Assuming Tolerance

“Do you know how to pray?” my customer asked.

I was glad she couldn’t see me. I was just far enough around the corner getting supplies. I felt my puzzlement flow across my face.

“Why, yes, ma’am.”

“Then start praying for me now, it’s going to be a hard day.”

I knew it was going to be a hard day for my customer. But I still didn’t know what she meant. Was she a Hindu? Buddhist? Shinto? Taoist? Muslim? Jewish? I suppose that I could stereotype, since she was pale and blonde. Even that left a lot of uncomfortable territory. Catholic? Protestant? What *type* of Protestant?

This wasn’t – and still isn’t – some semantic mental masturbation. I’ve been told that “praying to Mary is heresy”. Without arguing the theology of it (because I tried, and the people who say that aren’t impressed), would that person appreciate a rosary said to ask for their spiritual strength? With the “prayer chains” that spring up – would they be offended if a Buddhist or Muslim prayed with the same intentions as the rest of the chain?

This problem comes up repeatedly with Christmas cards. We have deeply Christian friends, we have Wiccan friends, and we have atheist friends. Is the spirit of the wish – “it’s the thought that counts” – enough? Or is it sheer hubris on our part to presume that everyone else is like us, that they understand we don’t mean it in an oppressive way.

“Okay, ma’am,” I told my client as I came back around the corner. “I’ll pray for you today.”

“Thanks,” she said with a smile.

“Hail Satan,” I replied.


No, not really. Sheesh. I was confused, and vaguely disconcerted by her assumptions. Obviously she didn’t know what faith tradition I followed – she had to ask if I knew how to pray. But she assumed that if I did, of course I prayed the same way that she did.

I tried talking about it to one of my co-workers. “But that’s a reasonable assumption here. Most people are Christian.”

“Which,” I replied, “only makes it worse for those who aren’t.”

My co-worker shrugged. “Oh well.”

It seems like I made some assumptions of my own.

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One Comment

  1. Maura
    August 26, 2008

    But take it anthropologically – prayer in most religions is sending a thought off into the ether. Don’t make it too hard.

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