If you’re going to get offended by Christians, fine: choose something worth being offended about. “I’ll pray for your soul” isn’t one of them.
On the Fediverse, someone posted that they’d pointed out that they’d dared to suggest that in actuality, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, and the Christians they were informing said “I’ll pray for your troubled soul.” This is a paraphrase.
To be honest, I’m offended at the entire exchange. There’s no way that the statement about Jesus’ birth was uttered in good faith, unless the speaker was an idiot. The response might not have been in good faith – I can certainly see Christians being offended at the suggestion, even though it’s pretty rational and grounded, and responding in kind…
But let’s be real. That response has a lot more chance to be in good faith than the initial jab about Jesus’ birthday. And it should be the default condition for Christians in any event.
Look: in my understanding, Jesus was probably born sometime in September, if you make a lot of assumptions about Luke’s account being true. If you don’t try to correlate Luke’s account to history (i.e., you assume it’s stuff that’s recorded and maybe representative but not necessarily true, like the story about George Washington and the cherry tree), then Jesus has about as much chance to be born in September as any other month: roughly 9%. We have no idea what day it would have been. We’re not even sure what year it was, although we can get pretty close to that one, because of the slaughter of the innocents.
So the “in reality” bit… okay, accepted. I know there’s a lot of momentum in Christian circles around Jesus’ birth being on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, and that’s fine; it’s simply unrelatable in a concrete fashion to Jesus’ actual birth date, so what.
Humanity celebrates Christmas, for whatever it is to us, on December 25. It’s convenient that way, more convenient than Easter corresponding to a date on a calendar most of you don’t pay any attention to.
But … to say so? To a person in a conversation?
Was this a stranger being talked to? If so, what kind of cad do you have to be to “well, actually” with such a potential lightning rod? Maybe the speaker was being hit on in a bar, and this was a defense mechanism.
Cruiser looking to score: “Hey, baby, it’s a quarter to eight…”
Speaker: “In reality, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.”
Cruiser: “Okay then, I’ll pray for your troubled soul,” moves on.
If the speaker knew their audience – or maybe even if the audience was (gasp!) family… then what could possibly be the positive outcome?
Was it a rational discussion about when Jesus was born, as one has around Christmastime?
Head of the family: “Yes, it’s time for the annual affirmation of Jesus’ actual date of birth being December 25, everyone gather around!”
Speaker: “Well, actually, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.”
Family: “We will pray for your troubled soul.”
Somehow, I think not. A good-faith discussion would look at the available data and the source material and find no rational support outside of societal momentum for December 25. A good faith discussion wouldn’t have needed “in reality” in it. Using that is an attempt to shut down discussion, and that’s neither good faith nor a discussion.
So it had to have been a point made in bad faith (trying to get a rise from the person or people being talked to), and that’s ugly.
And the response: well, that might be ugly, too, a lot like the Southern “Bless your heart,” a sort of utility expression that goes from meaning simple pity to an aggressive “You’re going to die alone and unloved, except I’m too polite to say so out loud.”
But on its surface, it might have been a recognition that making the “in reality” statement was in bad faith, indicating that the speaker’s soul might indeed have been troubled and in need of prayer, such that it is.
And in Christian faith, prayer for others is sort of a thing that’s supposed to be the norm. They’re supposed to care about others, and let’s be real, for Christians, the soul is what matters. (Same for most people, really: there are a few people whose bodily condition history will recall – Typhoid Mary and Henrietta Lacks come to mind – but for most of us, it’s what we did and who we were, not our corporeal shells, that will be remembered, if we’re remembered as individuals at all.)
So I would hope that every Christian would pray for the souls of the people they encounter, especially if those souls show evidence of being awful in a given moment. I’m sure the speaker’s not a terrible person, just someone speaking out in arrogance and, possibly, pain or shame or whatever. And I’m not discounting that the response might have been in bad faith, too… but the initial utterance has a very low chance of being in good faith.
We should only speak in good faith. We can’t look at idiots like Trump and figure that out? Maybe we’re the stupids.