeral asked everyone who had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour to raise their hand.”
“Boy, was that awkward.” ~ lizadootoolittle
“I was raised Baptist.”
“Funerals were seen as an opportunity for ‘evangelizing’ (or ‘witnessing’ in more modern language).”
“Since there will be people present who don’t normally attend that church, it’s an awesome time for the pastor to remind everyone that they’re also going to die someday (but you never know when! could be at any moment!) so you better get right with God.”
“I can’t think of any specific examples, but it can get reeeaaally awkward (and awful) when the deceased was not a believer.”
“Not quite ‘accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior so you don’t end up in hell like Bob here’, but not too far from that either.” ~ EmilyAnne1170
There were many personal stories.
“The last one of those I went to, it was ‘Ah know we awl loved Bob and wish we could be with him one more tahm. And that’s whah yew need to acceayupt Jayeeezuss,’ etc.”
“It felt like exploiting people’s grief, to target the thing that’s just been taken away and tell you you have to do this to get it back. Bleargh.”
“As for OP: if I were talking to someone face to face and it really seemed like it would comfort them, I might say ‘I’ll pray for Bob’ and then go home and raise a glass to Bob’s health and think, hey, I hope Bob gets better, and I wouldn’t even feel like I’d lied.”
“That’s as close as I’d get to prayer, and it would do him just as much good.”
“But this Facebook stuff seems weirdly performative. Like all of it is more for the people making comments then for the patient.” ~ italicized-period
“I’m the only atheist in my family. When my brother passed unexpectedly my dad asked his minister/preacher/whatever holy person term he uses(I don’t remember his particular religious affiliation) to speak at brother’s funeral.”
“He was told beforehand not to try to convert any wayward souls.”
“Sigh….he still did it.”
“Kept looking over at me.”
“I would close my eyes every few minutes just so I could roll them.”
“Also told my mother if I go before she does and there is any religion at my funeral I will come back to life just to prove a point.” ~ lovable89
OP did return with some clarity, gratitude, and a bible verse.
“• Several people have suggested that Tami may be taking out her grief on me, in the form of picking a fight. That sounds very plausible”
“• Thank you to everyone who suggested saying that I prefer to keep my religious views private. Special mention to u/Fair-Tap-5860, who also quoted scripture in support of this argument”
“John 12:42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him.”
“But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God”
“If Tori had just asked me to say a prayer, there wouldn’t be so much of a dilemma.”
“A lot of the problem is that if I put it in writing, along with literally 100% of the rest of my family, I fear the repercussions”
“• I haven’t replied to Tami yet, because I want to read all the comments first”
Religion is a difficult subject to discuss even under ideal circumstances.
Unfortunately, we rarely find ourselves in ideal circumstances.
So we have to weigh out what matters to us and stick to that guiding principle.
Remember to be respectful of others beliefs, and ask that they respect yours.