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When a big disaster occurs in a country, you can often see messages saying:

Pray for [Country X]

Are people really writing this to incite people to ask their God for anything?
For instance Japanese people (in majority non-religious) have started using this expression a lot.

Among similar but non-religious, politically-correct expressions, what would be the expression that most closely express the same feelings as "Pray for [Country X]"?

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    "Keep them in your thoughts" – TylerH Dec 15 '14 at 14:33
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    "Send money to Country X." – Reinstate Monica iamnotmaynard Dec 15 '14 at 16:25
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    God forbid the irreligious hear a religious term every once in a while. – Oldcat Dec 15 '14 at 21:59
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    @quant I'm sure you are compassionate, as you bear the image of the God that made you. When I said 'must consider' I was referring to the viewpoint that the atheist would have if he was committed to logical consistency. Which I guess is probably not typical. – Eric Wilson Dec 15 '14 at 22:27
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    @EricWilson A message from a human is never meaningless noise, even if it's nonsense. It communicates the fact that the human was motivated to produce that message. – Keen Dec 15 '14 at 22:34

11 Answers 11

16

Since praying, in this context, is a religious activity, there is no non-religious equivalent.

However you might use "Spare a thought for [X] [at this difficult time]"

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    I agree, but I'd also add that in the context of, say, a political leader addressing the nation, I don't think the British PM would use any "secular" equivalent as an imperative. He might say "X is in our thoughts", but anything equivalent to "I urge you to keep X in your thoughts" seems a bit "chivvying" to me. It's been 8 years since Blair said 'God will be my judge on Iraq', and it's my perception people are as annoyed by the reference to God as the fact that he made a bad call. – FumbleFingers Dec 15 '14 at 14:13
11

Pray does not only have a religious connotation: (from M-W)

  • to hope or wish very much for something to happen

  • to seriously ask (someone) to do something

but if you prefer a different expression; give your emotional support to (Country name), may fit the context.

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    Sorry, but it's very clearly meant in a religious manner in this context. – TylerH Dec 15 '14 at 14:35
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    @TylerH - I just added that 'pray' is not always used with that respect, then I offered a non-religious alternative. – user66974 Dec 15 '14 at 14:40
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    @TylerH Agree that pray does not necessarily imply religion, even in this context. Your example of "Pray for Japan" is perfect to illustrate this. I was in Japan during the 2011 earthquake and ensuing events, and it was quite popular then. Many of the people using it were among the most secular people I've ever met. – Gob Ties Dec 15 '14 at 16:17
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    "Pray" means to ask, to implore. Whom are you bidding the speaker to implore if the context is not religious? I would vote for "Think wishfully for..." – Chris B. Behrens Dec 15 '14 at 19:49
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    That first definition is ridiculous. No deists would ever think of prayer in that way. – curiousdannii Dec 16 '14 at 3:09
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I wish them well myself.

It's a lot like praying for them, but less diety oriented.

  • So I would write "Wish [Country X] well" if I understand your answer correctly? – Nicolas Raoul Dec 15 '14 at 14:29
  • Yes. Or "I wish the people of Guatemala well during their time of trial." – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 15 '14 at 14:33
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    I don't know why, but that phrase rings as sarcastic or at least insincere to me. Though it may simply be a local cultural thing. I have only seen "wish them well" used to refer to a fake sentiment someone makes when they don't really care but want to appear to be doing something. – Vality Dec 15 '14 at 14:41
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    It's a cultural thing. Wishing well is widely considered inferior to praying, by the set who prays. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 15 '14 at 14:46
  • Are you referring to the "Heartbreak Diet"? ;) – Marv Mills Dec 16 '14 at 17:06
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A non-religious equivalent to "Pray for Country X" would be "Let our thoughts be with Country X."

3

Yes, among Christians at least, the phrase "pray for (someone)" is literally a request that you say a prayer for their health/safety/recovery/etc.

There isn't a literal equivalent that avoids including prayer, but a similar secular phrase would be to "keep (someone) in your thoughts".

These often get combined into: "keep (someone) in your thoughts and prayers" to include (or at least hopefully avoid offending) both those who pray and those who do not.

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Let us keep [Country X] in our thoughts.

3

To a non-religious person, saying "I pray that something like that will never happen again", doesn't necessarily have any religious connotation. As most religions have been losing their faithful since the second half of the twentieth century, phrases like "I pray that..." and "I swear to God..." are frequently used as figures of speech. To answer your question, the non-religious equivalent to "pray for a country" is "pray for a country".

EDIT - Two or three generations ago, my family was very religious and everyone attended services on Sundays. Things have changed a lot during the past fifty years and very few of us ever go to church these days. In spite of that, even the atheists still say "Thank God!", "God forbid!" and "God bless you" and they say it just out of habit, without any religious feeling. It is, therefore, difficult to affirm that a certain phrase is always religious. It largely depends on who is saying it.

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    Is this a quote? If so, please provide a citation. If not, then remove the blockquote formatting. – 200_success Dec 15 '14 at 18:01
  • -1 "I pray that.." may not have always have a religious connotation, but "pray for" definitely does... – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Dec 15 '14 at 19:37
  • @200_success How about your blockquote formatting here? english.stackexchange.com/questions/203936/… – Centaurus Dec 15 '14 at 20:59
  • @Centaurus Those are quotes in an example conversation. – 200_success Dec 15 '14 at 21:00
  • @200_success it appear that those word are Centaurus' own, but I am so used to seeing citations in block quotes, I can't help but look for the source or the name of the author. – Mari-Lou A Dec 16 '14 at 0:36
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Religious phrases and idioms permeate both religious and secular society.

To say "our prayers are with you" can mean a wide range of things from passive-agressive proselytization to simply offering empathy sans any religious context.

"Merry Christmas" can be the same way. It can be a sincere phrase shared amongst Christians in celebration of a very religious holiday, or it can mean it's Egg Nog season.

So, to answer the question the religious phrase:

Pray for [Country X]

has a (one of many) non-religious equivalent of:

Pray for [Country X]

Context is key.

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    Indeed.. Goodbye is short for "God be with you" but the association has become so weak that it doesn't remind you of religion or deities anymore. – ADTC Dec 16 '14 at 12:45
  • As a hilarious anecdote, my MIL is paranoid about the word "Goodbye" and refuses to use it on the phone - because "goodbyes are for good" or something to that effect. – Wayne Werner Dec 16 '14 at 13:10
  • Interesting! en.wiktionary.org/wiki/goodbye#Etymology – Nicolas Raoul Jan 5 '15 at 0:51
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Do you believe people are invoking the Norse god Thor when they invite you to tea on "Thursday?" Surely you must understand that many religious phrases are a cultural expression and that people are not trying to proselytize you.

The polite and intelligent man or woman will accept that a request for prayer can be understood as a call for compassion and empathy without getting caught up in trifles over wording.

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"Pray" is not merely a religious term

However, it does have strong religious connotations when expressed without further context.

Two definitions that are not specifically religious are:

  1. to make earnest petition to (a person).
  2. to make petition or entreaty for; crave:

When a typical religious person is stating "Pray for [Country X]" when that country's people/land are in distress, what they are actually communicating is a request (a prayer) with some elided aspects to it (communicated in parenthesis below). Essentially, they are saying something like:

(Would you join with me to) pray (to God) for [Country X] (that help and relief would come from Him for the distress they are in)?

The point is not simply to have that country in others' "hearts & minds," as such does Country X no tangible good. In the normal religious context (which I hold to BTW), one is asking God to do what needs to be done to help, usually to an extent that is far beyond any one individual's ability to help.

Making it "non-religious" by explicit denotation

So to make it not inherently contain a religious connotation, simply provide more context for who the request is targeted to, and perhaps change the word used. Something like:

Pray others to help [Country X]

or

Entreat others to help [Country X]

Recall that the original statement assumes that the one calling to "Pray for [Country X]" is in no more than a small position (if any) to help the country themselves, and that they assume most people are in a like small position to help. So the request is to entreat God to help (while also subtly asking that one be a part of that help as one can). If God is going to be taken out of the equation, then one would need to simply implore other people to join them in imploring yet other people to help (such as they can help).

It may be shortened to

Help [Country X]

But that does not quite communicate the same thing, as it does not directly entreat others to continue to motivate still others to help also.

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"Stand By/ Stand with [Country X]"

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