DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an atheist, and this is occasionally the source of mild social awkwardness. Normally, of course, I do not broadcast my beliefs without solicitation, but occasionally I am asked where I go to church or invited to attend a service at another's church.
I work with a number of civic organizations, including places of worship, so this sort of question or request is usually well-intentioned chitchat from someone with whom I am working on a project.
Somehow, the simple and direct, "I choose not to worship a deity," seems as inappropriate for casual conversation as questions about one's religious beliefs. I would greatly appreciate a simple and direct way to decline such an invitation and nip such questioning in the bud. Occasionally, the question comes as a part of direct proselytizing, which I hope requires no more politeness than a sales solicitation.
The second area is how to respond when passing comments are made that imply a belief in a god, as if one were discussing the weather, such as "He's in a better place now," "The Lord works in mysterious ways," or, "I know Jesus will take care of this for me."
I know the speaker is expecting a smile and a nod, but if I consider these beliefs untrue, offensive, or ridiculous, how can I respond in a simple way that does not sound strident, open me up to being evangelized or invite the beginning of a theological debate?
Another area of consternation is in expressions of sympathy. Can you recommend a standard replacement of, "He/She is in my prayers," for people who do not pray?
GENTLE READER: Please keep in mind that the idea here would not be to declare your own convictions, a habit you find objectionable in others, but to deflect the topic without seeming to acquiesce.
Miss Manners suggests separating the proselytizers from those who may be merely repeating figures of speech. Not everyone who says "Bless you" when you sneeze or even "The Lord works in mysterious ways" is voicing a theological conviction.
In any case, the comments of the second group should be treated as if they were good wishes. Similarly, the inquiry about where you go to church should be treated as a casual social question.
"I choose not to worship a deity" is indeed pompous, and also challenging. You need only say casually, "I'm not a church-goer." Only if this leads to argument need you say -- because you must also be polite to proselytizers -- "It's not something I discuss."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it impolite to deliver one's wedding invitations to family friends in person? The delivery would take place privately, so as not to offend people who are not on the guest list.
GENTLE READER: Time was when sending an invitation by post was off-putting. But that was when private footmen were employed to deliver them. And in circles who could afford to employ them.
At any rate, hand delivery should be considered flattering, rather than offensive, provided you are not talking about wholesale distribution of them at the office. Whether your friends will understand this, Miss Manners cannot say.