An atheist’s response to a religious greeting

| November 14, 2009 | 8 Replies

I have an acquaintance at the gym, let’s call him “Greg”. I like Greg. Whenever I ask him how he’s feeling Greg answers, “I am blessed!”

If I see him when I’m on my way out and I say, “See ya later Greg!’, he always says something like, “God bless!” or “God willing!”

Greg is obviously a devout man. He hurt his wrist in a bad fall recently and told me how God was looking out for him because it could have been much worse. I nodded silently. Greg doesn’t know I am a doubter and I would never bring it up in the gym.

The strange thing is that lately I have found myself returning his greeting in kind. The other day Greg saw me before I saw him and he greeted me first.

“How’s it going today Mike?”

“I am blessed!”, I found myself saying (much to my surprise) and I meant it!

“You know it!”, he said with a knowing smile, and walked on.

It’s true! I do feel “blessed”, whatever that means. I’m very grateful for the things, the people, my health and the opportunities that I have in my life. I think about it every day. I often say that I feel like I live in a constant state of thankfulness. If that isn’t blessed I don’t know what is!

So now whenever I see Greg I greet him in a way that I’m sure leads him to think that I am a believer like him. My beliefs haven’t changed, I’m still an atheist, but it makes me feel good to say it and hear him say it back.

Is that wrong??

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Category: Meaning of Life, Religion

About the Author ()

Mike Pulcinella is a documentary filmmaker.

Comments (8)

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  1. Well, if you're doing it for yourself and not just to lead him on, I don't see it as "wrong." But you're questioning it, so you must sense of problem.

    I often use such phrases, because they're geared into the language in such a way that it's just easier in certain circumstances.

    But when I say "God only knows what that's about" it is a euphemistic way for me to say, in effect, "No one knows."

  2. Lisa Rokusek says:

    I think of it as translating my meanings into the language of the person with whom I am communicating, and I quit caring so much if that person assumes I am in "their camp".

    As long as my baggage about religion doesn't make me feel uncomfortable using "their words"(and you don't seem uncomfortable) I don't think it is a bad thing.

    Healthy, blessed, thankful, grateful, happy – do we need to dig into the nitty gritty of believer/nonbeliever while passing each other near the treadmill? I think not.

    If the discussion ever does surface, those of us who have created bonds of common decency (and good manners) by exchanging comments that humanize instead of dehumanizing, might find the hard conversations made into easier ones.

    I like to think that could happen.

  3. Ben says:

    I don't think there is a right or a wrong here. Just an opportunity to have a conversation about religion and perhaps find common ground. I think it is appropriate to mention your ideology, since He is the one implying the existence of the unseen force. The hard part is to seem genuine. Perhaps invite him to DI as you did with Vesperiant?

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Yesterday a light rail driver pulled up to my stop and said, "Thank you and have a blessed day." In past years, this would have perturbed me, because I would have interpreted it as necessarily an attempt to impose religious belief upon a diverse group of passengers. And it is often the case that a person sends out religious signals as a sort of radar to check to see that all is well, and that believers abound–people who will utter something similar back.

    I used to think of this as necessarily a slippery slope toward religious intolerance aimed at those who are non-religious.

    But it is often much more intended as a recognition of the existence and humanity of others (much like "How's it going?" when we don't REALLY want to know in detail). Words are not always uttered to convey literal truths. Sometimes they are used to connect to others–to knit the social fabric.

    Though I still find religious assertions awkward, I've also been working hard to not assume the worst in those who "impose" that sort of language on me. Many of these people are good-hearted, and this is their (awkward to me) way of sharing their good-heartedness.

    I don't say "You have a blessed day too," but I respond, because that's what decent people do. I said, "Thank you!"

  5. Ben: I don't think Greg is a DI kind of guy. He's also not the type that I would want to have a conversation with about the existence of God. I really don't think it's necessary in this case.

    How can I put this? He's one of the "good" ones. In my experience most religious people are not fundamentalists and I get along with them quite well. Greg treats people the way I treat people. I agree with Lisa, although Greg and I have much common ground, I fear that a conversation about religion would do more harm than good.

    Like Erich, I have tempered my reaction to this kind of greeting as I've gotten older. I no longer look upon it as someone trying to impose their ideology upon me but instead realize that they are wishing the best for me the best way they know how.

  6. Alison says:

    Taking offense at this is akin to taking offense at having a door held open for you. The other person is trying to do something kind, and his or her intentions are good. If you want to debate the merits of the type of kindnesses being offered, the moment when they're offered is not the best time to start it. "Thank you" works no matter how you feel about -isms.

  7. Alison,

    Spot on.

    There's a difference between a friendly greeting and someone using it as a challenge. You can usually tell the difference because in the challenge, the casual tone is gone.

  8. Ben says:

    While I understand what you mean when you say "one of the good ones", I sense an undertone of dishonesty in your daily/weekly responses to him.

    Perhaps you are underestimating Greg's tolerance and understanding of non-believers?

    As a man of faith, he will have no choice but to welcome your story, and I predict it will be a bonding experience for both.

    I imagine the conversation going very smoothly, but just to be on the safe side, I would not mention it to him while he is spotting.

    Mike: Whew what a workout, my pecs are sore!

    Greg: I am blessed.

    Mike: Ya I feel the same way, cya later bud!

    Greg: God Bless!

    Mike: Oh Greg, hey, do you have a second? Yeah, uh, no big deal… I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your kindness. I've done some thinking about religion lately, and while I generally do not consider myself a religious person, I do now see that I am blessed and I'd like to personally thank you for helping me to realize it.

    Greg: Thats what it's all about brutha!

    Mike: You know it!

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