Tag Archives: religion

To Pray or Not to Pray

18 May

I was handed an interesting dilemma when I volunteered in the Philippines. It was one that was seemingly minor and I did not discuss it with my fellow volunteers nor anyone else during the trip. But certainly it played on my mind. The part of the Philippines I was stationed in held deeply Christian believes. I, on the other hand, am deeply non-religious. The only times I have set foot in a church I was there for weddings or funerals and, even then, a lot of the religious rhetoric went completely over my head.

This lack of knowledge in regards to Christianity was not so much of a problem at the Bahay Tuluyan (BT) boys’ centre where I spent the majority of my time, as we ate our meals separately from the boys and, thus, I was not obliged to take part in before-meal praying. When I visited the girls’ centre, however, I was faced with a new situation. We ate together and before each meal, everyone stood and chanted out a prayer, followed by the Sign of the Cross (I think that’s what it’s called?). At first I decided it would be tactful for me to pretend to pray and to stumble my way through the Sign – at times I think I touched my nose instead of my forehead and belly instead of my chest. (By now you should really have the idea of how truly clueless I am when it comes to Christian ritual.)

After a couple of days, it started to rankle on me that I was putting forward this deception. Was it more offensive for me to pretend to pray than it was for me to simply do nothing? By hiding my own non-religious identity was I completely contradicting the human rights (which included the right to freedom of religious beliefs) that my group were helping to teach?

In the end I decided that I would no longer pretend to pray nor continue to decimate the Sign of the Cross. Instead, I simply stood when the girls stood and did nothing when the girls prayed. No-one called me out on this so I think it was the right decision. But what does everyone else think? Should I have continued to pretend for the sake of tact? Also, I want to know, has anyone else been in a similar position where your beliefs did not match those of your host country? What did you do?

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