When Does Praying In Public Make Others Uncomfortable?

Sep 30, 2016

By Leah Libresco

Over the course of a few weeks in August, France’s coastal towns banned burkinis at the beach, considered a ban on nuns’ habits for the sake of consistency, and ultimately saw their burkini bans struck down in court. The controversy sprang from France’s commitment to laïcité, something a little more intense than “secularism.” The Deputy Mayor of Nice explained to the BBC that in France “religion is the affair of each one but each one at home, each one at church, not each one in the street.”

In the United States, burkinis aren’t banned, but there are still clashes about whether religious freedom means the freedom to worship privately at church or the freedom to practice your faith in public.

As a convert to Catholicism from atheism, I’ve been on both sides of awkwardness and discomfort around being religious in public. I usually decide what kinds of visible faith are too much based on my experiences from when I was an atheist, using them to make my best guess about how others feel. But that kind of guess offends my statistical sensibilities.


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32 comments on “When Does Praying In Public Make Others Uncomfortable?

  • From my reading of the article, sounds like most atheists mind their own business in public and aren’t bothered by other people minding theirs. Atheists don’t seem to get uncomfortable until the religious start intruding on them.

    I don’t monitor people saying grace in public. And while religious symbols and clothing annoy me, it doesn’t make me angry except in schools.



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  • @OP – As a convert to Catholicism from atheism, I’ve been on both sides of awkwardness and discomfort around being religious in public.

    In view of the RCC proliferation of regular communal or public crossing of themselves, displays of crucifixes and statues, claims of miracles and of exorcisms, this is clearly a statement of gross rationality failure, on the part of the author!

    Embarrassment, awkwardness and discomfort, – from making displays of these beliefs and activities in front of rational people – including other Xtians who include the “no-graven images commandment” in their version of these “historical” doctrines, or who recognise science as a source of validated information, – should be no surprise!



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  • Grown ups are grown ups and we must tolerate the foibles of a neurally and culturally diverse population.

    But be aware, I am not happy with masochistic fetish clothing, nor displays of adult irrationality in front of my kids. Yes they must learn about these things, but know it is offensive to me on their behalf. Because of them I think the less of you for doing this public thing. They’ll have a life full of problems quite without yours. For myself I just feel a little saddened.

    So let me return a little of the burden. Carry on, but know this.



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  • Don’t forget the sage advice of Matthew 6:

    6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:
    for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of
    the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They
    have their reward.

    6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou
    hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy
    Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    Personally, I don’t mind if others disregard the word of god. 😉

    Steve



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  • @ further link:- For those unaware of Leah Libresco, she was previously an atheist blogger at Patheos. Her blog “Unequally Yoked” originally had the tagline “a geeky atheist picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend.”

    It looks like her “conversion” was an example of entering a partnership with dominating uncompromising Catholicism!

    As a Yale graduate, Leah Libresco launched her writing career by blogging about science, literature, mathematics, and morality from a distinctively secular perspective. Over time, encounters with friends and associates caused her to concede the reasonableness of belief in God in theory, though not yet in practice.

    Her conversion to Catholicism looks like social pressure, despite claims of “reasonableness of belief in God”!



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  • @OP – link – And it looks like I was right to feel OK about praying my rosary on the subway, assuming that, in New York City, it wouldn’t be the oddest thing someone saw that day. Sixty-two percent of atheists and agnostics nationwide felt very or extremely comfortable in these circumstances, but fewer than half (48 percent) of Christians who prayed this way guessed that an observer would feel that comfortable witnessing their prayer.

    Seeing some older nun, adult or pensioner, praying with rosary beads, brings the revelation that they are mentally entering their second childhood, before leaving their first!

    I suppose seeing someone seeking answers by sacrificing chickens, or reading goats’ entrails, reflects a similar mental delusional state!



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  • Folks can genuflect / bend over/ whatever till the sacred cows come home, if used as a personal balm.

    Recently, news of a ‘breakfast prayer’ held at a public museum kind of irked. Asking divine guidance for “a better future for Town X”, when clicking my heels three times waving incense would do as much good.

    A catholic relative prays for me (in general), but as the tee-shirt says I’m 333, only half bad, lol.



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  • A lot of people are ‘praying for me’ here in S.A.. often I can’t resist: ‘yeah, that will help!’, admittedly somewhat childish.
    I have only little problems with hijabs and other shawls, but niqab and burka definitely make me uncomfortable. It is like saying: ‘I do not want to contact you, I’m different and will have nothing to do with you or your ideas’. Uncomfortable is the operative term indeed.



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  • 12
    Pinball1970 says:

    @11 yes we have talked about the Burkha a lot on here.

    Public praying I have seen (including the airport) felt like more of an advert for righteousness.
    Watch me pray and look how solemn and intense I am.
    There are worst things they can do I suppose, once you stick a megaphone into the equation that is when I get involved with my own ejaculations. A megaphone is encroaching my personal space hurts my ears and my sensitive disposition.



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  • Pinball1970 #12
    Oct 2, 2016 at 10:41 am

    There are worst things they can do I suppose, once you stick a megaphone into the equation

    There are places, where despite a denial of modern science, high wattage PA systems blast out from minarets five times a day!

    http://pamelageller.com/2016/03/ny-mosque-blaring-call-to-prayer-intolerable.html/
    Islamic supremacism in action. Here we see the complete and utter disregard Muslims have for their non-Muslim neighbors. A mosque in Brooklyn is torturing neighborhood residents every day, five times a day, with the piercing, loud Muslim call to prayer. It starts at 6 am — can you imagine?
    Muslims in the community insist it is a beautiful sound and that everyone should enjoy it. Enjoy it? For many, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. For many, “allahu akbar” elicits brutal memories.

    Hundreds of residents have complained to NYC government authorities, to no avail.

    The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) did not fine the mosque, despite ongoing violations (five times a day), because of the “short duration” of the Muslim prayer.” The mosque is violating existing laws. But the DEP didn’t fine them because Muslims are a special class and everyone is afraid to offend or insult them. Accommodation always gives way to more demands, more accommodations –



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  • 14
    Pinball1970 says:

    @13
    yes I think I would keep my mouth shut in those places!

    I was talking about Oldham and Manchester where I live

    Great thing though is if they start shouting about jesus using one of those things I can start shouting about backward tribalism and “please dont listen to nonsense.”

    Its a public place so as long as I dont use abusive language its ok



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  • It’s not just non-muslims who are disgusted with the five times a day call to prayer. Plenty of muslims in Algeria are also disgusted with the blasting noise created by electronic loudspeakers at the crack of dawn. There are bound to be houses in close proximity to those loudspeakers with inhabitants that have no intention of getting up for the sunrise prayer. Just got the baby back to sleep after a hard night? Too bad.

    It used to be bad enough with all of that but now there is a mosque being built in every neighborhood there. Individuals can just build a mosque if they feel like it and so they’re sprouting up like insidious mushrooms. Guess what happens now at sunrise- about a hundred calls to prayer all at the same time. Most sing out of tune and at a second or two out of time with everyone else. It’s something out of a dystopian torture chamber.

    This is very difficult to speak against. Local people will come off as infidels if they complain about building of mosques. The government should have dealt with this years ago when they had the public support on their side after defeating the Muslim fundamentalists in that civil war. They didn’t push for secular reforms and the fundamentalists are still sitting there waiting for ways to gain power.

    I remember the fist time I woke up in the city of Oran in 1983. I went up onto the terrace and peered over the wall into the streets below. I was enchanted with the scene. In the background the call to prayer was sung without benefit of glaring loudspeakers. It was exotic and beautiful. What is going on now is a hideous auditory assault and it’s not just this kaffira who says so. Plenty of good muslims agree!



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  • Pinball1970 #14
    Oct 2, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I was talking about Oldham and Manchester where I live

    Great thing though is if they start shouting about jesus using one of those things I can start shouting about backward tribalism and “please dont listen to nonsense.”

    I mentioned this before but it is a good move for those who have not thought of it yet.

    A few years ago a ranting preacher was berating an rationalist who was challenging him – with threats of Hell-fire etc.
    (We know these people are not open to reason!)

    I waited for a repetition of the “Jesus saves” cry, and standing next a crowd at the back who were wearing football shirts, said, “And [insert name of the striker of the local football team] scores on the rebound! The crowd burst into laughter and the preacher who was too far away to hear my comment, thought they were laughing at him – and antagonised the crowd by berating them!

    Other comments such, “Jesus saves” –
    “Must be with the Halifax trying to get a little extra!” can also destroy the composure of a fool who is taking himself seriously, when spectators laugh!

    Treat these “street entertainers”, as the superficial clowns they are!



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  • I am extremely hard to offend. I do not care about public praying, breastfeeding, breakdancing, nudity, sex, vulgarity, drunkenness, music, rituals, or really anything else. These things have to be pretty loud, bold, and brazen to get me irritated. I am much more irritated with someone driving 20 MPH under the speed limit in the passing lane than I would ever be with any of the things I just mentioned.

    Having said that, I still am a huge proponent of “keep your shit to yourself — and shut the fuck up about your beliefs”…. Would anyone be offended if I sat and meditated for a half hour, say, in Central Park? No? Then go ahead pray. Pray, do that internal monologue and mistake the voice in your head for god. Pray, as if it affects anything at all outside your own head. But, if it brings you peace, have at it.

    It is when these pray-type folks all get together and decide to aim their bullshit at someone or something that needs to be reeled in. Don’t believe in abortion? Don’t have one. Gay marriage? don’t get married. Stem cell research? Do not get educated and become a research scientist (as if). But, do not think that your mental disorder (believing) has any more or less right than mine (not believing). Keep your shit private and personal and I will too. But, come to my door and knock and try to spread your disease? Fuck you.



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  • Alan @16 – “Jesus Saves, but Pearson nets the rebound” – was on a big banner seen on Wembley way, may 1976, was the author and creator of that banner the origin of the meme?

    Can’t say I’ve seen too many people praying in public, I do notice ancient torture apparatuses being displayed though – but some people just wear it as a piece of jewelry.



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  • 20
    Pinball1970 says:

    @17 bar getting some bagpipes (made me laugh bonnie thanks) law abiding citizens have to let them get on with it I suppose.
    In a public place where there are children? Case by case.
    @18 I am not like you crooked shoes, I have been sensitized to all this .
    Seeing it day after day, where there are kids walking around, annoys the hell out of me.
    Praying is not the worst thing they do buts it is reminder of the kind of stuff they do do, that is a lot worse.



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  • Apparently noisy calls to prayer 5 times a day are OK, but affectionate holding of hands or hugging is unacceptable!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-37539977

    A leading Nigerian actress has been banned from the Hausa-language film industry because of her “immoral” behaviour, the main industry body says.

    Rahma Sadau caused offence by “hugging and cuddling” pop star Classiq in a video, it added.

    The industry, commonly known as Kannywood, has been under fire from conservative Muslim clerics who accuse it of corrupting people’s values.

    They regard it as taboo for men and women to hold hands or kiss in public.

    Ms Sadau, who is said to be on a holiday in India, has not yet commented on the ban imposed by Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (Moppan).

    Its chairman, Muhammadu Kabiru Maikaba, told the BBC Hausa service that the ban was “total”.

    “This is not the first time that she has been doing these wayward things. We have been warning her, but she still went ahead to dent our image,” he said.

    The Kannywood star appeared in the video with Classiq, in a song entitled I Love You.

    In the video, the Nigerian pop star is seen hugging her.

    In a statement, Moppan said it hoped Ms Sadau’s expulsion would serve as a deterrent for other actors.

    Its code of conduct requires actors to avoid doing anything which violates Islamic and Hausa culture, reports the BBC’s Isa Sanusi from the capital, Abuja.

    Many people in northern Nigeria felt she had gone too far with Classiq in the music video, he adds.

    Classiq cannot be banned because he is not a member of Moppan.



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  • The title of the article focuses the issue on public prayer, but the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable is simply knowing that I’m living in the midst of many people who belong to a cult that worships human sacrifice.

    If I had children, and I killed one of them and invited my neighbors over to drink the blood and eat the body of one of them ( maybe because I felt my neighbors had wronged me and I wanted to set things right between us ), what would happen to me? Would people feel uncomfortable being around me? Attending my trial? Hearing the story on the news? I think so! It sounds utterly gross and barbaric when put in a human context. Just the thought turns my stomach.

    But it’s ok, even laudable, when a so called “god” does this? To me, it’s worse. The horror story at the core of the Christian narrative is enough to make me feel uncomfortable just knowing that the people around me subscribe to it.



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  • 23
    Pinball1970 says:

    @22
    If I had children, and I killed one of them and invited my neighbors over to drink the blood and eat the body of one of them ( maybe because I felt my neighbors had wronged me and I wanted to set things right between us ), what would happen to me? Would people feel uncomfortable being around me? Attending my trial? Hearing the story on the news? I think so! It sounds utterly gross and barbaric when put in a human context. Just the thought turns my stomach.

    Well put!



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  • Here’s a tiny such battle I’ve been ‘fighting’ (small ‘f’!) inside my workplace: a NASA research Center.
    (My background: a 42-year NASA engineer, including 9 years as a Senior Executive; and, a lifetime member of FFRF, and a member of CFI).

    I waited until just after this year’s National Day of Prayer observance to send a letter to the local Prayer Group at my NASA Center, telling them there was one thing they were doing that I didn’t think was appropriate. That letter, for those who are a glutton for punishment, is below; they ended up saying they’d get back with me- which they did – and after discussing it amongst themselves, two of them met with me over lunch for one our in our gourmet NASA cafeteria. We didn’t ‘solve’ anything; and the two folks themselves seemed split, with one actually listening to me explain things, and the other what I’d call a ‘hardliner’, who didn’t seem to have his receiver on. So, we’ll see what happens next year. — Dave

    Hi, guys –

    I don’t think I really know any of the GRC Christian prayer group members; I’m Dave Huntsman, been at GRC for 19 years (and at NASA for 41); currently in 77. I didn’t know exactly who to express my concern to, so I’m sending this to folks on the Glenn Prayer group Leadership Team page.

    I didn’t want to send this note to you before the May 5th national day of prayer observance, ‘cause it might have implied some sort of non-existent immediate concern or something. After all, from what I’ve seen, in your yearly national day of prayer event y’all are just doing what you’ve basically done for years on that day.

    I’m not religious; in fact, I’m an active member of several area and national freethought/secular/humanist/atheist/agnostic (take your pick!) groups. (I tend to label myself a ‘freethinker’ personally, but, that’s just me). As you may know, non-religious Americans, about 25% of Americans and increasing, is the fastest-growing ‘religious’/belief category in the US.

    The reason I’m writing to you is to express a concern; and that is that you start your event every year with a “Prayer at the Flagpole” event.

    While I think its ok for the Center to allow events by (whatever) employee groups as an employee benefit, I -and many millions of our fellow citizens- are justifiably concerned when religion, and especially, when any one particular religion- tries to wrap themselves in the American flag.

    This concern of course is not just theoretical in 2016, when candidates actually are campaigning on their religion-even in national debates- and even campaigning against other religions. All for, by definition, a secular job that by our Constitution must not involve any religious test, in any direction.

    Thus to have a group of that same religion start a religious observance, at a secular government workplace, at the flagpole, leaves a real sense of unease. That unease is made even worse during this election season, when religious aspersions by one major party, attaching itself to Christianity, have raised their ugly head.

    I’ve talked this over with my fellows during a regular meeting recently of the Northern Ohio Freethought Society, a local church/mosque etc.-and-state separation organization. Some of them are, shall we say, a bit more militant than I am. I’m the sort that believes if there is a concern, to talk to the folks involved first, rather than do anything else.

    So, that’s what I’m doing here. I’m expressing my unease with the flagpole-thing – an unease I’ve had for some time – but, with what’s happening this year with candidates of one party not only trying to unconstituionally join the flag with christainity, but also disparaging other religions or arguing for religious discrimination, my unease just came to a head. I’m guessing that there are other employees here, such as possibly muslim employees who might feel themselves to be in the cross-hairs this year, who might even feel more strongly about this than I do.

    I’m a more-discussion-is-better type of person; so if you want to talk, feel free. I’ve got some travel this week and next: this week I’ll be gone tomorrow/Tuesday till Friday afternoon; next week, I’ll be gone Tuesday afternoon till Thursday afternoon.

    Cheers!

    Dave Huntsman
    x3-6801



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  • If it doesn’t intrude on me, I don’t care. Pray the rosary (quietly), say grace in the restaurant (conversational tone), wear special garments or emblems—these are personal expressions that a free society should allow. After all, I have a “Darwin fish” on my car. Still at the personal level, when I had cancer, people prayed for me and I appreciated the kind thoughts and thanked them; I did not take the opportunity to tell them that in my view they were wasting their breath. Here’s what crossed the line for me: a big family Thanksgiving gathering where the host herded us into a hand-holding circle, and offered a prayer on behalf of us all, in Jesus’ name. Ever diplomatic, I only let my annoyance be known later. It had not occurred to him that anyone in the group might not share his view. We have to live with a majority that does not think as we do; we can only demand freedom of expression if we can accept it from others. We can, and should, respectfully disagree.



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  • @22,
    I had a moment of “cognitive dissonance” (decades ago) which led me to view xtianity in a different light, I think it was reading Spinrad’s The Iron Dream, when I read something that highlighted the fact that said religion had adopted as its symbol an instrument of torture, something I’d never really thought about before.

    Early Christianity’s symbol (while an underground religion, and not the official religion of Rome) was a stylised fish. The transition from a symbol representing the feeding of the 5000 (or so I’ve always assumed) to a symbol representing an instrument of torture was obviously a considered choice.

    One can imagine the “second spaceship” guys around a round table, thrashing that one out.
    (What colour should it be?)



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  • k_w_kemp #25
    Oct 5, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Thanksgiving gathering where the host herded us into a hand-holding circle, and offered a prayer on behalf of us all, in Jesus’ name. Ever diplomatic, I only let my annoyance be known later. It had not occurred to him that anyone in the group might not share his view.

    As the percentage of the population which disagrees increases, and the number of “assuming” faithful diminishes, they are going to have recognise that their views are not universal.

    We have some quite large family gatherings for celebratory meals, where nobody says grace or prayers before meals!

    I think it depends to a certain extent on the composition of the group, and the percentage of a particular religion in the local population.

    I see very few groups saying grace, when we are dining in restaurants in England.



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  • Public displays of religious devotion certainly work on two levels. The practitioner is gratifying their need to be recognized for their meritorious behavior by others of the sect, and recognized as devout by those who are not. If there is some element of purely self-serving ego stroking going on, how would we know, (but we,might guess). There must also, for some, be an eye toward who responds in kind or who signals disapproval. Group dynamics played out through coded responses. Where religion is dominant, the test is to ferret out the unbelievers, where religion is suppressed, it is a means to find like minded brethren…. or sisthren in a hostile milieu.



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  • 29
    fadeordraw says:

    “”As a convert to Catholicism from atheism” – there is no such an animal. Once one appreciates the existential on our planet, a jump to a life after death mythology doesn’t work. We’re dealing with a charlatan folks. This guys never worked with planet living and his opinions and surveys are as BS as his conversion.



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  • @#13 – There are places, where despite a denial of modern science, high wattage PA systems blast out from minarets five times a day!

    It seems Islam is not the only religion with this fetish for demanding to be “in your face” – and in your ears!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-37576957

    A Dutch man wept as he was jailed for three months with hard labour in Myanmar for unplugging a loudspeaker.

    Klaas Haytema, 30, pulled the plug on the late-night broadcast, which was relaying a Buddhist sermon, because it was disturbing his sleep.

    He told the court that he had been unaware a religious service was taking place near his hotel in Mandalay.

    Several foreigners have recently fallen foul of strict laws in Myanmar that protect Buddhist ceremonies.

    Delivering the ruling, a judge said Haytema was “clearly guilty” of insulting religion and was “sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour”.

    But he avoided another three months after opting instead to pay a fine of 100,000 kyat ($80) for violating the terms of his visa, which requires tourists to respect local customs.

    Haytema, who was also accused of insulting Buddhism by not taking off his shoes when he entered the prayer hall, apologised during previous hearings, according to local media.

    Slights against religion are treated with extreme seriousness by the courts and a pious public in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, previously known as Burma.



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  • Watching a person bow their head and close their eyes as a prayer to a delusionary god, appears very childish and is embarrassing to watch. I guess I am embarrassed because all that “praying” seems so foolish and silly.



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