Thursday, April 1, 2010

Secular grace?

My wife told me yesterday she'd like to start saying "grace" of some kind before our meals -- obviously nothing religious, but sort of just a moment to be appreciative that we have family and food. I'm not so sure how I feel about it... On one hand, I think there are some positives to this, not just in terms of mindfulness about what we have, but also I think that one of the challenges to families sitting down together for a meal is if there is no delineation as to when the meal actually starts, and having a pre-meal ritual can help with that.

On the other hand, like many "non-joiners" (as atheists tend to be), it is not just the philosophical objections to religion that bother me; on a personal level, I just don't like the trappings most of the time. I don't think I would like saying "grace" very much, even a purely secular one. Also, I think it will be easy to slip into things I that I do have a philosophical objection to, e.g. we tried it last night and I refused to participate after my wife said we should bow our heads. Who am I bowing my head to? Nobody, that's who! heh...

Does anybody out there do anything like this? Any suggestions?


  1. Why are you so afraid to put yourself below someone?

  2. Well, so first of all, what do you mean by "below" someone? I recognize that there are hierarchies of authority, etcetera, but no man (or god) is my master and hence I don't know who exactly I would be bowing to. Do you prostrate yourself to your boss when you go to work? I sure don't. He may have some authority over me in that circumstance, but he isn't like some inherently superior person or something. We are both humans, and no human ought to have absolute power over another human.

    Second of all, why do you think it's fear??? The only reason not to be obsequious is fear? It's more pride than fear. Actually, it's not even pride; it's basic self-respect. Somebody who would surrender their personal autonomy to another person is clearly lacking in self respect.

    Thirdly, without context I can't tell, but since the question seems bizarre otherwise I assume that by "someone" you mean Jeebus or some other mythical being. (I apologize if I misunderstood) Um, well, first of all, if you hadn't noticed, I'm an atheist, so the idea that I am "afraid to put [my]self below" a fictional character is beyond absurd. Second of all, even if God did exist, most of the gods I've heard described (e.g. Yahweh, Allah, etc.) are Grade A assholes, and they are the last beings I would put myself below.

    Does that answer your question?

  3. After a particularly busy day or prepful meal, I enjoy the Quaker-style moment of silence, occasionally punctuated by song. It's a little much for daily meals (or is it?), but for group feasts and other such occasions, it's a good way to reflect for a moment on how much of a pain in the ass it was to pull it off, how delicious it will be, and how everyone preparing and eating the food rocks.

    In the same way you don't need a god to do the right thing, you don't need a god to be thankful for your food, family, and friends.

    (Oh, and you don't bow your head to anyone; you bow your head so that others can't see you roll your eyes when they give their god credit for your green bean casserole.)

  4. I would draw the line at prayer-like bowing the head, closing the eyes, etc. And I think I'd want it to be clear that it's an expression of thankfulness *for* something (a good life, food on the table, etc.) and not thankfulness *to* anyone (unless it's an actual person rather than some alleged deity). Otherwise, it just seems like it's a slippery slope from "oh, honey, let's just express thankfulness" to "but honey, what do you mean you don't want me taking the kids to church - you go along with the pre-meal prayers"...

    But then again, I'm distrustful of that sort of stuff.

  5. Mindfulness is where it's at for me. The head bowing/eye closing/hand holding and all that jazz are physical expressions of reflection and connection with community. Because I'm not religious, the possible religious connotations don't bug me.... they mean something different to me. Kind of like when I walk into a church and feel awe, it's usually because I think the architecture is awesome.

    The grace ritual for me is a salute to the cook and an acknowledgment of appreciation for good food and good company.

  6. I can walk into a cathedral and feel awe, but I would not view kneeling as a necessary -- or even optional -- component of that awe.

    The eye-closing is an expression of mindfulness, and the hand-holding is an expression of togetherness, both of which I am down with. I do not see how the head-bowing can be interpreted as anything but an expression of subservience, which is why I am not down with it.

  7. I realize this conversation happened over 2 years ago. But, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it is on topic once again. My family likes to take a moment to be thankful for what we have. Most nights, we hold hands and simply say:
    We are grateful for this food before us.
    We are grateful forloved ones who share our table and our lives.
    For these and many blessings, we give thanks.
    On special occasions we recite the following:
    Seasons of plenty,
    days of peace.
    In our home, may these never cease.
    Good comradeship,
    long life & health,
    our family's precious wealth.
    From winter's white
    to summer's gold,
    from spring to autumn
    we uphold these bounties
    Mother Nature brings.
    Respect her earth,
    all living things.

  8. Thank you! Not all of it is my cup of tea, but I forwarded the comment onto my wife, I think she will like it a lot. Really, I very much appeciate the suggestion! :)