(A)theism in the workplace
Amongst the YouTube channels I like to watch, the Seattle-based Ask An Atheist show is often very entertaining. They started out as a public access TV show, very much like the Austin based Atheist Experience, but have moved to AM radio in recent months.
In the episode posted on YouTube on 4th september the host discussed an issue I’d had to deal with in my last job; coworkers finding out that I didn’t attend church or hold any supernatural beliefs. I had originally posted my thoughts on the Richard Dawkins forum back in April, but after listening to the AAA guy thought of it, thought I’d reiterate my story here.
My original post on the Dawkins forum on 17 April 2011:
This is my first post. Xmaseveeve has been a friend of mine for several years, and has been encouraging me to join the discussion here.
It’s taken me a while as I didn’t think I had much to add to the discussion, and had pretty much assumed there would be many people here far more educated and knowledgeable than myself, but a recent event at work has caused me to seek the opinions and advice of others of a similar world view.
I’ll avoid mentioning where I work, or naming anyone involved, but it started with a colleague mentioning taking her very young daughter to a toddlers’ prayer group at the weekend, something along the lines of a Sunday school playgroup as far as I could tell. This started a conversation, with another colleague saying that all children should be made to go to Sunday school. When I disagreed, saying I didn’t agree with children being indoctrinated, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was wrong, and that Sunday school provides “moral fibre”. I decided to step up a bit here and asked if this person had actually read the bible, and was met with some non-committal mumbles. I proceeded to mention the lack of evidence that the character of Jesus actually existed, and was told again that I was wrong and “talking nonsense”.
At this point the conversation caught the attention of a 3rd employee, whom I know to be a very devout Christian. He told me that a person’s religion is beyond question, and that I needed to “have faith” to understand. Here there was a general agreement to disagree.
Later that day I found myself with a migraine (I suffer from these regularly) and asked if anyone had any pain killers as I’d run out. The 2nd person mentioned above was good enough to give me some Paracetamol tablets, and a couple of hours later I mentioned that I was feeling better – and this is where it gets strange. The person who had given me the pills told me that they would have worked faster if I’d believed in God, which I took in good humour based on the earlier conversation. However, over the rest of the day there were many similar comments from the same person, and it seems he is having difficulty accepting that I don’t share his supernatural beliefs.
I suppose my question is this; now that my views are more widely known, and it seems I’m to be outnumbered, do I keep my opinions to myself? Do I engage in debate when challenged? Or if the comments/verbal barbs continue, do I take my concerns to management?
I imagine many of the non-believers on this forum will have an opinion, and quite possibly some 1st hand experience, on this topic, and I’d very much appreciate anyone’s opinions and/or advice.
There were several comments, all encouraging, from several members of the Dawkins forum, I’m still very interested in other people’s opinions in this subject. I should mention I no longer work for the employer where the above difference of opinion took place, and only have minimal (i.e. facebook) contact with any of my old colleagues.
Comments from other users on the Dawkins forum:
Comment 1 by jimbob21 Its completely up to you but I would say definitely do not keep your opinions to yourself. This sounds like something from George Orwell’s 1984! The fact that your outnumbered does not mean your in the wrong and should keep quiet. I mean a guy that thinks the analgesic effects of Paracetamol are actually speeded up by God if you believe in him needs to be challenged. The only reason he thinks that kind of tripe is that nobody challenges his views. If anything this is a perfect opportunity for debate, go for it.
Comment 2 by hypnoticbob If people are mature enough to bring religion into the conversational environment, they are mature enough to have their ideas challenged. Simply holding different views between one another is absolutely no reason to resolve to silence or to be silenced. One of the greatest things we can achieve, with respect to one another, is to challenge each other, regardless of topic, and especially when truth is the goal. You are within your fundamental rights to speak as you wish (within reason, of course) and it should be generally respected. However, depending on the situation, if you are not directly brought into the conversation, it may be best to exclude yourself. I find that it’s hard to do this when irrationality enters the arena, however. Good luck.
P.S., You should absolutely not be admonished for having your own ‘in-group’ conversations that are antithetical to religion. If then others (the religious) wish to engage you, they are then liable for their own discord.
The situation that originally had me so rattled has pretty much died down, with the people reacting as follows: Person 1 still take their child to Sunday pre-school, Person 3 had been a model colleague, and not mentioned the previous disagreement.
However, person 2 still seems to be having difficulty, and still makes the occasional comment about me being an atheist. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy, but I think he’s having difficulty reconciling my disbelief in the supernatural with my attempts to be, what I hope is, a decent person. From what little he’s told me, I think he was raised on one side of the protestant/catholic divide which seems to almost define massive numbers of people in Scotland, and simply can’t see that there are more than two options available.
Since the previous conversation the occasional jibes have continued, and I’ve have continued to state that I disagree with what’s said, but I’ve made no attempt to start any conversation on the topic. I think this is the wisest course, regardless of my civil rights; it’s likely that if I did initiate the conversation and someone took offense, it would be me that would suffer any consequences, whether social or more formal.
“However, person 2 still seems to be having difficulty, and still makes the occasional comment about me being an atheist.”
Unless out and out bullying is involved, a bit of banter between colleagues is normal. Your example as an work colleague and atheist, will give the lie to any misconceptions created by ranting preachers.
Some of the remoter parts of Scotland are very “church-community-dominated” with preachers being very influential. The protestant/catholic divide is similar to that in Ireland. – Unsurprising because of links to ports. Your presence is likely to stimulate thought.
Comment 5 by Mbee Hi Steve, I’ve always gone by the old adage don’t talk about religion or politics. However there are plenty who insist on doing so and many who consider themselves ‘right’ in their particular views. When it comes down to it those who think they’re right will probably never change their minds and are essentially a ‘lost cause’ when it comes to logic and reason. I’ve always found the best thing to do is keep away from them as much as you can and this is where the workplace sometimes makes it a difficult environment, especially if the person is in a position of influence with respect to the job. Hopefully this will not deteriorate into a worse scenario and I wish you luck with your situation.
I recently had to work with a devout muslim and managed to not talk about their religion, although it was ‘all’ they were talking about. I used the situation to learn more about what they believed in and educate myself – I’m all for an easy life and normally just ‘go with the flow’. They assumed I was a christian and didn’t even ask me about my belief. That says a lot as to where their thinking was at. I normally try to avoid conflicts and leave these people to their delusion and their closed minds – sometimes it is just a lost cause and not worth making the situation worse. Mind you if they escalate the situation keep good records and witnesses if it becomes intolerable.
Comment 6 by Independent Thinker I side with Mbee about staying away from religion & politics except that I’m fascinated by people’s religious beliefs as much as i am about ethnic background. It’s about learning about people to gain insight and perspective (regardless of whether the perspective is unusual from your vantage).
I try never to tell someone they’re wrong about religion or politics as these are all matters of opinion (even though much of religion is based on fantasy).
When asked about my own beliefs, I reply that I do not follow any organized religion. If they want to persist from there, I’m open to intellectual debate, however, I try to not offend people about their beliefs in imaginary friends; the debate may last minutes, but we’ll need to work together far longer.