I'm an outspoken atheist, but I also try my hardest to be respectful of those that are religious. But there comes a problem. Here's an example of my dillema.
Me: "Hey there, how are you?"
Friend: "Doing just fine, how are you?"
Me: "Oh, doing okay...I have a (insert big life event here that might not turn out well)
Friend: "Really? I will pray for you..."
How do I politely tell them not to waste their time? It kind of grates on my nerves when people just say they'll pray for me. But I know they are doing it because they are concerned, but why can't they show it in other ways? How do you guys deal with this? Do you just let it go or is there some script that I can follow?
You could quote Hitchens: "...do not trouble Heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better."
Why not just politely thank them? Prayer may not work but it doesn't hurt and I see no need to be confrontational when someone is trying to be helpful and what they're doing won't make things worse.
Why should it grate your nerves if someone genuinely wants to do something that they think will help you? Now, if they know you are an atheist and are saying it just to get a rise out of you, that is completely different.
Because it won't help. All it does it waste time and make them feel better
I am willing to waste three seconds to say "thank you" even if just to make someone else feel better. Just because I don't believe in gods doesn't mean I don't believe in civility.
To me, saying that you'll pray for me (again if you are being sincere and not just trying to mock my own beliefs) is the functional equivalent of saying that my feelings matter to you and you will hope for my success. I will always thank anyone who shares that sincere sentiment with me.
When my dad says, "god bless you," I hear I love you." When a friend says, "I will pray for you," I hear that I'm in their thoughts but they don't know what else to do. Maybe there's something wrong with my hearing, but with no god, these words must have meaning and purpose in the natural world. These comments used to strike a nerve with me, because I used to think that they were only saying it to try and call me back to the church. I later realized that they said the same things to me before I "came out," and that they're just showing love and concern as they know how. Some people on here are acting as though your friend's intention is to pray for you while standing nearby watching you burn in a fire (not that this hasn't happened historically - I just don't know that it applies to every time anyone mentions prayer). I might say, "Thanks for thinking of me. Maybe I can call you sometime if I need some help?" That way if you need them, they can act, and in the mean time, let's be honest, they're probably praying regardless of what you say or do.
When my wife had cancer, my mother's church put her on the prayer list. We both knew this would have no effect on her treatment and that her, eventual full remission, came about because of surgeons and oncologists. However I, and I think my wife, appreciated the thought particularly as my wife and mother had never been too close. It was their time they wasted but we saw no harm in it as long as it didn't stop a scientific based cure.
Your best option might simply be to say "okay, thanks."
If this person is a close friend, you might be able to get into a discussion of why you don't think prayer is useful or effective. Otherwise, it may not be worth the potential hassle.
Sometimes is just a saying and they don't actually mean it. Is just a way of showing concern. I just say "Merci". I don't feel like telling them about the study which proved prayer doesn't work.
Ask them if they can think instead. Think of things that might help in making this life event a success. I too am an out spoken atheist. I mean I don't go around advertising it, but I will tell someone I think or will act upon something instead of praying. I.E. facebook friend had a loss of a love one and ask for everyone to pray. I mention that I do not pray, but is there a fund I can contribute to help find a cure for the illness. I felt so good knowing that I am doing something meaning full instead of bowing my head clasping my hands, and closing my eyes. My head is held up high, my hand is writing a check and my eyes are aware of my surroundings. Yea, I felt awesome.
I always tell them "no thank you, it's fine. I don't believe in that.". And it seems tho work out well most of the time. Some time they want to talk to you about it. But your outspoken, so you should be fine.
I can't help but to be condescending when this happens. I usually look at them, smile/smirk and say "You do that" (but I make it sound like I'm saying "That's adorable"... actually, sometimes I just say that)