Atheists? How do you deal with religious people?

  1. 5
    I'm an atheist. I am uncomfortable around religious situations. I haven't started nursing school yet (14 weeks to go). I'm concerned with being confronted with people that would ask me to "Pray for them" and stuff. I don't know if this is a common occurrence among patients, etc. Aside from not wanting to be included in religious sentiments, I also am very uncomfortable with lying. I think I would find moral difficulty with saying "Okay" to someone that would ask me to pray for them.

    I'd prefer to hear from atheists how they deal with situations like that. I'd rather not get into a religion discussion, if it can be avoided.

    I was trying to search for old threads, but the links from the search engine are not going to the correct pages.
  2. 188 Comments so far...

  3. 22
    I'm a Buddhist, but I think I can help you here.

    When a lot of people ask you to pray for them, or pray for anything really, they don't usually mean it literally. Often times they just want your kind or comforting words. Just smile and say you will be thinking of them, that is usually what they want to hear.

    Try not to get worked up over religious people/situations. Most people aren't raving psychotics, and they just want to feel as good as possible about life in general. For example, when someone says they will 'pray for me' I don't get offended, even though I myself do not pray or believe in prayer. It's a nice gesture on their part, and their way of showing that they care.

    I was an atheist for many years (still am, in the strictest sense, since I don't believe in a God) and I dealth with these things often. It's best just to understand where these people are coming from, and know that most of the time they aren't trying to actively engage you. For many people, saying things about God and prayer is just second nature, and they don't mean to offend you.

    Hope this helps!
    cinasot, MsbossyRN, hollyhelps, and 19 others like this.
  4. 3
    I am atheist as well so I understand what you're feeling. If someone makes a religious gesture to me, I will usually just give them a smile or another generic response. If I am asked to literally sit at someones bedside and pray with them, I just simply decline and tell them that I will find someone who is more "in tune" to religion. You don't need to explain yourself. But keep in mind that some people will take offense to the fact that your an atheist. When I worked as a CNA there was a LPN that was open about being atheist and she had patients request for her not to be their nurse because of her beliefs. So I am certianly not telling you to lie to your patients. I am just saying that you should be prepared for some patients to not like you just for that reason.

    But you can always talk to them about their feelings of religion. If they want to discuss what their religion means to them; I would most certainly discuss it with them. It's a way you can connect with a religious patient without actually praying or performing any other religious act. Just be sensitive to your patients.

    Hope this helped some.
    cinasot, Xxentrick, and PolaBar like this.
  5. 7
    In nursing school, you will obtain techniques for communicating with patients. You will learn that self-awareness is the most important tool that a nurse can have to communicate with their patients most effectively. It is important that you know how you feel about "situations", such as someone asking you to "pray for me" or "pray with me". You may feel comfortable enough with to assist that patient in their spiritual needs or you may not. Either way is fine....if you do not feel comfortable praying with or for the patient, simply offer to contact an appropriate religious authority for them (eg., hospital chaplin). It is not your duty as a nurse to go against your own religious and cultural beliefs for your patients, but it is your duty to be sensetive and nonjudgmental towards the patient's beliefs/culture. Accomidate them in any way possible, and if something extends past your comfort zone, find someone that can. Remember, as nurses, we don't always have to be THE resource to our patients, we just need to be rescourceful FOR our patient.
    cinasot, babs123, kenyohunt1, and 4 others like this.
  6. 6
    I think you have gotten some very valuable and insightful replies so far!

    My take on it:

    If a patient asks you to pray WITH them, simply sit there and listen, if you are so inclined. (or get the chaplain)

    If a patient asks you to pray FOR them, couldn't you just do it in your own way? (as in, keep a kind thought for them?) They don't have to know you don't believe in God.

    I certainly wouldn't be getting into any philosophical discussions with patients ....
  7. 9
    I just say "I will keep you in my thoughts"
    Andrew, RN, babs123, meintheUSA, and 6 others like this.
  8. 4
    A moment of silence isn't a prayer, but you can share it with someone who asks you to pray with them. Simply sitting there, quietly, next to them as they pray can comfort them in an important way. As for someone requesting to be prayed for, "I will keep you in my thoughts," like the others said, sounds like it would work.
    Andrew, RN, Bortaz, RN, Jules A, and 1 other like this.
  9. 12
    I'm old enough that I don't mind being a big old hypocrite for my patients. I'll pray with them, agree with them about God, whatever.

    Personal stuff, I keep you in my thoughts. And I will ask that you stop sending me all of the miraculous e-mails.

  10. 19
    I consider myself somewhat of a "semi-atheist," "semi-agnostic" as I don't believe in a personified God but am still a spiritual person in the generic sense. My spiritual beliefs are more philosophical beliefs than "organized religioun." My tactics for dealing with potentially awkward moments are pretty much the same as other people have suggested in the posts above.

    While I don't share the same religious beliefs of many of the patients and other staff members, it's not against my principles to allow them to practice their beliefs and even to support them in many instances. One of the core functions of being a nurse is help the patient to do what they would do for themselves if only they could. To me, that includes the practice of their religion. Just as I would help a patient obtain special food because of their religion, I will support them in prayer if that is a part of their religious culture. I don't think I am hurting anyone by "stretching" my own personal belief system a bit to accoommodate theirs. I am their to support their needs and their life choices, not to impose my own on them. So, I try to remain as open as I can to helping them. When it starts going a little too far for me to feel comfortable, I try to involve others whose beliefs are more in line with the patients.
  11. 13
    I've only had one patient, a Jewish man, in my 30 years as a nurse who ever wanted to get involved in a religious discussion. Most patients are way too sick or have their illness on their minds to worry about how God is involved. The Jewish man was a nursing home resident who I had come to know very well and he was bored one day and we got to talking about the 10 Commandments. It was rather interesting really. Part of my nursing training was diversity and respect for the beliefs and feelings of others. I had to visit 2 churches as part of a religion class I had to take as part of a diversity study requirement of the university I attended. We stood quietly and respectfully during the services while prayers were conducted. This is a subject that you should bring up in class for discussion.
    1. You don't walk around advertising your religious beliefs/nonbeliefs with people.
    2. You always act respectful of everyone's beliefs. Standing quietly with someone who is praying is not being hypocritical; it is just standing with them and "being there".
    3. One of the definitions of prayer is - "an earnest request" (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, The World Publishing Company). Leaving God out of the equation, most people earnestly request to get well when they are ill. Can you live with that?
    4. Don't work in a hospital affiliated with a religious group or you will be drawn up into the practicing of the religious rituals of that group. I'm not Catholic or Jewish, but I've worked in facilities owned and run by both groups and there wasn't time for prayer, believe me. The only praying going on was done by the nuns, priests and rabbis who came around and visited. The nursing staff was too busy doing our thing. Our involvement was to make sure fasting or kosher dietary law was being carried out.


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