DEAR ABBY: You were wrong, wrong, wrong to tell an atheist to say "amen" at the end of grace at dinner. Atheists do not believe that a god or gods of any kind exist.
"Amen," according to my dictionary, is used to express solemn ratification. Atheists do not ratify religion. Being coerced to appear to do so in the name of etiquette can leave an atheist feeling used and dishonest.
I, like many atheists, consider religion to be superstition, which, for the most part, is harmful to people. At its worst, religion prompts people to blow up buildings with innocent people -- even children -- in them. Examples include the "Christian" Identity gangsters who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma and the Muslims who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. -- HAPPY HEATHEN IN TEXAS
DEAR H.H.: We live in a country that guarantees religious freedom -- and that includes freedom FROM religion, if people wish. I disagree with you that religion is harmful, however. Religion doesn't prompt people to perpetrate the evils you described; FANATICISM does, when believers are inflamed by leaders with a political agenda.
DEAR ABBY: Of course atheists should respect others' beliefs -- and their rituals. But believers should also respect atheists' right to reject those beliefs and their rituals. Respect goes both ways. Mutual respect is shown when atheists act as silent observers while believers go about their business, and believers resist shaming atheists for refusing to mimic them. -- NORMAN IN UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J.
DEAR NORMAN: Shaming others who refuse to mimic them? That's not proselytizing -- that's bullying.
DEAR ABBY: You must not have consulted your religious experts when you advised the atheist to bow his head and say "amen" after his dinner companions finish saying grace. You advised the person to be a hypocrite. -- KIMBERLY IN KEARNEY, MO.
DEAR KIMBERLY: If my mail is any indication, it can also mean "I'm glad it's over." I am Jewish, and I was describing what I do when grace is invoked.
By the way, did you know that Jewish people do not say grace before a meal? We say a blessing thanking God for bread. A full grace is not said until after the meal, to be sure we have had a meal to eat, and know exactly what we are thanking God for.
DEAR ABBY: What advice have you when the situation is reversed? Several times we have invited guests to our home for dinner, and when it became apparent that we do not observe this ritual, they have said some variation of "Shall we offer thanks?" It's usually a rhetorical question.
We are torn between wanting to be gracious hosts and being offended that people of faith are attempting to bully us with their religion. One couple not only wanted to say grace in our home, they demanded that everyone stand while they intoned a prayer of thanks to whomever it is they worship.
Is there a tactful way to let guests know the hosts do not appreciate the imposition of their religion? -- NON-BELIEVERS IN ILLINOIS
DEAR NON-BELIEVERS: Certainly. Just say to your guest, "Thank you for offering, but that won't be necessary."