Now, I am a scientist and, so, I quantify. It's sort of what I do. (I also research, test, and experiment, but I digress.) Anyhow, my last post generated a lot more comments than I thought it would. It gave me a decent N value (for my blog) and I decided to quantify the results (like I do). But first I wanted to clarify something.
The situation that brought this up was the death in the family of one of my friends. My friend is either agnostic or atheist (I'm not sure, but I haven't asked). Without thinking about it, I told hir that s/he and hir family will be in my prayers. S/he gave me a funny look and said thank you. Later it occurred to me that I might have offended hir. I asked later and s/he wasn't offended, but it occurred to me that it could offend someone else. (And I hadn't even thought about the conversion angle! I do not pray for that.) I figured that the internets would know, so I asked you all.
The majority of people (~75%) wouldn't be offended if someone said that they'd "pray for them" with the caveat that it was for something major (examples given were death or disease) and that it wasn't for conversion. Scientist Mother mentioned that she mostly felt that an offer of prayer was like an offer of good thoughts, which I agree with.
Five people suggested some other form like, "You'll be in my thoughts" as an alternative. S. suggested that "You'll be in my prayers" is less offensive than "I'll pray for you." At first I thought it was just semantics, but praying for people may have some negative connotations (what with praying for conversion to religion or to homophobia.) On the other hand, "in my prayers" seems to hold more of the "in my thoughts" connotation. What I didn't realize was how many people have been subject to conversion attempts or snide-ish, pitying remarks. Since I've always been part of the majority in this particular case, I've never had that happen to me. I could definitely see how a mention of being in someone's prayers could be highly offensive when this is common.
In fact, "in my thoughts" may be a safer alternative, especially as both Southern Grad Girl and Psyc Girl mentioned how this can have an effect on how people view you in academia. I really didn't think about that too much. It's an open secret in my lab, but, perhaps, it could affect the opinions of people in the department. If the entire department thinks that I'm a little off kilter, that could be problematic later on. I may try to use a safer alternative in the academic settings.
As to the solution to my question, I'll have to tailor my response to the inclinations of the individual. And hope I get it right.*
*Thanks for everyone thinking I'm sensitive. Mostly I just don't want to add to someone's troubles, if s/he is already having a bad time. And I'm awful at remembering people's religious inclinations, which may not make me that sensitive.