Miss Manners: Thanks for the thoughts. Could you please hold the prayers?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My question concerns the phrase “thoughts and prayers,” which imposes one’s own religion on those with differing (or no) religious beliefs.

I do respect the rights of individuals to believe in and practice their own religion. I do not, however, think that any religious beliefs/practices should be forced upon others.

I am a lifelong atheist who abandoned religion once I was old enough to challenge my parents’ beliefs. I have now been diagnosed with potentially terminal cancer. Numerous friends and family have started praying for me, and very publicly announcing that they are doing so -- even to the point of recruiting people I don’t know to participate.

How should I respond to these unrelenting verbal proclamations, multiple daily, of “thoughts and prayers”? Despite the fact that my atheist beliefs are known to these people, they seem to be preying upon me as a weakened individual in order to recruit for their own faith.

My inner voice wants to say, “Praying is more for your own well-being -- to feel that you and your religion somehow deserve credit for my potential recovery, or that you did everything you could in the event of my demise.” But I suspect that would be considered rude.

Managing the physical and mental stress of a terminal illness is a full-time job. The last thing I need is to be constantly bombarded with self-serving religious proselytizing.

Please help me with the right response. And help educate others about this offensive behavior.


GENTLE READER: “Thoughts and prayers” has become such a commonplace reaction that Miss Manners doubts she can dislodge it. However annoying you find this, you know that these people intend it as sympathetic support.

So no, you do not want a reply that sounds rude. But you might say, mildly, “You know I am a devout atheist, don’t you?” Or, if you fear this might bring on proselytizing, “I appreciate your thoughts. Your prayers are between you and your beliefs.”

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My two grandchildren, ages 7 and 9, are very sweet but have terrible table manners. I lived with them for 18 months during the pandemic and taught them to put their napkins in their laps, keep their elbows off the table, hold a knife and fork properly and chew with their mouths closed.

However, we just went on a family vacation together and I had to remind them of every rule during every meal. When they are at their mother’s house, she doesn’t correct them, and my son has gotten tired of trying. How can I convince the children that table manners matter?

GENTLE READER: You are about to become a celebrated hostess.

Going through the parents has not worked, and Miss Manners assures you that going against them, with criticism, certainly will not work. What you will do, then, is offer a glamorous alternative.

Dinner at Grandmama’s will now include dressing up, setting a festive table, maybe playacting a bit. Or dinner at a restaurant. If those are glamorous occasions, practicing good manners will be part of the fun.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to