The Ethical Dilemma: Amending Amen

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Amending Amen: How might I end this meal blessing?

As we share this meal together,
May the nourishment we gain
Be used in helping those in need and
To remember those in our past.

May we always use our human capacity for reason
To envision a better—peaceful world,
And to always find the inner strength
To make that vision a reality.

And may we keep this joyous day in our hearts
And remain supportive of __________ & __________
On their long journey together.

Should I end it with “Amen” or another word?

—Seeking Secular Grace

Dear Seeking,

I’m not sure where this blessing comes from or why you want to amend it—and why only by changing “amen.” The word itself means “so be it,” so it’s really not religious per se. But since it is commonly associated with prayers, you could certainly just conclude with “Thank you,” or “And now, let’s enjoy this wonderful meal together.”

But why aren’t you interested in getting away from the entire premise of a “blessing,” which is thoroughly religious? Wouldn’t you rather couch it as “Thoughts before we eat” or “Let’s take a moment to reflect” or something else that is strictly secular?

This particular example seems to be intended for a wedding. Are you perhaps involved in speaking at a couple’s nuptials and looking for a humanist approach? If so, please explore The Humanist Society’s website at, which can guide you to extensive resources for Humanist Celebrants. There are plenty of words you can choose without beginning with “blessing” or ending with “amen.”

Avoiding Confusion: I recently went to California for my cousin’s graduation. When we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house, they asked that we all pray together. I have been an atheist since I was fifteen, and was very uncomfortable with the idea. So was my sister, who is also an atheist.

But the cousin who was graduating has autism. He is high functioning, but I’ve seen him get very upset when faced with something he does not understand. So my sister and I prayed with them.

I still feel like I should have stated my beliefs, but I also feel that my cousin would never have understood. Did I do the right thing when I just let it go?

—Better Left Unsaid?

Dear Unsaid,

Without further insight into your cousin’s condition, I’d have to say it was preferable to go along with the prayer than risk making a scene or distressing the young man on an occasion that was about him and his achievement, not about your beliefs.

You might, however, try to get to know him and his condition better to understand whether introducing the idea of your atheism would do more harm than good. There are almost as many kinds and degrees and manifestations of autism as there are people who are diagnosed with it. Your cousin may be someone who can deal with, and even thrive on, conflicting concepts and debates. Or such things may agitate him and destabilize what may be a delicate balance necessary to his high functioning.

Since it seems your aunt and uncle want their son to follow their faith, the best course was to go along as you did. There’s a time and place to assert your atheism, but this occasion wasn’t either of those.