Should This Atheist Partake in the Obligatory Prayer at a Funeral?

Hemant from The Friendly Atheist had a reader who asked:

My grandmother died recently and her funeral is this Friday. I wasn’t especially close to her, but I am (of course) upset. I have a bit of a dilemma, though. She and most of my family on her side are extremely religious — part of the Church of Scotland.

There will be a moment when we are asked to pray for her soul. I’m a fairly strong atheist, so I’m not wanting to pray, but I also don’t want to cause a scene and thereby disrupt the service. This is likely to happen if I don’t pray.

I could just pretend (drop the head, clasp the hands, etc) but that seems a bit disrespectful.

Am I being silly? Should I just play along?

As an out of the closet atheist, I’ve been in this situation plenty of times during weddings, funerals, or Mel Gibson movies, and I’ve always walked the fine line of being respectful without having to resort to faking religious involvement. During a moment of prayer I just remain quiet and respectful to the ceremony. One of the craziest prayers I’ve seen was at a wedding and the priest had everyone in the audience reach their hands out to the newly married couple in some sort of Heil Hitleresque blessing. I just remained still, hands folded, head slightly bowed but eyes open, wondering how I ended up in Berlin circa 1938.

Hemant goes on to ask:

What would your advice be in this situation if Andrew were told to lead a prayer? Or give a reading from the Bible?

If it were an impromptu moment I would say that I’m not a religious man and then give a small eulogy focusing on positive things that I had to say which is basically a deflection. But I don’t think that is disrespectful at all. I’ll gladly respect your rights to have a religious ceremony as long as I’m my beliefs aren’t disrespected by having to pretend to be something that I’m not.