Last week, the Church of England tweeted out prayers for well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins as he recovers from a recent stroke. A Twitterstorm soon followed and there are theists and atheists on both sides of this controversy.
Many theists claim that prayers are simply their way of wishing someone well and there are some atheists who agree with that even though we obviously don’t believe in the magic of prayer. So why is this a controversy?
As it is with all things, it is the thought that counts. The problem is that the Church of England knows that Dawkins isn’t a believer. So their thought at least could easily be interpreted as spitting in his face. This isn’t really about the Church of England and Richard Dawkins. It is about Christians pushing their religion where it is not wanted.
There has been many times when I have had long and friendly conversations with Christians and then they turn around and tell me that they are praying for me. When this happens, it feels like they just slammed a door in my face after a nice conversation. If they sincerely want to express well-wishes to me, they should do so in a way that would likely be appreciated by me. You don’t say greet a Jew with, “Hail Hitler,” you don’t greet a devote Christians with, “Hail Satan,” and you don’t greet an atheist with prayers. It is simply not polite.
If you know someone believes a certain thing, you should greet them either in a way that they would like to be greeted or in some neutral way that would not offend the person you are greeting and would be true to your own principles. In the case of the Church of England to Richard Dawkins, they should have simply said that they wish him a speedy recovery or that they wish him well. There is nothing in such a statement that pushes their religious beliefs on him and there is nothing in such a statement that would violate their own religious principles. But to “pray” for him is basically saying that they know he doesn’t believe in prayer, but fuck him we are going to do it anyway.
At best, there are being thoughtless and inconsiderate. However, it is much more likely that they were intentionally trying to insult him in a passive aggressive fashion and it should not be appreciated. Personally, when a religious person greets me in such a way, I call their attention to it. If I think they are being genuinely thoughtless, I think them for the sentiment, but remind that it is rude to push their beliefs on someone who they know does not share them. If I think they are purposefully being passive aggressively rude, I will call them out on that too.
These are small issues, but they are important. We should treat others as they wish to be treated and not as we would like them to treat ourselves.